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7 Reasons You Feel Like A Zombie In The Morning

7 Reasons You Feel Like A Zombie In The Morning

 

A few nights ago I stayed up too late, even though I knew I had an early meeting in another town. When I woke up the next morning, I tried to brew a pot of coffee without pouring water into the reservoir. Even when standing there in front of the empty decanter, it took my sluggish mind a few minutes to realize what I’d done wrong.

The average adult needs at least 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night, yet few of us achieve it. Staying up to watch our favorite late night program or stressing over a work project often cut into these precious hours. We shrug off the zombie feeling and prop ourselves up with caffeine and sugar, but this ongoing lack of sleep is making us very sick.

It’s important to point out that not all sleep deprivation is obvious like my story about staying up late and getting up earlier than usual. Often we just cheat ourselves out of an hour or two over long periods of time, leading to long-term health consequences and sometimes deadly accidents.

Do you catch every illness that strikes your community? When you get sick, does it take weeks before you feel normal again? Even “modest” sleep deprivation (less than 6 hours of sleep per night) has been directly linked to reduced immune response, inhibiting your ability to ward off illness.

Have you struggled to maintain a healthy weight, despite exercise? Research shows that when the body stays awake for too long, it struggles to process blood sugar and leptin (a protein hormone that regulates appetite and metabolism), so more is stored as fat. Interestingly, sugary foods are what we reach for when we feel tired.

Scroll through the infographic below for more astonishing facts about just how important a full night’s sleep is to our long-term health. Then click on the links at the bottom to learn how you can sleep away your zombiefied self.

Sleep and Health

Image via Thinkstock

By Beth Buczynski

Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog. 

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6 Ways Fitness Makes You Successful

6 Ways Fitness Makes You Successful

It’s 8:25 p.m. and you’re working late.  Again. The boss has gone home,  along with most of your coworkers. But  not you: you’re still chained to your  desk, and you’ll probably be there  for a while.

Over the last few months you’ve been cranking through work, though.  You’ve  pulled ahead of your competition, and you figure a significant  promotion — along with a bigger paycheck and more responsibility — is  right around the  corner.

Sure, you feel rundown and you’ve put on some weight. But you just  haven’t  had much time to sleep, much less shop for and prepare healthy  food. And the  prospect of squeezing in a workout when there is so much  to do seems  laughable.

Here’s what you tell yourself: I’ll work out when I clear these  projects. I’ll sleep after I get the promotion. I’ll start eating  better when the kids start school.

It’s a scenario familiar to many of us: too much on our plates, not  enough  hours in the day, and a persistent feeling that any time away  from work means  lost time, money and accomplishments.

Many of us have been brainwashed into thinking that stress and poor  health  are the price of success. We may even see our rundown bodies as  evidence of our  unflagging dedication to the demands of our careers.

New research shows that this zero-sum view of work and working out is   flawed. Far from detracting from your productivity and efficiency,  regular  exercise can make you smarter, and more effective, resilient and successful. And this is true whether your “profession” involves  tackling corporate mergers or taking your kids to soccer  practice.

In addition to helping you look and feel better, time invested in  upgrading  and maintaining your fitness repays itself many times over in  ways that  psychologists, brain experts and other researchers are only  beginning to  understand. And putting even a little effort into upgrading  your health and  fitness can have a surprisingly dramatic effect on your  professional  performance.

Fit for Success

You may have been hired for your brain power. But the condition of  your body  could matter more than you realize, particularly as you climb  the corporate  ranks. A 2005 survey conducted by TheLadders.com  found that 75 percent of top executives considered being physically fit  “critical to career success” and being overweight “a serious career  impediment” to advancement.

It turns out that employees’ salaries are influenced by how closely  their  body weight approximates an “ideal,” which frequently and unfairly  differs by  gender. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2011  found that slender women out-earned their overweight female  colleagues by a  significant margin. Men of moderate weight, meanwhile,  earned more than both  slender men and overweight men.

Being thin, in other words, tends to be an advantage for women and a   disadvantage for men. Being heavy is a disadvantage for both.

It’s unfortunate, to say the least,  that these sorts of prejudices   persist. Until attitudes change, though, it means that if you’re  overweight,  you’ll probably be operating at some level of professional  disadvantage.  Getting into better shape could give your earning power a  direct boost; it  could also benefit your confidence and self-esteem in  ways that amplify your  job performance.

