Nancy McLaughlin
Age>> 36
Occupation>> Magazine art director and mother to 2-year-old Liam
Health goals>> Find healthy ways to boost her physical and mental energy

Since the birth of her son in August 2003, Nancy McLaughlin says it's been difficult to wake up and get to work. She hasn't had the energy to exercise, and she typically finds herself crashing around 3 p.m. every day. "I often just feel run-down," says McLaughlin, who works full time as a magazine art director.

Before Liam was born, McLaughlin, 36, slept about nine hours a night. She is now getting seven to eight hours, but it never feels like enough. "My sleep is often disrupted, and I'm getting up much earlier," McLaughlin says.

McLaughlin's goal is to boost her energy so she feels more alert at work and can get back to exercising regularly and reading at night.

Nancy McLaughlin>> How much sleep should I be getting?

Christopher Hobbs, LAc, AHG>> Most experts recommend at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, but needs can vary. Because you have a young child and are working full time, you may need more.

Deepest delta-wave sleep is a time when your body is doing a lot of repair and rejuvenation. The delta phase occurs 45 minutes to an hour after falling asleep and then several more times during the night as you progress through several full sleep cycles. Studies show that if your delta sleep is interrupted, you will not feel as refreshed when you wake up.

What can I do before bed to help me sleep better?

Five to ten minutes of stretching can really improve the quality of your sleep. Learn a few simple yoga or Pilates stretches and do them each night before bed. Massage is also helpful, so it might be nice for you and your partner to alternate rubbing each other's necks, shoulders, and backs after your child has gone to bed.

Your delta-wave sleep can be disrupted by sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, so avoid these things, particularly in the evening. Also, it's best to stop eating three hours before you go to bed.

Finally, make enough time for your rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is when you connect with your subconscious and can gain clarity on your life. Parents are often tempted to stay up late so they can have some time to themselves. But if you go to bed at midnight, your optimum REM sleep will be delayed until 7 a.m. So if you're waking up at 6 a.m., you won't get enough REM sleep. Ideally you should go to bed no later than 10 p.m., particularly if you're waking up early.

What if I just can't get enough sleep at night?

Make time for a 10- to 15-minute nap during the day. Sleeping for longer than 30 minutes can leave you feeling dull or groggy, so keep your naps short.

My energy often plummets in the middle of the day. Can you recommend good energy-boosting snacks?

Avoid simple sugars and simple carbohydrates because these cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then quickly drop, sapping your energy even more. Rather than grab a candy bar or soft drink, go for organic baby carrots or fresh fruit. Whole-grain crackers, nuts, and seeds are other healthy snacks. I like unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts, which are packed with good fatty acids.

Protein is good for sleep, so make sure to eat fish, meat, tofu, beans, and other good sources. Nutritional yeast has a lot of protein and B vitamins, which are essential for energy production. I like sprinkling a teaspoon on soups or salads, or on crackers or bread topped with hummus. Other good sources of B vitamins include wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, beans, bananas, and salmon.

How else can I boost my energy?

Get outside during lunch and walk for 20 or 30 minutes in the sunshine and fresh air. This will get your body moving, help ease your stress, and lift your spirits. If the weather is bad and you can't go outside, jump rope for five or ten minutes. Or, if you're into yoga, do a flow series. It's also important to find something that ignites your passion, such as cooking, reading, or painting, and then make time for it during the day.

Carlotta Mast is a frequent contributor to Delicious Living.