Commentary: Effectively counting sheep

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- -- I have been working the proverbial graveyard shift for 10 years as a security guard, attending college as a full-time student the past 16 months, raising a 12-year-old son and maintaining the demands of an Air Force Reserve career, which has made sleep an absolute luxury.

With the clocks springing forward and the sun rising earlier every day, I thought I might share some helpful tips I have learned over the years to afford fellow Airmen a sound night's sleep.

There was a point in time when I would sip on coffee throughout the night to stay awake, which would do just that when I finally put my head on the pillow.

Now, I may drink one large cup of coffee at the beginning of my shift and allow the caffeine to do its job while I do mine, rather than when I am attempting to slip off to never-never land.

I don't know what it is about the darkness of night that seems to turn inanimate objects like the refrigerator into alluring creatures that beckon us, but I also had to stop eating anything four-to-six hours before bedding down.

This allows your digestive system to not have to work so hard while it breaks down the family size bag of corn chips and the liter of cola you may have ingested before timing out at the quarry.

In the past, I would sit and watch reruns of "Wings" before trying to go to sleep. The best thing that happened to my sleep schedule was the TV channel changed its programming, which led me to lying down without all the extra brain stimulation.

I found if I "plan" to sleep rather than, "hope to go to sleep in the near future," I can achieve a healthier nightly rest. Therefore, when I get off work at 5:30 a.m., I am on a mission to be asleep by 6:30 a.m.

This can be achieved by designing your sleeping area for optimal rest. My bedroom looks like the wee-small hours of the morning at any hour. The windows are blacked out, reading lights are dim and the coup de gras is a fan, which provides white noise to drown out any bothersome outside noises that might derail a delightful night of sleep.

As any good Airman, physical fitness is very important to me and making exercise a priority in your life can assist in healthier sleep.

There was a time when I had a few extra pounds. As a result, my bedroom sounded like the set of a horror movie, complete with a chainsaw-wielding, hockey-masked monster (so I was told about my snoring.)

I would wake up exhausted as if I had been fighting for each breath. Once I had lost the unwanted weight, my snoring ceased and my energy levels went through the roof.

We live in a fast-paced world where sleep seems to be of less importance as we add to our already-busy schedules. Take some time and plan your own sleep ritual and your body will thank you.