If you have trouble sleeping, you're not alone. More than half of all adults in the US sometimes have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and most people don't get the seven or eight hours of sleep a night that the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends for the average adult.
Even people who usually sleep well may have trouble sleeping when they're under extra stress or away from home. Having a bad night--or several in a row--can leave you feeling tired, impatient, and less able to cope.
Tips on falling asleep and staying asleep
You can take many steps to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Have a bedtime routine.A regular bedtime ritual will help to train your mind to relax and fall asleep in response to physical and emotional triggers, or the events of your routine. You may need to try several routines to find the one that is best for you - taking a warm bath, listening to soft music, having a snack, reading a few pages of a book or magazine in your favorite easy chair.
Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even when you don't have to go to work. A predictable schedule will help you make a habit of sleeping and waking at certain times. If you live with other people, this will also remind them that they need to reduce their noise or activity at certain times. Some families have a final "lights out" time for everybody in the household.
Get regular exercise, but not during the three hours before bedtime. Daily exercise can help you get to sleep faster and sleep better, but exercise too near bedtime can keep you awake.
Save your bed for sleeping. Avoid doing work or using a computer in bed. Reserving your bed for sleep will help to maintain a link in your mind between the bed and sleeping.
Avoid or limit nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime. Nicotine and caffeine (in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and medications) are stimulants that can make it harder to sleep. The effects of a cup of coffee last three to four hours for most people, and longer for others. Check the ingredients in any over-the-counter pain-killers, too. Some pain-killers contain as much as 130 milligrams of caffeine in a two-tablet dose. (A cup of coffee contains 85 milligrams.) Ask your doctor to recommend an alternative if you're having trouble sleeping. Having a drink before bed can make you wake up later in the night.
Eat your evening meal at least two hours before you go to bed. Eating a late meal can create high levels of stomach acid that keep you awake.
Deal with troubling tasks earlier in the day or evening. It may be harder to get to sleep if you pay bills, try to solve an office problem, or talk to a child about a discipline just before bed. If you have children who do homework, think about doing paperwork at a quiet family "homework time" earlier in the evening.
Avoid overstimulating television, radio, and computer activities just before bed. If you watch television to unwind, remember that some programs -- such as news reports or crime shows -- can make it hard to fall asleep. Try tuning into the news on the way home from work or early in the evening. If you use the Internet, set a last check-in time for early in the evening, too.
Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and comfortable. Adjust the room to suit your sleeping needs. Even passing car headlights can trouble your sleep. Keep shades pulled down and blinds or curtains closed. If the room is still too light, consider getting blackout curtains or using an eye mask. You may also want to use earplugs or a "white noise" machine to mask or block out some sounds, especially if you don't need to hear an alarm clock in the morning.
Avoid using a night light. If you or other family members need light to help with bathroom trips in the night, keep a night-light on in the hall, but not in your bedroom.
Sleep on a comfortable bed. Tuck in your sheets and blankets, so you'll be less likely to wake up cold or tangled in your bed linens. If you share a bedroom with someone who likes the room colder or warmer than you do, keep an extra blanket handy at the foot of the bed.
Choose your mattress and pillow carefully. Talk to your doctor about what kind of support you need if you have arthritis, neck or back problems, allergies, or other health concerns. A recent study found that most people with back problems preferred a medium-firm mattress. If you sleep especially well at a particular hotel or relative's home, find out about the mattress and bed you slept on. Your doctor may also be able to suggest ways to deal with "restless leg" syndrome, which may respond to vitamins or minerals.
Limit daytime naps. If you've had too little sleep, a nap may restore your energy and focus. Even 15 minutes of sleep can take the edge off tiredness. But keep in mind that napping for more than 45 minutes may do more harm than good. After 45 minutes, you are likely to enter into a deep sleep that will leave you feeling sleepy when you wake up. A nap of more than 45 minutes can make it harder for you to get to sleep later on at night.
Visit helpful Web sites. You can learn about prescription and over-the-counter sleep medications by visiting the site for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at http://www.fda.gov. You'll find other helpful information on the site for the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research; go to http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/about/ncsdr and click on the "Patient and Public Information" pages.
Sleep for Kids
A service of the National Sleep Foundation, this is a great site for children who are old enough to use the internet. It helps them understand such things as what "sleep" is, why it's important, and what to do if you can't sleep.
National Sleep Foundations
This nonprofit organization has posted many articles on its site about the sleep needs for people of all ages, including babies and children.