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baby boy sleeping in a box

Are you one of the 4 in 10 Americans who doesn’t get enough sleep? See how you can improve your much needed zzzz’s with these tips.

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In 2013, Gallup published the results of a survey about Americans’ sleep habits. The most revealing result? 40% of Americans sleep less than the recommended daily amount.

I’m lucky. Unfettered by rigid schedules and commute, I sleep a good 8-9 hours a night, which seems to be the minimum I can function with anyway. But not everyone has that luxury, which makes excellent sleep habits all the more important.

Chronic sleep deprivation causes many problems. Your cognitive processes slow down and you’re less able to focus, make decisions and solve problems. Your judgement is impaired. It increases your risk for a variety of heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes. It increases the likelihood of causing car accidents. It reduces your sex drive. It can make you feel depressed, gain weight and look older.

Basically, not sleeping enough makes you less productive, less happy and less able to cope with everyday decisions and challenges.

Want to sleep better? Try these tips and techniques.

1. Make your bedroom a place that’s conducive to sleep

Making your bedroom a haven of quiet and calm is going to help. Really. Rule #1:

NO ELECTRONICS

Don’t put a TV in your bedroom. Don’t bring your tablet or your phone in your bedroom. Make your bedroom a No Electronics Zone. Forget about the alarm on your phone–just buy a cheap alarm clock for your bedroom. Basic models don’t cost more than $10.

Use soothing colors and soft textures for your bedroom. Avoid colors like too much orange and red; these are activating colors that wake up rather than calm down. Green, blue, purple and pastel shades are perfect for calming the mind and telling the body it’s time to relax.

Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and fresh pillows. The room temperature should be cool rather than warm; adding blankets is better for your sleep than raising the heat.

2. Follow a strict sleeping schedule

One of the worst enemies of sleep is instability. Your body works on habits and cycles; if you keep messing it up, you’ll find it hard to sleep when you need to (or want to).

Having a sleeping schedule also includes building habits around bedtime: drinking calming tea, reading, writing in your journal, brushing your teeth and so on. Do it in the same order at the same time every night, and soon your brain will make the link between these activities and sleep.

What you want to do here is reduce your body’s production of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone). A warm bath about an hour before bed time allows your body to relax, too.

sleeping woman red alarm clock

3. Watch what you eat and drink

Obviously, it’s not recommended to drink caffeine right before bed. Personally, any caffeine (including green tea!) past 3PM is a surefire way to give me insomnia, but any caffeine after 5pm is not especially recommended. If you crave something hot, have a soothing herbal tea (try Celestial Seasoning’s Bengal Spice: all the taste of chai without the black tea) instead of coffee.

As far as food goes, you want to have dinner earlier than later, and keep it light. There’s nothing worse for sleeping than a heavy, greasy meal 1 hour before bed time. Try to eat a light meal earlier in the evening and fill up on light snacks later if you’re hungry.

4. Work it out

One way to help with sleep is including some kind of workout in your day. For sleep benefits, you should do your workout at least four hours before bed.

Even something as simple as a 30-minute walk can make the difference between sound sleep and tossing about all night.

5. Use aromatherapy

Lavender, chamomile and ylang-ylang are powerful weapons for sleep in the aromatherapy arsenal. They activate the alpha waves in your brain, which are related to relaxation and sleep.

I’ve seen lavender-scented sleep masks and other gizmos, but you can just head to your natural health store and buy these essential oils. Add a few drops to a spray bottle filled with water and spray a few times on your pillow for instant relaxation!

Sleep better, live better

There’s no denying that better sleep means a better life. Personally, bad sleep means terrible mood swings, little to no productivity and just being cranky all day. I’ve developed a routine (yes, I have one, even if I don’t have a strict work schedule) that lets me get the sleep I need to function well every day.

How about you? Have you struggled with sleep problems and solved them with these or other techniques? Share your experiences and routines with us in the comments!

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Anabelle Bernard Fournier

Anabelle is a freelance writer, writing teacher and blogger. She spends a lot of time at home, so she likes to make sure that it's cozy and nice, especially in her reading nook. In her free time, Anabelle knits, walks and learns how to write stories.