if the sandman isn't visiting you quite as frequently as you'd like, you might find it comforting to know you're not the only one tossing and turning. an estimated 60 percent of adults have trouble sleeping at least a few nights a week, according to the national sleep foundation. snoring and frequent night awakenings are stealing the most zs. while an occasional night of unrest is no cause for concern, chronic sleep deprivation can take a serious toll on one's health and well-being. individual sleep needs vary, but most healthy adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. getting less shuteye can result in moodiness, irritability and difficulties paying attention, processing thoughts and completing tasks. lack of sleep compromises your immune system, making you more vulnerable to colds and other illnesses. you're also more prone to injuries both on the job and behind the wheel: the u.s. department of transportation estimates that up to 4 percent of all highway crashes are due to sleepiness. recent medical studies also have shown that getting less than 40 winks increases one's risk of emotional problems such as depression, and is linked to health problems including obesity, diabetes and hypertension. sleeping, like breathing, is such a natural process that it's easy to take it for granted-until it gets disrupted. thankfully there are ways to ensure more restful slumber. here's how:
? set your circadian clock. it's tempting to stay up late or sleep in longer on the weekends, but doing so can throw off your circadian or sleep-wake cycles. a regular waking time in the morning strengthens the circadian function and can help with sleep onset at night.
? establish a relaxing bedtime routine. a good book, a hot bath and soothing music are all great ways to wind down the day. watching tv or working on the computer, however, isn't a good idea: the flickering bright lights are stimulating and actually arouse you.
? create a sleep haven. the best sleep environment is a cool, quiet and dark one. consider using ceiling fans, white noise machines, room-darkening shades, earplugs or sleeping masks.
? get some exercise. regular exercise contributes to sounder sleep, but working out too late in the evenings has the opposite effect and can make falling asleep difficult. it's best to complete your workout at least three hours before turning in.
? skip the caffeine. the stimulant caffeine produces an alerting effect and is found in coffee, teas, sodas and even chocolate. because caffeine can remain in your system for up to five hours, it's best to avoid it altogether within six hours of bedtime.
? nix the nicotine. another stimulant, nicotine, can cause difficulty falling asleep, problems waking in the morning and may also cause nightmares.
? don't eat or drink too late. heavy meals too close to bedtime can make it uncomfortable to sleep, and spicy foods can cause heartburn, which is sure to keep you awake. cut back on fluids a few hours before turning in to ward off the need for nighttime bathroom breaks.
? keep a sleep diary. if you're not getting enough sleep, keep track of your sleep schedule and habits for at least 10 days. note how often you have problems sleeping, what time you go to bed and get up, your daytime activities, dietary habits and how you felt during the day (alert or groggy). this sleep journal will help your doctor better evaluate what's disrupting your slumber.
? talk to your doctor. it might seem silly to see a doctor over something like fitful sleep, but you could have a treatable sleep disorder. more than 12 million adults suffer from sleep apnea, a condition that causes sleepers to stop breathing repeatedly throughout the night. left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency and headaches. if sleep problems persist for longer than a week or interfere with your ability to function during the day, it's time to seek medical advice so you can get the healthful rest your body and mind need. -- jeannette moninger is widely published in magazines, including parents magazine, redbook, prevention and women's health.