When you're doing laundry late at night because you're working all day or even getting early to attend exercise class even though you're exhausted, here's what happens. Tired people tend to be less civil and more irritable. Productivity and mental clarity diminish (so you drink more coffee). Sleepy children tend to get poor grades in school. Traffic accidents are more likely. Exhausted individuals are more apt to use alcohol and other drugs to compensate for fatigue. The un-rested tend to get sick more often.
How can you tell if you're sleep deprived? Here's a couple of hints: Can you nap anytime, anywhere? Do you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow? Do you need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you're not getting enough sleep at night.
So what can you do? First make sleep a priority. Most people need at least eight hours a day. Also, develop a bedtime routine by getting ready an hour before sleep and always retire and awake the same time each day. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and heavy exercise several hours before bed.
Naps aren't just for babies. The afternoon siesta is an honored tradition around the world. If you hit a slump during the day (most of us feel a little sleepy after lunch), catch a few winks. Patricia, a dedicated nap-taker, says she sleeps for exactly 12 minutes every day after lunch--no less, no more. She merely lies down and tells herself to wake up at the right time. Anymore, she claims, makes her groggy.
If you can't manage a nap, then relax. Bodies need both physical and mental breaks throughout the day. Instead of pushing through your fatigue, give your body what it needs, a rest. Don't work through your coffee break. Don't run errands while eating in your car during lunch. And if the housework needs doing, put your family to work so you can rest in the evening.
Step 3. Exercise
One the other end of the spectrum is exercise. Like sleep, it's vital for good, low-stress health. Besides controlling weight, regular physical activity lowers your risk for heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer and stroke. Exercise increases longevity and helps diabetics manage their condition better (Journal of the American Medical Association, 1989, vol 262). These facts alone should decrease stress.
Unfortunately, only one-tenth of Americans are exercising as much as they should. This wouldn't be so bad except everyday tasks have become less taxing. This means occupational activity, the type of exercise you get from just doing your job or working around the house, contribute very little to physical fitness. Instead you have to squeeze "recreational" exercise into your already tight, stressful itinerary.
Before you get stressed out, let's look at why exercise should be part of your daily routine. First, it makes you feel better. Once you've been exercising for two months (make that a goal), you'll be hooked. Two, you'll look better. You'll smile easier, walk straighter, shed a few pounds and emanate a healthy glow. Lastly, stress will be much easier to handle-that project that usually takes two hours, may only require one and a half. There's your 30 minutes for physical activity. Not only does exercise remind tense muscles to relax, but you begin to breathe and forget about your worries, at least for awhile.
Step 4. Alcohol
Many people use alcohol to relax. But this approach to stress reduction has far reaching effects. Short-term, drinking can cause hangovers, increased urination and thirst, and like caffeine, insomnia.