"The Daily Show" or Letterman, looming work deadlines, your fussy child, the neighbor's barking dog, or any other reason you haven't been getting enough shut-eye. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep each night, yet surveys suggest that many of us are getting far less. A growing body of research shows the consequences of chronic poor sleep, including impaired memory, lowered immunity, weight gain, and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.
The effects of inadequate sleep on your energy levels are even clearer: You have trouble waking up and getting through your day without the crutch of caffeine. On a physical level, a sound night's sleep is crucial to keeping your mitochondria in good working order. Without it, your levels of blood sugar and stress hormones rise, slowing your metabolism and draining you of energy.
"Good sleep depends on good waking," says Dr. Rubin Naiman, sleep and dream medicine specialist and the author of "Healing Night." "Try to do things during the day that get you excited and make you feel passionate." Staying engaged and alert while you're awake makes you're more likely to sleep hard and well at night. "Exposure to natural sunlight also helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle," he says. In fact, a recent study in the journal "Sleep" found that the natural light provided by simply sitting near a window for 30 minutes can boost afternoon energy and decrease daytime sleepiness.
As bedtime nears, dim your lights to simulate dusk, which helps your body wind down naturally. It's also a good idea to limit stimulating activities (such as watching television) a few hours before bed. A hot bath infused with lavender oil and Epsom salts can also be profoundly relaxing. The lavender acts as a gentle sedative; the magnesium-rich salts relax tense muscles; and after a hot soak, your body temperature drops, encouraging sleepiness.
Still tired during the day? Your preschool teacher was on to something. Unless you suffer from insomnia, schedule a 10- to 15-minute afternoon rest, says Naiman. Don't fret if you can't nod off: What's important is that you recognize and honor your body's innate rhythms, which govern energy. Just a short period of rest, such as a meditation break during your lunch hour, can make a difference in your energy levels.