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15 Tips for Better Sleep

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Two weeks ago, on "Wellness Wednesday," I moseyed on over to Norma Kamali's Wellness Café to get the skinny on sleep. Geraldine O'Keefe, herbologist, sleep expert and creator of the much touted "Escape to Sleep" tonic was Norma's featured "Wellness Wednesday" expert.

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Sleep interests me. Having the proper amount of restful sleep is a critical component to our well-being. Lack of sleep can lead to anxiety, depression, addictive behaviors, weight gain and cardiovascular problems, and it can affect your ability to make split-second decisions. And on the other side of the coin, sleep heals.

A good number of my coaching clients have difficulty drifting off into a peaceful slumber and/or sleeping through the night. Sometimes there are obvious reasons for their lack of sleep. Perhaps they've overindulged in food and drink late in the day or night, or they are stressed to their last nerve and are ruminating on the events of the day. In other words, their basic lifestyle is not a healthy lifestyle. In fact, they've done a bang-up job of creating a "wired lifestyle."

Still, wired, overworked or not, we need to sleep. Requirements vary from person to person. According to national sleep studies, most healthy adults need at least eight hours of sleep to function best. Sleep studies indicate that in addition to the aforementioned "bad" things that can happen to sleep-deprived people, those who average less than five hours sleep per night are 73 percent more likely to be obese. Lack of sleep affects the balance of hormones (ghrelin and leptin) in the body that affect appetite.

I asked Geraldine O'Keefe to supply us with her best-ever sleep tips. She explained, "Sleep heals. As you sleep, your body miraculously sets out to repair from the stress of the day."

In a world that promotes over-the-counter and prescriptions drugs ad nauseam, I thought it might be refreshing to know that there are natural alternatives available.

Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), if you are taking prescription medications or have any existing medical conditions, you should check with your physician before using any natural products.

And now for Geraldine's 14 tips to "escape to sleep":

  1. Create a regular sleep routine. You can set your body's natural sleep-wake cycle by creating a familiar bedtime routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Being consistent is important.
  2. Make sure your bed is comfortable. If you wake up achy and sore, consider a different type of mattress and/or pillow.
  3. Do not drink a lot of liquids in the evening.
  4. Avoid alcohol.
  5. If you smoke, quit. Nicotine is a stimulant, and it disturbs your system and disrupts sleep.
  6. Play some soothing music, burn some familiar incense. Train your mind to accept these things as sleep signals.
  7. Do some light stretching yoga.
  8. Set a regular time and bedtime routine. Try to choose a time when you feel tired but make sure you can get your eight hours in. Take a warm bath before bedtime. Turn down the lights to help prepare you body's clock for sleep. Turn off stimulating things like TV, computers, phones, etc. Listen to books on tape or read a light, entertaining book, or scriptures. Take a few minutes to sit quietly and center your thoughts on your breath. Try not to break this routine, so that your body stays on schedule. If you must, make changes in small increments.
  9. Wake up the same time everyday. If you have had a restful night's sleep, your body should wake up naturally. If you need to set an alarm, you may have to set an earlier bedtime.
  10. Nap to make up for lost sleep. A daytime nap can make up for lost hours sleep. It is better to do this than to sleep later and disturb your routine. If you believe that a nap will keep you up during the night, it is best to try to keep the nap time to a limit of half an hour in the afternoon.
  11. Reduce caffeine, especially in the form of coffee, teas and soft drinks. Avoiding stimulating foods, especially in the evening.
  12. Do your best to have dinner before 7 p.m. to avoid going to sleep with a full stomach. If you find yourself falling asleep after eating, get up and do something like going for a short walk, cleaning out your closet, straightening the kitchen, planning your day for tomorrow, etc.
  13. Use yoga or relaxation to help reduce stress, detoxify your body and calm your mind.
  14. Do not stress about not sleeping. Close your eyes and use your gentle yoga breathing techniques to get the oxygen to all your cells and send a mental message to all parts of your body to relax. That will help you fall asleep. Concentrate of relaxing and free your mind of wanting to sleep. Visualize your favorite relaxing place, and let your mind take you there.

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