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.
PART 2: BOOST ENERGY
Maybe those eight hours just didn't happen. Or maybe it's 3 p.m., you've hit a wall, and your brain is being lulled by an infusion of melatonin, the sleeping hormone naturally released in small amounts in the afternoon (and in large amounts at night). Whatever the case may be, these fast fixes will cure your afternoon energy crisis.
Smell the coffee and wake up. Literally. A Wheeling Jesuit University, West Virginia, study reports that subjects exposed to the scent of coffee scored better on mental alertness tests than those exposed to no scent. It could be that a small amount of the volatile substance enters the bloodstream, or that the expectation of what coffee does for us primes the brain to act more awake. Sniffing a box of chocolates also makes us snap to attention. Subjects who sniffed it while working out ran faster, did more reps, and generally felt less tired, says the study.
Get some fresh air. According to a University of Rochester, New York, study, being in nature boosts energy levels. "Nature is fuel for the soul," says author and psychology professor Richard Ryan, Ph.D. Even seeing nature in pictures gave subjects a surge.
Breathe aggressively. Deep, meditative breaths will calm, but if it's a quick boost you're looking for, try what Kundalini yogis call "breath of fire": Sit with arms stretched upward and mouth closed, inhale through your nose as your navel moves outward, then exhale through your nose as you pull your navel inward. Repeat quickly and vigorously, keeping your body still, except for your navel, for one minute. While it's unclear why the exercise is so stimulating, scientists believe it could be that it works out the respiratory muscles.
Eat complex carbs. Any carbohydrate will break into glucose and provide energy to the brain, but high-fiber choices like whole-grain crackers or fruit will provide a sustained energy source without the crash you get from junk food. Even better: Add almonds, which contain a high level of blood-flow-enhancing arginine.
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