Tip of the Week: Six Ways to Ruin a Night’s Sleep

If you're tossing and turning instead of falling asleep at night, it's probably not because the bed bugs are biting. Rather, a number of simple mistakes we make when trying to grab some shuteye are often to blame. We consulted with Alex Chediak, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, to learn about the most common things we do to spoil a great night's sleep. Avoid the following six habits and sweet dreams should be near in your future:

Early Bedtimes: While heading to bed at 8 p.m. might seem like a great way to get your sleep schedule on track, such an early bedtime will likely deter your good intentions. That's because hitting the sack before (or too soon after) the sun has started setting usually does not align with your circadian rhythm, the body's natural sleep-wake cycle. In order to keep pace with your circadian rhythm, Dr. Chediak recommends waiting until you're drowsy to fall asleep and then waking up at the same time each morning, giving your body a set schedule to sleep by.

Bedroom Gadgets:  No, not those kinds of gadgets. We're talking about ordinary computers, BlackBerries, and televisions--all of which are probably best left outside the boudoir. Mingling electronics with your sleep site sends your body mixed messages about whether it should be turned on or off. In order to keep your bedroom a restful place, keep it free of digital devices.

Having a Nightcap or Two:  If you're having trouble falling asleep, drinking is not the right remedy. A few beers will definitely make you drowsy, but that does not translate into a solid night of sleep. Instead, sleeping after drinking is one of the surefire ways to guarantee a miserable morning. You'll usually get about four hours of light sleep, Dr. Chediak explains, but wake up afterward feeling lousy and unable to fall back asleep. If you're looking for more solid sleep that will leave you well rested, then the bar scene should not be part of your bedtime ritual.

Working Until Bedtime: Think you'll be able to fall asleep if you move right from checking your e-mail to bed?  Think again. Actually stop thinking. If you've got work-related matters buzzing around in your head, give them a chance to calm down before you consider sleeping. Putting a time barrier between work and sleep should ensure that you're having sweet dreams instead of stressful nightmares.

Watching the Clock: Watching each minute--or second--pass by is not going to help you drift off. Instead, it will likely make you more anxious about the time you're spending without sleeping. Instead of counting the passing minutes, Dr. Chediak recommends getting up to do a calming activity, such as a crossword puzzle or reading a book and then heading back to bed when the drowsiness hits again.  (And turn that clock face away from the bed.)

Dark Mornings: Your morning routine can actually have a pretty big impact on your sleep success. You need to let your body know when it's time to rise and shine and the best way to do that is by exposing yourself to some bright lights. Doctors recommend getting about 20 minutes of early-morning light exposure. It will let your body know that it's time to get going and reduce drowsiness.

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