Is Using Social Media Healthy?

Do you do any of the following?

- Have your phone out on the table at meals 

-  Have the desire to know where your phone is at all times

- Respond to texts/emails while you are in the company of other people. 

- Find yourself checking your phone compulsively

- Spend time when you first wake up on social media

Yes?  Hm....then read on.....

Recently, I went to Cuba for a week, and outside of enjoying all the great art and salsa dancing, one thing I did NOT miss was being on the internet.  I just got used to going around without my phone, and I didn't really miss being connected.  Of course it helped being in a beautiful place that was incredibly stimulating, but I was transported to a life before the craze of smart phones and I felt...  pretty darn free.  

If you are like me, you are quite attached to your smartphone.  I use the excuse that I use social media for my business, which I do, but I also spend endless hours scrolling through my facebook and instagram feeds and reading random articles, like how many celebrities don't use make up, and I also get to see all of the vacations and baby pictures of friends and acquaintances, which is actually something I appreciate.  It's not all bad.  However, it was the last thing I did at night, and the first thing I did in the morning.  And those behaviors I listed at the top?  I'm totally, 100% guilty of doing all of them. 

In Cuba, it takes some effort to get online.  You have to go to a hotel, buy a card, log in.  I checked facebook a few times down there, and every time, I realized that I didn't really need to know anything that was on there.  Did this ADD to my life?  I started to also realize that it was TAKING AWAY from giving my full attention to things.  When I find myself checking email when I'm with my friends, or mindlessly scrolling through while I'm eating...  there's a behavior here that's not in my best interest. 

Since I've returned, I've taken facebook off my phone, and it's incredible the retraining I have to do.  There is an incredible pull to check my phone, and it turns out there's a physiological reason for it.  

The unpredictability of when we will receive a text, or a like, or a share, kicks our dopamine release into high gear.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is one of our feel good chemicals. Dopamine helps us seek out rewards again and again.  Every time we see a text, or a like, we receive a little dopamine release.  Dopamine also helps us to anticipate these little pings from our phone, so you find yourself checking your phone repeatedly to see if someone contacted you...  it makes sense right?  

There are many studies out there that link social media use to depression, a few I've linked below.  There was an interesting article in the New Yorker, differentiating between the difference between actively and passively engaging in social media, facebook in particular.  The article described a greater sense of loneliness when passively scrolling through content, and an enhancement of mood when people were actively engaged.   I think this is an important point to make, and the constant access to facebook was just making me more of a passive user.

So enough!  I want to make a change!  Here are some behaviors I'm working on: 

1)  Putting my phone on airplane mode at night so I'm not subject to pinging and distractions while I'm snoozing (you could also argue that you are not being exposed to radiation...check out the EWG latest release on the dangers of cellphone) 

2) Taking facebook and the most egregious time wasters off my phone.  I still see benefits from using social media, but I can easily access these sites from my computer.  I don't need access all day, every day.  

3) Putting my phone away during meals and friend hang out times.  There's no need for me to check messages and answer emails when I'm doing self care time, which includes eating meals and spending quality time with friends.  Plus, it feels rude when other people are texting or on their phones when we are hanging out.  I don't want to do that to others.  

4)  Consider doing a media challenge!  I had a client do a media break, which included watching TV and being on her phone after she came home from work that I think is a great idea.  (You know who you are!  Shout out!) 

5)  Remember what we used to do BEFORE social media?  Reading a book maybe?  Practicing music, knitting, going for a hike.  Think of all the things you feel like you don't have time for... and start doing them.  

So far, despite the cravings I have to check my phone, I'm really enjoying being on social media less.  Last Monday I went to go see free music at the Starline Social Club in Oakland... live music!  What a treat!  There really is a LOT to do out there, so let's get back to doing it.

Do you have a trick or an activity that you'd like to get back to when you decide to take a break from social media?  Share with us in the comments below!  

Happy Nourishing all....

Tammy  

 

References: 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amitchowdhry/2016/04/30/study-links-heavy-facebook-and-social-media-usage-to-depression/#429938134b53

http://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.pn.2017.1b16

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-wise/201209/why-were-all-addicted-texts-twitter-and-google

https://www.psychologistworld.com/biological/neurotransmitters/dopamine

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201105/dopamine-primer

https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/explainer-what-dopamine

 

 

The Difference Between Compostable and Biodegradable

Part of Nourished Belly Living and The Nourished Belly Diet is trying to get rid of plastics use, and boy….it’s difficult and not to mention confusing.  I sometimes feel overwhelmed at even trying to cut out plastics when I go to Costco or Trader Joe’s and see the enormous amount of plastic that is used to cover EVERYTHING.   There are a lot of resources out there talking about the dangers of plastic, from the enormous amount of plastic bottles that are filling up our landfills, to all the bits of plastic that make it into the stomachs of birds, to the floating islands of plastics that are swimming through our oceans, so I’m not going to go into that here.  

