Adjusting Sleep (and other health behaviors) to Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time ends on Sunday, November, 6th, 2016 at 2:00 AM. Although many people may find it easier to ‘fall back’ and “gain” an hour than ‘spring forward’ and “lose” an hour, it can still be difficult to adjust to the changing days this time of year. By tweaking your sleep, nutrition, and exercise habits, you can transition much easier to the daylight hours. Below are some tips that you may find helpful.

Stick to a schedule.

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle will adjust much more quickly if you stick to a regular routine. This is something we often emphasize to children, but slack off on as adults. Yet, it is equally as important for adults as it is for children. No matter the age, our bodies respond to sleep “training”.

Avoid naps.

It can be tempting to squeeze in a nap during those first few days of adjusting. Don’t do it. Simply put, it’s not worth it! By taking a nap, you are prolonging the amount of time it will take you to fall asleep at night, thus, causing yourself to be sleepy in the morning and causing the cycle of sleepiness and naps to repeat.

Exercise, especially in the morning.

Working out helps regulate the hormone, serotonin. Serotonin impacts mood, behavior, appetite, and sleep, to name a few. People who exercise tend to fall asleep more quickly and sleep for a longer period of time. Try to get outside in the morning. Light, especially sunlight, impacts your natural Circadian Rhythm. Exposure to more light in the morning and less light at night will help your body to better adjust to the time change.

Put your phone (and other devices) down.

Exposure to blue light from phones, laptops, TVs, etc., also impacts your Circadian Rhythm. While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of the sleep hormone, melatonin, blue light at night does so more powerfully. It is best to avoid “screen time” of any kind at least one hour prior to bedtime. Try to do something relaxing instead. Such as reading a book (not on a device) or taking a bath.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours prior to bedtime. If you consume caffeine any closer to bedtime, it can interfere with the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep. Alcohol has a different effect on sleep time. It may actually help you to fall asleep more quickly, but there’s a catch. Those who drink alcohol experience a disruption in their Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This reduces the amount of deep, restorative sleep they get. 

Scents for Relaxation

It’s no secret that fragrances can have a powerful effect on our mind and body. Maybe a certain perfume or cologne brings on feelings of happiness because it reminds you of your significant other. Or maybe the smell of baby lotion brings back a flood of blissful, happy baby memories (or possibly a screaming infant!). We, as humans, link many memories and emotions with specific fragrances.

Essential oils have been used and studied over the years for their ability to help people relax, reduce anxiety, and sleep better. These naturally occurring, aromatic compounds are found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants. They have a wide range of physical and emotional wellness applications.

Below, we discuss a few of the most studied and effective essential oils. 

Jasmine

When inhaled, jasmine scent has been found to help people experience greater sleep efficiency, less movement during slumber, and overall better quality sleep. One study found that jasmine oil exhibits a calming effect and can act as a natural sedative by reducing heart rate and bringing on feelings of calm and relaxation.

Vanilla

For most people, the smell of vanilla evokes a sense of warmth and coziness. Research tells us that it can also help you to relax and feel happy, therefore, helping you to sleep better. In one study, people who smelled vanilla while completing a stress test had more stable heart rates and better blood pressure readings than those who took the stress test in an unscented room.

Valerian

Valerian essential oil is one of the most studied oils in relation to sleep improvement. One study showed that valerian oil reduced sleep latency and wake time after sleep onset, for healthy adults in the home setting. Another study showed that rats who smelled valerian oil fell asleep faster and slept longer than those who didn’t. Additionally, valerian oil can also improve mood and reduce anxiety, which are often related to insomnia and other sleep disorders.

Lavender

Many people appreciate the smell of lavender. Moreover, scientific evidence suggests that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, promote relaxation, and reduce stress in people suffering from sleep disorders.

Studies also suggest that massage with essential oils, particularly lavender, may result in improved sleep quality, more stable mood, better concentration, and reduced anxiety. In one study, people who received a massage with lavender felt less anxious and more positive than those who received a massage without lavender.

Try it!

If using therapeutic grade essential oils, try diluting with a carrier oil (such as coconut oil) and rubbing directly onto your skin. You can also dilute the essential oil, rub in on your hands, and take deep breathes while inhaling the aroma. Other ways to enjoy oils include diffusing them in an oil diffuser or placing a few drops in your bath water.  

