Health: Sleeping your way to great health

By Stephanie Vilendrer

When was the last time you woke up feel­ing refreshed and ready to greet the day (without needing a cup of coffee)? A great night’s sleep can have a major impact on both your mental and physical health. Improved memory, reduced risk for disease and a greater sense of well-being are just some of the benefits of getting a qual­ity night’s sleep. Determining how to most ef­ficiently improve your daily sleep habits will go a long way toward fending off disease and making those benefits tangible in your own life. This article will also give you some important tips beyond the simple recommendation of, “Get more sleep!” to help you make the most of your valuable hours of rest. Of course, quantity of sleep is a critical contributing factor to better health. Most adults generally need around seven hours of sleep each night. In one study, individuals who slept less than five hours per night more than doubled their risk for cardiovascular disease. One of the nega­tive biological consequences of sleep deprivation is increased levels of the stress hormone corti­sol, which over time can lead to diabetes, weight gain, accelerated aging, compromised immune function, high blood pressure and depression. In addition to sleeping too little, sleep­ing too much can actually be harmful as well. In the same study, those who slept more than nine hours per night also doubled their risk for cardiovascular disease. While each individual has unique needs, sleeping between seven to eight hours each night is ideal for great health. Many commonly made mistakes that lead to a poor night’s sleep are easy to prevent. One of the mistakes is drinking caffeinated beverages after mid-day. Strenuous exercise is also stimu­lating and should be avoided in the late evening. Going to bed early has benefits beyond waking sooner. The body undergoes the greatest restora­tion between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.; being asleep during this time window is per­haps the most valuable of any other hours of the night. Following are some important tips that can help you achieve a better night’s sleep, even without extending your hours of rest. 1. Unplug all appliances, electrical devices, and shut off computers and cell phones. Many people (myself included) are sensi­tive to electromagnetic radiation. What is that, you may ask? My simple answer is that it is energy put out by every electrical or conduct­ing device in the form of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The earth itself has its own field, and ex­posure to low frequency radiation is usually safe. However, EMFs become increasingly problem­atic with increasing field strength and increasing exposure. This is why health professionals advise against unnecessary radiation exposure (such as many x-rays). While handheld appliances and computers aren’t as powerful as these machines, their effects still should not be discounted. I try to minimize my exposure as much as possible. Typing on my laptop for too long actually gives me dizzy spells, and talking for extended periods on my cell phone is agitating. Others may experi­ence similar symptoms without realizing it. The most important things to remember are to turn off these appliances at night and keep them away from your body during the day. You may notice a positive change in how you feel in addition to how well you sleep. 2. Eat the right dinner a few hours before bedtime. Waking up in the middle of the night with a grumbling stomach or feeling anxious is no fun. Or maybe you have trouble falling asleep for no apparent reason. What you eat before bed can have a major affect on your ability to fall and stay asleep throughout the night. Eating a dinner that is too low in protein and fats and too high in sugar can initially spike your blood glucose levels, setting off a flood of insulin that tells your cells to uptake circulating sugar from the bloodstream. What can follow a short time later is a blood sugar low, which causes symptoms of shakiness, inability to think clearly, and cravings for sweets. If a sugar low hits during the night, you may wake up and not be able to get back to sleep. To avoid this, make sure that your evening meal contains protein and fats and that you aren’t eating sugary desserts, especially right before bed. A glass of organic milk or a small handful of nuts are a good bedtime snack if you’re feeling hungry. 3. Consider sleep aids. If you really have trouble falling asleep, you may want to consider some natural sleep aids. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pitu­itary gland in response to decreasing daylight. You can buy melatonin in supplement form, and while quite safe, it is meant to be used only for periods of less than one to two months. If you do take melatonin, make sure to do so at least one hour before bedtime. Another option is valerian root, which is a European herb that has long been used for its sedative effects. Again, be sure to take it an hour before sleep. Finally, increasing mag­nesium intake either through supplementation or diet may be helpful for inexplicable insomnia, low mood and muscle spasms. Many people are deficient in this critical mineral, especially during periods of high stress. My favorite magnesium supplement is called “Calm,” which I sometimes take before bed or if I’m feeling anxious. Food sources of magnesium include green leafy veg­etables and spinach, tea, nuts, some grains and some fruits, as well as cocoa (maybe that’s why chocolate tastes so good when you’re stressed!). Increasing consumption of these foods is an easy fix for some very annoying issues. If you feel consistently tired and sluggish, do yourself a favor by getting a full night’s sleep. Waking up rejuvenated will do wonders for your well-being and create great, long-lasting health. Your mind and body will thank you! refresh –>