That’s why Phyllis R. Stein, a career counselor from Cambridge,  Mass., with  more than 36 years in the business, says: “Whether you’re  looking for your next  job or trying to reach the next rung on the  corporate ladder, I consider  exercise an essential job-related  activity.”

Stress Case

Cultural biases notwithstanding, success-oriented people have plenty  of good  reasons to work out regularly, says Stein. One of the best:  Exercise improves  energy while decreasing stress and amplifying mental  focus.

Consider cortisol, a steroid hormone that regulates your energy   throughout the day. Under normal conditions, cortisol levels peak early  in  the morning to get you going, and then gradually decline as the day  progresses,  leaving you mellowed out and ready to sleep at bedtime. A  hectic work  environment can throw this natural circadian cycle into  disarray. Commuter  traffic, an irate boss or an impending deadline can  create small cortisol  spikes during your day, each one followed  immediately by a sharp decline in  energy and mood.

Worse, many stressed-out workers turn to junk food, sugary  snacks and caffeinated energy drinks to keep themselves going — all of which  can make the hormonal roller-coaster ride even wilder. Months of this  routine  can exhaust and ultimately kill off some of your brain’s  stress-regulating  neurons, leaving you perpetually listless.

“When you’re chronically stressed, the normal daily cortisol cycle  can  flip,” says Tom Nikkola, CSCS, CISSN, director of nutrition and  weight  management for Life Time Fitness in Chanhassen, Minn. “This can  leave you  barely able to get out of bed in the morning, but too keyed up  to sleep at  night.”

Though it may seem like a minor, inevitable annoyance to the  ambitious  white-collar warrior, sleep deprivation actually comes with a  steep economic  price. One 2004 study estimated that sleep disruption of  various kinds cost  Australia more than $4.5 billion annually in the form  of lost work, reduced  productivity and accidents — 0.8 percent of the  gross domestic product.

Here again, exercise can come to the rescue. “Easy movement, like  walking or  low-key yoga, before bedtime nudges the parasympathetic  nervous system into  gear, diffusing stress and helping to calm you  down,” Nikkola says. Even 10 to  20 minutes of stretching before hitting  the sack, for instance, could keep you  from tossing and turning,  resulting in an additional hour of slumber. And when  you’re sleeping  better at night, you’re also less likely to reach for the junk  food and  energy drinks that can wreak havoc with your daily energy cycle.

If you’re willing to kick your intensity up a notch to the “moderate”  level  (the equivalent of a brisk walk or anything that gets your heart  pumping), you  get other benefits, including improved mental focus. A  2008 study found that 45  to 60 minutes of a midday group exercise class  improved the mood, performance  and concentration of white-collar  workers.

“The clear and positive benefits of exercising only accrue on the  days when  it happens,” notes the study’s lead researcher, Jim McKenna,  PhD, professor of  physical activity and health at Leeds Metropolitan  University in the United  Kingdom. A second study, published in 2010 in  the journal Pain Med,  showed that just 10 minutes of exercise produced measurable reductions in  anxiety and depression.

So rather than skip that yoga class when you’re facing a day loaded  with  challenges, it’s probably wise to make it an even higher priority.  “You should  treat your workout like it’s the most important meeting you  have all week,” Nikkola says.

Reclaim Your  Brain

“When you’re stressed, your brain busies itself trying to keep you  safe from  threat — real or imagined,” says Sascha du Lac, PhD, associate  professor of  neurobiology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies  in San Diego.  Self-preserving thoughts can monopolize the brain space  that could otherwise be  used for scanning your environment, accessing  memories and relating to other  people.

Fortunately, physical exercise can help heal and hone the very same mental  abilities that are sabotaged by everyday stressors.

Picture yourself hiking or running on a trail. Though you’re not  conscious  of it, this relatively simple, pleasurable activity requires  you to make  hundreds of split-second choices — about foot placement,  balance and  navigation, for example — which can improve your capacity to  think, feel and  relate to others.

“The cerebellum, the area of the brain traditionally associated  mainly with  movement, is also involved with higher functioning, like  planning, socializing,  abstract thought — even creativity and emotional  intelligence,” explains  Elizabeth Beringer, director of the Feldenkrais  Institute of San Diego and  editor of Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe  Feldenkrais (North Atlantic Books, 2010).

