5 Steps to A Good Night's Sleep

Very few of us get enough of the seven to nine hours sleep that experts recommend. And a lack of sleep can lead to everything from weight gain to a heightened risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. In fact, it is just as important as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Harvard Medical School experts say that although some cases of insufficient sleep may be due to a medical condition, other people with a “sleep debt” are simply getting to bed too late. And it appears to be quite common in women; in fact, the Harvard experts say, more than 60 percent of women regulary fall short of their “sleep goal.”

Here, the Harvard experts share their best tips for getting enough rest:

Banish your electronic devices from the bedroom. Use it for sleep and intimacy alone – no computer, smartphone or tablet there; that distracts from sleep. The temperature should be on the cool side.

Nap only if you have to. Taking a nap during sleepy afternoon hours may help to supplement insufficient nighttime sleep. But it may also keep you awake at night. The Harvard experts recommend that if you really need a nap, keep it to 20 to 30 minutes.

Cut caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine can stay in your body up to 12 hours, the Harvard experts say, so it’s best to avoid it after noon. Alcohol can act as a sedative, but it also disturbs sleep.

Exercise regularly – but at the right time. Because exercise acts as a short-term stimulant, the Harvard experts say, don’t exercise within three hours of bedtime.

Maintain a schedule. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

For more things women can do to lead longer and healthier lives, buy A Guide to Women’s Health: Fifty and Forward, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.