Improve Sleep to Improve Health

02/28/2015 09:51 am ET | Updated Mar 23, 2016

Now that we are well into 2015, many people are struggling to keep their New Year's resolutions to improve their health. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 8 percent of people actually achieve their resolutions. That's the discouraging statistic we're up against in making our resolutions a reality.

Two of the most common New Year's resolutions are losing weight and lowering stress levels. One common factor that can help achieve both of these goals is sleep.

Regularly getting a full night's sleep can reap many health benefits, including weight loss and stress management. In contrast, getting too little sleep can cause us to eat more than we normally would and increase our tendency to choose unhealthy, higher calorie foods, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Not surprisingly, this pattern can lead to weight gain.

Poor sleep can also boost the level of cortisol -- the stress hormone -- your body produces, which can increase your blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety levels. The body repairs and rejuvenates during sleep, helping you physically and mentally recover from the stresses of the day. If you don't get enough quality sleep, you're missing a chance to take a break from stress.

Despite the important role sleep plays, a recent Gallup Poll reveals that 43 percent of Americans report their sleep needs are not being met. Fortunately, there are several ways to start sleeping more soundly:

Set Sleep Habits -- Set your body clock by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. To signal to your body that it is time to go to bed, create a nighttime routine that helps you relax, such as reading, stretching or listening to soothing music. Avoid TV, computers and smartphones before bed, as the light from these devices can keep the brain stimulated and can make it difficult to wind down.

Work it Out -- Regular exercise, especially cardio, has been shown to improve sleep quality. Aim for a healthy mix of both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even exercising for as little as 10 minutes at a time can promote health benefits.

Avoid alcohol -- When it comes to sleeping, a nightcap is a misnomer. Alcohol can impair sleep quality by causing more frequent awakenings at night, producing less satisfying sleep. Drink in moderation and come home from happy hour a few hours before bedtime to allow enough time for the alcohol to wear off before you hit the sheets.

Treat Problems -- A serious health issue, such as sleep apnea could be the cause of some people's sleep woes. For the 25 million Americans losing shut-eye to sleep apnea, there are many treatment options available. Patients who don't like wearing a CPAP mask should consider oral appliance therapy (OAT). Provided by dentists who are knowledgeable in dental sleep medicine, OAT uses a custom-fit "mouth guard-like" device to help keep the patient's airway open.

Quality sleep is essential to healthy living and, therefore, to accomplishing New Year's resolutions to lose weight or lower stress. Get on the right path to healthy sleep and take the first step to a healthier 2015.