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Mar 07 2017

Quit Counting Sheep

By Meredith Nelson for The Island Eye News

A Google search for “sleep” makes it clear . . . the top trending searches include “sleep for better performance,” “sleep, obesity, and exercise,” “sleep protects the brain,” and other such phrases connecting sleep to improved health and wellness. Ask anyone who has been lucky enough to experience a few good night’s sleep and they will tell you they might as well have discovered a wonder drug!

You are probably tired of hearing it – the average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep. Sure, there are some folks out there who claim to get five or six hours of the nighttime shut-eye and function just fine. Most of us do not fall into that category. Listen to your body – are you hungry throughout the day? A little more irritable than usual? Do you find yourself reaching for yet another cup of caffeine to stay focused and be productive? Do you often feel the need to nap? These may all be signals that your body is sending, imploring you to hit the hay earlier and get more zzzz’s.

It’s no secret that sleep is becoming more of a concern in our society . . . sleep studies are becoming more prevalent, devices and apps now track not only your hours of shut-eye but also the quality of your sleep, and athletic teams are even hiring sleep consultants to help their athletes sleep better. Along with the current trend of clean eating, “clean sleeping” is a new philosophy that prioritizes not only the amount of sleep you get, but also the quality of your zz’s. It involves putting your work away, waiting to respond to emails, and making your need for good rest a priority. Everything else can wait until morning.

What’s the big deal about sleep? Well, one small example of the benefits was demonstrated in a recent study of Stanford University athletes. Football players who experienced a good night’s sleep improved their 40-yard dash times by 2.1 percent. Basketball players improved their free throw and 3-point shooting accuracy by 9 percent and 9.2 percent, respectively. Elite athletes often aim for even more than nine hours of sleep to allow the body to recover between hard workouts.

So you’re not an elite athlete? You still need the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep! Why? Along with eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, sleep needs to be a part of your fitness plan.

No matter how good your diet is, or how good your exercise program is, neither are beneficial if your sleep patterns are off. According to an ACE (American Council on Exercise) blog post by Chris Freytag, “a lack of sleep leads to a slew of negatives, including weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, depression, lower immunesystem response, premature aging and impaired thinking.” When we are sleep deprived, we reach for snacks to keep our energy levels high.

Also, our hormones are disturbed and those responsible for making us feel hungry or full are out of whack…meaning we tend to eat more. Lack of sleep is also a primary cause of car accidents, with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reporting an estimated 250,000 sleep-related traffic accidents each year. Our thinking becomes fuzzy and judgment is affected, clouding our decision-making skills.

What makes sleep so important? Just like your cell phone, your body needs to be recharged daily. Following Stage 1 sleep (in which your eyes are closed and you are easily awakened), and Stage 2 (your heart rate slows, breathing becomes deeper, and body temperature drops, preparing for “Deep Sleep”), Stage 3 of the sleep cycle is the “Restorative Sleep” stage, in which your nervous system repairs and recovers, energy is restored, and new memories and information are processed. Deprive yourself of enough of this stage, and your batteries aren’t 100 percent recharged. These three stages, known as non-REM, or NREM sleep, can each last from 5 to 15 minutes, and are followed by REM sleep, when heart rate and breathing quicken and deep dreams occur. Shorting yourself of any of these stages can lead to a less than satisfactory night’s sleep.

Some tips to encourage a good night’s sleep:

Try sticking to a set schedule, as tempting as it is to sleep in on the weekends, try not to overdo it.

Make your bedroom a “sanctuary” that is conducive to sleep. Most people sleep better in total darkness, and in cooler temperatures.

Choosing the right mattress, sheets, pillows and comforter can dramatically improve your comfort and quality of sleep, so make sure you think your bed is comfortable.

Skip caffeine after 5 p.m. and skip alcohol as it can disrupt your sleep.

Unplug – avoid screen time for at least an hour before bedtime. The glare and lights from your screen or device can affect your sleep, but also the mental stimulation discourages relaxation.

Have a winding down routine at night, beginning about 30 minutes before you turn out the lights. Try some relaxation techniques, journaling, reading, or a light stretching sequence.

Quit counting sheep – it’s mentally engaging. Instead, picture your favorite relaxing, tranquil spot.

Escaping to your favorite island still doesn’t lull you to sleep, get out of bed and read, work on your taxes, or write a letter. Taking a break from trying to sleep may be just what you need. Just don’t get on the computer and check your Facebook news feed.

Silence your cell phone. Better yet, keep it out of your bedroom.

Avoid doing anything you consider remotely stressful in your bedroom—like work.

For more tips on getting a good night’s sleep, check out www.blog.casper.com. Good night, everyone – I’m going to bed!

Meredith Nelson, M.Ed., is the owner of PrimeTime Fitness, Inc, in Mt. Pleasant. Certified through AFAA in Group Fitness, ACE as a Personal Trainer and Medical Exercise Specialist, and TPI as a golf fitness professional, Meredith has been bringing fitness to the East Cooper area for over twenty years. Now located just across the causeway at 1558 Ben Sawyer Boulevard, PrimeTime Fitness caters to the mature exerciser and offers personal and small group training, indoor cycling, yoga, golf fitness training, monthly gym membership, and more. Meredith can be reached with your fitness questions at 843-883-0101, or Meredith@primetimefit.net.

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