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Too stressed to snooze? Solutions for a more peaceful night's sleep

Most Americans do not get the recommended eight hours of sleep required for good health, safety and optimum performance. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recently reported that 63 percent of Americans are sleep deprived.

Struggling for much-needed rest
During stressful times -- such as the loss of a loved one, a change in job status or a serious illness -- the numbers of those who suffer from sleep deficiency can be even greater. Ironically, this is the time when a good night's sleep is even more important to facilitate recovery and healing.

The following suggestions may ensure a more peaceful and restorative night's sleep for the entire household.

People who suffer from anxiety often have difficulty falling asleep, wake up frequently during the night, arise too early in the morning or experience unrefreshing sleep. These symptoms of insomnia are fueled by stress, grief, worry and disrupted sleep schedules.

One solution to combating insomnia is to create a restful sleep environment in every bedroom in the house. This includes keeping the temperature cool, the light dim and the bed comfortable.

"Choosing a good mattress can make a difference in the quality of sleep you get at night and the way you feel during the day," says Dr Gary Zammit from the Sleep Disorders Institute at St. Luke's -- Roosevelt Medical Center in New York City. "Most people do not realize that their bed can be preventing them from sleeping well and, in some cases, keeping them awake."

Insomniacs might consider alternative sleep surfaces to improve their sleep. One alternative using a bed with adjustable firmness and individualized comfort levels. In studies conducted at Stanford University and Duke University, participants fell asleep faster and experienced better quality, more restorative sleep on the these types of beds than on a traditional innerspring mattress. Stanford University researchers also found that 87 percent of those who slept on the adjustable beds experienced a greater percentage of REM sleep with fewer disturbances.

Insomnia can be a forerunner of depression and other health-related problems, so it is important to seek a doctor's advice if symptoms persist.

Recognizing that your body needs sleep
For many involved in a crisis, daytime sleepiness is a frequent problem. Even if a person is getting the recommended eight hours of sleep a night, stress and emotional fatigue can cause excessive sleepiness and frequent dozing off. This can be especially harmful for adults since daytime sleepiness can lead to health problems or dangerous situations when they drive.

The best solutions for overcoming daytime sleepiness are to stick to a normal sleep routine and get extra rest if your body needs it. When stressed, adults should pay careful attention to what their bodies are telling them, make good judgments about getting to bed earlier and take frequent naps.

Lack of concentration, nodding off during quiet activities or having trouble waking up in the morning are signs that a child is not getting enough sleep. Parents should remember that if the sleep schedule is disrupted even one night, a child may experience these symptoms.

"Children copy their parents' sleep patterns, so it's important for parents to maintain consistent sleep schedules and get enough sleep at night," says Dr Zammit. "Getting a good night's sleep should be a family priority, and it starts with the adults in the household."

Soothing bad dreams
Nightmares -- vivid, long, scary dreams -- are more frequent during times of stress, anxiety and helplessness. Children aged 3 to 6 are the most common sufferers of bad dreams, but traumatic events can increase the occurrence of nightmares in adults as well.

To avoid the anxiety nightmares can cause, it is important for adults to monitor the amount of television their family watches before bedtime and discuss any disturbing images with their kids. When children have nightmares, parents should comfort them by talking about the bad dream and offering reassurance that they are available whenever needed.

To reduce the chance of having nightmares, adults should avoid eating directly before bedtime and reduce their intake of caffeine and alcohol, as each will increase brain activity that can disrupt sleep.

For more information about sleeping better during stressful times, visit www.sleepfoundation.org.

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