Have you been tossing and turning and wondering if you will ever fall asleep? You are not alone—over the course of a year, about 17% of adults experience insomnia. It is also more common in older people. Learn why sleep is so important and what you can do to get some.

Here's Why

During sleep, the body repairs itself and revitalizes organs and muscles. In addition, sleep is important for proper functioning of the immune system and the nervous system. Lack of sleep can result in:

  • Increased feelings of stress
  • Impaired memory
  • Shortened temper
  • Lower motivation
  • Slower reflexes
  • More mistakes

Here's How

  • Keep regular hours—Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, even on weekends.
  • Develop a sleep ritual—Whether it is taking a hot bath, drinking a cup of herbal tea, or reading a book, doing the same things each night just before bed cues your body to settle down for the night.
  • Exercise regularly—Exercise can help relieve tension. But be careful not to exercise too close to bedtime or you may have a hard time falling asleep.
  • Cut down on stimulants—Consuming stimulants, such as caffeine, in the evening interferes with your ability to fall asleep and may affect deep sleep. Instead, have a cup of herbal tea, which is noncaffeinated, before bed. You may even want to cut caffeine from your diet entirely.
  • Do not smoke—Smokers tend to take longer to fall asleep, awaken more often, and experience disrupted, fragmented sleep.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation—You may fall asleep faster, but drinking alcohol shortly before bedtime interrupts and fragments sleep, leading to poor quality sleep.
  • Unwind early in the evening—Deal with worries and distractions several hours before going to bed. Make a list of things you need to do tomorrow, so you will not think about them all night. Try relaxation exercises, like slow rhythmic breathing.
  • Sleep on a comfortable, supportive mattress and foundation—It is difficult to get deep, restful sleep on a bed that is too small, too soft, or too hard.
  • Create a restful sleep environment—A dark, quiet room is more conducive to sleep. Sudden, loud noises or bright lights can disrupt sleep. You may want to try using a white noise machine to block out distractions. A room that is too hot or too cold can disturb sleep as well. The ideal bedroom temperature is between 60-65°F.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex —Do not use the bedroom for things like paying bills, watching television, or discussing the problems of the day.
  • Make sleep a priority—Say "yes" to sleep even when you are tempted to stay up late. You will feel healthier, refreshed, and ready to take on the day!
  • Bright light and cognitive behavioral therapy—For those who want better sleep without the use of drugs, “light therapy” and cognitive behavioral therapy have both been shown to have some benefit.
  • Take sleep medicines as directed—Sleep medicines should only be used temporarily and as a last resort. If you do use them, follow your doctor’s recommendations.
    • Generally, it is best to take sleeping pills one hour before bedtime, or 10 hours before you plan on getting up to avoid daytime drowsiness. Always talk with your doctor before taking sleeping pills, including over-the-counter brands. Some contain diphenhydramine, an anti-allergy substance, which may help you fall asleep quicker, but may not provide a more restful sleep. There also are side effects.
    • ]]>Melatonin]]>, a natural hormone, is thought to help insomnia, but study results are inconsistent. ]]>Ramelteon]]> (Rozerem), which works like melatonin, may be more effective. Tolerance to some sleep medicines can happen quickly, and some may be addictive.

Remember that, in some cases, ]]>restless leg syndrome]]> and ]]>sleep apnea]]> can cause poor sleep quality. Talk to your doctor to find the underlying cause of your sleep problems.