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Tuesday, June 4, 2013
It's amazing how our entire bodies are connected. After studying anatomy and physiology and biology of the human body for years in college, I am still baffled at the complexity of it all. People ask me on a regular basis why their bodies are acting a certain way or how to get a certain response from their bodies. It always seems that these inquiries are followed up by, "I eat really healthy" and some explanation of a dietary intake. What we put in our bodies affects how our body functions including the hormones is produces, which affects our physical appearance, emotions, and overall health. However, what these self-proclaimed "healthy eaters" don't know is that other factors work in tandem with our diets to maintain health. These other key players are sleep and stress.
The CDC reveals that at least 40 million American suffer from chronic sleep disorders, while an additional 20 million experience occasional problems with sleeping. Forty-four percent of Americans report they have moderate-to-high stress and that their stress levels have increased over the past five years. And more than one-third of adults in the United States are obese and close to the same amount are overweight.
With statistics like this, it is obvious that Americans' sleeping habits, stress levels and diet are not working in harmony for better health. In fact, it seems they are working against one another.
Diet and Sleep
A good night's sleep (around seven to nine hours for adults) allows you to perform at your very best each day and can minimize the risk of developing diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and psychological disorders. Sleeping also allows neurons in the brain to repair themselves and form neural connections that are important for memory and concentration.
Sleep deprivation can also cause your metabolism to change for the worse, while a healthy body weight can improve your sleep patterns. To help resolve a sleep disorder, you should look at your weight, diet and diet-related diseases. For example, if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, be sure to avoid spicy foods – especially in the three to four hours before bedtime – to avoid a night of tossing and turning. To fix a sleep disorder, you must find the root cause of the problem.
To help promote a restful night, implement these suggestions into your daily routine:
- Avoid eating meals three to four hours before bedtime.
- Caffeine and alcohol can interfere with sleep in some individuals, so know how your body responds to both.
- Try including foods that are rich in melatonin in your diet like tart cherries, oatmeal and walnuts.
- Aim to hit the sack and wake up in the morning around the same time each day to help form a regular sleep pattern.
- Create a relaxing environment for sleep and minimize screen time prior to heading to bed.
Diet and Stress
Have you ever reached for the pint of ice cream in the freezer after a stressful day just because you thought it would make you feel better? When it comes to managing stress, most Americans are taking the wrong approach. Almost one-third of adults report that they have skipped a meal due to stress in the past month and two-fifths say they overeat or eat unhealthy foods because they are stressed out. By consistently engaging in poor eating habits to deal with stress, individuals are unable to break the vicious cycle.
To help manage stress, try these calm-inducing, mood-improving tips:
- Don't Skip the Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates have acquired a bad reputation from some popular fad diets, but carbs are essential in the diet and can help boost serotonin levels, which can reduce stress and improve mood. Choose complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal and sweet potatoes to help ditch the stress.
- Enjoy a Cup of Lavender or Chamomile Tea
Warm beverages are comforting and can help calm the digestive tract. Lavender has a reputation for relieving anxiety and alleviating headaches. Another added benefit of lavender is that it can help ease insomnia (sleep is key for managing stress!). Chamomile tea is great before heading to bed to help you rest easy through the night.
- Grab Some Dark Chocolate
Chalk up another health benefit for dark chocolate! Rich in antioxidants, this sweet treat can help reduce stress hormones. Just be sure to watch your portion size. One ounce a day is enough to provide health benefits, and contains about 150 calories and 9 grams of fat.
- Let's See More Omega-3's
To improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety, go for foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like wild salmon, sardines, chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds. These heart healthy fats can also help ease depression.
- Let it Go
Allow yourself to get lost in a hobby you enjoy to help take your mind off of stressful issues, even if it's for a short period of time. Yoga and other forms of exercise are a great release and can help put things into perspective.
Eat better. Sleep better. Stress Less.