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New Research on Why You Need More Sleep + 6 Sleepy Time Tips

Posted Apr 05 2012 3:58pm

Asleep at 9 p.m.: this one fact alone qualifies me for my AARP membership I’m pretty sure. And yet this is what happened last night – and hence why today’s post is so late. After putting Jelly Bean to bed, I innocently went in my room to take a quick breather from the non-stop-ed-ness of life with four little kids and read more from my book about mindfulness. And the next thing I know, I’m waking up this morning with my cheek imprinted with text and drool as a bookmark. This experience taught me two important things. First, I am really tried. Like chronically all-the-time, heaven-would-be-a-big-bed-with-clean-sheets tired. Second, that my mindless jelly bean consumption may be more closely tied to my burning the candle at both ends than to my PMS, workouts, depression or attraction to anything small, bright and shiny (have you seen my tiny purse collection?). Indeed, all of those things may be results of my lack of sleep. Oh and I learned a third thing. I don’t not like sleeping in my bra. I think it surgically implanted itself into me last night.

Today I got to interview Darryl Bushard, a weight-loss specialist for Lifetime Fitness, for an article for Shape about stress and while he said a ton of really interesting things (more on that to come!) the one that really struck home today was “that lack of sleep is one of the main reasons we get overstressed.” And that stress – or rather our body’s response to it – “is the beginning of everything”, influencing every major organ and system in our body. It’s that important. Yet in our crazy lifestyles it’s often the first thing to go when we need more time.

In addition, a new study  presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions give us scientific proof that on days people sleep less they eat more calories and those calories are not balanced out by an increase in activity. According to the researchers, participants who slept 80 minutes less per night consumed an extra 549 calories the following day. That’s a lot of jelly beans . The study concludes that while more research needs to be done on a larger group, this is one of the factors of weight loss that is almost entirely under our control. And not only does it affect our weight but it also influences so many other aspects of lives – mood, energy, cognitive abilities, manual dexterity. willpower and life span – that it’s worth the effort.

If experts and research aren’t convincing enough, I recently did a slideshow for Shape about health tips from old Hollywood glamour girls and Audrey Hepburn swore by afternoon naps. How’s that for a celebrity endorsement? Sleep: As seen on Breakfast at Tiffany’s!

So now the tricky part. How do we get more sleep? We all know we need more sleep. This is about as controversial as saying Ryan Gosling is superman. (Did you see he saved another person’s life? This time from a rogue taxi? Swoon.) And yet so many of us don’t get enough of it. It doesn’t help either that I think most of us know a few “superwomen” in our lives who seem to thrive on four hours of sleep a night. Like Liv Tyler says in Empire Records, “Daddy says there are 24 usable hours in every day! So I baked cupcakes!” (Man I used to love that movie. To this day whenever I get really excited I squeal “It’s REX MANNING DAY!”)

It feels a little weird for me – the girl who just admitted she is chronically sleep deprived – to be giving tips on how to get more sleep but I’m hoping this will start a good discussion and then you will all share your amazing tips with me and it’ll be a rainbows-and-unicorns sleepover up in here. So, as a jumping off point, here are my tips for getting more sleep. (Recognizing that I’m telling these to myself as much as anyone.)

1. Set a bedtime. It sounds so simple but how many times have you said “I’ll go to bed after this show?” and then get sucked into the one right after it? Experts say that every hour you can sleep before midnight is worth two hours of sleep after midnight so earlier is better. I picked 10 p.m. since that gives me a solid 8 hours before I have to get up.

2. Know how much sleep you need. Again, a no-brainer, right? But we’re not all the same. We’re not even the same as ourselves. (I know, that made no sense.) I’ve discovered in the past that when I workout really hard I need more sleep – closer to 9 or even 10 hours a night – and so it’s no surprise that with P90X2 I’ve been more exhausted because I haven’t made room in my schedule for the extra sleep my body requires to do the program.

3. Reduce distractions. You know how I’m focusing on eating without distractions this month? (Which is not going all that well. I’m not proud to admit it but it’s way harder than I anticipated. I have a really really hard time suspending judgement of what I’m eating. But I’m not giving up!) Well it’s equally as important to sleep without distractions. (Multi-tasking is looking like a worse idea with every study I come across…) No TVs, computers or iPads in bed. And for all of  you sleeping with your phone under your pillow, stop it. Unfortch, I have not been able to figure out how to reduce kid-related distractions – nothing messes up your REM cycle like “Mommy, I feel…” followed by puke all over you.

4. Have a routine. Kids love bedtime routines and what are adults but just grown-up kids? Take a bath, do a crossword puzzle, pray, meditate, do gentle yoga – 15 minutes of winding down goes a long way in sleep quality.

5. Kick the simple carbs right before bed. Nothing wrong with a bedtime snack if you’re hungry but that bowl of ice cream or cereal may be making it harder for you to sleep. Bushard says, “Sugary carbs increase cortisol [the stress hormone] and cortisol gives your body a burst of energy” which is exactly what you don’t want right before bed.

6. Journal. Ever stayed up late because you were so stressed about not being able to fall asleep that you couldn’t, well, sleep? Or have you laid down and found you just couldn’t turn your brain off? I’ve found that keeping a little notebook by my bed in which I can jot down everything from my irrational worries that one of my kids will lock themselves in the dryer to my brilliant ideas for posts (hush, don’t disillusion me) goes a long way in helping me turn down the mental noise.

So help me out – what’s your bedtime? How much sleep do you get? What are your best tips for making sure you get enough shut-eye?

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