The importance of sleep is hard to overstate. When we sleep, our bodies work to restore our mood, regenerate our lost energy, and reequip us with the ability to handle stress and think through situations. Then again, with the demands of our daily lives, sleep seems to be the one thing we can cut back on to finish our schedule. Well, think again.
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Sleep is essential, and enough sleep is just as important. Although people need different amounts of sleep at different times in their lives, the general range is always 6-8 hours (8-10 for the little ones). Just as diet and exercise are cornerstones of a healthy life, plenty of sleep is too. Here’s a few hints on how to get to bed earlier, sleep better, and wake up feeling more refreshed.
Set Your Schedule
Set your sleep schedule, that is. Allot a specific time frame you want to sleep – 7, 8, or 10 hours? Then stick to it. I find it good to develop a sense of how long other things can take, like the shower in the morning, so I can maximize on sleep. For example, based on the time it takes to get read, eat, and head to work, you should wake up as late as possible (or at least leave yourself a 30 min wiggle room).
A part of this is going to bed early enough too. Turn off everything – computer, television, phone – an hour before you want to sleep. This gives you enough time to get ready and actually fall asleep. Alternatively, get ready before you enjoy your last TV show of the day. That way you can turn it off, turn over, and catch some Z’s. Some experts believe, however, that TV before bed isn’t the best thing for the mind.
Pay it Forward
When you lose a few hours of sleep the night before, try to catch up the next night. Generally, avoid taking naps during the day for more than an hour as this will mix up your sleep schedule and body clock. Instead, get to sleep as early as possible during the night.
This is probably the single best way to get yourself asleep at night. Did you have a horrible night sleep last night? Go running. Sound crazy? It does, but it works. You want to avoid being sedentary during the day if you’ve had a bad night sleep. Your body will conserve energy, and when you finally reach bedtime, it may not be on empty.
Brisk walking, stretching, and jogging will all help you feel comfortable during the day and prep your body for the much-needed sleep at night. I bet you’ll find that after you run around the block and then eat dinner, you’ll be feeling ready for bed. Also, make sure you eat well during the day and you avoid those deadly energy drinks.
Night Time Relaxation
Put away the candy, put away the ice cream! Not only has eating sweets shown to increase the likelihood of nightmares, but it also provides a temporary “sugar rush”. In other words, it doesn’t put you in a sleeping state of mind. Instead, take a long, hot bath before bed (no shower). Throw in some homemade bath salts, put on some relaxing music, and focus on a little ‘you’ time.
When finally getting to bed, make sure you’ve got the right atmosphere. Set your thermostat to around 72 degrees, make sure all lights are off or turned away from you, and make sure that when you were in the bathroom last, you used it. Sometimes, people find it helpful to read or write a bit before bed, particularly because it can be so tiring. If you think that’s your thing, try it out!
Make the Right Choices
Unless recommended by a doctor, don’t try to booze or drug yourself to sleep. Chances are, you’ll become addicted to the chemicals and need them to sleep in the future. (Then again, I doubt a doctor would suggest ‘boozing’ yourself to sleep). That said, try the simple tricks listed above. If you feel it is something “chemical”, then try eating a snack high in protein and a piece of fruit about two hours before bed. The protein provides the L-tryptophan needed for melatonin and serotonin production, and the fruit will help your tryptophan cross your blood-brain barrier.