Doctors Prescribing Natural Solutions — Literally

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and the state’s Department of Health have a new program that allows doctors to prescribe a free day at a state park or recreation area. Doctors write prescriptions similar to the ones used for medications that patients can use to waive entrance fees to the parks.

Similar programs exist in dozens of places across the country, including Baltimore’s “Docs in the Park” and Albuquerque’s “Prescriptions Trails.” You can check out the available programs on ParkRx.org.

These programs are part of a prescribing parks movement. Doctors across the nation are prescribing parks to get people to go outside. Using an iconic prescription pad adds weight to doctors’ suggestions that patients get exercise. But it also gets them outside. While physical activity is the most important thing you can do for overall health and wellness, being in nature helps. Time spent in nature is associated with higher activity levels and mental health benefits.

Spending time in nature reduces stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that nature also improves attention and impacts attention deficit disorders. Physical benefits include better health, longer lives, fewer chronic diseases that traditionally come from inactivity, and more.

ParkRx is a network linking park prescription programs across the nation. They believe the programs will be “key players in preventative health for the future of public health.”

Dr. Robert Zarr is a major proponent of ParkRx and prescribed parks. He focuses on the idea that nature is another option in the treatment arsenal, but it has fewer possible side effects. Dr. Zarr recommends that when doctors prescribe a park to a patient, they should talk about the parks in the area that would fit into the patient’s life the best. Similar to prescribing medication, patients are more likely to act on specific instructions than vague ones.

Dr. Zarr admits a second reason for prescribing parks to patients: he wants to help save the planet. He believes that we must take steps to protect and conserve the environment, and the first step is seeing its value. When you go outside and enjoy nature, he argues, you come to know it and value it. The appreciation naturally leads to a desire to preserve it.

The prescribing parks movement is growing, and with the recent moves toward preventative health, we’re not surprised. If your doctor gives you a park prescription, are you going to fill it?

Yoga: An Overview for the Interested Beginner

When you think of yoga, you may imagine a small studio of thin women in trendy workout clothes doing poses they make look easy. Or maybe you’ve been exposed to instagram worthy photos of women folding themselves into pretzels. You might even be able to pick out clothes that would be great for a yoga class.

But yoga is much more than that.

Not only is yoga practiced by people of all genders, shapes and sizes, but it’s also about more than just striking poses. It’s about meditation, breathing and concentration. It’s about balance, untangling ego and being in the moment. The philosophy is just as important as the physical. And the physical isn’t just for those who are already flexible.

No matter what you want to get out of it, there’s a yoga class for you. Each type of yoga has a different focus. For at-home practice, you can pick and choose what you want to incorporate. Studios also focus on different types and characteristics of yoga, so if you don’t like the first studio you try, try another.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga is the most common type of yoga practiced in studios in the U.S. Most simply, hatha describes the physical aspect of yoga: the poses. According to Yoga Journal, hatha yoga is designed to prepare you for meditation.

Hatha yoga focuses on the poses and incorporates breathing exercises. Some sources say hatha yoga is a dual type of yoga; the name “hatha” is a combination of “ha” — meaning sun — and “tha” — meaning moon. This duality creates flexibility in practice.

Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga is a type of hatha yoga — it focuses on the physical poses. Whereas hatha yoga emphasizes each pose, however, vinyasa is much more fluid. The transitions between poses are just as important as the poses, and the breath helps vinyasa yogis (people who practice yoga) in the transitions.

Vinyasa is also known as flow yoga. Movement is emphasized; even stillness in a pose is considered movement because of the yogi’s heartbeat and breath.

A flow yoga class is often challenging because of the constant movement, but the breathing techniques counter that by relaxing and helping you through each movement.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga is related to vinyasa, but it is much more physically demanding. Unlike vinyasa, in which each class is different, ashtanga is very structured. Every class has the same poses in the same order.

Also known as power yoga, ashtanga yoga is challenging. Yogis can expect to work hard and gain strength fast. This is generally not for beginners.

Bikram Yoga

Bikram yoga comes from the idea that yoga should be practiced in an environment similar to that of its origin: hot and sticky India. Bikram yoga studios turn up the heat to around 100°F and yogis are expected to sweat a lot.

Bikram, like ashtanga, is done in set sequences. All bikram classes will be the same, no matter where you go.

If you prefer variation, hot yoga is also done in a hot room, but the sequences vary from class to class.

Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga focuses less on poses and more on reducing stress by using props that help yogis relax into poses that they can comfortably stay in for several minutes at a time. There, they concentrate on their breathing. This overlaps with meditation and mindfulness to address mental health as well as physical.

Restorative yoga is great for anyone needing to let go of the stress of everyday life. Older people and those with ongoing pain and illness will also benefit from a restorative yoga class.

Other Types of Yoga

Other types of yoga are evolving from the traditional types and gaining popularity. Some people say that yoga evolves as cultures do, so it’s natural that new forms of yoga are emerging.

The two new types of yoga currently circulating are aerial yoga and floating yoga.

Aerial yoga combines yoga poses and hammocks. As the name suggests, you do yoga poses in the air using the cloth hammock, which can hold up to 2,000 pounds. The extra support of the hammock can help deepen stretches. Inverted poses are more comfortable because the hammock allows gravity to lengthen the spine, creating space where traditional inverted poses can cause compression.

Floating yoga uses a floating mat (some “studios” go out on paddle boards). While on water, which constantly moves, yogis work on balance and precision in poses to stay on the boards. Of course, falling in the water is not considered failure but fun. Floating yoga, like other water exercises, is gentle on joints.

Yoga is great for improving strength and flexibility and reducing stress. Yoga can be done almost anywhere. You can do yoga on your own if you’re familiar with poses or sequences or at studios that provide guided lessons. You can even find yoga classes that include animals, like goats and cats, that help you get in poses (well, they think they’re helping).

Cold, Healthy Snacks to Eat in the Heat

Summer days bring memories of beach trips, ice cold soda and ice cream excursions. There’s nothing more refreshing than a cold beverage on a hot day, right?

But when you’re on a diet or just trying to eat healthy, all summer brings is sticky sweaty days with little relief.

There are plenty of ways to find relief on a hot day through cold, healthy snacks though.

Note: Many of these can be bought at a store, but be wary of portion sizes and ingredients. It’s often cheaper and healthier to make these at home. And in most cases, it isn’t difficult.

Smoothies

Smoothies are a go-to for fitness fanatics and health nuts, but more than that they are a nutrition-packed cold, healthy drink.

Whether your go-to flavor includes berries, fruits, chocolate or melon (or more), there are plenty of recipes out there. If you have dietary restrictions, these are easy to modify. For example, you can swap dairy for your favorite non-dairy milk or reduce sugar by replacing regular yogurt with greek yogurt.

Water Based Flavored Drinks

If you’re tired of plain old water, there are alternatives that will hydrate you in style. There’s the classic iced tea, but try to opt for less sweet versions to keep sugar intake low.

You can also flavor your water with fruit or berries, either by dropping the fruit into a pitcher of water or by freezing fruit juice in an ice cube tray and putting the frozen cubes in a glass of water.

Frozen Treats

For simple, easy frozen treats, you can simply put some grapes or cherries in the freezer.

If you want something more akin to a popsicle, go for an all fruit option. If you buy it at the store look out for sugar levels. You can always make these at home by freezing fruit juice. For less sugar you can dilute the juice with water or add pieces of fruit.

Cold Treats

For a healthy treat from the refrigerator, go for some melon. Watermelon is the perfect summer snack because it contains a lot of water that will keep you hydrated. It’s also sweet without containing too much sugar.

You can also try some kiwifruit, which are full of antioxidants and vitamins C, K and E as well as folate and potassium.

Cold Veggie Snacks

When you think of cold meals, what comes to mind? Is salad one of the first? Well, you can turn a salad into a healthy snack with some preparation. For example, you can make caprese skewers by simply putting the ingredients of a caprese salad on a stick.

For simple cold veggie snacks, try some of these:

  • Cucumbers. Try them on sandwiches or just sliced with a little salt.
  • Jicama. Try putting lime juice and spices on jicama slices.
  • Carrots, celery, bell peppers with a low-calorie, low-sugar dip. Try hummus or an avocado-based dip.

There are so many options for eating healthy for relief from the heat. Comment if you’ve tried some of these cold, healthy options or if you have others!

How to Incorporate Activity in Your Busy Life

Are you one of those people who want to get fit but don’t have the time? No matter how busy you are, I bet you have some time hiding somewhere in your schedule. You know, short periods of time when you’re just waiting for something or when you’re doing a single thing that takes half of your attention.

