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A 24-hour Energy Plan

Tips for powering up your parental performance

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Distributed by Featurewell.com

Parents have more to do than ever, with hundreds of emails flooding their in-box, kids who need help with homework, loads of laundry piling up, a new baby and a puppy to boot. Maximize your energy level by tweaking your daily habits. This guide can help you power up your day so you can multitask more efficiently and feel peppier while you're at it. Use it to help you peak your performance as a parent.

7 a.m.: Let in the light.

  When you wake up in the morning, your circadian rhythm, an alertness cycle, peaks. Cells in your brain that influence vigilance fire rapidly. "They tell your brain: 'Get going! Get things done,' says Dr. Alejandro Chediak, medical director of the Miami Sleep Disorders Center. Still, it takes an average of about 25 minutes to go from groggy to fully awake. To speed the process so you can get the kids up and at 'em, open the shades and turn on the lights. When sunlight or bright artificial light enters through your eyes and travels to the suprachiasmic nucleus — your brain's internal clock — it triggers alertness at any time of day. Morning light exposure is especially important, because it sets your 24-hour circadian cycle so you'll be sleepy at bedtime. The Energizer bunny runs on batteries. You function best on a good night's sleep.

8 a.m.: Eat protein for breakfast.

  Breakfast raises blood sugar (glucose), which fuels your brain and body. But a low-fiber carb-fest of donuts or a plain bagel can cause glucose to spike. A subsequent surge in the hormone insulin will then pull too much glucose from your system. "Glucose peaks and valleys can make you feel tired," says Dr. Douglas J. Paddon-Jones, a nutrition researcher at the University of Texas in Galveston. To stabilize that energy-zapping hormonal roller coaster, pack a protein punch at breakfast. Paddon-Jones recommends 25 to 30 grams at every meal, in addition to high-fiber carbs like oatmeal and healthy (unsaturated) fats. Easy grab-and-go protein picks include lowfat cottage cheese (which has 11 grams of protein in 4 ounces), a tall nonfat latte or a cup of skim milk (10 grams), a protein bar (8 grams), low-fat yogurt (7 grams per 6 ounces), or an egg (6 grams).

9 a.m.: Get your first caffeine fix

  Caffeine is as potent as breakfast to get you going. According to a recent study in the International Journal of Neuroscience, those who consumed a 440-calorie breakfast or 200 milligrams of caffeine (roughly two cups of coffee) had more mental energy and performed better on two separate computerized cognitive tests than those who didn't have either. But don't gulp down your daily dose in one sitting. A study involving U.S. Navy Seals found that an average of 300 milligrams of caffeine (equivalent to three cups of coffee) consumed throughout the day is optimal for mental and physical performance. So have one cup now and more later, if necessary. Besides boosting brain power and memory, caffeine makes you feel more vigorous and improves mood, says Harris R. Lieberman, a research psychologist with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass.

10 a.m. to noon: Tackle a-list of To-Do's

  All morning, your circadian cycle is on the rise, so take advantage of your natural alertness and tackle your most mentally challenging projects before lunch, whether it's organizing your child's toy room or doing a first draft of a report for work. Need a motivation lift? Get another 100 miligram hit of caffeine or head to a window or a bright light. Studies show that even 50 seconds of light exposure throughout the day can jolt your brain and make you feel more attentive.

Noon: Eat protein, high-fiber carbs for lunch

  Your goal is to keep your blood sugar constant. So it's time to eat again, especially if it has been at least three hours since your last meal. For lunch, think lots of vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruit and a small amount of healthy fat. Don't skip lunch no matter how busy you are taking care of everybody else.

1 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Nab a short nap

  From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., your circadian rhythm will take a dip whether you eat or not, so you'll feel a natural drop in alertness. "The need for a short nap is actually part of our hardwiring," Chediak says. So nab at least 20 minutes of shut-eye now if you can.

