In this stressful economic climate, it's easy to focus more on outside forces than on taking care of yourself. While we may not be able to control what's going on in the world, we can actively manage our health through good lifestyle choices. A few basic elements of being healthy include eating right, exercising and managing stress. To maintain good health, you must also sleep well--or get plenty of quality sleep.
In fact, a recent study published in The Archives of Internal Medicine showed that in their study group of more than 150 healthy men and women, the better the quality and duration of their sleep, the less likely they were to develop colds. The study subjects were inoculated with cold viruses in their noses, then quarantined and followed for the next five days. The bottom line? Those who slept an average of fewer than seven hours a night were three times as likely to get sick as those who averaged at least eight hours. This gives some scientific proof to what your mother has always told you, that getting enough sleep makes you healthier.
Sleeping may seem like a basic, intuitive process that requires no thought or planning. However, this isn't always the case, and sleep specialists therefore emphasize the importance of "sleep hygiene." Following are some tips on how to make the most of your sleeping hours:
· Establish a routine bedtime and wake-up time. Try not to sleep in on the weekends, and try to keep the same bedtime seven days a week. This allows your internal clock to reset so sleep will come to you naturally.
· Limit caffeine. Many people drink coffee, tea and soda all day long. Try to limit your intake to two cups of coffee a day. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours, so if you have problems sleeping, try drinking your last caffeinated beverage before noon. Don't forget that chocolate also contains caffeine.
· Exercise. A regular, daily workout will allow your body to feel relaxed enough to fall asleep. Just be sure to work out at least three hours before bedtime, so you are not kept awake by adrenaline.
· Make the bedroom a sleeping room. Try not to read or watch TV in bed. This will physically train your body to associate lying down in bed with sleep. Also make sure your bed is comfortable, the temperature is cool (65-68 degrees), you have enough light blankets to keep you warm, and noise and light are limited.
· Develop a bedtime routine. This may involve taking a hot bath, relaxation exercises or listening to relaxing music for 15 minutes before going to bed.
· Don't toss and turn. If you can't fall asleep after 20 minutes in bed, get out of bed and do something quiet (and not too exciting) in another room until you feel tired enough to fall asleep. If you still can't fall asleep after going back to bed, repeat these steps until you fall asleep.
· Limit TV and computer use before bedtime. Both of these mediums may be overly visually and mentally stimulating, causing sleep problems.
· Skip the nap. Naps can interfere with your ability to fall asleep later. If you must take a nap, limit it to less than an hour.
· Limit nicotine in all forms. This acts as a stimulant, like caffeine. Not to mention the fact that you shouldn't be smoking at all, for all the reasons you already know.
· Skip the nightcap. Alcohol can make you feel sleepy, but in reality it disrupts the natural sleep cycle, leading to less restful sleep.
· Take a hot bath 90 minutes before bed. The rise and subsequent drop in your body temperature will help to relax your body into sleep.
· Don't bring your worries to bed. If you find your mind racing with worries or planning your next workday, try writing in a journal for 10 to 20 minutes before bed, to clear your mind.
· Rise and shine! When you wake up, spend 15 minutes in the sun to signal to your biological clock that it's time to be awake and alert.
Even during stressful times, following these steps should improve your sleep within two to four weeks. If you still have trouble sleeping or still feel very tired during the daytime, consult your doctor to make there is not a medical problem.