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. 

The Facts on Pumpkin

With another Halloween in the books and Thanksgiving on the horizon, one thing is certain: It’s hard to ignore the pumpkin craze in America. Fueled by the success of the popular Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) from Starbucks, which even has its own twitter account now, pumpkin flavored food and drinks are everywhere. As with any food trend, it’s important to be able to decipher between the healthy and not-so-healthy choices.

The Nutrition Facts

Many pumpkin flavored foods and drinks are loaded with added sugar and “pumpkin spice flavor” (e.g. pumpkin spice toaster pastries, pumpkin spice cereal, pumpkin spice coffee cream). Some may not contain any actual pumpkin at all. Nevertheless, REAL pumpkin is a good choice. This includes whole pumpkin that you buy and carve, as well as 100% pure canned pumpkin puree. Pure pumpkin is low in calories and saturated (unhealthy) fat and is an excellent source of Vitamin A and a good source of Vitamin C. Both Vitamin A and Vitamin C play a role in immune function, which plays an important role during cold and flu season.

To Indulge or not to Indulge?

If you’re a fan of seasonal dishes, try to include pumpkin in your everyday creations. Pumpkin itself doesn’t have a strong flavor (that’s what the pumpkin spice is for). It can easily be added to dishes, like chili, without anyone noticing. It will mostly add a creamy texture more than changing the flavor profile. Here are some other healthy pumpkin spice creations:

Pumpkin Spice Breakfast Smoothie

90-second Pumpkin Pie Breakfast Quinoa

Pumpkin Spice Latte Overnight Oats

Healthy No Bake Pumpkin Spice Latte Bites

Chicken with Pumpkin and Mushrooms

The Best Slow Cooker Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Hummus

When it comes to the more saturated fat and sugar-laden pumpkin flavored creations, everything in moderation! Think of these more as an occasional indulgence rather than an everyday staple of your diet. Look for food/drinks with less than 8 grams of added sugar. If you want to feel like you’re indulging without actually indulging, take it a step further and try to create healthier versions of your favorite store or restaurant bought pumpkin spice treats. For example, below we compare a homemade pumpkin spice latte with one from Starbucks.

Homemade PSL Ingredients:

• 8 ounces (1 cup) hot coffee

• 1 tablespoon pumpkin puree

• 2 teaspoons maple syrup

• 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice

• 2 ounces (1/4 cup) whole milk

 

 

 

You are sure to encounter pumpkin flavored ‘everything’ at the grocery store and at restaurants, so use this blog as a guide to make the healthiest choice! It is possible to enjoy pumpkin and pumpkin spice flavored food and drinks while still eating healthy.  

5 Ways Family-Friendly Ways to Stay Active this Fall

The end of Summer doesn’t have to mean the end of outside activities. There’s still plenty of things you can do to stay active as family. Getting outside is also an excellent way to help transition your sleep cycle from one season to the next. Check out the list below for some ideas!

Go on a scavenger hunt

This one takes a little preparation but it’s worth the pay off! Kids wills exercise their mind and body as they figure out clues and search for the next object. You can keep it cost effective by using household items (e.g. plastic cup, shoe, washcloth) and making the “prize” for the winner an activity rather than a material thing. For example, the winner of the scavenger hunt could be allowed to pick out a healthy dinner for the whole family to eat.

Join a family fitness class

Family fitness activities are often offered at your local gym (e.g. the YMCA) or community center. Some ideas are mom/baby yoga, family yoga, and stroller jogging clubs. Charity 5Ks, such as Turkey Trots, are often family-friendly and offer age-appropriate events (e.g. 1-mile fun run/walk). If you don’t have a gym membership or local community center, just make your own class! Find a local park and pick up a game of volleyball or basketball or go on a family walk/run together.

Family Olympics

This is a fun one that exercises your creative side as well as your body! You can include extended family and make it a big event or you can easily keep it small and just include your immediate family. Either way, set aside some time to brainstorm events. Think wheelbarrow race, sack race, water balloon toss, and many other events, which are inexpensive or don’t require props at all. Family Olympics are a great example of how to make physical activity fun. Check out this blog for more ideas.

Rake leaves (to jump in…of course!)

This is a win-win for parents. The kids have fun racking leaves and jumping into them…and the parents get rid of all the leaves in their yard! All the while everyone is getting their heart rate up and having a good time. You can take it a step further and buy trash bags which look like jack-o-lanterns, and voila, you now have fall decorations.

Take an after-dinner walk

Taking a walk after dinner is one of the best ways to help digest your food, lower your blood sugar, and spend time together as family. If your kid(s) isn’t fond of walking, let them ride their bike or scooter while the adults walk. This is also a great opportunity to ask your children about their day. Many parents find that their children are more likely to open up and share their feelings if you ask them about their day while they are engaged in an activity (e.g. walking).

