sleep

Optimize Your Sleep

Sleep is the cheapest strategies in our health arsenal and quite possibly the most important. It plays a vital role in our physical and mental well-being. Getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep gives your body more time to heal, repair, and detoxify from the day and can revitalize your brain, allowing your brain to form new pathways and perform better the following day. Ongoing sleep deficiency has been linked to increased risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity. To help you get to sleep earlier, try cutting your screen time short and unwind with light stretching or yoga, a warm bath (try adding Epsom salts!), meditation, or a good book. If there is just no way that you can get 7 – 8 hours of sleep in a night, aim to take a 10-20 minute nap during the day. Studies show that a short nap can provide similar benefits to a longer one. You also don’t want to disrupt your night time sleep by sleeping too much during the day so keep it to 20 minutes if possible.

An inability to fall asleep or stay asleep can mean that something in your body is out of balance or your diet or lifestyle needs some tweaking. Here are my top ten tips for improving your sleep hygiene.  If these strategies don’t help, it may be time to seek out help from a practitioner.

sleepycat
  1. Keep a routine.  Help your body find its natural sleep rhythm by going to bed at the same time every night (or most nights), ideally by 10pm (especially in the darker seasons) and waking up at the same time every morning. Aim for eight hours a night. Individual needs vary some and you can decide how much sleep makes you feel your best, but eight hours is a good rule of thumb.  Avoid staying up too late because you can end up spiking your cortisol to give your body energy which will affect your sleep when you finally get into bed. 

  2. Don’t eat right before bed. Eat your last meal at least two to three hours before bed to allow your body to digest your last meal before you hit the sack.  This will also allow your body to focus on the many other processes your liver, brain and other organs go through to reset and refresh your body overnight.

  3. Leave technology out of your bedroom.  EMFs (electromagnetic fields) are all around us, night and day and we do not yet know the long-term effects of their exposure. Reducing your exposure overnight not only can improve the quality of your sleep but can give your body a break from the constant exposure.  Try putting your Wi-Fi on a timer in order to turn it off a night. You can also put your cell phone in airplane mode, turning it off or keeping it out of your room entirely. Use a battery operated analog or LCD alarm clock instead. Keep other EMF emitting things like laptops, televisions, DVD players etc., out of your bedroom altogether.

  4. Keep your room as dark and as cool as possible. Our bodies like cooler temperatures for sleep. You can go down to 54 degrees in the winter months and 74 degrees on the high end in the summer months.  Outside of this range is not optimal for your body. Additionally, aim to keep your room as dark as possible, even small amounts of light can disrupt your sleep.

  5. Reduce caffeine. If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and are a big coffee or caffeinated beverage drinker, consider reducing or eliminating caffeine to see if that helps.  The link between caffeine and sleep is two-fold. For one, in some people caffeine can raise cortisol levels and keep them elevated throughout the day which will affect sleep in the evening.  Additionally, people who are slow metabolizers of caffeine (possibly up to ~half of the population) can still have caffeine in their system by bedtime which may cause problems falling or staying asleep.

  6.  Drink less alcohol.  Sorry folks. While it may appear that alcohol helps you to get to sleep, it actually negatively affects your sleep quality.  It lessens the amount of time you are in the REM (deepest) cycle.  This can cause you to wake up more frequently and you may feel more tired in the morning.

  7. Move your body every day. Exercise is known to lift mood and reduces stress. It can strengthen our circadian rhythms which will promote daytime alertness and help bring on sleepiness at night. Research has also shown that exercise can help to improve not only the quantity of sleep but also the quality. Physical activity may stimulate longer periods of the deepest and most restorative stages of sleep. Try working out a different times of day to see what works best for your circadian rhythm. For many, physical activity first thing or sometime before the early evening can be the sweet spot for optimal sleep.

  8.  Avoid evening blue light.  In the evenings, blue light exposure from screens or the TV can wreak havoc on your ability to sleep. Try to avoid screen time within 1-2 hours of bed time if possible and if you can’t give that time up, consider purchasing some blue light blocking glasses. While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night is the worst culprit.. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).

 

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4 Simple Health Hacks

We are busy and most of us don’t have the time to dial up our health another notch. Here are four simple ways to help you on the journey to feeling your best without a huge time or resource commitment.

 

Bedroom
  1. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier. Sleep may be the most important thing in our health arsenal. It plays a vital role in our physical and mental well-being. Getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep gives your body more time to heal, repair, and detoxify from the day and can revitalize your brain, allowing your brain to form new pathways and perform better the following day. Ongoing sleep deficiency has been linked to increased risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity. To help you get to sleep earlier, try cutting your screen time short and unwind with light stretching, meditation, or a good book.
  2. Drink more water. I know you hear this message a lot, but are you really drinking enough water given your activity level and lifestyle? The general rule of thumb for daily water consumption is to drink half of your body weight in ounces plus an additional eight to 12 ounces for each diuretic beverage you consume. Diuretics include juices, coffee (even decaffeinated), most teas including some herbal teas (i.e., peppermint), and alcoholic beverages. One way I’ve found to easily get in all that I need is by drinking at least 12 ounces of water right before bed, another 12 or so upon waking, and then splitting up the rest throughout the day, especially between meals. Carry a water bottle with you wherever you go and track how many times you refill it. Spruce up plain water with lemon (which is especially great served warm in the morning for better digestion), sliced cucumber, mint, or berries. 
  3. Chew your food longer. This one isn’t entirely obvious but is so important. Chewing your food well not only ensures that the entire digestive process gets kicked off but also allows you to absorb more nutrients from your food. It makes digestion easier and reduces digestive issues like gas and bloating. Chewing slowly will also lead you to eat slower, providing your brain with the time it needs to register that you are starting to feel full. This simple act may keep you from overeating and help you to maintain your weight. As an added benefit, eating slower may actually allow you to enjoy your food and taste it better. 
  4. Incorporate more fermented foods into your diet. Many cultures around the world have been eating fermented foods for generations – think sauerkraut in Germany and kimchi in Korea. Studies have shown a strong link between probiotic-rich foods and overall health. Sadly, with advances in technology and food preparation, these traditional foods are not as prevalent in today’s society. Not only are fermented foods rich in immune and gut-boosting probiotics, but they also contain beneficial digestive enzymes and a wide range of vitamins and minerals making them quite nutrient dense. Sauerkraut, for example, is rich in iron, vitamin C, vitamin A, and the lesser known vitamin K, which is essential for bone health. Aim to eat or drink something fermented 2–3 times per day as a condiment. Try my easy sauerkraut recipe to get started.

Sources:

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_K

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/31/chewing-foods.aspx