“When you exercise regularly, your attention can broaden and shift at  will,” adds du Lac, “away from fearful, self-preserving thoughts and  onto what’s  actually going on around you: the responses of your  coworkers, your own  insights and ideas, the specific demands of the task  at hand.”

Psychological research has also shown that, for many people, a  regular  exercise routine is a “keystone” habit: a behavior that sets off  a chain  reaction of seemingly unrelated positive behavioral changes. In  a 2006 study  published in The British Journal of Health Psychology,  researchers  found that sedentary people placed on an exercise program  voluntarily began  smoking less, drinking fewer alcoholic and caffeinated  drinks, and eating  healthier. They also did more household chores, used  their credit cards less  often, and kept up more diligently with study  and work obligations. Everything  in their lives that required  self-discipline, in other words, became easier — almost by magic.

“Regular exercise builds self-regulatory resources,” explains Todd   Heatherton, PhD, professor of psychology and brain sciences at Dartmouth   College and an expert in habitual behavior and addiction. This ability  to  self-regulate, or exert willpower, say researchers, may be the most  significant  key to success in any work environment — it’s what  allows you to stick  to a task when others give up, and to overcome  obstacles that at first seem  insurmountable.

Small Changes, Real  Results

Improvements in mood, energy and productivity aren’t affected   significantly by the type of exercise you choose, so don’t fret too much   about whether you should be getting your work-enhancing boost from  yoga, a Zumba class or a run around the lake. The key is to do  something you enjoy — and maybe something a little novel as well.

“Learning is inherently enjoyable to humans,” says Beringer. “It  lights up  pleasure centers in the brain.” So mix things up, and try to  include activities  that build in some variety and progression, like team  sports, dance or martial  arts.

Also keep in mind that if your primary fitness goal is to boost your  work  performance, you can begin with a relatively small commitment of  time. “Researchers believe that 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous  exercise, a few  times a week, is all you need to see positive  adaptations in the brain,” says  du Lac. “You can do that all at once or  in small segments throughout your  day.”

And when you can’t spare even that much time and effort, just use  your head. “Imaginary movement lights up the same areas in the brain  that real movement  does,” says du Lac. Clinical studies show that  athletes who visualize an  unfamiliar exercise see gains in strength and  power similar to those who  actually practice the movement.

So when work is pushing you to the limit, spend a few minutes  daydreaming  about a jog down the beach, complete with the feeling of wet  sand beneath your  feet and the smells and sounds of the ocean. The  process could confer at least  some of the same benefits of a real  workout.

Of course, you’ll get the most significant advantages from moving  your  entire body on a regular basis. And now that you know the extent to  which your  professional future depends on it, you may find yourself  more motivated to do  just that.

The Efficient  Workout

If driving to and from the gym for an exercise class just isn’t in  the  cards, try these easy ways to get in a fat-burning, muscle-building  workout on  a busy day:

  • Hop in the saddle. Consider bike commuting. You get  to  skip the stress-filled commute, burn some calories, reduce your  carbon  footprint and save gas money all at the same time. Bonus: It’s  tough to flake  out on your after-work exercise routine when the bike is  your only way  home.
  • Grab a bell. A kettlebell, that is. Pick up a hefty  one at  your local sporting-goods store and stash it underneath your  desk at work. In  10 minutes, you can do a full-body, low-impact workout  that puts the treadmill  to shame.
  • Climb a skyscraper. Racing up the service stairs of  tall  city buildings is becoming an increasingly popular urban sport —  in large part  because it’s tough. If you work in a high-rise, lace on  your running shoes, hit  the stairs and scamper up 10 or more flights as  fast as you can. Take the  elevator back down (for recovery), if you’d  like, and repeat two to four more  times.
  • Make like a monkey. Mount a chin-up bar in the  doorway to  your office, and do a single pull-up every time you go in or  out. Can’t do a  pull-up yet? Stick with the self-assisted, jump-and-pull  variety until you can,  which will be soon, because you’ll net dozens of  reps per day. To avoid angry  memos from the boss, get a bar that mounts  over the door jamb — not one that  requires screws and a drill.

Fitness Tips for the  Time-Starved

“Keeping active doesn’t have to mean taking up residence at the gym,”  says  Elizabeth Beringer, director of the Feldenkrais Institute of San  Diego and  editor of Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais (North  Atlantic Books, 2010). “The trick is to make movement a natural  part of  your day rather than another thing you have to make time for.”