Well, you can take advantage of those to get a little active. Try these techniques to sneak activity into your daily life.

Multitask

While you’re on your feet and using your hands, you can also move your feet. Doing things like wall sits or squats while you brush your teeth will get you strengthening your muscles while you knock out an essential hygiene activity.

Like to watch TV? During commercials, try doing some push-ups, jumping jacks, high knees, mountain climbers or other exercises that elevate your heart rate. Bonus: This will keep you from running to the kitchen for snacks during commercial breaks.

Here are some more things you can do:

  • Squeeze a stress ball, even if you’re not stressed. Just make sure to switch hands.
  • Do leg lifts whenever you’re sitting.
  • Walk in place.

Little Things

If you can, try doing the same things you always do in a different way. Making tweaks to your existing routine might be easier than carving out chunks of time to create a new one.

  • Park across the parking lot to get some extra walking in.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Use a restroom farther away.
  • Walk over to someone to talk instead of emailing.
  • Stand up when you’re on the phone. Maybe even walk in place.
  • Switch out your office chair for a stability ball.

There’s always a way to modify your normal routine to add a little more activity. Once you figure out ways that work for you, you’ll be moving more in no time.

Adding Exercise

Of course, if you really want to fit in some exercise, you can do so slowly. You can split the recommended 30 minutes a day into three 10 minute sessions: one before work, one at lunch and the final after work. Just make sure you get your heart rate up.

Whatever you do, even small moves are good for your health. And they might lead to more. So if you’re waiting for a good chance to start exercising, you already have it.

How to Take an Affordable Road Trip

Road trips may be the cheaper cousin of air travel vacations, but they can still cost a lot. Especially if you are hauling the kids around or paying for more than just yourself, you’ll want ways to cut costs while not sacrificing the intent of the trip: having a good time.

Here are some techniques for keeping costs down on a road trip while keeping spirits high.

Plan

First, plan your budget. I know, no one wants to budget. But it’s the best way to keep your trip affordable. Letting go of worry about costs leaves you free to have a good time.

Start with your overall budget, then break it down into spending categories: lodging, food, gas, entertainment. That’ll take some research, but it’ll hopefully get you excited about your trip too!

Location, Location

Some places are more expensive to go than others. If you’re trying to keep costs down, research possible destinations and choose one that balances your excitement to visit and the amount it’ll cost you.

Planning the route can diminish some of the free spirit feel of a road trip, but the easiest way to save money is to know where you’re going and how much things usually cost on the way. You’ll also get an idea of what there is to explore and enjoy while you’re on the road.

Plan Spontaneity

It sounds counterproductive, but if you value spontaneity but need to keep costs down, you can build it in. Leave a few hours each day to explore.

Plan to take the country road instead of the highway and stop at obscure shops or scenic views you come across. Take a short detour to check out a landmark or something else that interests you. Explore the town your lodging is in. There are plenty of options for everyone.

Lodging

If you’re the outdoorsy type, camping can be the least expensive form of lodging on a road trip.

If not, there are other options, like hostels, short-term rentals (like airbnb) or even farm stays. All those options are great for individuals, couples or groups. It’s a good idea to research motels and hotels as well to make sure you’re getting the best deal for the area.

Food

If you’re camping or found accommodations with a kitchen, you’re in luck. Anytime you can cook your own meals you’ll spend less than eating at a restaurant. If you can’t cook, check with locals and ask about affordable meal options nearby. Pay attention to location; restaurants near college campuses are more likely to be affordable.

If you’re at a hotel or motel, take advantage of the amenities. If they serve breakfast, go for it. But try to go for the filling options and away from the sugary ones that leave you hungry again in an hour. The longer you’re full, the less you’ll spend on food.

For when you do get hungry between meals, try to bring your snacks so you’re not buying them at every gas station. Opt for filling snacks like nuts, granola bars and dried fruit. Get a reusable water bottle (you can even find some with a built-in filter) so you’re not spending a fortune at each stop.

Gas

Fuel prices vary greatly based on location. The most important thing here is research. If you discover that fuel is cheaper in some places than others, make sure to fuel up there, even if your tank isn’t empty yet.

You can also use an app like GasBuddy that shows you gas prices and locations of gas stations near you.

