By now, you know that you need 7-9 hours of sleep to function optimally and for good overall health. You may have even heard that sleep is important for weight loss. Yet so many of us just aren’t sleeping at night.
We are overworked, overstressed, over-anxious, and over-caffeinated. Some of us have even fallen for the martydom of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”, implying that working instead of sleeping somehow makes us more important and more successful. But the truly successful, happy, and healthy ones put their sleep as a top priority because:
- it improves memory, performance, productivity and sharpness ,
- it provides the anti-aging and obesity-fighting human growth hormone ,
- it removes cortisol, the stress hormone that causes weight gain, increases inflammation, makes us feel depressed and anxious, and increases risks for diabetes and heart disease , 
- REM sleep provides our brain the opportunity to sort out emotions and memories, which increases our higher-level thinking and learning abilities ,
- it increases our immunity to keep us from getting sick, and increases our ability to heal 
- it decreases our chance of accidents: did you know that some of the major disasters of our time were partly attributed to sleep-deprived workers? (Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez oil spill) 
- it revitalizes our energy 
Realizing how important sleep is can be a good first step to getting more, but how can we improve our sleep at night? Here are some suggestions for getting a better night’s sleep.
Make It a Ritual
Every night, perform the same bedtime ritual to signal to your brain that you are about to embark on sleep. Give yourself an hour or so to unwind by reading, meditating, or taking a warm bath or shower. Prepare for bed by putting on comfortable attire, brushing your teeth, removing makeup, etc.
Go To Bed
Don’t attempt to fall asleep on the couch in front of the tv and expect healthy, restorative sleep. Move into the bedroom when you get sleepy, climb under the covers, and turn off the tv and laptops. This may take some getting used to, but your sleep will improve greatly.
Get Some Sunlight Every Day
Your body is very responsive to light and dark, so make sure that during your waking hours you’re getting some sunlight on your skin, preferably in the mornings. Being exposed to light during the day keeps our internal clock regulated.
If you suffer from insomnia, try adding 30 minutes to two hours of phototherapy to your day, either by getting outdoors, or if it’s overcast, through artificial light. Conversely, make sure you’re falling asleep in the dark so your body will produce melatonin, the hormone that helps us fall asleep.
Reign In Your Thoughts
For many, the minute they hit the pillow and are no longer distracting themselves with TV, technology, or other activity is the minute that the problems of their lives begin to race through their heads, causing anxiety and difficulty falling asleep. Try reigning in your thoughts by focusing on something very mundane.
This is why you hear so many times to count sheep. I count backwards from 100, picturing each number in my head like a counter. You can also recall the step by step process of making your lunch, or something else simple that won’t cause a rise in emotion or worry.
Another effective technique is to tense and relax your muscles one at a time, starting at your head and working down to your toes. I’ve also downloaded free apps that walk you through relaxation techniques, made especially for those who struggle to sleep.
Exercise In The Morning
If you wake up just a little earlier and get in a good workout, you are much more likely to feel sleepy when it’s time to hit the sack. Working out right before bed can actually be counterproductive towards sleep by increasing alertness and body temp, so the earlier the better. Exercising daily will increase your desire for sleep by tiring your body out.
Limit Caffeine to Morning
Caffeine can stay in your system for a long time, so stop drinking coffee, tea, soda and other caffeinated beverages 10 hours before bedtime. Limit caffeinated beverages to 3 per day.
Limit Naps to 15-20 Minutes
Power naps can be helpful in energizing you mid-day, but make sure you don’t go longer than 20 minutes. If you sleep longer than that, you’ll hit the later stages of sleep, which will make you feel even worse than when you started, and may disrupt sleep later that night.
I know, I know, you’re like me, and you love a glass of red wine in the evenings because it relaxes you after a long day. I feel you. But while it does help with the induction of sleep, as soon as it is metabolized by the body, your normal sleep patterns will be interrupted.
Not to mention that you do not want to become reliant on alcohol to help you sleep, as this can lead to alcoholism and dependency. (Do I have to say it? Smoking should also be avoided because it’s a stimulant that will wreak havoc on your sleep cycle.)
Create a Pro-Sleep Environment
Turn off phones and remove any other distractions, and make sure your pillow, blanket, and mattress are cozy. Invest in a new mattress every 5 years or so–sleep is such an important part of good health, it’s worth the investment in a comfy bed.
Don’t Think About Not Sleeping
How many times have you stared at the ceiling, wondering when you would finally fall asleep? This happens to me quite often. I’ve found the best solution is to just get up, reset my brain, and try again in about half an hour. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll go watch TV or read for awhile until I feel sleepy again.
That’s right, with your partner or alone–achieving orgasm will release oxytocin, which will relax your brain and promote sleep. You’re welcome.
Avoid Processed Food
Processed food contains chemicals that may stimulate your nervous system. MSG is found in some Asian foods, but I also just saw it listed on a bag of Doritos a few weeks ago. It’s also an ingredient at most fast food restaurants including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Chick Fil A. Eating foods with MSG will make it difficult to fall asleep, so avoid it at all costs.
Not sure if you’re getting enough sleep? I track my sleep patterns and daily calories burned with my BodyMedia armband.
YAWN. I’m sleepy after writing this. Maybe another suggestion would be to write an article about sleep??
How do you fall asleep at night? Do you have any other tips or tricks to share?