While the exact purpose of sleep has yet to be determined, science tells us that it is vital to a healthy life. The National Sleep Foundation reports that the average person requires six to ten hours of sleep a night. Unfortunately, over seventy million Americans deal with sleep problems. Below is an overview of some of the research-supported ways to gain more sleep in your life.
The most important thing that you can do to increase the likelihood of sleeping at night is to follow a routine and a schedule. First, you should go to bed and wake up in the morning at the same time every night, regardless of what day it is. Secondly, you should maintain the same routine prior to going to sleep each night. Brushing your teeth, saying a prayer, reading, and relaxation exercise all can be a part of this routine, as long as you are consistent each night. Schedules and routines will allow your body to more strongly associate time of day and start associating certain behaviors with bedtime.
Stay out of your bedroom unless you are using it for sleep or sex. Your body learns environmental cues. When you eat in a kitchen, you prime your body to associate the room with food. This also explains why the sight of a toilet may make you more likely to go to the bathroom. By reserving your bedroom for sleep, you should see after about one week, merely entering your bedroom makes you tired.
Food and Drink
Food and drink should be avoided within three hours of bedtime. At the least, they may cause you to wake during the night to use the bathroom. At worst, especially if you consume a stimulant or a heavy meal, the digestion process will prevent you from sleeping. Alcohol should also be avoided, because it is a depressant and leads to a "rebound effect"; your body produces stimulants that result in shallow and interrupted sleep.
Exercise and Napping
Both of these activities should be avoided within six hours of bedtime. Vigorous exercise will cause your body to release stimulant hormones which can prevent sleep from coming. Additionally, naps after mid-afternoon, or that last longer than a half-hour, can interrupt the body's sleep-wake cycle, and lead to lost sleep at night.
By following the above tips you will soon be easily falling asleep and waking refreshed. If you still are having sleep problems after following all of these suggestions, you may need to see a specialist to determine if there is a medical problem preventing you from sleeping. Problems such as sleep apnea can be serious and should be treated as soon as possible.