Skimping on shut-eye isn't North America's only sleep crisis. Many people turn in on time yet miss out on deep, refreshing slumber, and that's one reason why 61 percent of women and 45 percent of men wake up feeling tired at least some of the time.
Unfortunately, that lack of deep sleep leads to health issues that you worry about, that keep you up at night, that ... well, you see the problem.
Sleep issues boost your blood sugar into an unhealthy range, says a new study of around 15,000 people from China's Xuzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention. And Swedish docs found that poor sleep increases your risk for heart attacks and other cardiovascular events by 30 percent to 40 percent. Poor sleep also is a top cause of pain in people over 50. And for those with heart failure (more than five million North Americans), poor Z's doubles the risk for ending up in the hospital.
No wonder an article in the highly respected medical journal The Lancet recently urged docs to write "better sleep" prescriptions! We think that's a great idea!
So here's our four-step Rx for sweet dreams. It's based on Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I for short), shown in studies to help 86 percent of people with insomnia fall asleep faster, wake up less often during the night, sleep longer and feel great in the morning.
It works better than sleeping pills, and the benefits last longer. Many people who've tried it are still sleeping like babies two years later. Wow! Here's how to get started:
Step 1: Rate your sleep.
It's easy to tell if you're getting enough sleep. Do you regularly total less than seven to eight hours? You probably need more. Assessing sleep quality takes more sleuthing.
"You may be aware that you're waking up a lot at night," says Cleveland Clinic sleep disorders specialist Michelle Drerup, Psy.D. "Or, you may feel really tired no matter how much sleep you get."
Those indicate poor sleep quality.
Step 2: Rule out medical causes for sleep problems.
Ask your doctor if any medications you take, or health conditions you have, could be affecting your sleep. If your partner tells you that you snore loudly and toss and turn at night, or seem to stop breathing during sleep, and you wake up extremely fatigued every morning or are excessively sleepy during the day, ask for an evaluation.
Step 3: Prime your mind and body to wind down.
Skip caffeine within six hours of bedtime (longer if you're sensitive). Create a relaxing pre-sleep routine: Skip TV and take a shower or warm bath, followed by a few stretches and some light reading (or intimate fun with your partner).
Reserve your boudoir for sleep and between-the-sheets playtime. Don't pay bills in bed, catch up on news via your smartphone or work on your laptop.
"It all sounds simple, but it can be part of a plan to help even chronic cases of insomnia," Dr. Drerup says. "And that can have big health benefits."
Step 4: Get up when you can't sleep.
"Don't stay in bed," Dr. Drerup says. "Your brain will begin linking it with feelings of frustration and sleeplessness.
A key component of CBT-I is staying out of bed when you can't sleep. Go into another room, turn on a low light and read something that's not too exciting for a while, then try going to bed again."
Over time, this retrains your brain so that sliding between the covers cues falling asleep.
"You can try this yourself, but it's good to have some guidance and support from an online program or behavioral sleep medicine specialist."
A University of Manitoba study found that 81 percent of folks who went through a five-week sleep improvement training program said they were sleeping better. And you can find a trained sleep therapist to work with by going to the website of the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at www.behavioralsleep.org. Sweet dreams!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit www.sharecare.com.