New diet trick: a good night's sleep?

Amazingly enough, a good night's sleep can help you feel better, look better, get more done, live longer, even lose weight. Among other benefits, researchers have found that people who don't get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight. Obviously, the quality of the mattress you're sleeping on is an important factor in getting that good night's sleep. But there's much more to it - choices you make in your daily routine - that can keep you from getting the sleep you need.

A good night's sleep means you wake up refreshed, ready to start the day. OK, you knew that. But did you also know a good night's sleep can:

- Keep your heart healthy.
- Reduce stress.
- Reduce inflammation.
- Keep you looking younger.
- Make you more alert and productive.
- Bolster your memory and help you process things better.
- May reduce your risk for depression by increasing your serotonin levels.
- Help your body make repairs by producing more protein.

If you're not getting the sleep you want and need... if you don't wake up refreshed and ready to start your day... if you look and feel older than your years... here are some tips to help you lead a happier, healthier life.

First step is make sure your mattress is working for you. If you have trouble getting to sleep... if you toss and turn, wake up with a backache or tingling sensations in your hands, legs, or arms... if you wake up feeling like you never went to bed... run, don't walk to a sleep center with a complete selection of mattresses on their floor for you to test. Make sure they have all the best brands, including Tempur-Pedic, Serta, Sealy, and the new foam mattresses from ecocomfort and Lady Americana. And make sure they have experienced sleep experts to explain the differences and benefits.

Mattresses have come a long way in the past few years. If yours is five years old or older, you need to seriously consider getting a new one. But before you buy, make sure the store has a comfort guarantee long enough to be usable -- at least 90 days. Better yet, consider Mathis Brothers Furniture or a Mathis Sleep Center, where you get a full year to test your new mattress and bring it back and re-select if it's not working for you.

When you have a mattress that's giving you the kind of support and comfort you need, consider a few other areas of your life. First, establish a routine and stick to it as closely as possible. Set a time to go to bed, and a time to wake up. Your body and mind will adapt to it, and you'll sleep better for it. Second, adjust your sleep environment. Your bedroom should be cool, quiet, and dark. Third, don't use your bed as a place to read, watch television, text, or check your Facebook page. Make sure you mind and body get the hint that the bed is for sleeping.

The way you feel about your bedroom can also be an important factor. The bed itself, the dresser, nightstand, and the rest of the furniture, even lamps and the color of the walls can have a significant effect on the way you feel about your bedroom, yourself, and your life. If you don't feel comfortable with your surroundings when you turn out the light, maybe it's time to go shopping for new bedroom furniture.

While you're at it, think about your pillows. They're almost as important as your mattress in helping you get a good night's sleep. There are dozens of pillow types to choose from, with different fillings in different shapes. Some are just right for back sleepers, some for side sleepers, some for both. You need to find the size, shape and feel that suits you. Some manufacturers, like Tempur-Pedic, also offer ergo friendly pillows with removable and washable covers that are resistant to dust mites and allergens.

Some other tips: try and get some exercise during the day. Don't eat a big meal within four hours of the time you go to bed. That includes anything that has caffeine in it, too. And don't let worry rob you of your good night's sleep. If you have problems you need to deal with, get a pad and pencil before you go to bed, and write down what positive action you intend to take tomorrow. You may be surprised at the way that simple act can ease your mind.

Few things can affect your life as dramatically as the quality of the sleep you're getting -- or not getting. Make yourself a promise today - to get the right mattress and make small but important changes in your lifestyle that will help you feel better, look better (with those extra pounds gone), be more productive, and live a longer, happier life.


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