* It is important to note that essential oils aren’t for everyone. They are simply one option that has been found effective to help some people sleep better. Some people may be especially sensitive to their strong smells, which can lead to headaches or nausea. Pregnant women are also advised to discuss essential oils with their doctor before beginning use.

 

 

You are what you eat, BUT...

 

You are What You Eat

But… did you know that what you eat can also affect how you sleep? The relationship between sleep and diet is a complex one. The foods that we eat can either positively or negatively influence our sleep. Conversely, the amount of sleep we get can also influence what foods we tend to eat during the day.

For example, research shows that those who consume caffeine up to 6 hours prior to bedtime report taking longer to fall asleep and less sleep time overall. Those who drink alcohol prior to bedtime may fall asleep faster, but are likely to experience less deep sleep. On the other hand, foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan, are more likely to make you feel sleepy. This is because tryptophan is a building block that is required to synthesize the sleep hormone, serotonin. It is important to note that you may not experience a dramatic sense of sleepiness after eating foods that contain tryptophan. The effect of tryptophan on sleepiness is different for everyone. You will most likely experience a noticeable affect if you were not getting enough tryptophan in your diet previously.

This relationship between sleep and diet also extends in the other direction as well. Reduced sleep has been linked with reduced levels of the hormone leptin which is an appetite suppressant; and increased levels of the hormone ghrelin which is an appetite stimulant.  With these two key hunger hormones out of balance, it is more difficult to regulate dietary intake and this is when we often see overall increased caloric consumption as well as increased consumption of carbohydrates, specifically.

You are How Much You Eat

A study published in the journal, Appetite showed a correlation between how much people ate and how well they slept. The results indicated that those who ate the most were sleeping the least. The study also found a correlation between the types of food consumed and sleep. For example, those sleeping for the shortest amount of time (<5 hours per night) consumed less tap water, total carbohydrates, and a compound found in red and orange foods, compared with the other kinds of sleepers. Additionally, the study also found that those who consumed a less varied diet were likely to either sleep less or more than is recommended. 

What can I do?

It’s all about balance. Try to consume less of the foods that will keep you awake and more of the foods that may help you sleep. Remember, everyone does not respond to food and drinks in the same way. It may take some time to pinpoint which food/drinks are influencing your sleep. Keeping a food diary and sleep log will help you to track everything and look for patterns.

Foods to avoid

 

  • Caffeine 6 hours prior to bedtime
  • Excessive alcohol consumption (>2 drinks for men, >1 drink for women).
  • Fatty fried or spicy foods. They can cause heartburn, which will keep you awake.
  • Nicotine. It has been linked to insomnia.

Foods to eat

As mentioned above, tryptophan can make some people feel sleepy. Turkey is a well-known food that contains tryptophan. Other foods, such as chicken, fish, eggs, and nuts also contain tryptophan. Carbohydrates make tryptophan more available to the brain, so if you want to increase the impact, try consuming a small turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread or peanut butter on whole grain crackers before bed. Keep it to a snack size, as eating a normal or large sized meal before bed can actually keep you awake, due to increased digestion. Try to eat your snack at least an hour prior to bedtime.

Three Common Habits that may be interfering with your Sleep

 

You’ve heard it all before: “Don’t drink coffee too late in the day”, “don’t nap”, and “don’t watch TV in bed”. Yet, even after putting these into practice,  sleep evades you. Maybe there are other seemingly “common” habits that are interfering with your sleep as well.  Check out the list below and see if you do any of these common habits which may be preventing you from getting enough sleep.

You drink too much caffeine during the day. Coffee in the morning is usually not the culprit. But, if you tend to drink caffeinated beverages in the afternoon, it may be interfering with your sleep at night. The results of one research study showed that people who drank coffee 6 hours before bedtime experienced less total sleep than those who did not drink coffee. Those who drank coffee 3 hours and 1 hour before bedtime, experienced an even greater amount of sleep loss. Although soda doesn’t have as much caffeine as coffee, it can still have an effect on your sleep too. It is important to consider all sources of caffeine.

What to do about it: Try not to consume any source of caffeine at least 6 hours prior to bedtime. Many people like to set the limit at not drinking caffeine after 3 pm, but that may vary depending on your own personal bedtime.

You didn’t exercise today. In addition to being good for overall health, exercise can also help you sleep better. Our bodies were made to move and in today’s world of high-tech, computer-based jobs, it is important that we give our body the activity it needs. A research study published in 2010 looked at the relationship between sleep and exercise. The researchers randomly assigned people who had been diagnosed with insomnia to one of two groups: remain inactive or begin a moderate endurance exercise program. The results of the study showed that the exercise group slept about one hour longer than the inactive group. The exercise group also woke up less during the night and felt lower levels of sleepiness.

