Catching the Elusive Zzz's: 5 Ways to Get a Better Night's Sleep

Catch some Zzzz'sCatch some Zzzz'sI never really put much stock in the importance of sleep until I wasn't getting any. I've always been an early riser. I'm not much of one to hit the snooze button repeatedly or sleep through my alarm. Now I dream of a day that starts with the sing-song ringtone of my cell phone alarm, gently rousing me from my peaceful slumber. Instead, like most moms, I have my own personal living alarm o'clock. He's a 14 month old ball of relentless energy, and he gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "early riser". Luckily he sleeps through most nights, so I don't have much to complain about, but it took us 8 full months to check that milestone off in the baby book.

Before that, my husband and I defined a "good" stretch of sleep as two hours. It wasn't uncommon for us to be up every 30 minutes, sometimes for an hour or more, performing those crazy middle of the night antics that sleep deprived parents do. If someone had told us our son would sleep if we rocked him while we stood on our heads and ate circus peanuts, we would have done it in a heartbeat.

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Those eight months of tortuous sleep deprivation gave me a newfound respect for the one piece of my health I'd completely underestimated for most of my life - sleep. According to the CDC, I'm not alone in this neglect: more than 25% of Americans don't get enough sleep.

A good night's sleep does more than keep unwanted bags from appearing under your red-rimmed eyes. Sleep can affect your energy levels, productivity, and even your weight. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. How do you measure up?

Not quite hitting the mark? Try these tips to catch a great night of zzzzz's:

1) Stick with consistent bed times
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Don't wait until you're nodding off on the couch in front of the TV to drag yourself to bed. That means getting up at the same time on weekends too.

2) Banish the artificial light
Ditch the screen before bed. The blue-hued light that subtly radiates from televisions, computers, and cell phones stimulates your brain and interferes with your ability to fall asleep. Power down before it's time for bed.

3) Get your heart pumping
Get plenty of exercise. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, vigorous exercise can help you sleep more soundly.

4) Create a cozy environment
Make your bedroom dark, dark, dark. Even ambient light from clocks and street lights outside your bedroom window can have an effect on your sleep.

5) Ditch the late-day joe
Curb caffeine intake in the afternoon, otherwise it can disrupt your nighttime slumber.

By Heather Neal
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