I have the worst trouble sleeping at night. Every night between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. I am awake and thirsty. I get up and shuffle to the kitchen for a glass of almond milk. I tell myself this early morning ritual is healthy because I am getting tons of calcium and vitamins from the almond milk, but I'm lying to myself. To feel well-rested, I must experience all four stages of sleep, including light sleep, REM sleep and deep sleep. Cutting sleep short or sleeping longer during the weekends or days off can throw off your natural clock so you'll still feel sleepy.
Set your alarm clock to sound during REM sleep. The first 90 minutes of sleep are the most active. You close your eyes and move from being awake to stage 1: transition. Transition lasts about five minutes before moving to stage 2: light sleep. This stage is also fairly short, only 10 to 20 minutes before stage 3: deep sleep begins. You spend about 20 minutes in deep sleep before hitting the first round of very deep sleep. After 30 minutes in very deep sleep the body moves back to stage 3, then stage 2 and finally REM sleep. Our bodies follow this roller coaster pattern of sleep cycles every 90 minutes. Set your alarm to coincide with this cycle to wake up refreshed.
Don't smoke or drink at night. Smoking and drinking alcohol inhibit the body from reaching the deepest stage of sleep. This is the stage where energy is restored for the following day. No deep sleep means you'll feel tired, sluggish and unfocused all day.
Don't drink coffee after 10 a.m. Caffeine causes the heart to pumper harder and faster. It also inhibits the brain chemical adenosine. Adenosine helps promote healthy nerve function. Caffeine makes adenosine invisible, so the nerve cells panic and move faster. This causes you to feel awake and alert after drinking coffee. Caffeine has a 6-hour half-life. That means it takes 12 hours for caffeine to lose that stimulating effect.
Do not take a nap in the middle of the day. Deep sleep is a time of physical restoration and energy. Within the first hour of sleep, your body drops into deep sleep. Blood moves from the brain and other organs and floods the muscles. This is why those short afternoon naps feel so good, but they are terrible for your nightly sleep pattern. Imagine restarting a movie right in the middle. It now takes you even longer to reach the end. It's the same for your sleep cycle. Restarting the cycle with a midday nap is like restarting the entire day. You may have more trouble falling asleep and staying asleep at night.
If you feel extremely tired in the middle of the day, try a few natural remedies for fatigue. Hot peppers have a great way of increasing heart rate without changing chemical processes that affect sleep. Slice up a few jalapenos onto your afternoon salad and feel the energy boost. Exercise boosts "feel good" hormones and energy. Take a 20-minute walk after lunch to fight the afternoon slump. Cut out simple sugars and simple carbohydrates. Foods high in simple carbohydrates, like sugar, can cause an energy crash.