  • Sound the alarm. “Staring at a computer screen can  pull  your attention away from your body. People often sit motionless in  front of  them for hours on end, and only later realize they’re in pain.”  So instead of  waiting till your lower back is begging for mercy, set an  alarm that tells you  to get up and stretch every 20 minutes or so.  These micro-breaks will help  stave off aches and improve your focus.
  • Reach out. Ergonomic experts will tell you to set  up your  workstation so that everything you need is right in front of  you. Beringer  suggests going the opposite route: “Extending your arms is  extremely  pleasurable, and we almost can’t do it enough,” she says. “So  put some things  you regularly need — important documents, a file  cabinet, the phone — an arm’s  reach away so that you have to extend and  shift in your chair every so  often.”
  • Rise up. Every hour or so, get out of your chair.  Go  refill your water bottle. Do some deep lunges and a few pushups.  Schedule a  walking meeting. Make a point of getting vertical several  times throughout your  day. You can also experiment with working at a  counter or other standing-height  surface.
  • Go mobile. “Mobile devices like cell phones were designed  to help us be more mobile,” says Beringer. “But few people take full  advantage of  that.” So don’t hunker down at your desk during a cell-phone call  when  you could be walking around the room or climbing stairs. Attending to   your body’s need for movement helps you think, interact and perform your  job  better.

By , Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness  publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic  lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in  favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com   to learn more and to sign  up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe  to the print or digital version.

33 Tips for Better Sleep!

33 Tips for Better Sleep

 

Sleep is one of the great mysteries of life. Like gravity or the quantum field, we still don’t understand exactly why we sleep—although we are learning more about it every day.  We do know, however, that good sleep is one of the cornerstones of health.

Six to eight hours per night seems to be the optimal amount of sleep for most adults, and too much or too little can have adverse effects on your health.

Sleep deprivation is such a chronic condition these days that you might not even realize you suffer from it. Science has now established that a sleep deficit can have serious, far reaching effects on your health.

For example, interrupted or impaired sleep can:

  • Dramatically weaken your immune system
  • Accelerate tumor growth—tumors grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions
  • Cause a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight
  • Seriously impair your memory; even a single night of poor sleep—meaning sleeping only 4 to 6 hours—can impact your ability to think clearly the next day
  • Impair your performance on physical or mental tasks, and decrease your problem solving ability

When your circadian rhythms are disrupted, your body produces less melatonin (a hormone AND an antioxidant) and has less ability to fight cancer, since melatonin helps suppress free radicals that can lead to cancer. This is why tumors grow faster when you sleep poorly.

Impaired sleep can also increase stress-related disorders, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Constipation
  • Mood disorders like depression

Sleep deprivation prematurely ages you by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as Peak Fitness Technique). Growth hormone helps you look and feel younger.

One study has even shown that people with chronic insomnia have a three times greater risk of dying from any cause.

Lost sleep is lost forever, and persistent lack of sleep has a cumulative effect when it comes to disrupting your health. Poor sleep can make your life miserable, as most of you probably know.

The good news is, there are many natural techniques you can learn to restore your “sleep health.”

Whether you have difficulty falling asleep, waking up too often, or feeling inadequately rested when you wake up in the morning—or maybe you simply want to improve the quality of your sleep—you are bound to find some relief from my tips and tricks below.

Optimizing Your Sleep Sanctuary

  • Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin. Even the tiniest glow from your clock radio could be interfering with your sleep. This will help decrease your risk of cancer.  Close your bedroom door, and get rid of night-lights. Refrain from turning on any light at all during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. Cover up your clock radio. Cover your windows—I recommend using blackout shades or drapes. All life evolved in response to predictable patterns of light and darkness, called circadian rhythms. Modern day electrical lighting has significantly betrayed your inner clock by disrupting your natural rhythms. Little bits of light pass directly through your optic nerve to your hypothalamus, which controls your biological clock. Light signals your brain that it’s time to wake up and starts preparing your body for action.
  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees. Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep. When you sleep, your body’s internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body’s natural temperature drop.
  • Check your bedroom for electro-magnetic fields (EMFs). These can disrupt the pineal gland and the production of melatonin and serotonin, and may have other negative effects as well. To do this, you need a gauss meter. You can find various models online, starting around $50 to $200. Some experts even recommend pulling your circuit breaker before bed to kill all power in your house.
  • Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your bed. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least 3 feet. Remove the clock from view. It will only add to your worry when you stare at it all night… 2 a.m. …3 a.m. … 4:30 a.m.
  • Avoid using loud alarm clocks. It is very stressful on your body to be suddenly jolted awake. If you are regularly getting enough sleep, an alarm may even be unnecessary. I gave up my alarm clock years ago and now use a sun alarm clock. These clocks include a built-in light that gradually increases in intensity, simulating a natural sunrise.
  • Reserve your bed for sleeping. If you are used to watching TV or doing work in bed, you may find it harder to relax and drift off to sleep, so avoid doing these activities in bed.
  • Consider separate bedrooms. Recent studies suggest, for many people, sharing a bed with a partner (or pets) can significantly impair sleep, especially if the partner is a restless sleeper or snores. If bedfellows are consistently interfering with your sleep, you may want to consider a separate bedroom.

