New Year’s Resolution #8 – Get More Sleep

You probably don’t need to be told about the benefits of sleep – we’ve all had to struggle with the lack of energy and poor concentration that follow a rough night. But did you know that the benefits of sleep go beyond keeping you alert and focused? Sleep deprivation is linked to a number of health issues, including an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes, plus it can lead to weight gain. Not getting enough sleep will also suppress your immune system, making it more likely that you’ll catch a cold or flu. In fact, long-term studies consistently show a strong link between getting enough sleep and longer, healthier lifespans. Developing good sleep habits is one of the best things you can do to keep both your body and your mind healthy, which is why our eighth New Year’s resolution for 2012 is to get more sleep.

There are a number of basic steps you can take to ensure you’re getting all the rest your body and mind need. The most important is to keep a regular schedule, even on holidays and weekends. The hormones that regulate sleep follow a distinctive pattern throughout the day, and by going to bed at the same time every night you can help your body maintain a good sleep-wake cycle. Also try to follow the same routine every night before bed to help calm your mind and train your body to relax. Try reading, listening to soothing music, or meditative breathing every night for the fifteen minutes before you go to bed – you’ll be amazed at how much faster you fall asleep. Avoid making the TV or computer a part of your bedtime ritual, though: this sort of artificial light affects the production of melatonin, an important sleep hormone, and can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle.

You can prepare yourself for a good night’s rest during the day by staying away from stimulants like caffeine and nicotine starting 4-6 hours before you want to fall asleep. Also try to get in your exercise early in the day: that rush of energy you get from a run or bike ride will keep you awake if it’s too close to the end of the day. An empty or overly full stomach will also keep you up, so make sure you’ve had a good meal a few hours before bed, then skip the late-night snacking. Alcohol is another enemy of a good night’s rest –  while alcohol is a depressant, and thus will help you fall asleep quickly, it will lead to poor quality sleep later in the night.

Lastly, you want to make sure that your bed is snug and comfortable. Get a high quality mattress and pillows with the firmness you like and keep your bedroom dark and quiet. A lot of people find it easier to sleep with a mask to block out light or with a white noise machine, which will drown out sounds like a partner snoring or the barking of an excitable pet. The most important thing is to find what works best to keep you rested, happy, and healthy.

Goals for 2012

• Strive for 7-9 hours of sleep a night, depending on what your body needs.

• Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol at least four hours before you want to fall asleep.

• Invest in a quality mattress to help you fall asleep quickly.

• Start a regular bedtime ritual like reading, listening to music, or meditative breathing to relax yourself before bed.

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