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Clean Up Your Sleep Routine

             Daylight Savings Time is right around the corner as March begins tomorrow. That being said, some people hope for better sleep quality and quantity moving the clocks ahead. The importance of sound, consistent sleep patterns should never be understated. In short, good sleep can make you look younger, feel less irritable, and protect against weight gain, depression, heart disease and diabetes. Current research even suggests it helps against osteoporosis and digestive problems.

Roughly 50 to 70 million people don’t get enough deep, refreshing sleep. Obviously this is due to multiple reasons that we won’t get into. What matters is the damage done to our natural body clocks. The stress hormone cortisol will increase, contributing to increased blood glucose levels. The hormone ghrelin is also elevated, creating an increase in appetite, particularly ‘comfort’ foods (processed/higher calories/simple sugars). Lastly, blood-sugar controlling insulin also gets out of whack.

All of these bodily issues lead to weight gain and an increase in blood pressure and blood sugar. We are more vulnerable to infections as well because the immune system is down. Research from Massachusetts General Hospital found that those getting less than 5-6 hours of sleep regularly had an increased risk for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. For those of you struggling with sleep, try some of these better-sleep strategies.

1. Create a Routine

Create a pattern that tells your mind and body it’s time to sleep. This starts with a consistent time that you turn the lights off, preferably no later than 10:30 pm. No coffee within three hours and no exercise within two hours of bedtime. The bedroom should be dark and cool at night. As hard as it can be, try to limit TV, computers and smart phones right before bed.

2. Skip the Nightcap

A drink at bedtime may help you fall asleep faster, but it can also damage the restorative benefits of quality sleep. You may feel drowsier in the morning and it may also create problems with memory and sharp thinking the next day as well.

3. No Pets on the Bed

A Mayo Clinic study reported that 1-in-10 pet owners had sleep disturbed by animals. Cats and dogs can snore, whimper, wander and beg to go outside. Have them sleep in their own cage or space if possible. If they keep you up, keep them out of the bedroom.

4. Eat Healthy Fats

Fish like salmon, wild trout and sardines should be a part of our regular diets. They’re all loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, key for brain function. A British study found getting these fats everyday was associated with longer, deeper sleep. Adequate omega-3 levels are associated with the sleep regulating hormone melatonin.

5. Include a Power Nap

A French study found that those who caught a 30-minute nap were able to restore immune functions and stress hormone levels (cortisol) returned to normal. Just make sure to get the power nap in before 5pm so it doesn’t interfere with your nightly sleep.