Preparing for Bed

  • Get to bed as early as possible. Your body (particularly your adrenal system) does a majority of its recharging between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. In addition, your gallbladder dumps toxins during this same period. If you are awake, the toxins back up into your liver, which can further disrupt your health. Prior to the widespread use of electricity, people would go to bed shortly after sundown, as most animals do, and which nature intended for humans as well.
  • Don’t change your bedtime. You should go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on the weekends. This will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning.
  • Establish a bedtime routine. This could include meditation, deep breathing, using aromatherapy or essential oils or indulging in a massage from your partner. The key is to find something that makes you feel relaxed, then repeat it each night to help you release the tensions of the day.
  • Don’t drink any fluids within 2 hours of going to bed. This will reduce the likelihood of needing to get up and go to the bathroom, or at least minimize the frequency.
  • Go to the bathroom right before bed. This will reduce the chances that you’ll wake up to go in the middle of the night.
  • Eat a high-protein snack several hours before bed. This can provide the L-tryptophan needed for your melatonin and serotonin production.
  • Also eat a small piece of fruit. This can help the tryptophan cross your blood-brain barrier.
  • Avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars. These will raise your blood sugar and delay sleep. Later, when blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia), you may wake up and be unable to fall back asleep.
  • Take a hot bath, shower or sauna before bed. When your body temperature is raised in the late evening, it will fall at bedtime, facilitating slumber. The temperature drop from getting out of the bath signals your body it’s time for bed.
  • Wear socks to bed. Feet often feel cold before the rest of the body because they have the poorest circulation. A study has shown that wearing socks reduces night wakings. As an alternative, you could place a hot water bottle near your feet at night.
  • Wear an eye mask to block out light. As discussed earlier, it is very important to sleep in as close to complete darkness as possible. That said, it’s not always easy to block out every stream of light using curtains, blinds or drapes, particularly if you live in an urban area (or if your spouse has a different schedule than you do). In these cases, an eye mask can be helpful.
  • Put your work away at least one hour before bed (preferably two hours or more). This will give your mind a chance to unwind so you can go to sleep feeling calm, not hyped up or anxious about tomorrow’s deadlines.
  • No TV right before bed. Even better, get the TV out of the bedroom or even completely out of the house. It’s too stimulating to the brain, preventing you from falling asleep quickly. TV disrupts your pineal gland function.
  • Listen to relaxation CDs. Some people find the sound of white noise or nature sounds, such as the ocean or forest, to be soothing for sleep.
  • Read something spiritual or uplifting. This may help you relax. Don’t read anything stimulating, such as a mystery or suspense novel, which has the opposite effect. In addition, if you are really enjoying a suspenseful book, you might be tempted to go on reading for hours, instead of going to sleep!
  • Journaling. If you often lay in bed with your mind racing, it might be helpful keep a journal and write down your thoughts before bed. Personally, I have been doing this for 15 years, but prefer to do it in the morning when my brain is functioning at its peak and my cortisol levels are high.

