Poor sleep affects nearly everyone, at least occasionally.

Forty-five percent of Americans say that poor or insufficient sleep affected their daily activities at least once in the past seven days, according to a study by the National Sleep Foundation.

About 20 percent get less than six hours of sleep a night, the bare minimum necessary to refresh and rejuvenate the mind and body.

If you are having trouble falling asleep or waking up unrefreshed, this is a serious problem.

Total sleep deprivation is fatal in a short time.

In perfectly healthy rats, a study showed, it took just eleven days. Lesser deprivation leaves you functioning at a lower level and affects every part of human life.

This is particularly concerning as children, teens, and young adults head back to school in August and September. Growing minds and bodies require sufficient sleep. It is more important to human functioning than anything besides breathing and a beating heart.

Let’s take a look at some of the lifestyle changes anyone can make to improve their sleep:

  1.   Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.

Food is the human body’s energy source. Eating junk interferes with all bodily functions, including sleep. Many of the chemicals Americans consume put their digestive systems to work overtime and prevent them from getting a restful night of slumber. In addition, obesity contributes to breathing obstructions that cause sleep apnea.

  1.   Exercise daily.

Vigorous exercise fatigues the body and allows it to fall naturally into sleep. Even light exercise is better than no activity.

  1.   Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes.

Alcohol is a depressant, but it interferes with natural sleep patterns. Nicotine and caffeine, whether in an “energy” drink, coffee or soda, are stimulants that jolt the body into artificial wakefulness and prevent sleep.

  1.   Avoid eating within two hours of sleeping.

Late night meals and spicy snacks put the digestive system into overdrive just as it should be winding down.

  1.   Put down the electronics and relax before bed.

The body needs to begin winding down prior to sleep. Lit screens—whether computers, phones, or televisions—are visually stimulating and their content can be mentally stimulating as well. Instead, find a relaxing bedtime ritual away from bright light and loud sounds that signal to the body that bedtime is approaching.

  1.   Stick to a bedtime schedule.

If you work a night shift or rise very early during the week, don’t alter your waking time much on weekends. This wreaks havoc with the body’s natural rhythms. Instead, get up and go to bed around the same time all week and practice the same late night rituals to regulate your body clock.

  1.   Avoid napping. Really!

Ironically, one of the worst things to do for a good night’s sleep is to get a good afternoon’s sleep. A nap is just a patch for a bad night’s sleep and perpetuates the cycle by preventing drowsiness at night’s end. If you’re fatigued during the day, power through so you can sleep better at night and refresh the natural cycle.

  1.   Sleep on a comfortable bed.

A mattress must be both comfortable and supportive and must be changed out about every decade.

  1.   See a professional.

Persistent sleep issues despite good sleeping habits are a sign of an underlying problem. Contact a professional who should order a sleep study to determine whether other problems, like Obstructive Sleep Disorder, are interfering with restful sleep.

Sleep issues are both serious and treatable. Anyone failing to get enough sleep should take these steps for a more alert and restful life.