How to Get a Deep Night's Sleep

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Back in pre-Edison days, scoring quality sleep wasn’t a big concern. The human body is hardwired to wake when the sun comes up, and when it goes down, our brains respond to darkness by churning out melatonin, the hormone that helps us nod off.

“But then along came artificial light, altering our natural wake-sleep cycle and leaving many of us without the seven to eight steady hours of restful, restorative sleep we typically require,” explains Carmelo Ruiz, D.O., board-certified internist and sleep specialist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

You can’t go back to the days before well-lit distractions like fantasy football and The Daily Show, but you can override these distractions and train your body to stick to a steady sleep schedule so you get the rest you need. These 10 easy tips spell it all out for you.

Related: 9 Ways to Make Your Sleep More Efficient

Skip the Strength-Training Supplements

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Nutritional supplements meant to power your gym session often contain stimulants that leave you wired, discouraging sleep. “A lot of my male patients with sleep issues find that if they stop taking these at any time of the day, they’re able to fall asleep and stay asleep more successfully,” says Medalie.

Finish Your Workout by 7 P.M.

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Exercising causes hormone shifts that can leave you energized for hours after exiting the locker room, and that can wreck havoc on your set bedtime, says Ruiz. The optimal time to workout is in the morning, when your system is refueled after a good night’s sleep. But if you can’t get to the gym, field, or court until after work, just make sure you wrap your exercise session up four to five hours before you plan to shut out the bedroom lights, advises Ruiz.

Related: How to Get Through One Day With No Sleep

Stick to Traditional Mealtimes

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The old-school schedule of breakfast, lunch, and dinner roughly four to five hours apart, finishing up in early evening, gives your stomach the minimum three hours it needs to digest your food. And spacing things out at regular intervals keeps your blood-sugar levels even, preventing the highs and lows in energy and mood that can screw with your bedtime plans, says Medalie.

Cut Your Coffee After 2 P.M.

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“Caffeine can stay in your body for eight to 10 hours after you drink it,” says Lisa Medalie, PsyD, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago. Taking a coffee (or cola) break in the late afternoon can thwart your plans to hit the hay by midnight. Going decaf isn’t necessarily a way to get around this. Adds Medalie: “Even decaffeinated coffee contains some caffeine, and it can be enough to keep you awake later at night.” A large decaf from Starbucks, for example, contains 30mg of caffeine.

Related: 7 Worrisome Facts About Caffeine

Start the Day With a Blast of Sunlight

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“We’re biologically primed to feel energized and alert by UV rays,” says Ruiz. “So standing on your deck for a few minutes or opening your curtains and looking out the window will boost your mood and energy level.” That will also prevent you from crawling back under the covers, delaying your wake time.

Kill the Snooze Button

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Sleep doctors generally give the thumbs-down to this alarm feature. When you hit it to give yourself 10 or 20 minutes of extra sleep time, you throw off your internal body clock, which expects you to rise and shine when the alarm first sounds, says Ruiz. The more you rely on it, the more confused your own clock gets, and your sleep schedule goes out the window. Put tape over the button so you disable it, or use a clock or smart phone without one.

Related: 10 Bedtime Rituals for Better Sleep

Build a Sleep Sanctuary

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Your bedroom should be a fortress of peaceful rest with a comfortable mattress, and window treatments that don’t let early-morning light seep in, says Ruiz. Investing in blackout blinds or shades, a white-noise machine to drown out traffic or loud neighbors, and even a new mattress, might seem pricey, but it’s worth it if it scores you quality shuteye.

Sleep No More Than an Extra Hour on Weekends

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An additional 60 minutes of snoozing in on Saturdays and Sundays won’t affect your weekday sleep schedule. But sleep in longer than that and you won’t feel tired Sunday night. You’ll stay up late, and come Monday morning, you’ll feel like you have a sleep hangover. Says Ruiz: “If you find that you’re using weekends to catch up on lost sleep from the week, then you need to shift your weeknight bedtime earlier.”

Related: 10 Products to Help You Get a Better Night’s Sleep

Commit to a Single Bedtime

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Our caveman counterparts didn’t have NFL playoff games or House of Cards episodes contending for the evening hours. But since these and other distractions lie in wait in the modern world, you have to commit hard to turning in for the night at the time your body expects you to. Stick with it, and it gets easier.

“We’re creatures of habit, so if you generally make your 11 p.m. bedtime, your body will try to force you to fall asleep around that time,” says Ruiz.

Prep for Sleep an Hour Before Bedtime

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If you leave brushing your teeth, getting into your PJs, and other pre-sleep moves to the last minute, you’ll likely find plenty of distractions that keep you up past your turn-in time, says Ruiz. Get your sleep-prep rituals out of the way early, so you have a good half hour or so to read or watch TV in another room. Your body will sense these regular cues, then send you off to dreamland right on schedule.

By Esther Crain

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