How to Sleep Better in the Fall

You may have noticed that the changing of seasons can also bring on changes to your sleep pattern. As we transition from Summer to Fall, so do our habits. We trade long days for shorter days. Hot and humid weather for cooler weather. All of these changes can impact your sleep, for better or worse. Knowing how to adjust can be key in maintaining good, quality sleep.

Exposure to Sunlight

As the days get shorter, we are exposed to less sunlight during the Fall season. Since our main source of vitamin D is from the sun, this often means that we don’t get as much vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for sleep regulation due to its role in serotonin production. Vitamin D activates genes that release neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. These hormones affect brain function and development. Lower levels of Vitamin D have been linked with depression, which is often associated with insomnia and other sleep disorders.

What to do: Try to get some exposure to sunshine in the morning by opening curtains or walking outside, if possible. According to the Vitamin D Council, the amount of vitamin D you get from exposing your bare skin to the sun depends on:

  • The time of day – your skin produces more vitamin D if you expose it during the middle of the day.
  • Where you live – the closer to the equator you live, the easier it is for you to produce vitamin D from sunlight all year round.
  • The color of your skin – pale skins make vitamin D more quickly than darker skins.
  • The amount of skin you expose – the more skin your expose the more vitamin D your body will produce. 

Cooler Temps

Even though it is tempting to cuddle up and sleep by the fire, you’ll sleep better if you leave the heat turned down. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the suggested bedroom temperature should be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep. When lying in bed trying to snooze, your body temperature decreases to initiate sleep—and the proposed temperatures above can actually help facilitate this. If your room is cool, rather than warm, it will be much easier to shut your eyes for the night.

What to do: Save some money on your heating bill and keep your thermostat between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stay Active

While it may seem counter-intuitive, daily exercise can actually 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: 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 a walk at lunch and continue improving from there. 

 

Healthy Tailgating

 

Football is in full swing this time of year… and with football comes tailgating! Whether you throw your own tailgate or attended someone else’s, it can be hard to stick to a healthy diet when surrounded with greasy burgers and homemade baked goods. The good news is that there’s no need to sacrifice your favorite flavors. There are ways you can still eat healthy, while reducing calories, sugar, and saturated (unhealthy) fat.

Bring Your Own Dish

Most people will gladly welcome more food at a tailgate. By bringing your own dish, you are ensuring that you have at least one healthy food to eat. This is especially great for those who have dietary restrictions and/or allergies. Try to avoid dishes that need to be refrigerated and remember to use containers you can throw away.

Lean Meats

Choosing leaner cuts of meat will help to reduce calories and saturated (unhealthy) fat. Substitute chicken breasts for chicken thighs. Use 93% lean ground beef or turkey instead of ground round beef. If wings are a must have, try a dry rubbed, grilled wing recipe, like this one. As always, watch your portion size. One portion of lean meat should be about the size of a deck of cards.

Watch the Fixings

Sauces, cheeses, and gigantic buns, oh my! This is where most people tend to really pack on the extra calories. Substitute whole grain buns for white buns. Whole grain buns are a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Also, try to aim for hamburger buns that are about the size of a CD or around 80-150 calories per bun. Some of the larger buns can have up to 300 calories! Forgo the mayonnaise and stick to ketchup and mustard. Try to load up on low calorie toppings such as lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions for burgers. When it comes to wings, ditch the ranch and blue cheese and grab some extra carrots and celery.  If you can’t live without the ranch or blue cheese, stick to a thumb-size portion.

Healthy Sides

In the land of potato salad, chips, and pretzels, it’s hard to find the “healthy” option. A good rule of thumb is to load up half your plate with salad, fruit, and/or vegetables. Allow ¼ of your plate to be lean meat and the other ¼ can have some traditional snack items. It’s all about moderation. If you go to the tailgate thinking “I will not have one single cookie or chip”, then you will probably end up caving in and having much more than you intended. Instead, go to the tailgate knowing you will fill up on lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and salad. And that you will allow yourself to have a small portion of “snack” food.

Choose Your Beverage Wisely

Alcoholic drinks tend to be higher in calories and essentially offer no nutritional value. However, if you do plan to drink, there are some healthier options. Pre-made mixers (i.e. pina colada, bloody Mary, margarita) are often a source of unwanted calories and sugar. Try to avoid them. Stick to lighter options that combine only fresh juices with a spirit. Alternatively, light beer is another option. Drinking water in between alcoholic drinks is a great way to stay hydrated and to reduce the amount of extra calories you consume.