One in five Americans gets less than six hours of sleep a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation's 2009 Sleep in America poll. While that might be good news for the purveyors of caffeine, it could spell bad news for those who want to lower heart disease rates in the U.S. Logging in less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep every night has been shown to lead to heart disease. In fact, a Japanese study published in November 2008 reported that snoozing for less than seven and a half hours was linked to a higher incidence of cardiovascular illnesses.[1] So what's a sleep-deprived person to do? Here are a few tips:

  • Start a routine. As the sage Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once said, "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." Keeping those rise and shut-eye times consistent-even on the weekends when it is tempting to sleep in-ensures that your body's natural rhythm stays on track. Another element to add to your routine to score a better night's sleep: exercise. Researchers from the Federal University in Sao Paulo, Brazil, reported at the 2008 Annual Meeting of Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) that moderate aerobic exercise improved overall sleep quality for subjects suffering from insomnia.[2]
  • Set a mood. To promote a better night's sleep, limit the activities that take place in your bedroom to those that are sleep-related and banish the television. Also, make sure that the room is dark and cool. And you may want to infuse your bedroom with the scent of lavender: A 2005 study conducted at Wesleyan University found that the aromatic floral member of the mint family not only had sedative effects on test subjects but also improved deep sleep.[3]
  • Say no to alcohol, stimulants, spicy food, and fat before bedtime. Though alcohol has a sedative effect, it can also bring about fitful sleep during the second half of the sleep period, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking closer to bedtime or consuming large amounts of alcohol can increase the disruption. Unless you're a mutant who's impervious to the effects of caffeine, you should also steer clear of coffee and other caffeinated beverages after three or four in the afternoon. A dinner that sets your tongue on fire may soon blaze a path down your esophagus, especially if you suffer from heartburn, which can leave you uncomfortable and wide awake once it's time to get some z's. And if that meal was high in fat, you're in for even more sleep deprivation: The Federal University's study presented at last year's meeting of the APSS revealed that total fat intake, particularly the fat consumed at dinner, can lower the amount of REM sleep while raising the arousal index.[4]

[1] Kazuo Eguchi; Thomas G. Pickering; Joseph E. Schwartz; Satoshi Hoshide; Joji Ishikawa; Shizukiyo Ishikawa; Kazuyuki Shimada; Kazuomi Kario. Short Sleep Duration as an Independent Predictor of Cardiovascular Events in Japanese Patients With Hypertension. Arch Intern Med., 2008;168(20):2225-2231;

[2] American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2008, June 12). Moderate Exercise Can Improve Sleep Quality Of Insomnia Patients. ScienceDaily.­ /releases/2008/06/080611071129.htm

[3] Goel N, Kim H, Lao RP, An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women, Chronobiol Int. 2005;22(5):889-904;

[4] American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2008, June 10). Fat Intake Negatively Influences The Sleep Pattern In Healthy Adults. ScienceDaily.­ /releases/2008/06/080610072117.htm