04/05/2009 02:10 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Spring Cleaning

In some parts of the country, winter is still holding down the fort. But for many of us, spring is really right around the corner and soon we'll be embracing the outdoors and welcoming warmer weather. Where I live in Arizona, it is time to break out the flip flops!

Now is also when we start to think about cleaning house literally and figuratively. Attempts to clean out the garage or closets are met with similar attempts to clean up our diets and get ready for shorts and bathing suit season.

I've blogged numerous times about the benefits of sleep on the body, particularly its ability to stay trim and shapely. Around this time of year, those New Year's Resolutions to get more exercise and eat higher quality foods are a thing of the past. Way past. So here's a suggestion:

Stop beating yourself up on what you've failed to accomplish thus far this year, and instead, just put sleep at the top of your priorities and watch what happens!

Sleep--not exercise or diet--is the stronger common denominator to feeling and looking better. Sleep is what will restore you from the inside out. It will boost your immune system, maintain your memory (so you can remember those commitments to getting into shape), and keep certain hormones in balance, including the ones that, when they run amok, will sabotage any efforts to lose weight because you won't be able to keep your hands out of the feedbag.

Imbalanced appetite hormones, for instance, can set the stage for gorging on high-calorie sweets and unhealthy carbs. Yet getting restful sleep can help optimize your body's hormonal system (not to mention prepare your body for burning up those calories throughout your day).

I'll admit, there are a lot of new wrinkles in this year's spring cleaning. The economy has most people on edge. I have no doubts that today's intense stress levels are adversely affecting the quality and quantity of our sleep. Not only do we take our worries to bed with us, fueling insomnia, but we also delay going to bed as we tool around the Internet late at night paying bills or seeking support through others on the Web.

So if you do one thing differently this month, hoping to arrive a little more refreshed and a little less stressed come May, try a sleep makeover:

  • Commit to relaxing for at least 30 minutes before bedtime. No internet, no bill paying, no stimulating activities. If worries begin to creep in, write them in a journal, include a To Do list if that helps, and be done with them for the night.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time 7 days a week. Make sure to get the right amount of sleep. For most of us, that's 7 or 8 hours.
  • Watch what you eat and drink late in the day and into the evening. Too much caffeine and/or alcohol can disrupt sleep, and so can drinking water that will have you going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

A little spring cleaning of our sleep hygiene will allow us all to spring forward...and achieve the kind of vibrant health we all dream about year round. For more tips and ideas, see my blog.

Sweet Dreams

Michael Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor