Nodding Off to Healthyland

27 Jan

sleepSleep. Oh that wonderful ritual that slows aging and grants energy. That combines pajamas, fluffy sheets and snuggly warmth for 8 hours of silent delight… or 7. Or maybe 6—Sherlock doesn’t start until late. Make that two 3-hour shifts with a 30-minute baby feeding in between. Oh, I forgot! I have that big meeting tomorrow at 8am and I need to prepare after I help the kids with homework and get them to bed.

Sound familiar? I know I’m a repeat offender. Far too often we trade in our sleep to cram more things into our day, and it is—not maybe, not probably, not could—it is affecting our health. Sleeping less than 7-9 hours per night increases our risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and reduces memory and our ability to heal and build muscle. How can that be? Sleep is our body’s time to release hormones for physical and psychological repair and prepare us for the next day’s activities. The longer we stay up, the more cortisol our body releases which affects other hormones like increasing insulin and ghrelin (tells us we are hungry) while decreasing DHEA (anti-aging hormone), GABA and serotonin (our feel good neurotransmitters), growth hormone, melatonin and leptin (tells us we are full).

Here are 10 easy steps to create a stellar environment for increased energy, weight loss, stress reduction and improved cognition.

  1. Power down an hour before bedtime. Light keeps cortisol surging and cortisol keeps you wired and your waistband expanding. Dim lights and DVR TV shows to watch earlier the following day. Trade the nightshow line-up for a good book, conversation or relaxing bath.
  2. Stick to one cup of coffee in the a.m. Caffeine keeps us up, so stick to herbal teas and protein-dense foods rather than an afternoon caffeinated soda or coffee pick-me-up.
  3. Keep dinner light. It’s hard to sleep when our body is too busy digesting. Stick to a light dinner of lean protein, healthy fats and veggies.
  4. Give furry friends their space. Pets are cute like kids, but they also wiggle and can wet the bed like kids sometimes do too. Let them sleep next to you on the floor for uninterrupted (and dry) slumber.
  5. Play daily. The more active you are with exercise throughout the day, the better you will sleep.
  6. Be consistent. Waking up at 5am during the week and then sleeping in until 9am and staying up until 1am on the weekends wrecks havoc on your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Try to keep your wake and sleep times consistent.
  7. Find your neutral quiet. Whether it is a fan, a babbling brook or complete silence, find the white noise that helps you rest.
  8. Stay liquid-free an hour before slumber to avoid using the bathroom.
  9. Take a bubble bath. Create a nighttime ritual that helps you relax, whether it is soaking in the tub, giving/getting a massage from your significant other or spraying lavender oil on your sheets—take care of yourself and make it enjoyable.
  10. Black is the new sleep. Light is not our friend when sleeping. Keep your bedroom as pitch black as possible and as electronic-free as possible.
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