By Thais Harris, NC
Nutrition Education Program Manager
At Ceres we emphasize good nutrition for a healthy life, but health isn’t just about what we eat. It is also about how we eat (calm, without distractions) and how much we chew our food, how we perceive the world around us, how we connect with ourselves and others, how much time we take to consciously breathe, how much we exercise, and how much rest and relaxation we get, to name a few health supporting practices. Of these, getting enough rest is vitally important. Sleeping soundly and fully is one of the ways that support our bodies to heal themselves. Important organs, such as our liver, for example, do most of their rejuvenation while we are at sleep.
In our modern society, getting by without much sleep can sometimes be a point of pride for those who consider themselves high producers and are always busy. What many don’t understand is that for long-term health (and therefore long-term productivity) proper sleep is crucial. Some experts will even say that people are more productive during their waking hours when they have had enough sleep, which usually means 8 hours.
Below are a few more reasons to get to bed early (from the Harvard Women’s Health Watch):
1. Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who had slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
2. Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
3. Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
4. Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
5. Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
6. Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.
If you have trouble sleeping, fall asleep easily but wake up throughout the night, and/or have trouble going back to sleep, you can use these tips to improve your sleep hygiene and therefore have more restful nights.
• Avoid processed grain and sugary snacks before bed. They will raise blood sugar and inhibit sleep.
• Sleep in complete darkness or as close to it as possible. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your circadian rhythm and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin. Keep the light off in the bathroom if you get up in the middle of the night, as melatonin production will cease with light exposure.
• No TV/computer right before bed. They are too stimulating to the brain and will delay falling asleep. The TV/computer disrupts pineal gland function for the same reason as above.
• Avoid using loud alarm clocks. It is very stressful on the body to be awoken suddenly. Low-volume music alarms or light-based alarms such as The Sun Alarm™ provide an ideal way to wake up each morning if you can’t wake up with the REAL sun.
• Get to bed as early as possible. Our systems, particularly the adrenals, do the majority of their recharging & recovering during the hours of 11PM and 1AM. In addition, your gallbladder dumps toxins during this same period. If you are awake, the toxins back up into the liver which then secondarily back up into your entire system and cause further disruption of your health.
• Avoid caffeine and excess alcohol. A recent study showed that in some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently and therefore they can feel the effects long after consuming it. So an afternoon cup of coffee (or even caffeinated tea) will keep some people from falling asleep. Also, some medications, particularly diet pills, contain caffeine. Although alcohol will make people drowsy, the effect is short lived and people will often wake up a few hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from falling into the deeper stages of REM sleep, where the body does most of its healing.
• Go to bed, and wake up, around 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.
• Exercise regularly. Exercising for at least 30 minutes every day can help you experience REM sleep –the deepest phase of sleep. However, don’t exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake.
Turkey, bananas, figs, dates, yogurt, milk, tuna, and whole grain crackers with nut butter. These foods are high in tryptophan, which promotes sleep.
Bacon, cheese, chocolate, eggplant, ham, potatoes, sauerkraut, sugar, sausage, spinach, tomatoes, and wine. These foods contain tyramine, which increases the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant.
Our digestive system slows at night, making it harder to digest late meals. Avoid heavy/full meals right before bedtime.
1. Jeanne Peters, RD, Nutrition Director for the Nourishing Wellness Medical Center: Nourishingwellness.com http://jjandjeanne.wordpress.com/2007/10/20/the-13-best-tips-for-a-good-night’s-sleep/
2. Harvard Women’s Health Watch: The Importance of Sleep, Jan 2006 http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance_of_
3. Holistic Online, http://www.holisticonline.com/remedies/sleep/sleep_ins_food-and-diet.htm