If you want to take an extra step, make sure you pack light so you don’t slow down your car. This also helps with comfort levels (have you ever ridden in a cluttered car?) and leaves room for souvenirs.

Entertainment

Don’t forget entertainment! That’s the whole reason to go on vacation, right? Well, there are ways to save here too.

Go to free places, like national parks. You can find beautiful scenery almost anywhere you go.

Take advantage of discounts. Whether you’re a senior citizen or a senior in college, places like zoos and theme parks often have discounts if you show your ID.

Again, research is important. Tourism websites often link to free or affordable things to do, so check them out and do what interests you.

Last but not least, for any category, check out discount resources like Groupon. You can often find discounts on food, entertainment, relaxing activities and more. With all this in mind, you’re sure to have a fun trip without breaking the bank.

Beginners Tips to Growing Healthy Habits

Fresh vegetables are a staple of any healthy diet. In fact, MyPlate recommends that each meal should be half vegetables and fruit. That can get expensive if you buy all your produce at a grocery store or farmer’s market. Have you considered growing your own?

Starting a vegetable garden can save you a lot of money on groceries, but it can do so much more. Gardening can get you outside and moving your body in ways you might not normally. You can get your kids involved and teach them about nature. You can enjoy the freshest vegetables possible without traveling far to get them. Yum!

What Vegetables to Grow

You might be saying, “But I can’t grow plants to save my life” (I’ve certainly said that before), but there are several vegetables that are beginner friendly. Many can even be grown in pots if you don’t have a yard to plant in!

  • Leafy Greens
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini/Squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Beans
  • Green Onions
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Herbs

Just add some olive oil and seasonings and you have yourself a salad! Of course, you can use any of those vegetables for non-salad meals. For example, you can make fresh pasta sauce from tomatoes and zucchini bread from the zucchinis. Get creative!

How to Grow Your Vegetables

The beginner gardener may have a lot of questions before they go out and gather supplies. Here are the basics.

  • You can start with seeds or a starter plant, depending on your goals. Seeds are cheaper, but they take longer than starter plants, which have had a head start.
  • Water regularly, but don’t overwater. A good rule of thumb is to give each plant an inch of water once a week. If it’s especially hot out, add a half inch. Weekly watering allows the vegetable to soak and extend its roots, giving it better access to nutrients.
  • Place in a sunny location. Most of the vegetables on the list above will survive in partly shady areas, but they need some sun.
  • Use good soil — that’s where the vegetables get their nutrients! If you’re planting in pots, it’s easy to get good soil by buying it at the store. If you’re planting in your yard, you may want to assess your soil to see if you need to improve it.

The most important thing is to enjoy the experience! There’s nothing like watching your vegetables grow and then using them in your own kitchen. Take the time to appreciate your accomplishment — and don’t be shy about sharing with friends and neighbors!

Staying Healthy in a Heat Wave

Summer can feel like an oasis for those who get that time off or those who enjoy outdoor adventures. But this summer, it may feel more like a desert, with inescapable heat. Temperatures are on the rise along with concerns about heat-related ailments.

There are several things to watch out for in hot weather, especially for the elderly, young and ill. Even pets are not immune to heat illness, so keep an eye out for odd behavior.

Heat rash

It starts with a heat rash. If you notice irritation on your skin or see red bumps or pimples in places like elbow creases, you may have a heat rash.

Heat rashes are caused by excessive sweat. Before our bodies get acclimated to the heat, we tend to sweat a lot to counter the heat. The extra moisture on the skin combined with friction from moving can cause uncomfortable rashes. These shouldn’t be ignored — they can signal the trend toward more serious concerns.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps comes next. While sweating in the heat, salt also leaves the body, leading to muscle cramps. Cramps start in the legs and it can feel like a pulled muscle.

Again, heat cramps are still mild, but they can be a warning sign for more serious heat illnesses. If you start experiencing cramps, head to the shade or an air conditioned area and rest. Make sure to hydrate.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is the next step and the first real cause for alarm. You might be experiencing heat exhaustion if you are sweating heavily, feeling extra tired or weak, have an elevated heart rate and nausea. While it doesn’t require emergency medical attention, some action should be taken to treat heat exhaustion.

Here are some simple steps to treat heat exhaustion:

  • Stop what you’re doing and go rest in a cool place.
  • Drink water or a sports drink with electrolytes.
  • Place a cool wet cloth on your skin or take a cool bath to lower your body temperature.
  • If symptoms worsen, don’t improve in an hour or two or if you have other concerns, contact a health professional.

