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Dear Annie: Sleep deprived to sleeping like a baby

Dear Annie: I am a 65-year-old woman who suffers from insomnia. I exercise regularly, limit my caffeine intake and try to wind down at the end of the day with more relaxing books or TV shows. However, there are still a couple of nights a week when I simply cannot fall asleep.

I’m retired, so I don’t have to worry about going to work in the morning, but it’s still very frustrating to lie awake for hours, tired but not sleepy. I feel lousy the next day, too.

Which is worse for you, lack of sleep or sleeping pills? Both are said to increase the chance of dementia. If both carry the same risk, then I’m inclined to pop a pill to at least stop the tossing and turning, and drop off to sleep. Does anyone have the answer to this? — Sleepless in Roanoke

Dear Sleepless in Roanoke: There might be a third option here. Melatonin is a natural sleep aid that is considered safe, with few side effects. Couple that with some breathing techniques and you might find yourself dozing off in as little as five minutes. Here’s how to practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique, as reported by Healthline:

“1. Allow your lips to gently part.

“2. Exhale completely, making a breathy whoosh sound as you do.

“3. Press your lips together as you silently inhale through the nose for a count of 4 seconds.

“4. Hold your breath for a count of 7.

“5. Exhale again for a full 8 seconds, making a whooshing sound throughout.

“6. Repeat 4 times when you first start. Eventually work up to 8 repetitions.”

Continue your routine of winding down and limiting caffeine, but substitute just reading instead of TV. Any electronic screen can affect your quality of sleep. I also open this up to any readers who have had success falling asleep naturally.

Dear Annie: A few weeks ago, a letter ran from a person who seems to have tried everything to get in shape, from gym memberships to personal trainers, and asked, “How do people stick with it?”

I don’t know how others do, but I’m willing to share how I have. I graduated from high school nearly 50 years ago at 98 pounds. I now weigh 127 pounds. I had a baby in those years, too. So, how have I managed to only gain 29 pounds in 49 years?

Lots of small things: Walk for a mile every night after dinner (it’s good for your waistline and your marriage). Park toward the back of the parking lot and walk all the way in. Dance (think “The Twist”) while watching an entire 30-minute television program (it’s hard to eat while doing this, and it burns a lot more calories than just sitting there). Think “just five minutes” of exercise: Do situps, jumping jacks, pushups, toe touches or rope skipping for just five minutes. It’s not a major commitment. … Think of it as “I deserve this five-minute break for a tiny bit of exercise.”

At a restaurant, ask for a box when your food first comes. Put half of your meal in right then. Once it’s in the box, even if you’re tempted to clean your plate, you will have only eaten a healthy portion. Get a watch that gives you “stickers” for physical activity. Yes, I know, it sounds silly, but I really wanted those stickers on my paper as a child, and I enjoy earning stickers on my watch now.

None of these are big things. But lots of small things do add up. — Still Slender 50 Years Later

Dear Still Slender 50 Years Later: Congrats on your continued health. Just about anyone could use your suggestions to jump-start their wellness routine. That they are playful and provide opportunities to connect with others is especially beneficial.

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