Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for a healthful lifestyle, so if you don’t have problems falling or staying asleep, consider yourself lucky.

“Sleep deprivation is one of the most common complaints of Americans,” said registered nurse Donna Cardillo. “We’re overstimulated, addicted to technology and stressed out,” said the “Dear Donna” columnist at Nurse.com.

About 4 percent of adults in the United States—or 8.6 million—report taking prescription sleeping aids, according to the most recent prescription sleep aid study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More women, 5 percent, than men, 3.1 percent, take prescription sleep aids. Millions more resort to over-the-counter sleep aids, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which found that 48 percent of Americans report occasional insomnia, while 22 percent experience insomnia every or almost every night.

“Sleep is restorative. It’s vital for good health. It lets the mind and the body catch up with maintenance so we can be healthy and well. I know so many people who ply themselves with coffee all day, then want to pop a pill to fall asleep at night. It’s a tug of war on your body.”

“Sleep is restorative. It’s vital for good health. It lets the mind and the body catch up with maintenance so we can be healthy and well,” Cardillo said. “I know so many people who ply themselves with coffee all day, then want to pop a pill to fall asleep at night. It’s a tug of war on your body.”

Worse, people can develop an emotional dependency on sleep aids.

“It becomes part of the routine, and a person feels like they need it to go to sleep,” Cardillo said.

“Let’s face it: We’re a nation of pill poppers. We have a tendency to reach for medication, which can be helpful in some cases but unnecessary in others. We should look at what other options are available,” she said.

Instead of relying on a pill to bring on sleep, Cardillo suggests a person evaluate the contributing factors to insomnia to see if changes can be made to the environment or the routine:

1. Cut the caffeine:

“Caffeine is the No. 1 factor in sleep deprivation,” she said. If you can’t cut out the caffeine, cut back. Don’t drink caffeine within eight to 10 hours before bedtime.

2. Make a sleep transition:

Just as you have a morning routine, create a nighttime routine. Dim the lights. Turn off the TV, computer and all other electronic stimulation. Read, take a bath or write in a journal. Create a sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.

3. Make a nest:

For a good night’s rest, make sure your bedroom is dark, cool and comfortable. Get rid of the clutter—and the phone—on your nightstand, both of which can lead to stress. Be aware that the lights and sounds from cellphones disrupt your sleep. If possible, get them out of the bedroom.

4. Avoid alcohol:

“Alcohol can act as a stimulant and keep you awake,” Cardillo said. If you’re having problems falling asleep, cut out the alcohol.

A sleep aid “should be a last resort,” Cardillo said. Try making changes instead to your environment or habits.

If you are experiencing extreme insomnia because of stress—with more than a few days in a row without sleep—consult a health professional.

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