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Disease Prevention

Better Sleep Council Says Better Nights Equal Better Days

For millions of people, the consequences of a poor night's sleep — higher stress, increased mistakes on the job and difficulty concentrating, are everyday occurrences. But the Better Sleep Council (BSC) says you can improve your chances of getting a good night's sleep.

Although most of us know that proper diet and regular exercise are important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, many underestimate the value of sleep, according to BSC. The council says adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night, although individual needs may range from five to ten hours.

BSC says when you go to sleep, your body goes to work, consolidating the day's learning into memory and improving your ability to absorb and remember everyday skills; a good night's sleep also re-energizes you and helps you prepare for the day ahead. When you don't get enough sleep, daily life becomes more stressful and less productive, so a good night's sleep helps you perform much better when you're awake, the council explained.

BSC says depriving yourself of a good night's sleep night after night can cause the accumulation of a "sleep debt." BSC advises you to look for everyday lifestyle clues to determine whether you need to catch up on sleep. For example, is there a chance you could doze off while sitting in a car stopped in traffic, watching television or reading? If so, the only way to reduce this debt is to get the amount of sleep your body needs, the council says.

BSC says the quality and quantity of your sleep can make all the difference in how productive you'll be on the job the next day; the council says the following tips will help you get the sleep you need:

  • Give yourself "permission" to go to bed. Although it may be hard to put your "to do" list away, make sleep a priority. The results will be obvious in the morning.

  • Unwind early in the evening. Try to deal with worries and distractions several hours before bedtime.

  • Develop a sleep ritual. Doing the same things every night just before bed signals your body to settle down for the night.

  • Keep regular hours. Keep your biological clock in check by going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning — even on weekends.

  • Create a restful place to sleep. Sleep in a cool, dark room that is free from noises that may disturb your rest.

  • Sleep on a comfortable, supportive mattress and foundation. It's more difficult to sleep on a bed that's too small, too soft, too hard or too old.

  • Exercise regularly. Regular exercise can help relieve daily stress and tension, but don't exercise too close to bedtime or you may have trouble falling asleep.

  • Cut down on stimulates. Consuming stimulates, such as caffeine, in the evening can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

  • Don't smoke. Smokers take longer to fall asleep and also wake up more frequently during the night.

  • Reduce alcohol intake. Drinking alcohol shortly before bedtime interrupts and fragments sleep.

    BSC suggests that you consult a medical professional if you think you may be suffering from a serious sleep problem, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy or restless legs syndrome. For general questions and inquiries about sleep and sleep disorders, consumer information is available from the National Sleep Foundation (, the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research — National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Information Center ( and Sleep/Wake Disorders Canada (

  • © 2002 Health Resources Publishing