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Do you ever feel like you’ve said “goodbye” to sleeping through the night forever?
Do you look back fondly on your pre-child days and recall when sleeping in till noon was actually an option?
Are you feeling exhausted or “running on stress hormones” all day?
Are you unable to function in the morning until that second or third “cup”?
If any of these descriptions sounds like you, you’re one of the “over 70 million Americans who suffer from disorders of sleep and wakefulness.”
While the science of sleep is both fascinating and complicated, there are things we can do to maximize our “sleep health”, improve our overall wellness and decrease our risk of disease.
Sleep is this daily thing that we all do and yet we’re just beginning to understand all of the ways it helps us and many of the factors which affect it.
Lack of sleep affects doesn’t just make you feel tired or give you dark circles under your eyes, lack of sleep affects just about every system in the body.
People who get less sleep tend to be at higher risk for many health issues like:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
It can also cause:
- Weight gain,
- Hormone imbalance
- Chronic inflammation
- Slower metabolism
As well as affect:
- Decision-making skills
Lack of sleep can even negate the health benefits of your exercise program!*
If you’ve ever wondered why your weight loss has stalled, despite working out at the gym 2-3x per week, your sleep may be to blame. Studies show a correlation between lack of sleep and production of two hormones–leptin and ghrelin–both of which help regulate hunger cues and satiety (that “feeling of fullness” we get after we eat). Lack of sleep also raises levels of cortisol in the bloodstream and high cortisol levels are responsible for depositing a layer of fat around your midsection.
The three main purposes of sleep:
- To restore our body and mind. Our bodies repair, grow and even “detoxify” our brains while we sleep.
- To improve our brain’s ability to learn and remember things, technically known as “synaptic plasticity”.
- To conserve energy so we’re not “on” 24/7
While many of us understand that our children need 8-10 hours of sleep to grow and be healthy, you might be surprised that experts recommend that all adults get 7-9 hours a night! Furthermore, the effects of lack of sleep on the body are compounded, meaning, not only does it affect the everyday functioning of our bodies and mind, but over time, lack of sleep begins to have a cumulative negative effect on the body. Sleep health is as important as watching what you eat, or going to the gym.
The good news is that sleep is a “learned behavior” meaning there are active ways we can improve or affect the quality of the sleep we get each night.
Tips for better sleep
- Consistency: The biggest tip is establishing a consistent sleep schedule. Make it a priority and you’re more likely to achieve it. This means turning off your lights 7-8 hours before your alarm goes off. Not watching T.V. in the bedroom or using electronics such as a computer or smartphone less than an hour before bedtime each night will also help you fall alseep. Eat Healthfully: Balance your blood sugar throughout the day by eating fewer refined and processed foods and more whole foods (full of blood-sugar-balancing fiber).
- Environment: Temperature, lighting–even your pillow–can all contribute to sleep quality. Make sure your thermostat is set at a comfortable 68 degrees and that you wear light, comfortable, breathable cotton or sleep on cotton sheets. If street lights keep you awake, make sure to close the shades or drapes before you hop into bed. If you constantly wake up with a stiff neck or suffer from neck and upper back pain, consider switching out your pillow! Believe it or not, it can make a HUGE difference!
- Eat: There’s no validity to the concept that you shouldn’t eat after 6 or 8 p.m. While you do burn more calories during exercise, your metabolism dictates the rate at which you burn calories (fuel). When we sleep our bodies don’t power down or shut off, it keeps working and that “work” requires fuel. Eating a snack of yogurt and berries before bed, for example, provides your body with casein protein which takes longer to digest, keeping you full longer it promotes muscle growth and fat loss!
- Move: During the day get some sunshine and exercise. These things tell your body it’s daytime; time for being productive, active and alert. By doing this during the day it will help you wind down more easily in the evening.
- Limit: Cut off your caffeine and added sugar intake after 12 p.m. Whole foods like fruits and veggies are fine, it’s the “added” sugar we’re minimizing. Both caffeine and added sugar can keep your mind a bit more active than you want it to become evening.
- Relax: Have a relaxing bedtime routine that starts 1 hour before your “lights out” time. Soak in a hot bath. Talk with your spouse. Meditate or pray. Stretch out. Whatever you choose, remember the ultimate goal is to promote healthy bedtime habits.