~ 102010 10 Things That Sabotage Your Sleep

Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.

If there's one thing Americans don't get enough of, it's sleep. A 2008 study by the National Sleep Foundation found that people were getting only 6 hours and 40 minutes of sleep per night, instead of the recommended 7 to 9 hours. Sleep deprivation has been linked to several of our country's major health problems: heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. A lack of sleep can also take a toll on your mental, emotional and relationship health, by causing poor work performance, driving accidents (the study also found that 36 percent of people had nodded off or fallen asleep while driving), relationship struggles, anger and even depression. When we think of health, we tend to think of diet and exercise, but there is a third integral component to overall health: Sleep.

Sleep is natural, so it should be easy, right? But in America, the land of 24/7, there is always more work to be done, more media to consume, and we find ourselves staying awake late into the night. In the same study, nearly one-third (32 percent) of respondents said they only get a good night's sleep a few times per month, and 44 percent said they experienced a sleep problem almost every night. If you're having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or avoiding being sleepy during the workday, look out for these 10 factors that contribute to sleep sabotage.

1. Food

A large meal or spicy food before bed can lead to indigestion, heartburn and discomfort. Finish eating and drinking

fluids two to three hours before bed to avoid having to use the restroom in the middle of the night. Also make sure you eat enough at dinnertime, as going to bed too hungry can also disrupt sleep.

2. Light

Though you may listen to music or TV to help you fall asleep, the noise and light can actually interrupt your snooze. Keep volume low and have music turn off after a certain amount of time. If you feel that white noise improves your sleep, try a fan or white noise machine. Also avoid staring at a computer or TV screen before bed -- the white light can stimulate the brain and signal to neurons that it is time to wake up rather than fall asleep.

3. Working in bed

Avoid doing work or eating in bed so you will associate it only with sleep, not stress. Create an environment in your bedroom that is conducive to sleep: dark, quiet, cool and comfortable. Dark shades or curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, and white noise machines like fans or humidifiers can help create that environment.

4. Staying in bed

If you are unable to fall asleep, after half an hour, instead of tossing and turning, get out of bed and engage in a relaxing activity, like reading -- media like books or magazines that don't emit their own light. Return to bed when you feel sleepy.

5. Lack of a bedtime routine

Remember when you were little and had a bedtime ritual every night? Keep up that as an adult and establish a relaxing bedtime routine to prepare yourself for sleep. Do relaxing activities like take shower, drink a warm beverage or read a book -- activities that promote relaxation, not excitement, stress or anxiety.

6. Exercise

Exercise is good for your sleep habits -- a regular exercise routine can help deepen sleep and allow you to fall asleep more quickly. But heavy exercise immediately before bed can disrupt sleep. Engage in exercise earlier in the day -- the National Sleep Foundation recommends a late afternoon workout -- and finish exercising at least three hours before bedtime.

7. Caffeine

Avoid drinking soda, coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages, or eating chocolate, three to four hours before bedtime.

8. Long naps

Avoid taking long naps in the daytime, even if you missed sleep the previous night, as it will be harder to fall asleep at night.

9. Irregular sleep schedule

Significantly altering a sleep schedule on days off or weekends can affect sleep. Try to follow a regular schedule of times you go to bed each night and rise each day to strengthen your circadian clock and allow the body to learn to balance its sleep and wake time.

10. Alcohol

Alcohol works as a short-term way to make you relax and feel drowsy, but it is a poor sleep aid as it can disrupt sleep during the night by preventing you from entering the deeper stages of sleep. This can cause you to wake up still feeling tired, even if you spent a significant amount of time in bed.

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