What to do about it: Ideally, you want to get the recommended amount of both cardiovascular exercise and strength training exercise each week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-vigorous intensity exercise in addition to muscle-strength training exercises on at least 2 days of the week. Remember, something is better than nothing. If you aren’t able to meet the CDC recommendations, start by taking an after-dinner walk and increase your physical activity from there. Your sleep will thank you.

You didn’t choose the best nighttime snack.  Eating a heavy meal or snack right before bed can interfere with your body’s ability to rest.  This can also lead to heartburn and indigestion, which will likely keep you awake and feeling miserable.  Registered Dietitians suggest having a light snack consisting of protein and a whole grain at least 2 hours before bed.  This combination will help blood sugars remain stable through the night, and the small portions can be easily digested.  The amino acid found in foods like turkey, milk, soybeans, nuts, and oats called tryptophan activates your body’s natural ability to relax.  (That’s why you may feel overly tired after a large turkey dinner on Thanksgiving!).  So try having one of these foods before bed to put the odds of sleep in your favor.

What to do about it: Have your final snack at least 2 hours prior to bedtime, and keep portions moderate. This snack should be a lean protein and complex carbohydrate to allow your blood sugar levels to remain stable through the night so you wake up feeling refreshed. Make sure that your meals throughout the day are well balanced with lean protein, whole grains, and plenty of vegetables and fruit. 

 

Reshaping Your Environment: Get the most out of your space

It's easy to underestimate the impact of our surroundings on our life. An unsuspecting person may walk into the kitchen and grab a banana out of the fruit bowl without knowing that they would have just as likely grabbed a donut, if it had been there instead of the banana. Think about how much more work you can get done by having your own private office with a door, rather than working in a shared space, such as a cubicle.

Although there are some things that we can’t totally change (such as working in a cubicle), we can almost always make modifications. Whether small or large, reorganizing and setting aside a specific space for your most important tasks, can have a huge impact on your day.

Nutrition

One of the best ways to shape your food and drink environment can be summarized by the old saying “out of sight, out of mind”. Make the healthiest foods, like fruit, the most visible and easily accessible in your kitchen. Conversely, remove all unhealthy, “junk food” from the counter tops (and your house altogether, ideally). If you have a difficult time deciding what is healthy and unhealthy, a good rule of thumb is to not have any food on your counter top except fruit. Also, place pre-made green salads or a bowl of grapes at eye level in the refrigerator to keep them visible. If you spend a lot of time away from home, pack some healthy snacks so that you can create your own healthy food environment anywhere you are. 

The same principles work when it comes to staying hydrated.  Keeping water in a pitcher in the fridge or in convenient water bottles will help keep your family hydrated.  You will naturally tend to gravitate toward the food and drink that is most convenient and visible.

Exercise

What is most important to you when you are exercising? Think of the things in your environment that motivate you the most, and focus on enhancing them. For example, if music is crucial to your workout, then make sure you load up with a good playlist before each workout. If you love being outdoors, then take your workout outside to the park, or your backyard. If you are intimidated by large groups of people, make sure to choose a gym that is smaller in size or offers private workout areas. Regardless of your preferences, make sure that you addressing your needs and removing any barriers from your environment that may be preventing you from exercising.

Sleep

Creating a bedroom that is conducive for sleep is one of the easiest ways to modify your environment. The bedroom should be used for sleep (or intimate time) only. No watching TV and no exercising in there either. Your bedroom should be cool, dark, and quiet. Use blackout curtains and a white noise machine, if necessary. If kids or pets often keep you awake, try to create a specific space for them that is off your bed, preferably in another room.

Mind/Body

As discussed previously, the benefits of practicing mindfulness range from improved sleep, to lower stress levels. Creating a space to practice mindfulness is sometimes as easy as finding an empty, quiet room to sit for a while. Other times, you will want to create a more permanent space that is calm, peaceful, and relaxing. This can be your go-to place when meditating or practicing mindfulness. You will want to make sure this space has a comfortable place to sit, and is not too cluttered with unused items. Instead, have one or two items that inspire you.  These items will help you find your center and practice. Setting aside this space solely for the purpose of relaxation will provide peace of mind, knowing that you have a peaceful place dedicated for this one purpose.