Author: Chelsea Caito, RD
How are you sleeping?
How are you sleeping?
I often view my patient’s optimal health as a giant puzzle. As a dietitian, I have been trained to focus solely on the nutrition piece. However, when I take a step back and look at the big picture, I am continuously amazed at how sleep is often the largest and most critical missing piece to ideal health. To name a few, sleep impacts metabolism, hunger hormones, immunity and energy. Ever notice after a late night out, you are reaching for sugar filled snacks? Coincidence? Think again. Remember back to college when you stayed up all night studying, and the next week got the flu? Sleep is as critical to your health as the engine is to your car. Without the engine, don’t count on going very far.
The first question I often asked to patients isn’t about their typical food intake, but rather questions regarding their sleep habits.
“I want to lose 50 pounds”
Great. How are you sleeping?
“I sleep okay”
Sleeping “okay” or “alright” is a relative term and needs to be better defined. Here are the questions I often ask patients in order to understand their true sleep health:
- Does it take you longer than 10 minutes to fall asleep?
- Do you wake up throughout the night, even if it’s to use the restroom?
- Do you wake up tired?
- Do you hit the snooze button in the morning?
- Do you wake up and have a difficult time falling back asleep?
- Do you typically get LESS THAN 8 hours of sleep per night?
- Do you have a difficult time turning your mind off at night?
- Do you use prescription medication to aid in your ability to sleep?
If you answered YES to more than one of these questions, chances are your sleep is suboptimal. Realize that sleeping throughout the night is possible, waking up feeling energize is achievable and accepting anything other than superb sleep is doing damage to your health. Just like your car without it’s engine, you won’t get very far.
Sleep Hygiene – keeping the process clean and efficient
Here are a few tips to help manage your sleep cycle
- Have a ritual. Studies show that people who have a consistent bedtime and follow a consistent pattern the hour before bed experience deeper more rewarding sleep with fewer problems.
- Avoid all electronic devise such as computers, iPad, phones with large screen as these represent a bright light right in your face that tell your brain “it’s daytime”. Allow the brain to slow down towards the end of the day by allowing dimmer lighting to prevail and avoiding these screens. Even light from alarm clocks, smoke detectors, house alarm systems, VCR’s or cable boxes can add up. Place a small piece of black electrical tape over them.
- Exercise is great but avoid it late in the day. Exercise with intensity will naturally elevate cortisol, which is not what you want late in the evening.
- Alcohol interferes with sound sleep. One drink is likely not a problem but as we get into that second or third drink then it makes it more difficult for the body to enter and stay in deep sleep
- If your mattress is over 10 years old, it may be time to get a new mattress! Not only do old mattresses hold years worth of dead skin cells and dust, but they also can be giving you an uncomfortable nights sleep.