Today I’m taking a break from posting recipes to talk about a different way we can While I love learning and sharing all the ways certain foods can improve the look of our hair and skin and boost our mood, there are other ways to nourish your radiance besides diet. The three big ones that have been on my mind lately are drinking water, meditation, and sleep. Specifically, drinking enough water, practicing regular meditation and mindfulness, and getting adequate sleep. Each of these are free (generally speaking) and they don’t require any special equipment, training, or strenuous effort. They all have major benefits to our physical health, looks, and happiness. I have a theory that if we incorporated these three habits, all of those other pesky health and beauty struggles that we all have (including myself) from time to time, (i.e. weight gain, poor diet, stress, acne, bloating etc.) will vanish a lot easier.
Beating the Blahs
So what led me to start thinking about the health and beauty implications of sleep, meditation, and water? Well, honestly, a serious case of the blahs. Call it the winter blues, or seasonal grouchiness, whatever it is, I’ve been in a funk lately. The old creative juices just haven’t been flowing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to write a blog post and just stare at the screen. Then proceed to become really distracted by random things. Like endless photos of chocolate desserts on Pinterest. And speaking of chocolate desserts, my cravings have been insane! Which means I’ve got a plethora of fun new treat recipes filed away, but also my waist band is getting a little snug. Adding to it, I’ve had no desire to exercise. It has been extremely cold the last few weeks, as in “frostbite within 20 minutes to exposed skin” cold. I’ve got an arsenal of indoor work-outs, (therefore, zero excuses) just no motivation to make my hiney get moving! I knew it was time to do something. So what’s my big plan for improving my mood, boosting creativity, quelling the sweet cravings, and reviving my exercise routine? Hmm… I think I’ll sleep on it.
The Magic of Sleep
Literally. That’s my plan. I’m going to really try to get more z’s. I think we’ve all heard the advice from doctors and health experts not to scrimp on sleep, but many people still put that nightly 7-9 hours of shuteye on their backburner of priorities. I know I’m guilty of this myself. I decided to focus on sleep first because I think it will have the biggest impact, and possibly help me incorporate the other two healthy habits. Maybe you’re like me, I keep saying I’m going to go to bed earlier, but I never quite get around to doing it. There’s always something more interesting I’d rather do… catch up on our favorite tv shows, read just a few more chapters of a good book, browse the endless charms of the internet… So I decided that researching all the benefits of getting more sleep would be a powerful motivator. As I was looking into all of the great things sleep does for our wellness and beauty, I realized how much this one healthy habit can have an effect on so many other areas of our lives. Check out all of these ways sleep can help us out.
1. Longer life – those who sleep 7-9 hours each night have a longer life expectancy than those who sleep too little, or too much.
2. Memory and Attention – During sleep, memories are consolidated and new skills and knowledge are processed. Those who get enough sleep are also less distracted and have longer attention spans. Children and college students who get more sleep tend to have get better grades. Children who don’t get 8 hours of sleep are also more likely to show ADHD-like symptoms.
3. Reduce Inflammation – researchers have discovered that those who get 6 hours or less of sleep per night have higher levels of inflammatory proteins circulating in their bloodstream than those who get more. Other studies have shown that people who get 6 hours of sleep or less have a higher risk of heart attacks. We also know that inflammation is associated with aging, in all our body systems, including our largest organ, our skin (leading to wrinkles and sagging). Inflammation is associated with other skin conditions as well, including acne (more on this below).
4. Boost Creativity – In addition to solidifying new memories, research from Harvard has found a link between better sleep and more creative energy. During sleep, emotional components of memories are enhanced, while memories are reorganized and restructured, which scientists believe may spur creative ideas.
5. Higher Metabolism and Lower Body Weight – sleep affects weight loss in several different ways. When you’re sleep deprived, your decision making and impulse control centers are weakened, almost like you’ve had a few too many drinks, so you’re more likely to reach for those Frito Lays or jelly donuts. At the same time, your reward centers are on overdrive, making refined carbs and junk food look mighty tasty. Some studies have shown that a lack of sleep can cause us to eat large amounts of any food, leading to weight gain. Furthermore, hunger and satiety hormones get all out whack when you haven’t slept enough. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone rises, while leptin, the hormone that tells you you’re full, declines. Still worse, cortisol levels rise, signaling your body to store energy, while the body’s ability to process insulin (which helps us convert food into energy) is compromised, leading to weight gain and other health problems.
6. Better mood – Lack of sleep can leave you feeling short-tempered, emotional, stressed, anxious, irritable, and just downright bummed out. In fact, chronic sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are correlated with a higher incidence of mood disorders, like anxiety or depression.
7. Strengthens Immune System – Nobody wants to miss work because they have a nasty cold, much less the flu. Save up your hard earned PTO for frolicking and fun instead, and hit the hay earlier. Lack of sleep may decrease your production of cytokines, proteins released by our immune system to fight off infections.
