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According to Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation, an estimated 50 to 70 million U.S. adults chronically suffer from sleep problems, which can negatively affect health over a period of time. As explained in the book, “the cumulative long-term effects of sleep loss and sleep disorders have been associated with a wide range of deleterious health consequences including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.”

Despite the risk of side effects and dependence, Americans are still spending roughly $100 million dollars a year on over-the-counter sleep medications. While these may provide temporary relief, these are not intended for long-term use. In fact, Dr. Meir Kryger, a professor of sleep medicine at Yale, warns against using anything that isn’t addressing the cause of the problem. “I’d say 99 percent of the products being sold for sleep enhancement are a waste of money.” Instead, he recommends ways to improve your sleep by optimizing your environment and relaxation.

If you’ve been struggling to get at least seven hours a night, don’t go straight to the pills. Try these four steps leading up to tucking yourself into bed.

2 Hours Before: Lower Lights
Bright lights trigger our brains to be alert, while lower levels signal the sleep hormone melatonin. Dim the lights around your home roughly two hours before bedtime. If you plan to read, use a low-wattage light bulb. At around an hour before, turn off all electronics, which emit blue light that harms healthy sleep.

1 Hour Before: Wind Down
It’s impossible to go from 60 to 0 without slowing down in between. The same goes for your sleep. Set yourself up for a good night’s rest by winding down an hour before bed. Spend 20 minutes prepping for the next day (packing your lunch, selecting an outfit, etc.), 20 minutes taking care of personal hygiene, and finally 20 minutes of relaxation in bed.

30 Minutes Before: White Noise
It’s important to drown out outside noise, but you don’t want your bedroom to be so quiet that any tiny sound will wake you in the night. This is where white noise comes in. Before settling into bed, turn on a fan or an air conditioner. These come with the added bonus of being able to help regulate the temperature of the room, which should be between 65° and 75°F.

20 Minutes Before: Breathing and Meditation
One of the most effective ways to fall asleep quickly is to focus on deep breathing. This reduces heart rate and blood pressure, priming the body for sleep. After turning off all the lights, lie down in bed. Place your hands on the lower part of your stomach. Breathe in deeply for five seconds, hold for three, and exhale for five. Do this between 10 and 15 times, concentrating on the up-and-down movement of your hands. This 20 minutes is also a good time for mindful meditation. Focus on the different aspects of your life, making sure to look at just one thing at a time. Give each issue the attention its needs, then let it go.

If you’re still struggling with a sleep disorder, acupuncture may be another solution. Learn more about how the treatment can help.

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