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How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably not as refreshed as you’d like -- and you could use some help to sleep better and fight fatigue during the daytime. Nearly 20 percent of us suffer from daytime sleepiness, according to a report published in the journal Neurology. In fact, some of those surveyed actually admitted to falling asleep during business meetings or conversations.
So what’s behind all this exhaustion? “Most Americans are not getting enough sleep, often because they cut back when they get busy,” says Dr. Aparajitha Verma, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston. Unfortunately, that’s the worst thing you can do if you’re trying to gather enough energy to get through the day awake.
Luckily, you don’t have to go through life feeling fatigued. You probably already know that staying away from caffeine, alcohol and heavy meals in the evening would help. But there’s a lot more you can do to get some high-quality shut-eye. Just try these sleep-better strategies to start snoozing better tonight and wake up recharged tomorrow.
1. Act like a kid.
Pediatricians advise that children have a bedtime routine for a reason: It works! So wind down at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime and reserve the bed for sleep and sex (not TV, bill paying, eating or reading). It also helps to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day -- even on weekends.
2. Stop common sleep stealers.
Background noise and light can disrupt your sleep even if you’re unaware of it. A recent study linked nighttime traffic noise from passing airplanes, trains and automobiles to subpar mental performance. Experts theorize that because such sounds trigger awakenings (regardless of whether you remember waking up), they interfere with proper brain and memory function. If you are sensitive to sound, consider using ear plugs or a white noise machine. A sleep mask can also help ensure complete, soothing darkness.
3. Kick your pet out of bed.
Pets make the best -- and worst -- sleeping companions. You might not even realize how much your cat or dog is waking you during the night. If you suspect a problem, consider getting a bigger bed or a separate pet bed that you can place next to yours.
4. Stay out of debt.
Sleep debt, that is. If you skimp on sleep during the week, you can’t catch up on the weekends. Most of us need seven to nine hours a night -- and that means every night, stresses Verma. When you don’t get enough, your next day’s performance will be affected, no matter how much coffee you drink.
5. Get the bright stuff.
Your body’s internal clock responds to environmental cues, one of which is sunlight. You can help reset your circadian rhythm and tell your brain to wake up by going outside as soon as you can each morning. But skip the shades -- sunglasses can fool your brain into thinking it’s still night. In addition, take care to avoid stimulating artificial light from video games and other electronic devices at night, which can confuse your internal clock and make falling asleep harder.
6. Note your naps.
A 15-minute cat nap can restore your energy. But if you regularly snooze for an hour or more, it could be a red flag. Your nighttime sleep may not be refreshing enough, or you may have a medical issue, explains Verma. Most of the medical issues behind sleepiness -- like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or hormone flux related to perimenopause or pregnancy -- are common and treatable, so discuss this symptom with your doctor.
7. Don’t ignore snores.
Another sign that you should see your doctor: Snoring loudly or gasping for breath while you sleep. This could be a sign of a sleep disorder. If you have good sleep habits yet you still feel drowsy during the day, talk to your doctor or a sleep professional.
8. Learn more about the science of sleep.
For more information on how to sleep better and fight fatigue, or to find a sleep professional near you, visit the websites of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASMnet.org) and The National Sleep Foundation (SleepFoundation.org).
Denise Maherhas covered the health beat as an editor, writer and reporter for almost 15 years. She has contributed to such national publications as Self, Men’s Health, Prevention, More and Seventeen.
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