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9 things you can do to sleep better starting tonight

When she's not writing, Claire Gillespie can most often be found wiping snotty noses, picking up Lego, taking photos of her cat or doing headstands.

How to rate the quality of your sleep — then make it better

We know how important a good night's sleep is. Not getting enough sleep is linked to weight gain, fatigue, depression, fertility problems and a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. But how do we know whether we're actually getting quality shut-eye?

Help is here in the form of new guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation. A panel of experts analyzed 227 scientific studies, and the results, published in the journal Sleep Health, is the Foundation's first ever official list of indicators of sleep quality.

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According to the guidance, the following are signs of poor-quality sleep.

  1. Waking up more than once a night.
  2. Taking longer than 20 minutes to get back to sleep after waking during the night.
  3. Sleeping for less than 85 percent of the time in bed.
  4. Taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep. (A time lag of 45 to 60 minutes is classed as poor sleep quality.)
  5. Napping during the day for more than 100 minutes at a time.

It's a different approach to improving the nation's sleep quality. "In the past, we defined sleep by its negative outcomes including sleep dissatisfaction, which were useful for identifying underlying pathology. Clearly this is not the whole story. With this initiative, we are now on a better course towards defining sleep health," said Dr. Maurice Ohayon, director of the Stanford Sleep Epidemiology Research Center.

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If you recognize one or more of the above in your own sleep habits, you're not alone. The NSF's Sleep Health Index 2014 revealed that as many as 27 percent of people take longer than 30 minutes, on average, to fall asleep at night.

The good news is, there's plenty you can do to improve the quality of your slumber.

  1. Keep your sleep environment cool — 18.5 degrees C/65 degrees F is the recommended temperature.
  2. Exercise in the morning or afternoon.
  3. Restrict daytime naps to 30 minutes.
  4. Banish all computers and TVs from your bedroom.
  5. Keep hands and feet warm in bed (use an electric blanket and wear socks if necessary.)
  6. Stay away from phones and tablets before bed.
  7. Don't allow pets on or in the bed.
  8. Practice a soothing pre-bed routine — try aromatherapy, stretching, positive thoughts and calming music.
  9. Don't rely on "catching up" on sleep over the weekend.

Put these tips into practice and hopefully, you won't have sleepless nights over, um, having sleepless nights.

More: I drank sleep-inducing water to try to cure my insomnia

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