Unfortunately, many people miss heat exhaustion. They may mistake it for regular fatigue and decide to lay down in the sun (think of those pool-side chairs that are great for sunbathing in). This mistake can turn heat exhaustion into heat stroke.

If you’re hanging out at the pool and see someone laying in the sun, be wary. Check on them to make sure they’re feeling well or you might have to consider heat stroke.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is the worst of the heat illnesses and often happens if the previous are not addressed. Heat stroke happens when your body temperature rises quickly, which can happen if you’re in a hot area and are dehydrated.

Heat strokes are often accompanied by confusion, weakness, dizziness, nausea or hallucinations. Fainting can also happen. If you experience any of those symptoms or see someone else who may be experiencing them, get professional help immediately. Heat stroke can cause death if not treated.

Preventing Heat Illness

As with most illnesses, prevention is the best remedy. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent heat illness. It starts with staying hydrated and knowing the warning signs.

Trust your body when it tells you it needs water. Whenever you feel thirsty, have some water. You may have heard advice to drink water before you feel thirsty, but be careful — it is possible to over-hydrate.

The next thing to do is to stay cool. You can do this in your home (many cases of heat illness happen at homes without air conditioning) by following some advice to stay cool on a budget. Or you can go places that are regularly cooled, like public buildings (libraries, stores, movie theaters) or naturally cool (beaches and other locations near water).

Heat illness is most common at the beginning of summer or during a heat wave. Over time, the body acclimates to increased temperatures. But at the beginning of periods of hot weather, the body overcompensates by sweating too much, leading to heat illnesses. So keep an eye out and remember the symptoms — you could just save someone’s life!

Driving Home Healthy Habits — Health for Truck Drivers

It’s difficult to fit health and wellness habits into any schedule, but what if you’re job is to drive for days at a time? Truck drivers not only sit all day long, but the on-the-road lifestyle doesn’t afford itself to healthy habits. In fact, the trucker lifestyle leads to many health concerns, like lack of exercise and lung disease from diesel fumes.

That’s changing thanks to health initiatives and companies like Rolling Strong, a provider of mobile health and wellness for truck drivers. Rolling Strong focuses on helping those in the truck driving profession develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. They avoid fad diets and short-term solutions in favor of healthy habits for a long, high-quality life.

Rolling Strong’s program includes coaches for the drivers to give them the information and encouragement they need to be healthy in their industry. To keep drivers engaged, they do peer-to-peer competitions, incentive programs based on effort or results, special events and more. The mobile platform is available through their existing fleet management system as well as on mobile phones.

The best thing about the Rolling Strong program is that it has value outside the truck driving profession. The same principles about health outlined in the program can be used by anyone:

  • Nutrition
  • Fitness
  • Sleep
  • Stress Management
  • Weight Management

All of those are inherent in a healthy lifestyle. Improving any or all of those in your day-to-day life will lead to much better health overall — for everyone. Some basic advice is to drink water, practice portion control and get some cardio every day. That’s the same advice you’ll get from doctors and wellness coaches.

Drinking more water and eating smaller portions may be easier to implement than cardio, but Rolling Strong has some good advice: start small and simple. Drivers are encouraged to walk around their truck and up the stairs whenever possible.

Doing small things like that will add up. Small practices like taking the stairs and parking at the far end of the parking lot is advice anyone can follow to start incorporating more exercise into your life.

Maybe some day we’ll all strive to be as healthy as a truck driver.

Itching to Travel? How About a Road Trip?

Are you feeling the weight of the daily grind? Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm. Two recovery days at the end of the week. Back to it on the dreaded Monday.

Does that sound familiar?

Have you considered taking off for a week with no plans? Be spontaneous — grab some friends, get in the car and just drive? Don’t set a destination or plan out each stop on each day. Don’t you do that every other day of your life?

The beauty of road trips is that they can be unpredictable. You try new things and go where you want. Some people say those who road-trip (if I may use it as a verb) are more optimistic and positive than others. It makes sense if you consider those spontaneous road-trippers to be people who don’t worry about where they’re heading and what they’ll find. They have to expect the best, or at least be open minded to enjoy where they are. Otherwise, what’s the point of going anywhere new?

