No frills resolutions: Improving the quality of your life in 2012

It’s easy to stare down a new year coming with designs on making everything different over the course of the next turn of 365 days.

But actually doing it? That’s another matter entirely.

If you told yourself things would be different on New Year’s Eve, how are you doing two days in? Are things going well/poor/middling? Are you winging it or do you have a plan?

We talked with a local experts about a few common resolutions and how to actually achieve them. These aren’t grand resolutions we’re talking about here — Lose 200 pounds! Win an Oscar! Become a millionaire! — just ones that have the possibility of improving your quality of life in 2012.

How to get more quality sleep

It seems so simple, but getting quality sleep can be elusive to many.

Dr. Lida Osbern, a specialist in pulmonary and sleep medicine at Reed Medical Group, 404 Maine, says that if you want to improve the quality of your sleep, first you need to know what you’re looking for.

“Even as adults, people need seven to eight hours of sleep per night. There was one study that said college students need 8.6 hours of sleep per night — I don’t know how they came up with that number, but most college students, I’m sure, would say, ‘Yeah, right,’” Osbern says, laughing.

“It’s not really possible to pay back sleep deficits by sleeping in on weekends, for example. So, it’s important, as much as one can, to get eight hours of sleep each night, if possible.”

To make sure you’re getting the sleep you need, first you need to take care that your pre-sleep routine is beneficial to your sleep habits. Some of Osbern’s suggestions:

  • Consider only taking caffeine in the morning.

  • Don’t look at your computer, iPad or smartphone shortly before sleep — that sort of stimulation to the brain can interfere with your natural rhythms.

  • Do exercise, but don’t exercise close to bedtime if you have noticed restless sleep afterward.

Osbern says a personal trick to keep her mind from keeping her up at night is to keep a pen and paper on her nightstand. If anything comes to her, she can write it down and rid her thoughts of it so that it won’t keep her awake.

That said, Osbern notes that if your sleep problems are more a matter not feeling rested, no matter how much sleep you get, you should take a closer look.

Moreover, if you snore or wake up consistently at 3 or 4 in the morning, she says, seek a referral for a sleep study — these could be signs of serious health problems.

“If you have snoring and daytime somnolence — sleepiness — then you need to have a sleep study, or polysomnography study, to determine whether or not you have sleep apnea. Because leaving sleep apnea untreated can lead to serious medical problems, such as heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, impotence, and recent articles suggest that it may knock 20 years off your life if you have untreated sleep apnea,” Osbern says. “And almost 100 percent of people who snore badly have some degree of sleep apnea.”

How to clean up your finances

We all know this economy has meant a lot of tough financial decisions and a lot of life adjustment. But your finances still may not be where you want them. That’s totally understandable, and fixable, says Rich Lorenzo, vice president of Great Plains Financial Group, 3310 Mesa Way.

His first suggestion? If you haven’t done it already, get out of debt.

“Debt, in a lot of ways, just makes you a slave,” he says. “There’s a lot of different methods of how to do it, but I would just work on paying the smallest one off with the highest interest rate and then, just little by little, going toward the biggest ones. Just get out of debt — that’s so huge.”

Debt or no debt, you should also make sure to create a budget. Even something very simple will help you immensely when looking at your financial picture. Lorenzo says your budget should give you a good idea of your basic living expenses so that you can figure out places to cut out fat, so that you can put that money toward debt or savings.

As for savings, Lorenzo recommends working toward three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved up for emergencies like a job layoff or medical bills. Consider setting up a Roth IRA to maximize your savings with great tax benefits. Once you have basic savings, look to further protect yourself from the cost of inflation by investing in some hard assets — things like gold and silver.

“You never know when your company is going to reduce your hours, you never know when you’re going to get laid off, or things just start costing more due to inflation,” Lorenzo says. “You’ve just got to prepare for the unexpected.”

How to find time to volunteer

Lori Johns, director of the Roger Hill Volunteer Center, 2518 Ridge Court, has a few suggestions for those of you who are hoping to help out others with volunteer work. If you don’t think you have time or aren’t sure how to add more to your schedule, Johns says, think outside the box. There are plenty of opportunities, both ongoing and single-time.

“Volunteer in areas you’re already involved with your family, like school, sports teams, scouts,” says Johns, who says more than 80 volunteer opportunities are available at volunteerdouglascounty.org. “Or try something new — sort clothes/donations at the Social Service League (thrift store, 905 R.I.), adopt a park, prepare and serve lunch at LINK (221 W. 10th St.), make regular visits to a nursing home, consider a ‘family match’ through Big Brothers Big Sisters.”

If it’s not a matter of what to do, but when to do it, wedge in time over your lunch break, or carve out just one weekend day a month — both are enough to make a difference.

How to “green” up your life

City waste reduction and recycling specialist Cassandra Ford says if you’re hoping to cut your energy bill and up your eco-friendly status quotient, your best bet is to just start with one thing. What that thing is? It’s up to you, Ford says.

“We always tell people to pick one thing that they think will make the biggest impact for them,” says Ford, who works out of the City of Lawrence’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Division, 320 NE Industrial Lane. “Change your habit, and it can make a big change to their life, as well as the environment and their community. And we’ve also found that changing one thing, when you realize how big of an impact that one thing can make, really leads to changing other things in their lives. One thing really can lead into being greener overall.”

Some singular things you can do? Change all your regular light bulbs to compact fluorescent ones, or make a pledge to recycle any plastic bottles or aluminum cans in your home.

Want to up the ante? Ford says there are a lot of things you can do to “green up” your life, just by changing a habit or two here or there. Some examples include recycling hazardous wastes like paint and batteries, composting your food (“That’s a form of recycling,” Ford says) or buying items in bulk — there’s a reason “reduce” and “reuse” go right along with “recycle.”

“We also encourage people to reduce the amount of waste at the beginning because recycling is great, but you’re still buying things and you’re still using them, so you still need to recycle something at the end,” says Ford, who added that upcycling items — creating something new out of used items — or simply not buying at all can make a big change. “But maybe reducing your waste in the beginning, it takes out all those additional steps."

By Sarah Henning--

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