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Sweet Dreams

My wife drives me crazy. She can sleep anywhere, anytime… and through almost anything. I, on the other hand, wake up at almost anything. A good night’s sleep is my Holy Grail.

Getting enough sleep is the #1 challenge in turning my health around. It seems as though practically everything depends on sleeping well.

The studies I’ve read say sleep helps you think more clearly. It increases your energy. It helps you lose weight. Sleep boosts your immune system, too. And people who sleep seven or more hours a night generally live longer.

Plus, when I don’t sleep well, it’s hard to drag my sorry self out of bed to run in the morning. So I’ve been on a campaign to sleep more like my wife… and I’m starting to make progress.

First, I’m trying to break myself of the habit of working at my computer until right before I go to bed. The bright light from your computer screen, tablet – and even your TV – slows the release of melatonin, the hormone that triggers sleepiness.

I’m also trying to be more regular about my sleeping habits. This one is tough, because we have crazy schedules. But when you go to bed around the same time every night, you “train” your body to be sleepy then.

I had already cut back on alcohol. Now I’m trying to avoid having a drink within a couple of hours of going to bed. Alcohol may make you sleepy, but you don’t get good quality sleep.

I’m not where I want to be yet, though. So I’m thinking about taking a sleep aid, and I’ve been looking at the options.

I won’t go the drug route. I found a 2012 report from the Scripps Clinic in California that’s kind of scary. They looked at thousands of cases and found if you take just a few sleeping pills a year, it more than triples your risk of death.

I’ve come across several herbs and other nutrients, though, that have solid track records.

There’s a lot of evidence for “small-dose” melatonin. Apparently this is one of those cases where more definitely isn’t better. A little melatonin helps you get to sleep, but larger doses don’t.

Valerian and chamomile are two common herbs that seem to help a lot of people. (Whose grandmother didn’t drink a cup of chamomile tea before bed?)

Lemon balm and passionflower have a calming effect. And GABA – a chemical your body makes – naturally works to slow down your brain.

So there are plenty of natural options out there. If changing my habits doesn’t do the trick, I’ll try one – or a combination – of these herbs.

Now, if I can just get our three cats to start sleeping through the night…

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