Sleep Your Way to Good Health

Laura Brieser-SmithA good night’s sleep is something you may take for granted. However, a growing number of Americans find that they are doing more tossing and turning than dreaming at night. Experts agree that sleep deprivation is not something to be taken lightly, as it increases your risk for serious illness. Here are just a few of the many reasons why getting your zzz’s is so important.

Hypertension

People who get five hours or less of sleep each night are more than twice as likely to develop high blood pressure as those who get the recommended seven to eights hours.

Type 2 diabetes

Researchers know that poor sleep quality and sleep debt are associated with higher glucose levels in people already diagnosed with diabetes. However, they are still not certain about the role sleep plays in developing the disease. Many scientists feel that there may be a link between sleep problems and the increased incidence of diabetes in the population as a whole.

Body weight

A proper night’s rest may help women especially fight the “spread” that happens with age. One reason that weight gain often occurs is that sleep deprivation alters levels of the hormones involved in appetite control and metabolism – leptin and grehlin. When you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels drop and keep you from feeling satisfied after you eat. Grehlin levels rise, stimulating your appetite and causing you to consume more food. Cortisol, the hormone associated with stress, may also rise when one is deprived of sleep. High levels of cortisol may cause more weight gain, especially weight gain around the middle. In addition, you may tend to crave more sugar and refined carbohydrates in an effort to boost dragging energy levels caused by too little sleep. While these foods are fine in moderation, they contain “empty calories” that can promote weight gain when consumed in excess.

So what can be done to improve your slumber from a nutrition and fitness perspective?

First, try not to eat a lot of food right before going to bed. No eating two to threes hours before bedtime is a good rule, as your body can not fully relax when it is busy digesting a meal.

Second, try eating foods that boost serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that helps to make you feel relaxed and sleepy. Some serotonin-boosting foods are dairy products, tuna, poultry, beans, whole grains, sunflower seeds, peanuts and peanut butter, bananas, and rice.

Third, avoid stimulants, such as caffeine. Many people find that they need to lay off the coffee, tea, and cola 4 to 6 hours before bedtime to prevent trouble falling asleep.

Finally, regular exercise will definitely improve your sleep; just make sure you complete your workout a few hours before bedtime to allow time for adrenaline to leave your system.

Laura Brieser-Smith, RD, MPH, CHFS is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices. She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at hlthydsign@aol.com.

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