As the new year unfolds, many of us have resolved to eat better and exercise more. All for the good. But we may be neglecting what could be the most important health habit of them all: getting enough sleep. While no one knows why every animal on the planet sleeps, we do know the myriad health benefits it provides — and the dangers associated with poor sleep.

Inadequate sleep suppresses leptin, a hormone that tells the brain we are full and keeps us from craving all the wrong foods. Sleep is when the brain consolidates memories and releases painful emotions. Four or five nights of poor sleep and you become pre-diabetic!

How do you know if you are getting enough sleep? Seven or eight hours is ideal for most people, but the general rule is, are you waking up with enough energy? There are general recommendations for helping your body to sleep.

1 Eat three meals a day. If dinner is your biggest meal, your body is receiving most of its fuel supply at the exact wrong time of day, taxing the heart and interfering with deeper stages of sleep. Avoid alcohol or allow two hours before bedtime for each drink.

2 Slow down an hour before bedtime by doing something relaxing and quieting such as knitting, reading for pleasure, or TV that is mindless (like an episode of Friends).

3 No caffeine of any kind after lunch. Caffeine can stay in the body for up to eight hours.

4 Avoid computers, iPads, Kindles, etc for at least two hours before bedtime. The light from these devices fools the brain into thinking it's still daytime!

Sleep matters. As Warren Buffett said, "When forced to choose, I will not trade even a night's sleep for the chance of extra profit."

Robert Maurer is a Spokane psychologist, consultant and author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life.

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