How to snooze your way to feeling great!
What does the word ‘health’ mean to you? Does is mean energy? Strength? Mental clarity and a sense of contentment?
How about, all of the above. And that’s exactly why it’s so important to get beyond thinking only about what food you’re going to eat, how much, and when. Because as important nutrition is, holistic health is about so much more than just food. In a separate blog post we’re going to tackle the vital topics of stress management and social support – both of which are absolutely critical for sustained health and happiness. But in this one we’re going to focus on one other super-important health influencer that also happen to start with the letter ‘S’ – sleep!
This seemingly simple everyday thing we do is actually a major problem for a lot of people. A recent study conducted by the United States CDC (Centre for Disease Control) reported that more than a third of Americans do not get sufficient sleep (7 hours per night being the recommended minimum). That’s over 80 million Americans who are sleep deprived! And the real bummer about it is that not only do you then feel tired, grumpy and less resilient during the day, but lack of restful/restorative sleep also has a major impact on your metabolism and your cognitive function. There is virtually no aspect of your person and wellbeing that is not affected by the sleep that you get! Disrupted sleep may be hard to avoid for new parents, those that do shift work and others with complicated, demanding schedules – but that’s just all the more reason to learn about how to maximize the time you do get to sleep.
The reality is that not only are eating and sleeping arguably two of our most important biological functions (critical to our survival), they are also absolutely intertwined. Insufficient or inadequate sleep alters your hunger hormones, making you more susceptible to over-eating and craving junk foods (carbage). Not only that, but poor sleep impacts insulin sensitivity – and not in a good way! This is such an intricate and important topic that we could write a book just about this one thing. But this is not the right place for that, so we’re just going to cut to the chase and tell you that YOU NEED TO PRIORITIZE SLEEP. Seriously. If you want to get leaner and feel stronger, both physically and mentally, you’re going to have to pay some attention to your ‘sleep hygiene’. OK, so what can you do to get better rest?
Our top tips for improved sleep
- Make sure your bedroom is as conducive to a good rest as possible – this means nice and dark, and preferably cool as well. This may mean putting up some blackout curtains (tablecloths or dark sheets will do in a pinch!) – but it’ll be worth it.
- Try not to eat too close to your bedtime – your last meal should be at least 2 hours before you plan on turning out your lights. Same goes for alcoholic drinks – although many people think that having a couple drinks will help relax them (and they can make you feel drowsy for sure), the problem is that the process of metabolizing the alcohol impacts on the quality of your sleep later on in the middle of the night.
- Remember that your bedroom is for sleeping – not for watching TV, or scrolling on other electronic devices. This is important not only because you want to create a habit that signals your brain that it’s time to sleep – but also because the blue light emitted from electronic devices will disrupt your circadian rhythms and make it harder to fall asleep quickly, and wake up when you need to, feeling refreshed.
- Try to start unwinding well before bedtime and avoid talking or thinking about business matters, bills or other stressful responsibilities. My teenage son said something to me recently: “that’s a tomorrow problem, mom”. He was so right! The best chance you can give yourself for tackling a problem is to make sure you are rested. Write down whatever it is that you need to do, promise yourself that you’ll get onto it tomorrow, and then put it in a box in your head with a sign on it that says: “Do Not Open Until Later - MuchLater!”.
It’s also worth remembering that just like your decisions about what food to buy/cook/consume can be negatively impacted by housemates/family who are unsupportive; great sleep can also easily be de-railed by a partner who is not on the same page. Convincing your partner to sign up to the ‘new rules’ can be tough; and right as you go to bed is definitely not the time to have that conversation. Gather your facts, put aside some time, and have a grown-up discussion about it. Be calm, be rational, and present all the reasons why you’d appreciate their support. Whether or not they feel like they need it - the fact is they will also benefit from implementing these strategies!
The key take-out here is that not only can you shore up your immune system with clean, powerful nutrition, you can also protect your health by improving these other behaviors that are potentially undermining your inner strength. It might seem like a lot of change at first, but the good news is that it gets easier and easier as you go along. You don’t have to suddenly become a perfect person, living like a Health Saint! Just aim for 1% better habits than yesterday – and before you know it that feeling of being constantly tired all the time will start to subside. Instead you’ll begin to feel more powerful and resilient, even in the face of stress and turmoil.
Yours healthfully,Dr. Tracey