GET YOUR ‘VITAMIN Z’ – AND SLEEP YOUR WAY HEALTHY
In my practice, when hard-charging types arrive at my door, depleted and in desperate need of a serious lifestyle makeover, one of the major adjustments I encourage is sleep – getting more of it., and that's advice that's good for everyone. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” is a frequent refrain, and to that I say, be careful what you wish for!
Sleeping well is one of the most underrated yet critically important things you can do to keep your health and weight on track – and if you’re cutting corners or thinking you can ‘get by’ on 5 or 6 hours a night, not only are you kidding yourself, but you’re also putting your long-term health at risk.
In fact, there’s an entire new field of research that connects poor-quality or insufficient sleep with obesity and digestive dysfunction. These studies have found that going to bed late or not getting enough sleep raises cortisol, insulin, and blood sugar levels, which upset the gut bacteria and keep the appetite pump primed.
Good, sufficient sleep however, is that essential recharge time which provides us with the energy required to do the exercise that revs up the metabolism and builds the lean muscle tissue that burns calories, promotes weight loss and helps maintain a healthy weight.
Good sleep also contributes to the mental clarity and positive mood that we need to continue to make smart lifestyle and food choices – and insufficient sleep has the opposite effect. What else happens when we come up short on sleep? It drives up levels of our primary stress hormone, cortisol, which pumps up the body’s production of insulin and drives cravings for sweets and fast-digesting carbs.
Another reason to focus on getting more good sleep? Studies are showing that the 7-9 hour a night down-time is when your brain goes into repair, replenish and removal mode, clearing out waste products and protecting against the excessive buildup of neural plaque that’s implicated in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. That’s in addition to established research linking poor sleep with increased rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and premature death!
So, now, are you ready to take sleep seriously? Here are six of my tried-and-true must-do’s – the SOS, or Swift Optimal Sleep Plan – for those who need to upgrade their sleep hygiene – and give bodies and brains the time they need to refresh and renew, instead of just getting by:
SOS (SWIFT OPTIMAL SLEEP) PLAN
1. Take the TV out of the bedroom—the bed should be reserved for sleep and sex, both restorative. While you’re at it, take the TV out of your kid’s room. A recent Dartmouth study found that over the course of four years, adolescents who had TVs in their bedrooms gained about a pound a year more than their peers who didn’t.
2. Set a regular nightly bedtime for yourself – not just the kids! – that ensures at least seven hours of sleep and keep to it. A good sleep routine is half the battle!
3. An hour or two before bedtime, cut yourself off—no more drinks, with or without alcohol. This cuts down on sleep-disturbing nocturnal visits to the bathroom. (And alcohol disrupts sleep patterns.)
4. Set a “snooze” alarm an hour before your bedtime to remind yourself that it’s time to begin the slowing down/shutting down process: no more e-mails or TV and, emphatically, no iPad in bed, for two reasons. If you’re working on a tablet, you’re keeping your brain charged up, which works against falling asleep quickly and sleeping soundly. And even if you’re reading an engaging and relaxing novel, the light rays emitted by these devices are just the right frequency to suppress the body’s production of melatonin, which interferes with a good night’s sleep at the hormonal level. A novel in bed is fine; just lose the iPad!
5. Keep the bedroom cool and dark after the lights go out. If you need to light your way in the loo, set a battery operated candle off in the corner of the bathroom to give you just enough light to do your business, but not enough to wake your brain back up in the middle of the night.
6. Avoid “weekend jet lag.” That is, get out of the pattern of sleep deprivation during the workweek, sleeping an hour or two less than you really need, and then trying to catch up on the weekend, sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday mornings. That has the effect of “resetting” your internal clock, equivalent to traveling two or three time zones away, and setting yourself up for a wretched “jet-lagged” Monday morning. Keep your weekend wake-up times within an hour or so of your workweek rise time. If you do need to play weekend sleep catch-up, take catnaps, not longer than twenty minutes a shot and not after 4 p.m.
Here’s to getting your Vitamin ZZZZs!