If you've ever been at risk for a concussion as a result of nodding off into your computer screen, chances are you're not getting enough shut eye.
Been there, huh?
Sleep. It's something we all require and yet insufficient R&R is a fast-growing public health problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the amount of sleep required to stay healthy varies with each individual, the facts are simple - sleep should be considered one of the top priorities on the I'm-keeping-this-bod-healthy scale, and very often it's just not.
But, Really, What's the Big Deal?
The health effects of sleepless nights are aplenty, including the onset of chronic diseases, like diabetes, hypertension and depression, as well as a higher risk for cancer.
Plus, too little sleep makes you feel terrible. Ever try getting excited about life while running on two hours of sleep? Yeah, it's kinda hard. And, if that's not enough, consider this: A lack of sleep can take you from looking svelte to downright paunchy. That's right - several studies show that a lack of sleep can affect hormones and appetite, leading to an onslaught of all-day binge-fests.
Related: Tips for Better Energy
Prepare for Better Sleep
I've always been a less-than-stellar sleeper, but some of my best nights of sleep have been the result of careful preparation, especially when my stress levels are a bit on the high side. Here are some of my favorite tips:
Sweat it out. Studies show that regular exercise = better sleep. You know that delicious fatigue that comes hand-in-hand with a tough workout? Yeah, that'll help you nod off quickly.
Nix the caffeine and sugar. These stimulants give you a little pick-me-up during the day, and the effects are no different in the evening. Lay off, especially in the late afternoon and evening, and give your body some time to calm down. And, hey, kick the cigarette habit. The nicotine is bound to keep your peepers from sleeping and it's gross anyway. Knock it off.
Create white noise. When I was a baby, my parents often lulled me to sleep by keeping a fan next to my crib (I wasn't a great sleeper then either). Call me an infant, but I still fall asleep every night with a small fan running by my bed. The light vibration helps block excess noise, and the consistency helps my brain know it's time to shut down.
Channel some Zen. Sheila Viers, emotional eating expert and holistic life coach, says stretching combined with deep breathing helps put her in snooze mode. "Oftentimes, right before bed, I'll run through a few yoga poses and stretches to open up my hips and shoulders which have usually been contracted from typing at the computer all day. While I stretch, I take deep breaths from my core, which helps to release the stress from the day and calm my mind."
Turn off distractions. It's best to keep what the National Sleep Foundation calls "sleep stealers" out of the bedroom. This goes for computers, televisions and even books. In fact, they say the bedroom should be for two things: sleep and "romance." Isn't that reason enough to get to bed?
Establish a pre-bed ritual. Decide on a specific time that you'll begin to unwind each night and commit to certain relaxing activities, like sipping tea or taking a warm bath. These acts will also help you get to bed around the same time every night. When the clock strikes the bedtime hour, it's lights out - no excuses.
I also rely on a few other tricks, like aromatherapy, to put me at ease. Lavender oils work wonders, as do chamomile, valerian and ylang ylang. Consider an essential oil home diffuser, or make a simple lavender satchel to slip under your pillow.
Last thought: Don't focus on the fact that you're not sleeping. Sounds crazy, but placing too much emphasis on the act of falling asleep can impede your ability to rest easily. Instead, think happy thoughts. Hone in on an upcoming vacation - or one you dream of taking - or that hottie you're lusting after at work. You'll be drifting off in no time.
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