Thursday, October 25, 2012

Secrets of a Good Night's Sleep

There's ever-mounting evidence that poor sleep may play a major role in obesity. "Tired" cells don't use insulin as well as the cells of a well-rested body, ultimately causing disturbances in metabolism of fat and hormone balance. {Read more in Part 1 of this story: Are Groggy Cells Making You Gain Weight?} Bottom line: simply not being well rested may cause weight gain and increased hunger.

We all lead busy lives. You're not alone if you feel like there just aren't enough hours in the day! But setting aside time for adequate sleep is just as important as making that appointment for work or your kid's soccer game.

The average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. But if you're running (or your mind is running) right up until the time you hit the hay, you may find it difficult to get adequate sleep. The foods and beverages we choose in the latter hours of the day can also affect the quality of our sleep and how quickly we fall asleep too.

Here are some ways to promote getting a healthy night's rest:

1. Pick foods that promote rest and avoid those that don't. 

It's tough to go to sleep when you're tummy is growling. That's one reason why the "don't eat after 7:00" rule is really a myth. A little food in your stomach may actually help you sleep. Just make sure to keep your evening snack small. Several snacks or a big meal will not only add unnecessary calories, which can promote weight gain, but will also be tough on your digestive system, making it more difficult to get to sleep. Set aside a calorie "budget" for your bedtime snack. If your dinner is only a few hours from bedtime, you may not need a snack.

Opt for complex carbs at bedtime, not protein. Higher-fiber carbohydrate foods release glucose into the bloodstream slowly, so they're perfect for promoting rest. Protein is harder to digest and may be higher in fat. So skip the high-protein snack and opt for dairy or starchy types of carbs, like a warm glass of milk or crackers.

Foods containing tryptophan, a sleep-promoting amino acid, make great evening snacks. That's why you might have heard that drinking milk before bedtime can help you fall asleep (or why you feel so tired after that Thanksgiving turkey). Foods that are high in tryptophan include nuts and seeds, oats, dates and dairy products.

Foods rich in the minerals magnesium and potassium help the body relax. Good sources of magnesium include nuts and seeds, whole grains, peanut butter, bananas and milk. Potassium-rich foods include raisins, bananas, oranges, milk, yogurt, apricots and cantaloupe.

Consuming too many high-fat foods is never a good idea, but before bedtime, high-fat foods are an especially poor choice. They are more difficult to digest, may make you uncomfortable and can cause indigestion. Some research shows they may even interrupt your sleep cycle. A big meal, or one that's high in fat, may take 6 hours to fully digest.

Watch the spicy stuff. Spicy foods, similar to chocolate, caffeine, acidic foods and high-fat foods, can cause stomach upset and indigestion, especially before bed or when lying down. Avoid these at least two to four hours before bedtime.

Caffeine, even in moderate amounts, can make it difficult to fall asleep. Thank you Captain Obvious. But aside from coffee, don't forget about less obvious caffeine sources, like chocolate, colas (even diet) and tea. For better sleep, stop drinking caffeine at least four hours before bedtime. Check your evening beverages to make sure they are decaffeinated. After all, a mug of hot tea can be help you wind down--just make sure it's decaf.

Limit alcohol before bedtime too. It may help you fall asleep faster, but it leads to frequent awakenings, less time spent in the "deep sleep" cycle, night sweats and vivid dreams. If you're consuming alcohol in the evening, make sure to also drink water. For a good night's sleep, it's best to avoid alcohol at least four hours before bed.

Drink your H20...but not too close to bedtime. Staying hydrated is very important to overall health. But waking up for even just a few minutes to go to the bathroom interrupts sleep enough to make you tired the following day.

2. Exercise.

Exercise is beneficial for cardiovascular health, weight management and well-being. You may not know that studies show exercise helps facilitate a restful sleep too. Burning energy through exercise helps fatigue your body so that it's easier to fall asleep. As body temperature falls after exercise, your body will begin to relax. So exercise in the evening may not really be a bad idea. Try exercising at different times of the day to find out which time is best for you. But as I always say, "Anytime is a good time for exercise."

3. Wind down.

Even if you get into bed on time, it can be very difficult to fall asleep when you've got stuff on your mind. Ease your worry and clear your mind by:
  • Keeping a journal to relieve stress and let go of the worries you've faced during the day.
  • Make a list of things that you need to get done tomorrow or that you want to remember.
  • Start getting ready for bed an hour before you plan to hit the sheets. Get in your jammies, wash your face, brush your teeth and perform other nighttime rituals.
  • Read a book. I like reading fiction before bed. It takes my mind off the "real world" and gives me a chance to indulge in something a little less serious. Plus, even the most interesting book starts to make me weary at bedtime!
  • Put down the electronics and turn off the TV. The bright lights can keep your mind stimulated and keep you awake.

4. Schedule sleep.

Set up your own sleep schedule. Try to go to sleep and wake up at approximately the same time every day and night. Get your body into a rhythm and you'll find it's easier to fall asleep on time and get up feeling good.

We hear about diet and exercise a lot when it comes to our health and weight management. But don't forget that sleep is just as important! If you think you may not be getting enough (or quality) sleep, start taking steps to solving this problem. Try my tips above or contact your doctor. Your body (and your waist line) will thank you.