Jewish World Review May 13, 2003 / 11 Iyar, 5763

BODYLESSONS: Are you sleep-deprived?

By Judi Sheppard Missett | Slowing down enough to get a good night's sleep is a challenge. Today's fast-paced lifestyles leave precious little time for shut-eye. In fact, the American Association of Sleep Medicine estimates that in this nation alone more than a million people are chronically sleep deprived.

But lack of sleep shouldn't be taken lightly, because deep sleep activates the pituitary gland, triggering the release of human growth hormone, which stimulates muscle growth and tissue repair. Without sleep we are more irritable, have difficulty concentrating, are more depressed and more vulnerable to illness and accidents.

Sleep is also the best beauty product. Clear skin, bright eyes, healthy hair -- even a trimmer body -- have been linked to getting enough sleep. According to a study conducted at the University of Chicago, sleep deprivation slows metabolism, which can lead to weight gain.

You can get a better night's sleep by:

-- Reducing anxiety. Practice stress reducers like deep breathing, stretching, talking to a trusted friend, taking a warm bath and aroma therapy. A calm mind equals a restful night. -- Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at approximately the same times every day. A nighttime ritual can help you transition from an active to restful state.

-- Don't let your bedroom do double duty as an office or other activity-generating room. This should be your haven from the chaos of daily life.

-- Do something relaxing right before bed, such as reading a book to your children, listening to soft music or cuddling with your spouse.

-- Get the right ``equipment,'' including a good pillow and a comfortable mattress and bedding. You may want to invest in some specialty items like an anti-snore pillow or a neck roll.

-- Don't eat or exercise too close to bedtime.

-- But do exercise. Studies confirm that exercise promotes restful sleep.

Step aerobics is a great choice because it increases your heart rate while using athletic moves on a platform that build strength and endurance in your legs. You can try a class at a local health club or community center, use a video at home, or just put on your favoritemusic and step to your own beat for 20-40 minutes.

Try this basic knee lift to get started. Stand about 6-12 inches behind your step, and place your right foot on the platform. (Photo A) Shift your weight forward, and step up onto the platform as you lift your left knee. (Photo B) Step back down with your left foot, then your right foot, and repeat the knee lift on the left side.

If you feel ready for the added challenge, you can add a little hop as you do the knee lift, as shown. Continue alternating right and left sides for eight repetitions before switching to another move.

Remember to use good posture as you step. Stand tall, keeping your shoulders relaxed and using your abdominal muscles for support. Allow your arms to swing easily as you move, and try not to bounce as you step down to the floor. Roll through your foot with control, gentlyplacing your heels down on the floor every time. Keep an eye on your step -- literally -- and place your entire foot on the platform every time you step up.

Judi Sheppard Missett is CEO of Jazzercise Inc., an international aerobic-dance instruction company. Comment by clicking here.


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