QUESTION: I'm trying to cut back on the amount of coffee I need. Don't suggest quitting! -Mike McCoy, Moscow, ID
MARY JANE: You can try two things that will definitely help. Coffee drinkers are no doubt dependent on caffeine, but the ritual of breaking for a cup of coffee is difficult to replace. Teas, coffee substitutes, and decaf coffee can certainly help. But napping is by far the best replacement.
If you're like most people, you work at maximum efficiency for the first few hours of your day. You take a lunch break and by 2 or 3 pm you're functioning at about half your capacity. But your body has the perfect system for rejuvenation. It's called sleep.
Widespread disdain over the workplace snooze is diminishing. Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee, reach instead for a pillow. If you're up against some office diehards, point out that employees at Nike have "relaxation rooms." Some big firms even have nap rooms complete with pillows, blankets and alarm clocks. Others have "nap nooks."
If you're not getting enough sleep at night, it'll be hard to recharge in 10 to 20 minutes. If you've had little sleep the night before, you might be better off sleeping through your lunch break. Your energy will return, and you'll be more productive than if you keep pushing at half your capacity.
QUESTION: I can tell my husband thinks Valentine's Day is a nuisance, and every year there's a tension between us. (I have to admit, I love to get flowers.) Any suggestions? -Pam Palmer via email
MARY JANE: He's probably objecting to the over-commercialization of a day dedicated to love. Have you considered giving him flowers?
New research from the State University of New Jersey in Rutgers says receiving flowers helps with depression, makes you feel more sociable and improves your mood. In one of their studies, flowers were delivered to 147 women in their homes, in another they were given to 51 men in elevators, and in a third they were sent to 104 retirees. All three groups registered improved moods.
Go to work changing your husband's "mood" with flowers. Don't wait for Valentine's Day. Be imaginative and avoid over-the-counter store-bought looking bouquets. Stop by the roadside and add a sprig of pine, try a garlic stalk, or a branch from a blackberry bush. More and more u-pick flower farms are sprouting up around the country. Harvesting flowers has to be as therapeutic as receiving them. Farmers' Markets usually have an abundance of fresh and dried flowers. If he doesn't come around, bouquets given to yourself are just as effective, according to Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Ph.D., the lead researcher in the New Jersey study.
Start giving and getting those bouquets now. You have work to do, all of it brightly colored and wonderfully scented.
QUESTION: I like to paint my fingernails. Two years ago I discovered that fussing with my nails and making them pretty keeps me from biting them. (I've been a nail biter since grade school.) But, I'm starting to worry about its toxicity. -Mary Ogle via email
MARY JANE: If you're looking for a completely non-toxic polish, you're out of luck. Hopefully, polish manufacturers are working on this. It wouldn't hurt to drop them a line. We now have non-toxic house paints. Why not nail polish?
The three nail polish ingredients most often cited as the ones to avoid are formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). There are three brands that I know of that do not contain these ingredients. No Miss Nail Polish (800-283-1963, www.nomiss.com) comes in 100 different shades. Sante Nail Polish comes in 24 shades (888-456-4662). L'Oreal is sold in drugstores everywhere & lt;www.loreal.com & . No Miss also makes an Almost Natural Polish Remover without acetone and ethyl acetate. If you use layers of base and top coats, No Miss remover requires a bit of rubbing. Try a single coat of polish and remove it when it starts to wear. It'll dry more quickly, and you can wear different colors more often.