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The Cardiologist's Wife - The Power of Sleep (Part 2)
Apr 05, 2019

Up until fairly recently, sleep’s purpose was not well understood but now we know that sleep is just as important to our overall health as a nutritious diet and regular exercise. Scientists have established that we are dependent on sleep to function physically, behaviorally, cognitively, nutritionally and emotionally. This is the second part of my series on the importance of a good night’s sleep, you can read the first part here:

When you sleep, your brain is busy! It removes toxic waste that accumulates during the day. It can only do so adequately while you are sleeping so when you don’t get enough sleep, these toxic substances remain in your brain, wreaking havoc and even accumulating. No amount of caffeine can fix this. Your brain is also busy sorting through information from the day, making connections between events and storing vital memories. This activity is key to normal cognitive functioning.

Feeling sleepy yet? Here are 12 strategies to help you sleep better and identify the hidden reasons you aren’t sleeping well.

- Stick to a sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. You can’t make up for a lack of sleep during the week by sleeping in on the weekend and it can interfere with getting up on Monday morning.

-Caffeine makes it hard to fall and stay asleep because it is a powerful stimulant which increases adrenaline production and blocks sleep inducing chemicals in the brain. Caffeine takes a full 24 hours to work it’s way out of your system so if your last cup is at 8 a.m., you will still have 25% of that caffeine in your body at 8 p.m. If you consume caffeine after lunch, you will have nearly 50% left by 11 p.m. Caffeine also disrupts the quality of your sleep by reducing the amount of REM sleep, the deep sleep when your brain recuperates the most. The next morning you awake feeling groggy and reach for that cup of coffee, starting the whole cycle over again.

- The blue light from blue wavelengths which are more environmentally friendly and which boost attention and mood during the day, suppresses the body’s production of melatonin at night, making it difficult to fall asleep. Avoid using all types of devices with bright screens 2 to 3 hours before bed or use special glasses to block the blue lights.

- Exercise is always a good thing but avoid exercising 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. Adding more aerobic exercise to your routine can be beneficial to falling asleep at night.

- Avoid anything which might interfere with sleep: eating a large meal at night which could lead to indigestion, sleeping with pets who could wake you, drinking alcohol to excess which robs you of REM sleep, drinking too much of any fluid which leads to frequent bathroom trips, etc.

- Relax before bed. A nightly ritual can help - perhaps a hot bath which lowers your body temperature, easing you into sleep, listening to music, reading or meditating.

- The perfect bedroom setting is key. Replace your mattress, pillow and sheets if necessary, keep the room cool and dark, banish cell phones and laptops.

- Avoid sleeping pills or anything that sedates you enough so you can sleep - alcohol, Benadryl, Ambien, etc. These types of sedatives interfere with your brain’s ability to process information during sleep, leading to difficulty remembering.

- Quit smoking! Smokers are 4 times more likely to have sleep problems.

- Avoid taking naps, especially late in the day as they can make it harder to fall asleep later.

- Check any over the counter medications for caffeine or other substances that keep you awake.

- Eat more tryptophan which naturally promotes sleepiness and relaxation by increasing serotonin levels - good sources are turkey, peanut butter and bananas.

If you have serious problems sleeping on a regular basis, see your doctor for a complete evaluation.

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