Sleeplessness is a common ailment for adults. Some 70 million Americans have trouble getting to sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, and 40 million of them have a chronic sleep disorder. The average U.S. adult sleeps just 6.9 hours a night — less than the eight hours most sleep experts recommend — while around 47 million adults don't even get the sleep they need to properly function.
So it's safe to say most Americans aren't sleeping well. And for good reason: The economy has sunk, relationship issues wear, child care exhausts, and we're not even getting into the state of endangered species or melting glaciers. So what's a stressed-out, wiped-out adult to do? While you can't control the world, you can take a few steps to make bedtime a little bit more bearable.
1. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day.
Our bodies have natural sleep rhythms as well as rhythms that keep us awake during the day. These are our circadian rhythms, and they're present in animals, plants and even bacteria. The more in tune you are with your circadian rhythms, the easier it is for you to fall asleep. Experts recommend going to bed when you feel tired and waking up without an alarm clock. Sure, this might be hard during the work week, but start by trying it on the weekends. And once you start your weekly regimen, be sure not to backslide on Saturdays and Sundays, as tempting as it might be to stay up late and sleep in.
2. Exercise regularly.
Doctors recommend a good aerobic workout to help you fall asleep faster. But be careful not to work out right before bedtime, since late-night exercising can increase alertness. Another reason to work out early: WebMD reports that morning exercise can help counteract insomnia later on. (Plus, it doesn't hurt that exercise in general might also reduce your risk of cancer.)
3. Wind down before bedtime.
Anyone who's ever worked right up until bedtime can attest that it's much harder to fall asleep without winding down first. But sitting in front of a computer or TV screen isn't much help in letting your body know it's time to relax. Sleep experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest "taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music." Do whatever you can to remind yourself that sleep is coming — and that doesn't include a marathon of e-mails and phone calls.
4. Ditch the pets.
People treat their pets like family as never before. But if your dog is kicking you in his sleep or your cat's fluffy fur is making you sneeze, you aren't getting a good night's sleep. If this is the case, consider investing in a pet bed.
5. Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet.
A bedroom that's too hot or too cold can interfere with getting a good night's sleep. According to Helpguide.org, "Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 degrees Celsius) with adequate ventilation." It's also a good idea to keep the room as dark as possible, since even the gleam of your alarm clock can seem like daylight to your body. And if you can't escape city lights shining through your bedroom window, you might want to try an eco-friendly sleep mask.
6. Let go of nicotine, alcohol and caffeine.
The experts are clear on this. Alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, but the quality of your sleep will be diminished. Drink too much coffee too late in the day, and you may not sleep at all. As WedMD points out, caffeine can take as long as eight hours to wear off. The same goes for nicotine, which acts as a stimulant in your bloodstream.
7. Your bed is not your office, kitchen table or entertainment center.
Don't bring work, food or too much entertainment (besides sex) into your bed. Just remember that your place of slumber is supposed to be a place of relaxation. If you're watching the latest disaster movie while simultaneously eating pizza and answering e-mails, you're not winding down. And you're certainly not winding toward sleep.