21 days to a new you: Sleep more and better

In today's stressed-out, overdriven world, we all need a good night's sleep.
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

Sleep helps the body restore and repair itself, and it also benefits the mind. Deep REM sleep, during which dreams occur, helps the brain recalibrate itself and lets you face the next day feeling refreshed. But if you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep and wake up more tired than when you went to bed, you know all too well that great sleep can be elusive. Studies show that those who are sleep-deprived battle big carb cravings and do more binge-eating than those who get a solid eight or nine hours of rest each day. The good news: There are a lot of ways you can turn your bedroom and bed into a haven of deep restfulness.

By Anne Hurley for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 23 Person yawning (Rachel Watson/Getty Images)

Day 1: Set a firm bedtime and wakeup time

Let's start with a hard one. The best way to reset your body's confused sleep cycle is to define it. Start by setting a firm wakeup time, perhaps earlier than you are used to. If you usually wake up at 7 a.m., set your alarm for 6. Resist the temptation to go back to bed. If you're a little sleepy for a few days, it will be worth it once your body's used to it. Do the same with bedtime. If you feel exhausted, don't go to bed at, say, 8 p.m. You'll wake up in the middle of the night, and the cycle will start again. Make yourself stay up until 11 p.m. or even midnight for a few days, maintaining your early wakeup time. As you get more used to the wakeup time, gradually move your bedtime up until you are getting the eight or nine hours you need. Says Keri Glassman MS, RD, CDN, "As nice as it feels to sleep sometimes, it only makes it more difficult to maintain your bedtime discipline.

2 of 23 Couple sleeping (Biggie Productions/Getty Images)

Day 2: Move your TV out of your bedroom

That's right, no more watching "Saturday Night Live" in bed. Sleep experts say the bedroom should be used for only two things: sleep and sex. The worst thing you can do for your sleep cycle in your bedroom and bed is watch TV or be on the computer, artificially stimulating yourself in the place that's supposed to be your sleepy haven. It's fine to stay up to watch late-night TV, just do it in another room. You'll start to realize as you head toward your quiet bedroom that the tranquility there helps your brain turn off, and invites healthy sleep patterns.

3 of 23 Woman watching TV in bed (Alex Gumerov/Getty Images)

Day 3: Put up darker curtains or shades

Some people are more susceptible to light than others, but most people need a fairly dark space in which to get quality sleep. This is important especially if your street has bright streetlamps or a lot of car headlights going by, or if any of the windows in your bedroom face east -- meaning the first rays of dawn come in and invade your rest. Putting up full light-blocking curtains or window shades -- or both -- can really help create the restful dark space you really need.

4 of 23 Light shining in a dark room (André Homan Photography/Getty Images)

Day 4: Exercise daily, but not in the evening

Get in at least 20 minutes of exercise every day, preferably in the morning or over your lunch hour. Sleep doctors say it's ideal to alternate cardio with weight and muscle training because the body uses different mechanisms at night to recover from each, which can help with sleep. You don't need to do anything elaborate or super-challenging (unless you want to), just enough to keep your heart rate raised and boost your metabolism during the day. That will help you feel more tired at night and sleep more soundly. But avoid doing your big workout in the evening if you have sleep issues; studies show that it takes your body hours to "come down" from the high of strenuous exercise, so a late-day workout could backfire and keep you up.

5 of 23 A woman running (Jacqueline Veissid/Getty Images)

Day 5: Turn down your bedroom thermostat

Study after study shows that most people rest more deeply and comfortably if their bedroom temperatures are lower than in their regular living space. If the air is too warm in your bedroom, you're more likely to toss and turn, stick a foot out of your covers to cool off and wake up several times a night. Experiment with turning the heat nearly all the way down, or off, and then putting on more covers if you need them. Something about the cool air around your face and head combined with the cozy warmth of your bed and covers makes for a long-lasting sleep formula.

6 of 23 Turn down the thermostat (Monty Rakusen/Getty Images)

Day 6: Switch to decaf at noon sharp

Yes, this is another tough one, especially if you love your afternoon lattes or diet colas. But it's important to confine your intake of caffeine to the morning hours so that your system has a chance to metabolize it and get it out of your system long before you need a quiet body and mind to fall asleep. Switch to decaf, herbal tea or sparkling water. (And this goes double for those five-hour energy shots -- eliminate those completely if you're having sleep issues.)

7 of 23 Decaf coffee (Shaun Lombard/Getty Images)

Day 7: ’Unplug’ at least an hour before bed

Once you've moved your TV out of the bedroom and gotten used to that, now is the time to create a bit of "down time" between TV watching and Internet surfing and bedtime. Most experts suggest about an hour of transition time can really help your brain switch off and get prepared for real rest. I like to think of this almost as a physical state -- a "moat" around the quiet, welcoming world of sleep, separating it from the busy-ness of the plugged-in world.

Glassman recommends banishing all electronics from the bedroom. "Finding it a struggle to give up that phone? Allow yourself to check it before bedtime, then carefully put it to bed too-away from your bedroom. I know it sounds silly, but some people think it actually helps to say “Goodnight, phone! See you in the morning!”

8 of 23 A woman looking at two computer screens (Cavan Images/Getty Images)

Day 8: Read in bed, but only if it relaxes you

Some sleep experts say you shouldn't read in bed at all (see earlier tip about no TV or Internet in bed). So if you find reading in bed disrupts your sleep, get up and go snuggle in a comfy couch or chair to read till you're sleepy. But many of us find that reading in bed helps trigger relaxation. Make sure you're not reading something intense or stressful -- find a good book by a favorite author and treat yourself to a few pages as you drift off.

9 of 23 Reading in bed (Stewart Cohen/Getty Images)

Day 9: Do easy body relaxation and stretching in bed

Lots of people find that this helps ease their body and mind into a sleepy state. Try doing a full-body relaxation, starting with the top of your head, ears, forehead, face, jaw, and work your way slowly down your body to your ankles, soles, and tips of your toes. Consciously relax each small group of muscles and let them sink further into your pillow or mattress. Or try some easy stretching when you first get in bed -- point your toes and stretch your legs down toward your footboard, and reach your arms straight back over your head if you can, or at a 90-degree angle toward the ceiling. Hold each stretch for five slow breaths, and then relax. Ahh!

10 of 23 A woman stretching (Quiet Noise Creative/Getty Images_