Lifestyle Suggestions That Enhance Sleep

  • Reduce or avoid as many drugs as possible. Many drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, may adversely affect sleep. In many cases, it is helpful to look into alternatives to address the condition causing the drugs to be taken in the first place.
  • Avoid caffeine. At least one study has shown that, in some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects long after consumption. So, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea will keep some people from falling asleep at night. Be aware that some medications contain caffeine (for example, diet pills).
  • Avoid alcohol. Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.
  • Make certain you are exercising regularly. Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can improve your sleep. However, don’t exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake. Studies show exercising in the morning is the best if you can manage it.
  • Lose excess weight. Being overweight can increase your risk of sleep apnea, which can seriously impair your sleep. (Click here for my nutritional recommendations.)
  • Avoid foods you may be sensitive to. This is particularly true for sugar, grains, and pasteurized dairy. Sensitivity reactions can cause excess congestion, gastrointestinal upset, bloating and gas, and other problems.
  • Have your adrenals checked by a good natural medicine clinician. Scientists have found that insomnia may be caused by adrenal stress.
  • If you are menopausal or premenopausal, get checked out by a good natural medicine physician. The hormonal changes at this time may cause sleep problems if not properly addressed.

If All Else Fails

  • My current favorite fix for insomnia is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Most people can learn the basics of this gentle tapping technique in a few minutes. EFT can help balance your body’s bioenergy system and resolve some of the emotional stresses that are contributing to your insomnia at a very deep level. The results are typically long lasting and improvement is remarkably rapid.
  • Increase your melatonin. Ideally it is best to increase levels naturally with exposure to bright sunlight in the daytime (along with full spectrum fluorescent bulbs in the winter) and absolute complete darkness at night. If that isn’t possible, you may want to consider a melatonin supplement. In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness, and reverse daytime fatigue. Melatonin is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep. I prefer to use a sublingual melatonin product because it is absorbed much faster and therefore works more quickly.

By Dr. Mercola

Dr. Mercola has been passionate about health and technology for most of his life. As a doctor of osteopathic medicine, he treated many thousands of patients for over 20 years. In the mid 90’s he integrated his passion for natural health with modern technology via the internet and developed a website, Mercola.com to spread the word about natural ways to achieve optimal health.

How to Recover From a Sleep Deficit

How to Recover From a Sleep Deficit

Economic woes keep many of us awake,

but you can give yourself a bedtime bailout package.

Can’t sleep? If you find yourself looking up at the ceiling at 3 am thinking about your financial future, know that you are not alone. A third of Americans say that they have been losing sleep over the state of the economy and personal financial concerns, according to the results of a poll released last month by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). The economy has added to the already epidemic number of Americans experiencing sleep difficulties: 72 percent of American adults report sleeping less than 8 hours a night, up from 62 percent in 2001. And 20 percent of adults report sleeping less than 6 hours a night, up from 13 percent in 2001.

Losing sleep does more than make you tired. Insufficient sleep is related to numerous cognitive, emotional, and medical conditions, including impaired concentration and anxiety, depression, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, as well as memory and immune dysfunction. Sleep deprivation is a public-safety issue as well, causing tens of thousands of car and truck accidents every year. In the recent NSF poll, 54 percent of drivers said they had driven while drowsy at least once during the past year, and 28 percent said they had nodded off or fallen asleep while driving a vehicle. When sleep-deprived subjects are brought into the lab to perform a driving simulation, they perform more poorly than intoxicated subjects.

WHAT IT MEANS: If you are one of the millions of people who are not getting the sleep you need, there are several strategies you can use to improve your sleep:

1. Stick to a schedule.

Do your best to fall sleep at about the same time each night and wake up at about the same time each morning, weekends included. Your body does best with a regular sleep-wake rhythm.

2. Stay away from food and alcohol.

Avoid eating for at least 3 hours before going to bed. Avoid drinking alcohol late in the evening. While a drink or two might relax you at first and help you fall asleep, the effect can wear off during the night, causing a rebound alertness that can wake you up and make it hard to get back to sleep.

3. Exercise.

Engage in vigorous exercise most days of the week for at least 30 minutes. “Vigorous” means that most of the time, you’re too out of breath to speak more than a few words. If exercising in the evening makes it hard for you to get to sleep, do your workout in the morning or afternoon.

4. Create a restful bedroom.

Make sure your bedroom environment is conducive to sleep. It should be dark, quiet, cool, and uncluttered. We spend so much time in our bedrooms that we tend to overlook the simple changes that could help us get more sleep, such as hanging thicker curtains to block out light, or moving the bed away from a noisy window.

5. Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex.

The moment you get into bed, you want to have a feeling of rest and relaxation that invites sleep. But if you engage in brain-stimulating activities in the bedroom, such as watching TV, sending e-mails, or talking on the phone, you become conditioned to associate your bed with energy and alertness, and that interferes with sleep.

