How to Stop Skimping on Sleep
1. Embrace routine. Start by going to bed at the same time every night (that means, no letting yourself get sucked into a bad TV movie that runs past your bedtime). Most people need between 7-9 hours of shut-eye, so count backward from the time your alarm goes off in the morning to figure out what time you should hit the hay. And by “hit the hay," we mean lights out (not flipping through The Nest magazine in bed), which leads us to our next point….
2. Establish a relaxing ritual. What helps you wind down? The idea is to program your body to start preparing for sleep about 30 to 60 minutes before your bedtime. So whether it's a hot bath, a good book or a little nookie, figure out a few relaxing activities that can help you transition into sleep mode. Note: Blackberries, laptops and TV should not be part of your nighttime ritual. Studies show the type of light that electronics emit can throw off your body's internal clockn and keep you awake. Plus, reading a stressful email from your boss right before bed is a recipe for hours of tossing and turning. Consider banning all electronics from your room and investing in lavender candles (lavender is supposed to aid relaxation and sleep) and some super comfy pillows and soft sheets to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary.
3. Ditch the afternoon stimulants. That Diet Coke you pound down every day at 4 p.m.? It could be the reason you can't fall asleep. Ditto for the after-dinner cappuccino. Follow this rule: No caffeine after 3 p.m. (even if you think it's not affecting you, it will later). And don't forget about hidden caffeine sources, like chocolate and even certain pills you pop for your headache (Excedrin has caffeine, FYI).
4. Hit the gym. Nothing restores the body's natural clock faster than regular exercise. But you may want to schedule your sweat sessions for the morning or lunch hour. The evidence is conflicting, but some experts say that exercise can cause a surge in hormones, like epinephrine that cause people to be alert, making it harder for some individuals to fall asleep. So you may want to try exercising in the morning if you struggle to wind down at night. Snoozed through your workout? Enlist your partner's help to get your heart pumping in the sack (wink, wink).
5. Say no to drugs and alcohol. Don't just pop a sleeping aid as soon as you start to toss and turn. Use sleeping meds as a last resort only and never mix them with alcohol. Even though sleep aids can be a quick fix, they won't tackle the underlying problems that are robbing you of restful slumber, which means you'll quickly become dependent on them. A good rule of thumb: Enlist a sleep aid only after you've exhausted (no pun intended) all other avenues. (And, of course, talk to your doc first.) And don't automatically pour yourself a post-work glass of wine to “help you wind down." Booze can cause fragmented sleep (translation: you'll wake up during the night), so you'll wake up tired. Bottom line: Wine may knock you out faster, but it'll screw you in the end.