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May 2, 2012

Get More Sleep & Energy

Make the most of your time in the bedroom and the boardroom—and stay on top of your game, 24/7.

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For the typical adult, there is, in fact, a key to happiness: more sleep. Sufficient shut-eye (seven to eight hours a day) is what wards off colds; lends the brain creativity, wit, and focus; strengthens the body; brightens the complexion; improves sex; and just plain makes life a whole lot sunnier overall. Here's how to maximize the quantity and quality of your sleep.

Don't shirk your housework. Make your bed every day—and launder sheets often. According to the National Sleep Foundation, seven out of 10 get a better night's sleep when sheets smell fresh.

Take your vitamins in the morning. Certain types, like B12, can cause vivid dreams, which can wake you. Other pills best popped in the a.m.: painkillers, which may contain caffeine, and some contraceptives, which may alter sleep patterns, says Kristen Binaso, a pharmacist in Clifton, New Jersey, and spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association.

Quit the afternoon coffee run. Even if you swear you're able to doze after a venti latte, you're cheating yourself out of restorative deep sleep. And steer clear of snacks containing coffee, tea, or dark chocolate after 2 p.m. For a late-day boost, go for a 10-minute walk or reach for a high-protein snack like yogurt.

Nix naps if you find it hard to sleep at night. And resist the urge to lie in bed in the morning after the alarm goes off. "The longer you go without sleep, the better your chances of falling asleep," says Jason Ong, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Rush University in Chicago.

Ditch the smartphone. And iPad. And laptop. Bedside gadgets make it more difficult to let go of the day and drift into sleep. Charge them outside your room, says Ong. The bedroom is sacred. Everything from TV-watching to bill-paying is off-limits, except sleep and sex.

Practice letting go. Too wired to sleep? Write down a to-do list and whatever else is stressing you out, then put it away. Dr. Daniel Volpi, director of EOS Sleep in New York, also suggests focusing on a positive outcome for a scenario that is worrying you.

Hire a handyman. And buy some earplugs. Any noise—a loud radiator, a leaky faucet—is a sleep nuisance, even if you're able to doze off to it. According to a recent Current Biology paper, the thalamus produces sleep spindles (brain activity that refreshes memory) to aid sleep in noisy environments. Some people produce more spindles naturally, but more research is needed to determine how others can boost their production.

Dim the lights at least an hour before hitting the pillow. A bright room can block the production of melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy) and make you more alert, according to recent Brigham Women's and Children, Harvard, and University of Surrey research. Once you're ready for bed, keep the room completely dark.

Avoid over-the-counter sleep drugs. They often contain diphenhydramine, an allergy med that will make you drowsy but won't promote deep sleep. Plus, you'll wake up groggy and with a dry mouth.

Strike a pose. Yoga may calm an over-aroused nervous system. When Harvard Medical School researchers prescribed a half hour of the Kundalini variety to insomniacs before bed for eight weeks, the subjects went from sleeping a mere 6.25 hours to a decent 7.3 hours.

Keep cool. Some sleep experts suggest turning down the thermostat to between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Inspired by science that has found that cool temperatures promote sleep, two University of South Carolina women's basketball coaches invented Sheex ($159 to $219; sheex.com), bedsheets that promise to transfer heat more efficiently and breathe better than cotton.

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