Effective Ways To Wind Down And Feel Your Best

By Patricia Canole

Sleep is elusive indeed. With lives multi-tasked to the umpteenth degree many of us come up short on shut-eye. You toss and turn as you slumber, upsetting the all-important REM-rich cycles. Here, some compelling reasons why you need more shut-eye.

Those of us who skimp on sleep are significantly more likely to be overweight than those who consistently get seven hours of shut-eye a night. When you’re sleep-deprived, your body produces more stress hormones such as cortisol, which slows down your metabolism and ups production of appetite-increasing hormones such as leptin.

Being tired means you’re more susceptible to everything from developing diabetes to catching colds. Experts indicate that after six nights of four hours’ sleep, you may have an increase in higher blood sugar (an early warning sign of diabetes) and weaker immune systems than those who slept eight hours. Sleeping only six hours a night increases the risk of heart disease by 18 percent.

Think you’re slumber savvy? Don’t be so sure! Answer these questions to reveal if you catch enough z’s.

Do you generally wake up before your alarm goes off every morning?
A. Yes
B. No
Best answer: A
You’ll wake up on your own if you’re getting enough sleep, which many of us aren’t. More than 43 percent report feeling so tired it affects their day-to-day activities three days a week.

How fast do you fall asleep when you get into bed?
A. As soon as your head hits the pillow
B. Within 10 to 15 minutes
C. You toss and turn for almost an hour
Best answer: B
If you lose consciousness almost immediately after crawling under the covers, you’re sleep-deprived. But if you toss and turn, consumed by stress, you may be spending too much time in bed, which contributes to insomnia. Try going to sleep 15 minutes later.

How much caffeine do you consume?
A. You’re useless without your morning brew and afternoon cappuccino (not to mention those two diet sodas you drink with lunch.
B. You have a cup of coffee in the morning and either a cup of coffee or a diet drink in the afternoon as pick-me-up
C. Just one cup in the morning.
Best answer: C
The less caffeine you crave, the more rested you are. If you can get through that 3 PM slump (your body’s natural low point) without reaching for the cup of java, then you’re master of your sleep domain.

The major consequence of sleep deprivation is—sleepiness. When you have bouts of insomnia, the result is a general disorientation accompanied by irritability or depression and the inability to concentrate on or to perform your usual functions. Severe insomnia can lead to even more serious problems, like the loss of physical coordination and even hallucinations.

With countless over-the-counter sleep aids also available, most are quick to reach for the bottle of pills when troubled with sleep problems. And very often drugs may cause more problems than they solve. However, there are natural ways to train your body to go to sleep on a regular schedule without the aid of chemicals.

Here are some wide-awake tips from the National Better Sleep Council in Washington, DC:
* First, the possible culprits: Caffeine is a stimulant, and should be avoided, especially at bedtime. Also avoid teas, colas, and chocolates.
* Go to bed and get up at the same time each day—even on weekends—the point is to set your internal clock so that you’re automatically sleepy at the same time each night.
* Get a check-up. Make certain you have no hidden medical condition to account for sleeplessness or for feelings of fatigue during the day.
* Avoid heavy exercise workout and large meals before bed. Both stimulate the body’s hormonal, metabolic and circulatory functions that can interfere with “winding down.”
* Create a sleep environment. Screen out light and noise and set the temperature between 60 and 68 degrees.

Of course nothing can take the place of a good night’s sleep. But a short, 20-minute nap can help ease a bout of drowsiness. Napping can help fight off physical and emotional fatigue, improve work performance and even fight depression. And, most certainly, it will boost your energy level to complete the remainder of your daily tasks. If you’re a 9-to-5er, it’s undoubtedly difficult to catch some z’s at your desk. There are techniques, though, that provide similar benefits to a 20-minute snooze.
* Step away from your workload and just relax your body and close your eyes. Then, take 10 deep breaths. Doing this will help to recharge your body and renew your zest.
* If possible, make the switch from day to evening with some downtime. Take a few moments for some much-needed relaxation after work, but before dinner. You’ll soon find that you can go much longer into the night—without even as much as a yawn!