Travel is prescribed to open your mind and boost creativity. Psychologists and neuroscientists have been looking at how travel, especially new experiences, revitalize the mind by stimulating different synapses in the brain. The greatest creativity boosts come from interacting with different local cultures.

What better way to get new experiences than taking a road trip and heading toward unknown places? Take it up a notch by not committing to a particular destination. Choose a direction and if you see something in the distance that interests you, go there. Keep an open mind and you’re sure to find happiness.

Mark Twain wrote that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” That is certainly evident when you travel and experience new things. The more places you go and cultures you experience, the less prejudice you may feel. You may also feel more alive and aware of everything around you.

Have we inspired you yet? If we have, before you go out and start driving, we suggest checking up on your car to make sure it is safe and ready for long-distance travel. A quick check to see how your tires, battery, oil and fluid levels are will help prevent some of the most common problems on the road.

Now go out and have an adventure — you deserve it!

Sleep Overview: Why It’s Important and How Much to Get

Get tired. Sleep. Wake up. Sounds simple. But today a lot of people manipulate their sleep habits, implying that sleep is unimportant. Some even project that belief on others.

“You can sleep when you’re dead.”

“Sleep is for the weak.”

I’ve heard both those as justification to postpone sleep in favor of a good time. The sentiment isn’t new either. Even writers in different centuries disrespected sleep.

“Sleep, that deplorable curtailment of the joy of life.”
— Virginia Woolf

“Sleep, those little slices of death – how I loathe them.”
— Edgar Allan Poe

But sleep affects much of what you do when you’re awake, and what you do when you’re awake affects your sleep. You can see the power of sleep when you don’t get enough the night before an exam or presentation. So why not learn more about it and learn to use it to your advantage?

What is the purpose of sleep?

You can’t remember the time you were asleep, but that doesn’t mean that nothing was happening. While you’re resting in unconsciousness, your brain is still active and is very productive. While you sleep, your brain is busy processing, restoring and strengthening. It solidifies and consolidates memories from the day. It prepares you for tomorrow, forming pathways that will help you learn and remember.

Studies have shown that your body also restores itself while you sleep. Muscles grow, tissues repair, proteins synthesize and growth hormones are released. All those processes are necessary for your health and mostly occur during sleep. In studies with rats, who normally live 3 to 5 years, those who are deprived of sleep didn’t live longer than 5 weeks.

How does it do it?

Sleep happens in cycles. It’s very likely you’ve heard of REM (no, not the band who feels fine despite the coming of the world’s end), but how does it work? REM is one of five stages in the sleep cycle.

The first four stages are considered non-REM sleep. This is when a lot of restoration happens. During REM, which occurs after the four stages, the body becomes paralyzed but the eyes and brain become hyperactive. REM sleep is associated with dreaming. Some believe this is when the brain processes memories and other things. The phrase “sleep on it” speaks to the processing the brain does during the REM stage.

How much do you need?

Everyone’s body is different, and that extends to sleep needs. There isn’t a perfect amount of sleep that is ideal for everyone. It even changes with age. For example, babies need much more sleep than adults.

Common guidelines say adults should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep, but some adults can function just fine after as few as 4 hours, while others need up to 11 hours. When you sleep can be as important as how long you sleep. There is truth behind claims that some people are night owls and others are morning people; although, most fall in the middle. What’s most important is knowing what your body wants when it comes to sleep times.

Figuring out how much sleep is optimal for you may be a matter of trial and error. If you have the freedom, consider taking a few days to get to know your sleep habits. Go to bed when you’re tired; get up when you wake up — no matter the time. Your body will tell you when it prefers to sleep and for how long. To make this easier you can keep track of your sleep in a journal and keep an eye out for patterns that will help you improve your sleep habits. If you can, try to build your schedule around that.

What if you don’t get enough?

People who shrug off sleep may think the consequence is just being tired the next day. While tiredness is certainly a consequence, it is the most mild of a slew of consequences. Lack of sleep is associated with poor judgment, inconsistent mood, difficulty with learning and retaining information and even increased risk of accidents or injuries. That’s just in the short term.

The long-term costs of consistent insufficient sleep can be much worse. Studies show that poor sleep habits can increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and more. These chronic health concerns can lead to an early death.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, there’s no time like now to look into why and taking steps to get better sleep. With the right help and some effort, you can improve your sleep habits and boost your concentration, focus, mood and more.