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Tips for Better Sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a whopping 74 percent of Americans experience difficulty sleeping at least a few nights each week, and recent research shows that one in three people get less than five hours a night!

Sleep isn't just important to help you feel rested and energetic and able to tackle the day ahead, it's also crucial to good health. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that getting too little sleep reduces the amount of human growth hormone in our bodies, which can throw our fat-to-muscle ratio out of whack. Insufficient sleep also causes our bodies to secrete extra glucose to make up for our lack of energy, which causes our metabolism to slow and can lead to weight gain. So what's a bleary-eyed, sleep deprived nation to do? Here are some tips for getting a better night's sleep.

Maintain a regular schedule. Your body's natural clock, called the circadian rhythm, controls your daily sleep-wake cycle. When you stay up really late one night and then go to bed early the next, or vary your wake times in the morning, it throws off your rhythm and makes it harder for your body to get restful sleep. The result is a lot of "surface sleep" but very little deep, restorative sleep. So try to go to bed at roughly the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning, and fight the urge to sleep in luxuriously late on weekend mornings.

Set the mood. Block out any ambient light that comes through your bedroom window, eliminate as much disruptive sound as possible, and reserve your bedroom for sleeping and sex only. Keep the TV out of your bedroom and if you read before bed, save the thrillers for earlier in the day and pick up something light and soothing to lull you to sleep. Make sure your bedroom temperature is good for sleeping - on the cool side - and dress appropriately. Keep in mind that your body's internal temperature dips just before you fall asleep, rises during the night, and then dips again just before you wake.

Food and drink. Eat a light meal in the evenings and avoid eating for two to three hours before bedtime to allow your body time to finish digesting. Skip the after-dinner coffee as caffeine can remain in the body for up to 6 hours and can affect some people as many as 12 hours after consumption. And go easy on the alcohol; while a night cap may help you fall asleep faster, it interrupts your sleep cycle and prevents you from entering deep sleep. If you smoke, avoid lighting up several hours before bedtime. Cigarettes are stimulants that cause your blood pressure to rise and can cause your body to experience withdrawal symptoms during the night, which can disrupt your rest. To help you fall asleep faster, consider having a sleep-inducing snack such as a cup of warm milk (it's not just an old wives' tale!) just before bed. Check out more sleep-inducing foods here.

Exercise. A study of athletes found that these top performers don't actually need more or less sleep than the rest of us, they simply have a higher ratio of deep sleep. Counterintuitive as it may be, getting regular exercise can help you feel more energized because it will help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. Just don't exercise strenuously several hours before bed - stick with a relaxing walk after dinner or some soothing stretching to get rid of tension and prepare your body for sleep.

If you can't fall asleep after half an hour, don't just lie there! Get up and out of your bedroom. Staying in bed and struggling to fall asleep can lead you to associate your bed with sleep anxiety and compound your problem. Do something relaxing and quiet, such as reading a book or magazine or some light stretching. This isn't the time for anything strenuous or energetic, but getting rid of any tension in your shoulders or back could be just what the sleep doctor ordered! Try some light yoga postures or meditation.

You may be tempted to take an over-the-counter medicine or even get a prescription for a sleep aid. However, while these will help you fall asleep quickly, they interfere with your natural sleep cycle, prevent you from reaching deep sleep, and can make you feel groggy and sluggish the next day.

Homeopathic remedies and herbs may help with occasional insomnia, without the harsh effects of prescription or over-the-counter medications. Homeopathic coffee, or coffea cruda, is one of the best treatments for insomnia, while valerian root, passionflower and hops are also effective. These herbs are gentle on your body and don't affect your central nervous system the way prescription sleep medicines do.



Featured Sites:

Cord Blood Registry
March of Dimes
Susan G. Komen

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