8. Clear, Youthful Skin (and Maybe Thicker Hair Too) – I think we are all familiar with the dull complexion and dark circles after a rough night. While we are snoozing away our bodies are busy repairing and rejuvenating, and that includes your skin. Inadequate sleep is linked to premature skin aging, including fine lines, uneven pigmentation, and reduced skin firmness. Researchers have even discovered a decrease in the skin’s ability to repair after UV radiation and other environmental stressors, when subjects got less sleep. Lack of sleep can also worsen acne. In addition to infringing on quality healing time, sleep deprivation increases inflammation and causes disruptions in hormone balance, leading to more breakouts. It should come as no surprise that the same inflammation, hormone imbalance, and decreased cell repair that triggers acne can also lead to hair loss. Most hair loss is caused by one or more of these factors, whether it is hormonal or due to hair follicle damage, and researchers are beginning to recognize chronic sleep loss as a possible cause or at least a contributing factor. Yup, beauty sleep is real.
9. Improves Physical Fitness – A Stanford University study on college football players found that when the athletes got more sleep, (up to 10 hours) they had better stamina, sprint times, and less fatigue during practice. Even if you’re just looking to improve your performance at your 7:00 a.m. spin class, your muscle strength and power will be greatly increased after a good night’s rest. Sleep improves hand-eye coordination, speed, reaction time, muscle recovery, and endurance.
10. And Pretty Much Everything Else – Really, there’s nothing adequate sleep can’t improve. Studies show that relationships, pain tolerance, headaches, and concentration can all be improved with more z’s. Also, you might prevent a car accident. Being tired accounts for more fatal single car accidents (due to driver’s performance) than any other factor, including driving under the influence of alcohol. Scrimping on shuteye also greatly raises your risk for many chronic diseases, including: heart disease, diabetes, depression, obesity, and cancer.
My Personal Sleep Challenge
So you see now how I can’t possibly keep putting off going to bed earlier, with all of this science and research staring me in my (tired) face! Which is exactly why I plan on getting my butt to bed sooner, starting….tomorrow. Ha! I’m just kidding. I actually started my little sleep study on Sunday. I’m keeping a super simple sleep log, old-school style, in a notebook. I just record the time I went to bed, when I got up in the morning, and a quick sentence or two about how I felt during the day. You can also download an app, like the SleepLog daily sleep journal ($1.99), which I considered getting. My plan is to do this for at least two weeks. At which time I will report back to you how it’s going. Hopefully by then the habit of going to bed earlier will have at least started to take hold, and the benefits I’m feeling too numerous for me to fall off the early bedtime wagon.
How Much Sleep?
Experts recommend 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night (getting too much sleep is also associated with health risks) I know personally that I need at least 8 and probably do better with nine. Complicating my situation, is that our little one still wakes up a couple of times a night (this is an improvement!) usually around 11:30 p.m. and 4 a.m. Furthermore, my husband usually leaves for work sometimes before 7:00 a.m., which means our light sleeping toddler is often wide awake to wave bye-bye to daddy and start her busy day. Which means, ideally, I should be going to bed around 10:30 p.m. I’m finding this to be quite the challenge, so I’m trying to incorporate some of the following ideas to ease myself into a new bedtime.
1. Turn overhead lights off, and switch off your tv and laptop about an hour before going to bed. Also put your phone out of reach. I understand, this is a toughie! I’m aiming for shutting down electronics about a half hour before bed, at least to start.
2. Turn down the thermostat, draw the shades, and turn on a fan to drown out noises. Having a cool, dark, and quiet environment will ensure more comfortable and highest quality sleep.
3. Stick to the same bedtime every day, even on the weekends.
4. Start a bedtime ritual. Just like babies and kids, adults sleep better after following a familiar set of tasks to wind down. This might mean a warm bath, turning down the lights, reading, meditating, or trying some deep breathing exercises.
5. Reduce caffeine. You may want to avoid ordering that jumbo java after 2 p.m., as it can stay in your system up to 6 hours, and disrupt your sleep. If you want a warm beverage in the evening, try my Calming Vanilla Chai Pumpkin Steamed Milk, it has no caffeine and is made of ingredients proven to relax and soothe. Avoid eating or drinking too much of anything right before bed, as digestion and potty breaks can disturb your sleep as well.
6. Essential oils, like lavender, are said to help you relax and fall asleep faster. Try adding a few drops to your pillowcase.
Who else is up for the challenge?
So that is the plan! Anyone going to join me? I could use your support and encouragement! I’m going to tackle my sleep habits before working on meditation and increasing water intake. One thing at a time. Hope you all have a wonderful afternoon and restful evening! I’ll be back soon with a yummy recipe for Chinese New Year 🙂