School started back in session and that brings a change in daily schedules for sure! Everyone knows sleep is important. Too much makes you tired…and too little makes you tired too! There is a sweet spot for sure! For the kids, a good night’s sleep sure helps their potential for success in the classroom, right? So how much does your child, or you, need? Here is a link to the recommended amounts of sleep for all ages; http://www.sleepaidresource.com/sleep-chart.html. Getting proper amounts of sleep, as you know, is crucial in maintaining good health; gives you clear thinking, quick reflexes, better focus, and affects growth, repair and stress hormones, immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and heart health. You most likely have also heard that lack of sleep increases risk of obesity, heart disease and infections. Have you heard that a lack of sleep can produce diabetic-like symptoms in otherwise healthy people? (At night the body releases hormones that repair cells and control the body’s energy use, and these hormones can affect body weight.) So, if you are on a healthy lifestyle/weight & body fat loss plan, a good night’s sleep is a big part of your achieving your goals and success! But, a good night’s sleep is hard for some people to find, right? How often do you hear friends or family saying they are tired or couldn’t sleep…or they post on Facebook at 3am saying the sandman has left too early that night? Factors for a good night’s sleep start with basics like keep a routine pattern of when you wake and sleep, don’t sleep with lights or tv on, don’t exercise within 2 hours of bedtime, and don’t consume caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime (http://www.aasmnet.org/jcsm/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=29198) For both kids and adults, a “magic cure” for being ready to sleep is EXERCISE! (And trust me, if there ever WERE a “magic cure” it would be exercise! The list of benefits to the body and the brain is ridiculously long!) A good dose of physical activity prepares both your body and your brain for the rest it needs to continue to function optimally the next day!...And it helps to “un-do” the effects of stress the body and brain have endured. This leads me to another factor in sleep readiness; Stress. Physical stress is usually good and helps prepare the body physically and mentally to sleep, but mental stress on its own can be a real nightmare on catching good “Zzzz’s”! Chemical changes in the brain from the effects of stress on the adrenals changes several neurotransmitter levels involved in sleep like GABA, Cortisol, & Serotonin. (Through a healthcare professional a saliva neurotransmitter test can be taken and amino acid support specific to your results can be given) So, a good stress-reduction program or plan should be put in place which could include anything from gentle stretching, book reading, journaling, daytime exercising, aromatherapy, or prayer. Or several of the above. Sometimes, just the addition of a food containing Melatonin does the trick! You may have heard of Melatonin, a hormone that regulates wake/sleep cycles and made in the Pineal gland (tiny little gland at the top of your brainstem). Your body makes more melatonin in the evening and backs it off as morning approaches…and exposure to light changes your body’s production of it. More light=less melatonin and less light=more melatonin. (Which is why it is so hard to wake up on dark winter mornings for some folks!) Are you ready to hear which foods are high in melatonin? It is found in meats (game meats higher), walnuts, but the best is Tart Cherries! Tart Cherry juice has had some great clinical research done with it, melatonin and sleep. You can peek at one of the studies here :(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22038497) Because melatonin CAN cross the blood-brain barrier, eating foods with melatonin can make their way from your gut to your brain (and from your head to the pillow!) Let’s raise a glass of tart cherry juice to all our sleep-challenged friends (after all of us and the kids have had a good run-around/ playtime) and wish us all a good night, and a focused & refreshed tomorrow!
Lauri Armstrong, Degreed Dietitian & Nutritionist, CLT, Adv. PFT.
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