Or take another dose of caffeine

  If napping isn't an option, a 100 milligram caffeinated beverage like a cup of coffee or a diet cola can help power you through the slump. Caffeine generally takes eight to 12 hours to get out of your system, so cut yourself off after this so it doesn't disrupt your sleep later. Blood levels of caffeine peak about 30 to 45 minutes after you've consumed it. Another option is to get light exposure (again) or do some physical activity. At any time of the day, exercise will pep you up because it increases your body temperature and the release of epinephrine, the adrenaline level in your brain. Even a walk around the block or a few push-ups can help.

3 p.m.: Take a water break.

  By now, your circadian cycle is rising again so now's the time to dive back in to mentally demanding projects if you haven't already. Need a motivation boost? Try drinking some water. Being mildly dehydrated — losing 1 percent to 2 percent of your body weight, which can happen if you go for long periods without drinking — can sour your mood and contribute to fatigue and confusion, according to a recent study in Perceptual and Motor Skills. "Even if you're just sitting at your desk and feeling a little droopy, drinking a glass of water couldn't hurt," says Kristen D'Anci, the study's lead researcher and a research associate in the psychology department at Tufts University. In general, women need 2.7 liters (roughly 11 cups) of fluid daily, which you can get by consuming anything watery, including coffee, soup, oranges and watermelon.

4 p.m.: Sniff rosemary.

  To help yourself power through the rest of the afternoon, keep a bottle of rosemary essential oil handy and give it a sniff. In a recent study in the International Journal of Neuroscience, subjects who sniffed a cotton ball doused with the essential oil reported feeling more alert with corresponding brain activity to back it up. "What you smell goes directly to the brain, so you get an immediate effect," says Miguel A. Diego, the study's lead researcher at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils may be equally effective. The purest essentials oils have the most potent effect, so buy the most concentrated you can find, Diego advises.

5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.: Get in a major workout.

  Initially, a vigorous workout will make you tired because it depletes glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrate in your muscles and the liver, and muscles require energy for repair. "But in the long run, as you build up more muscle and stamina, exercise gives you more energy," says Susan Roberts, professor of nutrition at the USDA Nutrition Center at Tufts University in Boston and author of The 'I' Diet. Ideally, it's best to get a major fitness fix in this time window — four to six hours before going to bed. "Falling asleep is easier when your body is internally going from warm to cold," Cediak says. "That happens about four to six hours after exercise.

6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.: Dinner time.

  Eating dinner now is important because you've just exercised. "Eating within 30 minutes of working out helps your muscles refuel and repair so you won't feel depleted the next day," Carlson says. It also ensures you won't go to bed on a full stomach, which can interfere with a good night's sleep — the ultimate fatigue fighter.

7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.: Wind down with a hot bath — or power up with a cold shower.

  Now, after the kids are in bed, is the perfect time for a hot shower or bath. Like exercise, hot water raises your body temperature. As it falls, you'll feel sleepier and primed to hit the sack in an hour or so. On the other hand, if you need to burn the midnight oil, take a cold shower. "It gets you going because cold water causes your brain to release epinephrine, which increases vigilance," says Dr. Kingman P. Strohl, director of the Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.

9:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.: Get your zzzs

  By around 9:30 p.m., your circadian drive plummets and the pressure to sleep, which builds up the longer you're awake, is strong. Go with it and hit the sack. "Even just a single night of disrupted sleep or a few hours of chronic sleep loss each night can influence how vigorous and how alert you feel the next day," Lieberman says. Aim for seven to nine hours of solid shut-eye each night. A recent study in the journal Sleep suggests you can get in the extra energizing sleep your brain craves by simply turning off the TV 40 to 78 minutes earlier. It worked for Maureen Brady, a stay-at-home mom of two boys, ages 4 and 7. "I used to go to bed around 10:30 p.m., but because both my kids still wake me up occasionally and they're both early risers, I now go to bed at 9:30 p.m. or earlier. I decided that getting enough sleep was more important than staying up to watch my favorite shows."

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