09/08/2016 12:36 EDT | Updated 09/08/2016 12:40 EDT

How To Have The Best Sleep Of Your Life, Naturally

Serene Black woman laying in bed
JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images
Serene Black woman laying in bed

Have you ever been so exhausted that you can't wait to get into bed? You cancel all plans. You have a quiet night. You slather your face with a rich night cream, put on your jammies and prepare to say goodnight. You get into bed, and... you can't fall asleep. So what's wrong?

Sleep is the time when our bodies take a rest from our active and crazy lives. Benefits of sleep range from weight loss to increased immunity, detoxification, and lowered risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

When we don't sleep properly, it shows up on our faces and sooner or later shows up in our work performance and ability to be present in our lives.

If you want to bring fantastic sleep into your life, you're going to have to create the right environment to get it. Like anything, it just requires a little work to reap the benefits of restorative sleep.

#1 Create a sleep sanctuary

  • Make your environment sleep-friendly by removing all the electronics that you possibly can. Electronics emit a type of radiation that can interfere with our sleep (not to mention the annoying lights that often come with them). If you must have your alarm clock or cell phone in your bedroom, plug them in on the other side of the room, away from your head.

  • Make your bedroom as dark as possible by installing blackout blinds. Our bodies are more sensitive to light than we let on. Our sleep and wake cues come from light or darkness being absorbed through our skin and activating the pineal gland. This gland is located between the eyes, so even if you can't get your bedroom 100% dark with blackout blinds, a sleep mask will block out most of the light.

#2 Get a nighttime routine

  • It can take caffeine four to six hours to clear your system, so ensure that you've had your last coffee or tea by 4 p.m. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine and may need to have their last caffeinated beverage earlier in the day or avoid it completely. (Drinking caffeinated drinks become a way of functioning for people who don't sleep well. If you're craving more than two coffees, teas or sodas per day, realize that your body doesn't need more caffeine, it needs more sleep!)
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and don't take sleeping pills. Both substances certainly make us feel like we've had a deep sleep, but the reality is that they don't. Excessive alcohol inhibits deep, restorative REM sleep and often wakes us up in the night as it gets detoxified by the body. Sleeping pills don't let us fall into a deep sleep either, and they also have dangerous side effects. (In my opinion, sleeping pills help us not feel crazy because they make us think we've slept well. If you've ever tracked your sleep on a sleep app after taking a sleeping pill, you'll see that your body doesn't get into REM sleep.)
  • Don't eat or exercise too close to your bedtime. Food in the belly and endorphins in the body can interfere with sleep.
  • Eat a balanced dinner with some protein, complex carbohydrates, good fats and plenty of vegetables. Avoid anything that will cause indigestion or cause a blood sugar spike, such as fried or sweet food.
  • Get off your phone, computer and shut off the TV at least one hour before bed. The blue light that these screens emit will mess with your body's melatonin. Ditto with bright lights in your house.

#3 Make sure you're getting the right amount

  • Go to bed when you feel your first wave of tiredness. This will likely be somewhere between 9-10 pm, when melatonin, your sleep hormone, naturally peaks.
  • To test how much sleep you need, try going to sleep at the same each night and wake up without an alarm clock. Do this for a few nights and you'll learn what your sleep requirement is.
  • Try to go to sleep and get up at roughly the same time each day. Try to follow this as much as you can on the weekends, too.

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