Many people suffer from insomnia because of stressors, lifestyle habits, work schedules or medical conditions. Statistics show that the problem is increasing and approximately 70 percent of Americans suffer from varying degrees of sleep deprivation. Recent studies also confirm that chronic lack of sleep may increase the risk of some chronic diseases.

I’m using a combination of different things to help my sleep improve. For example, I’m using a sound machine to distract my mind from ruminating too much about worries. Natural supplements such as melatonin and valerian can help. Harvard University’s division of sleep medicine developed twelve tips to improve sleep.

The following are from their website:

No. 1 Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep — Caffeine is a stimulant, therefore avoid it for four to six hours before bedtime. Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.

No. 2 Turn Your Bedroom into a Sleep-Inducing Environment — A quiet, dark, and cool environment can help promote sound slumber. To achieve such an environment, lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a “white noise” appliance. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light, a powerful cue that tells the brain that it’s time to wake up. Keep the temperature between 60 and 75 degrees and the room well ventilated.

No. 3 Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine — Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath, read a book, watch television, or practice relaxation exercises. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities—doing work, discussing emotional issues. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness.

No. 4 Go to Sleep When You’re Truly Tired — Struggling to fall sleep just leads to frustration. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to music until you are tired enough to sleep.

No. 5 Don’t Be a Nighttime Clock-Watcher — Staring at a clock in your bedroom can actually increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you. And if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep in about 20 minutes, get up and engage in a quiet, restful activity such as reading or listening to music. Keep lights dim. When your eyelids are drooping, return to bed.

No. 6 Use Light to Your Advantage — Natural light keeps your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. So let in the light first thing in the morning and get out of the office for a sun break during the day.

No. 7 Keep Your Internal Clock Set with a Consistent Sleep Schedule — Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time night after night.

No. 8 Nap Early—Or Not at All — Many people make naps a regular part of their day. However, for those who find falling asleep or staying asleep through the night problematic, afternoon napping may be one of the culprits. If you must nap, it’s better to keep it short and before 5 p.m.

No. 9 Lighten Up on Evening Meals — Finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion. If you get hungry at night, snack on foods that won’t disturb your sleep, perhaps dairy foods and carbohydrates.

No. 10 Balance Fluid Intake — Drink enough fluid at night to keep from waking up thirsty—but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will be awakened by the need for a trip to the bathroom.

No. 11 Exercise Early — Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly—as long as it’s done at the right time. Exercise stimulates the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. Finish exercising at least three hours before bed.

No. 12 Follow Through — Some of these tips will be easier to include in your daily and nightly routine than others. However, if you stick with them, your chances of achieving restful sleep will improve. That said, not all sleep problems are so easily treated and could signify the presence of a sleep disorder such as apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, or another clinical sleep problem. If your sleep difficulties don’t improve, you may want to consult your physician or a sleep specialist.

Mary Garza Cummings is a free-lance writer. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure validity of the information. For comments, email askseniorfocus@aol.com