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April 2010
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Time to Stop Counting Sheep
Three tips to help you sleep soundly.

Irritability, anxiety and distractedness Ė just a few of the common side effects of sleep deprivation. And while you may think that these symptoms only occur after weeks and weeks of extreme insomnia, think again: just missing a few hours of shuteye each night can increase your chances of daytime mood swings, memory loss and a weakened immune system. Of course, sleeping in on a Saturday may leave you temporarily refreshed, but changing your night-to-night habits throughout the week is the sure way to sleep soundly and regain daytime energy. Test out these tips to help get your body back under control:

  1. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine: The human body responds quickly to habit, so just repeating a few rituals every night will help let your system know that itís time to shut down. Turn the lights down an hour or so before bed, and consider taking a warm bath or reading a book. Many people also find that calming music or aromatherapy candles help them wind down. Avoid television and computer use before bed, and always try to avoid using similar bright, stimulating systems (like video games) from the comfort of your mattress. Your body needs to know that the bed is for sleeping!
  2. Make your bedroom soothing: The finest hotels and spas in the world pay big bucks to interior designers, and not just because they want carpet recommendations. Creating a plush, calming space is crucial to making your body want to relax and hibernate. Invest in a mattress and pillows that best suit your body type and comfort requirements. If youíre sharing a bed, make sure thereís plenty of room for you to stretch out. And while cuddling with a pet or child may be fun, break the habit if itís interfering with your sleep. Experts recommend a cool, quiet and dark bedroom environment, although some people find that several blankets or a white-noise system helps them drift off. If your bedroom receives a lot of natural sunlight, consider using blackout curtains to avoid waking up hours earlier than you intended.
  3. Just say no to the following: Nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, food and drink. Itís no secret that stimulants disrupt sleep, but you probably have no idea just how much. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants for eight hours before bed; alcohol, which may make you feel tired, actually upsets sleep. The Mayo Clinic advises everyone to eat light dinners at least two hours before bedtime, and to stay clear of liquids unless you want to get up multiple times throughout the night. Prone to heartburn? Avoid spicy or fatty foods for a more restful slumber.

Besides these few tips, there are other tricks to try such as regular exercise, meditation and more. If you canít fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, donít force it; agonizing over insomnia will further awaken and stress your body, so get up and do something (like reading or knitting) that will relax you. Sleeping pills are only to be used as a last resort, and only with the approval of your doctor. Many individuals find that experimenting with natural techniques usually solves the problem before the need for medication. If nothing seems to work, talk with your doctor to learn about even more options like acupuncture and yoga. Most important, donít ignore your body Ė itís the only one you have!


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