5 simple tips to getting a good night's sleep

A few weeks ago, I need to re-evaluate my life choices. On a Friday night, I didn't even consider going to bed until around 3 a.m. I wasn't out partying or anything. I just really really wanted some time to myself. With my hectic schedule, stress follows me constantly.

Having some time on a Friday night to relax was absolutely amazing. Until I looked up at the clock and realized it was way past my bedtime. This whole thing threw off my entire sleep schedule. I didn't go to bed at a decent hour on Saturday. Same for Sunday, which really messed with my Monday. It was insane. So I looked into a few things that can help you get to bed on time every night. Here's what I found that has helped me.

1. Avoid late night snacks or meals

I'm a huge offender in this area. When I would end up staying up later and later, I would start eating dinner and having snacks later and later. If you want to get to bed on time or wake up earlier, this is a big no-no. Your internal clock is set in part by meal times. You should finish your dinner several hours before bedtime. So dinner at 9 or 10 p.m. is probably out if you want to be up early.

Light snacks can help ease hunger in the evening hours before bed. Just make sure it's nothing that could cause indigestion or keep you awake. These foods will vary from person to person, but usually dairy or carbohydrates will do the trick.

2. Don't force yourself to sleep

Most everyone knows that you have to be relaxed to drift off to sleep. The worst thing ever is laying down for bed and having your mind race with a million thoughts. I've been there. You probably have too. You can keep laying there, trying to count sheep or imagine a happy place. But don't do that for too long. If you're not asleep after about 20 minutes, get up and do something else until you're tired enough to drift off.

This sounds counterintuitive but it really works. I will typically read something if I can't get to sleep right away. This is usually a hard copy of a book or something on my e-reader. I purposely avoid my phone. Screens don't bother some people, but I've found that they just keep me up. And I often find myself nodding off mid-sentence after maybe 5 or 10 minutes reading. Before this, I would toss and turn for much longer, sometimes hours.

3. Keep a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends

No one likes getting up early on Saturday, myself included. Sleeping in is just amazing. But that habit completely messes up your sleep schedule. Unfortunately, the human body doesn't have a setting for weekends. Once it's adjusted to waking up at a certain time, it will do so even when you don't have to be at work. Sleeping in past your normal wake time on Sunday will throw off your entire schedule.

It's going to suck, but do it. You can even laze about in bed for several hours after your normal wake time. Just do not go back to sleep. Once I got into the groove, I found didn't even need my alarm clock. Life is so much better without annoying screeching to start your day, right?

4. Exercise early in the day

Exercise is good for you for all kinds of reasons. It can also help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly — but only if you do it earlier in the day. Exercising stimulates the body and causes the production of stress hormones that activates altering mechanisms in the brain.

It's this reason that I enjoy taking a walk first thing in the morning. It's the same reason that will keep you up at night. If you're a nighttime jogger, make sure you finish your workout at least three hours before bedtime.

5. Create the perfect sleeping environment

The biggest advice to combatting insomnia is making your bed only for sleep. I was guilty of hanging out in bed during all hours of the day. I would have snacks and watch movies propped up on my pillows. Comfortable, but it made me much less inclined to actually sleep in my bed. Turns out, there's research on this. If you're having trouble getting to sleep, hanging out in your bed may be a factor. Humans are creatures of habit. Training your brain to associate your bed solely with sleep will make bedtime a lot easier. (Also, sex in the bed shouldn't affect anything, so have fun.)

Other things that can help is blocking out light. If there are distracting environmental noises, try white noise or music. The temperature should be relatively cool between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If you can't put your phone or tablet down, consider keeping all electronics outside the bedroom. Same goes for pets that might be disturbing you.

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