Zzzzz….

Let’s face it – most people these days thrive on caffeine to get through a brain-fudgy day. In such a busy world, it is so easy to want to sacrifice sleep to have more time to do other activities or errands. In fact, 42% of all healthy, middle-aged women report some kind of sleep trouble, including difficulty falling asleep, awaking during the night, or not feeling refreshed in the morning.

But sleep is essential! The journal, SLEEP, did a study that found too little sleep (less than 5 hours per night) may increase your risk of abdominal fat, versus those who got at least 6 hours of zzz’s per night.

Not only that, but it is during our visit to lullaby-land that some of our most important immune system functions occur, along with some important antioxidant activity.  How much sleep do you need? Sadly, there’s no “magic number” that’s cookie-cutter perfect for everyone. But the Sleep Foundation says the average adult can use 7-8 hours nightly as a rule of thumb, then adjust from there based on the individual. Note when you feel really well-rested versus feeling tired or foggy. The Sleep Foundation goes on to say that researchers are learning about two factors to a person’s needs: basal sleep needs, and sleep debt. Basal needs are how much your body needs on a regular, average basis. The sleep debt is what it sounds like – any extra rest you may need after skimping on sleep in the past, sickness, disrupted sleeping, etc.  The good news is they say over time, you CAN pay off sleep debt and get back to a healthy cycle!

Healthy sleep is a complex issue and takes both mind and body into consideration. So yes, you may have more trouble sleeping if you’re stressed or anxious.  You may have trouble waking if you’re depressed or ill. Poor blood sugar control or cortisol burn-out can cause waking in the middle of the night. Some things you may have little control over (noisy neighbors, for example) but other things you can control: Environment, exercise, nutrition.

Environment:

  • Make sleeping consistent: go to bed and wake around the same time, even on weekends
  • Create a wind-down program of reading, bathing, or listening to music – NOT computers or television screens
  • Make sure you have a comfortable bed
  • Keep your room free of “sleep stealers” like tv, computers, or other electronic distractions.

Exercise:

  • Daily! Even if it’s only a 15 minute walk: Your body needs to have at least a little bit of physical fatigue to sleep. Just because you’re mentally exhausted at the end of the day does not mean your body will be ready to sit still and rest.
  • Exercise will also help you re-regulate your appetite to help balance out a healthy diet
  • For most people, it is not recommended to exercise closely to bed time (aim for at least 1-2 hours before) or it may stir you up more than help you relax.

Nutrition:

  • As is so commonly shared: avoid stimulating food or drink such as coffee, tea, cola, chocolate. (Go for caffeine free – NOT “decaffeinated” as it may still have small amounts of caffeine!)
  • Also avoid alcohol – while is seems like a relaxing idea, studies show that it does interfere with good, restful and rejuvenating sleep.
  • For dinner, avoid sugar-spiking foods (sugar, refined flours and grains, pop) and stick to whole foods. Be sure to include some protein and healthy fats.
  • Avoid a large dinner shortly before bed – aim for 4 hours before; only have a light snack if you’re truly hungry, not just because you’ve got a case of the munchies

Still can’t sleep? Consider getting your blood sugars checked, and a Stress & Resiliency test.

You may think a heavy meal will be an enjoyable way to give yourself a ticket to food-coma land, but like the alcohol, it is not actually restorative sleep. You may feel tired after a large meal, but your body actually goes in to over-time – your circulatory system is pumping more blood to the digestive tract, your stomach is secreting extra gastric acids while the smooth muscles start roiling and churning for digestion, and your pancreas is spitting out its enzymes. Your body is working hard!

Make sure you eat regularly through the day: don’t eat a huge meal because you neglected to eat, and are trying to “make up” for the missed needs! Instead of trying to “treat” nutritional neglect done during the day, “prevent” it from happening in the first place. Nutrition isn’t really retroactive. It takes time to break down in your body and be utilized – and if you ingest more than your body can handle, it gets excreted or stored as fat. 

I know – all easier said than done. So many things that could affect your sleep and your health! So, pick one or two to aim for – if you’re going to have a huge dinner, at least keep it healthy and light; if you’re going to insist on ice cream for dessert, at least try to limit the portion and have it early; if you can’t take that tv out of your room, at least unplug it.

Pick your own goal, but make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

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