6. Learn how to relax your body and quiet your mind.

Simple relaxation techniques like slow abdominal breathing, progressive relaxation, or guided imagery allow your body to release tension and your mind to settle down so you can ease into sleep. If it’s worry and anxiety that keep your mind from settling down, keep a notebook by your bed and jot down your concerns (and any possible solutions) before you turn out the light. The act of recording your worries so you can tackle them later helps you feel more in control.

7. Don’t worry about falling sleep!

While this might sound like the ultimate catch-22 for someone struggling to sleep, this may be the most overlooked tactic of all. The truth is, you can lessen the struggle by changing the way you think about sleep. Instead of thinking, I’ll never get to sleep. I’ll be a wreck tomorrow, say to yourself, Eventually, I’ll get to sleep. Even if I don’t get a full night’s sleep, I’ll be able to function tomorrow. I always do. Try turning your alarm clock to the side so you won’t be constantly confronted with how late it is.

By Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, Rodale.com

Jeff Rossman, PhD, is a Rodale.com advisor, and director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA. His column, Mind-Body-Mood Booster, appears most weeks on Rodale.com.


Rodale.com is a new original source for daily news, information, and advice on personal and environmental health. Rodale.com focuses on “Where Health Meets Green” topics, providing daily news stories and breaking news along with easy-to-follow, high-impact tips and advice. Rodale.com features a Daily Newsletter, and provides simple, powerful tools including Recipe Finder and Home Remedy Finder to help audiences improve their health and their environment. Rodale.com also includes “Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen,” a personal blog where Editor-in-Chief and Rodale, Inc. CEO and Chairman Maria Rodale is “Cooking Up Trouble, Dishing Out Advice.”

The Power Nap: Tips and Benefits

The Power Nap: Tips and Benefits

The Power Nap: Tips and Benefits

Name your top 5 guilty pleasures (we’re lumping every delicious, fat- or  carb-loaded goody into one naughty pleasure). Isn’t napping one of them? Honestly, there’s nothing like a solid 20-30 minute crash in the middle of the day when you’re feeling tired or foggy. Add the bonus of numerous studies confirming the healthful benefits of the power nap, and let that guilt morph into a fully validated, blissful snooze.

I’ve read long lists of the benefits of napping, but they pretty much boil down to the following three:

1. Clearer thinking and acuity: A foggy brain struggling to focus and make decisions is an impaired brain. A NASA study showed that a 30-minute nap improved cognitive abilities by roughly 40 percent. Other studies suggest that with a 20-minute nap, the brain can become fully loaded again, neurons fire more effectively and we reap the benefits of being more alert, able to think clearer, enhancing our memories, our ability to problem solve, come up with creative ideas, work efficiently and learn new information.

2. Increased energy and stamina: Harking back to the tale of the tortoise and the hare, it’s not always the one who runs the hardest that wins. Studies show that short naps revive physical energy and increase stamina and endurance, ultimately affecting performance.

3. Protection against heart attack: A 2007 study by the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that in cultures where afternoon napping is common (i.e., 30-minute siestas at least three times a week), there was a 37 percent lower risk of heart-related death. For individuals who napped only occasionally, the risk was lowered by 12 percent. Both the stress-reducing and restorative effects of napping boost cardiovascular health.

To maximize the effectiveness of your nap, try the following:

1. Early afternoon is the recommended time for a power nap. Napping too late in the day can interfere with night time sleeping, which serves to defeat the purpose of giving your body what it needs to function optimally.

2. Keep it brief. Napping beyond 40 minutes can result in a prolonged groggy feeling and undermine the reviving effects a 20-30 minute nap provides. See what works for you. For some people, anything beyond 10 minutes leaves them in too much of a haze.

3. A quiet setting with low light is optimum for a solid nap. Some businesses (think Google) even have EnergyPods, cocoon-like chairs with headphone jacks, where employees can crash and get revived mid-workday. While most businesses don’t offer this luxury, finding a space and a way to decompress for a few is a worthwhile endeavor. Perhaps you will be the one to get a quiet/meditation-type space created in your office.

4. As counterintuitive as this may seem, having a cup of coffee just prior to napping can help bolster alertness. It takes about 20 minutes for the caffeine effect to kick in, so it shouldn’t interfere with your sleep.

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