Girl lying down on the bed

Want to have less stress and anxiety in your life, along with generally better health? Then start getting more, and better, sleep.

It's simple advice but for millions of us it's often difficult to accomplish. The American Sleep Association estimates some 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep disorder, ranging from insomnia that makes falling or staying asleep difficult, to sleep apnea, a sleep breathing disorder that makes a solid night's sleep virtually impossible.

If you believe you are suffering from a serious sleep disorder, it's important to discuss the issue with your family doctor. Serious sleep disorders can have a direct effect on a person's health.

But if, occasionally, it simply feels difficult to fall asleep or to get a good night's sleep, there are actions you can take.

Experts advise one of the best aids to sleeping well is having a regular sleep pattern. By going to bed and getting up at more or less the same time every day, you're training your body and brain to have regular sleep habits.

Researchers have also found there are a number of things to avoid if you want to improve sleep. Alcohol, when consumed within 4 to 6 hours of bedtime, might seem relaxing but actually interrupts the quality of your sleep.

Caffeine and nicotine, both of which are stimulants, can make it difficult to fall asleep if ingested within 4 to 6 hours of bedtime. Nicotine includes not just cigarettes, but also cigars, vaping and anything delivering nicotine. And avoiding caffeine means not just skipping that after-dinner cup of coffee, but also avoiding evening tea, chocolate, and cola drinks, all of which contain caffeine.

And what can help you actually sleep better? Start with a comfortable bed and pillow. People also usually sleep better in cool rooms. Consider ear plugs or an eyemask if noise or excessive light is waking you up. A warm bath helps many people feel more relaxed and sleepy. It's also a good idea to try not to nap during the day. And keep food, computers, cell phones, TV and other electronics out of your bedroom.

Try reading or even listening to music instead.

Adults need from 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night; infants and children even more. Start making changes for better sleep and you'll feel more rested, relaxed and even healthier.

"Counseling Corner" is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.

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