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The Big Sleep: Four Ways to Get Better Shut-Eye

The Big Sleep: Four Ways to Get Better Shut-Eye

Sleep seems like something that should come easily, but an estimated 50 to 70 million adults have some kind of sleep problem, according to Centers for Disease Control figures. That’s a lot of lost Zzzs. But with so many demands and seemingly so little time, it’s not surprising that a lot of us cheat our sleep to gain a little more time to get things done.

That, though, could end up shortchanging your health in serious ways: Too little and/or poor-quality sleep has been linked to weight gain, depression, anxiety and diabetes, among other conditions. The bottom line is that snooze time is as important as a healthy diet and regular exercise when it comes to keeping disease and illness at bay and simply feeling your best. Here are some better-sleep tips from Dave Wallis, MD, who specializes in family practice and sports medicine.

MAKE YOUR BEDROOM BORING. This is one of the most important things we can do, says Dr. Wallis. Start by removing the television, books, magazines, gadgets and electronic devices—anything that distracts your brain from the room in which you sleep. “Your bedroom is for sleep and sex only,” he stresses. Everyone wakes up briefly throughout the night, but when you wake and your brain registers that you’re in a dark, uninteresting room, it makes it a lot more likely you’ll be able to go back to sleep quickly.

CALM DOWN BEFORE YOU SLEEP. Dr. Wallis recommends keeping your bedroom not only dark (installing blackout shades can make a huge difference) but also a little cool, and spending at least 30 minutes before bedtime following a routine that calms and soothes your body and mind. Start by powering down electronics and TV, then sip a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea, light a candle, take a calming shower or bath or listen to music you find relaxing.

SKIP THE SATURDAY AND SUNDAY SLEEP-INS. If there’s one piece of advice that will make the most difference in getting better sleep, says Dr. Wallis, it’s to be consistent about your sleep routine. “It’s not good for our sleeping patterns to only get five to six hours of sleep during the week and then sleep late on the weekends,” he cautions. “This will only create more bad sleeping habits. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.”

CONSIDER SUPPLEMENTS. If making these changes to your sleep habits doesn’t help, Dr. Wallis says it may be worth trying a supplement such as melatonin, a hormone, or valerian root, an herb that comes in different formulations, including extracts, capsules, tinctures and teas. Talk to your doctor before trying any supplement or sleep aid that may interfere with other medication or a health condition, and to find out which formulation and dosage of a supplement is best for you.

And if nothing is improving your sleep despite your best efforts, consider that it may be time to reach out to your primary care physician to get to the bottom of what’s standing between you and a restful night’s sleep.