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From A to Zzz: 9 Tips for a Better Slumber

From A to Zzz: 9 Tips for a Better Slumber
Illustration by John MacConnell

Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, but we should, as a rule, aim for seven hours.

To sleep, perchance to dream, blah blah blah. Yes, sleep is awesome--and many of us don't get nearly enough of it. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, a third of Americans are getting fewer than seven hours of sleep a night, which is not good for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that it can increase your risk of obesity and lead to, um, an early death. Also, you'll never find your Prince Charming with bags under your eyes. Follow this primer and you'll soon sleep like a baby.

Take a sleep aid.

Sleeping pills may work for you, but the jury is out on how effective they are. Some researchers have even suggested a link between sleeping medications like Nytol and Alzheimer's. So try something more old-fashioned like a cup of hot milk (which contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps you sleep) or a cup of tart cherry juice, which studies show can lead to a modest improvement in sleep.

Banish cell phones and computers from the room (and pick up a book instead).

Keeping your phone on your bedside table is a terrible idea. Also make sure you leave at least 30 minutes between checking your email and turning in for the night. Light emitted by our gadgets adversely affects our melatonin levels, which affects sleep. By contrast, reading lowers stress levels faster than any other common activity--and it will help you escape the worries of real life.

Keep that clock out of sight.

Seeing it from your bed can induce anxiety: Only five hours until the alarm goes off! Turn it away so you can't see it. If you can avoid having to set an alarm at all, even better.

Eat a good breakfast--and a smaller, earlier dinner.

This is the hardest one for many of us, trained as we are to eat and run in the morning, but try to find time for a proper breakfast--and go easy on food late at night. No one wants to sleep on a full stomach.

Plan out your day when you wake up.

This will help induce a calmer mind, ready to tackle what's ahead. While you're waiting for your coffee, just write out the five or six things you plan to do and in what order.

Mind your breathing.

Try meditation every morning for 10 minutes. A few simple breathing exercises should do the trick, maybe with the help of an app like Headspace.

Drink less alcohol, AND more water.

You really don't need us to explain why. We've all had to deal with the conse-quences of a boozy night.

Tidy up your bedroom.

The room in which you sleep should only be the room in which you sleep. It's not your office or your TV den. A cluttered bedroom is like a cluttered mind--it can make you feel distracted and anxious. Keep floors and surfaces as clean as possible. In feng shui terms, you shouldn't even place anything under the bed--energy should circulate.

Install black-out curtains or wear an eye mask.

For those who live in cities, in particular, light pollution can have a profound effect on our ability to sleep well. Take the time and money to install window treatments that really shut out the ambient light, or get an eye mask. It might be strange to adapt to it at first, but it's a whole lot more practical, and cost-effective, than moving to the country.

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