Maybe you are on a quest, like me, to find out what things we can use that will cause less impact on the earth.  Unfortunately, it’s a little confusing with so many things parading around as “biodegradable” and or “made from corn.”  So besides using LESS plastic (which really, is step one. Do you really need that plastic bag?), what should you look for?  

Ideally we want things to be certified compostable.  This means that the material will degrade quickly and not compromise the quality of the compost.  For our intents and purposes in the Bay Area, we want to know if we can put it into the green bin, because if something is compostable, it’s supposed to break down in city municipal composting centers.  We in the Bay are lucky cause we have them, including the fact that we have city compost pick up!  (Yay Bay Area!)

Look for something that is certified compostable (BPI and Vincotte are companies that certify) and you can also go to this link for a list of companies that have been third party tested to meet national standards….

Don’t just buy something because it says biodegradable.  Often these products are conventional plastics mixed with something plant based.  Once you’ve mixed these substances, they can’t be unmixed, and they can’t even be recycled. So, they are only good for the landfill...which is a DAGGER in the heart for someone who wanted to buy something better for the earth.  I know.  I've been there. 

So where should you buy your compostable stuff?  Here are a few companies I’ve looked at:

Companies and products I support: 

  1. World Centric:  According to their website, they donate 25% of their profits to charity, their products are BPI certified, and some are Vincotte certified (compostable at home).  They also seem to have a social justice and environmental justice side, and also talk about fair trade.  I have personally used their products for events, and like them.  
  2. Bio Bags:  I pretty much see this brand everywhere, including Costco.  They are BPI certified, and have a pretty thorough and informational website.  They are a small company that focuses on creating compostable bags...I like that.  
  3. Ecosafe:  Also an informative website.  BPI certified.  I like that they have a mission of diverting food waste from landfills, and it seems like they have other programs in place to try to make it sustainable.  I have never used their products before, but I like what they have to say.

Only if there's no better option:

  1. Bag to Nature: They are BPI certified, but honestly, from their website, they don’t seem to CARE.  Bag to Nature is one of the many product lines that this company owns, so I would think that this is more of a “how can we increase our profits with what the market wants,”  than actually caring about their product.  Of course, this is completely my opinion!
  2. Popular brands:  Brands like Glad (owned by Clorox) and Ziplock (owned by SC Johnson) are getting into the compostable market, which is overall, a good thing.  In terms of who I will support with my consumer dollars, however, I’m more likely to support companies that have an overall mission of saving the environment, not companies whose main products are plastics and other not great for you home products.  Just sayin’.  

A friend asked me how much I knew about the manufacturing side of compostable bags, and to be honest, that information was a little harder to find.  If you happen to know more about that, please comment and share your knowledge!  

Let’s leave this article with some thoughts on how we can reduce our plastic use in general, and if we need to get single use products, think about getting ones that are compostable :)

Remember...True Nourishment is MORE than what we put into our bodies....it's the environment around us.

Happy Nourishing,

Tammy

 

Resources:

http://www.bpiworld.org/Resources/Documents/Confused%20by%20the%20terms%20Biodegradable%20Jan%2015.pdf

http://www2.qsrmagazine.com/articles/features/126/recyclable-1.phtml

http://www.leiproducts.com/bag-to-nature/difference

http://www.bpiworld.org/BPI-Public/Approved/1.html

http://worldcentric.org/biocompostables/utensils/utensils-200F

http://biobagusa.com/about-biobag/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Glad_Products_Company

http://scjgreenchoices.com/products/ziploc-brand-compostable-sandwich-bags/

 

Are Your Clothes Toxic?

 Holistic Fashion (1)

Holistic Fashion (1)

When we think of clean living, we think of eating organic foods, drinking filtered water, and paring down our beauty regimens.  Recently, my friend Etch, who worked in the apparel industry blew my MIND with some education on chemicals used to make synthetic fabrics, and as I researched, I realized that this is something that we ALL should keep on our radar. Especially for those of us that are immunocompromised, taking out environmental toxins is an important step to healing and staying healthy.

First of all, think about how snuggly we are with our clothes.  They rest right against our skins, we sleep in them, we swaddle our newborns in them.  If you remember from a previous blog post about beauty products, you’ll remember that our skin is super absorbent.  It’s our largest organ, and is very much where we can absorb many toxins if we aren’t careful.  When it comes to beauty products, it’s best to wear only what you can eat.  So, let’s take a closer look at what we are actually doing when we shop for new clothes.

When it comes to clothes, here are some questions to think about:

How Were My Clothes Made?

SO…..think about fabric, dyes, and processing.  There are natural fibers like cotton, silk, wool, linen, hemp and cashmere that are natural and biodegrade in the environment.  If you are thinking that these fabrics are more expensive, you’re right! For the process that it takes to make the fabric and spin it into clothing, it’s no wonder that it’s not MORE expensive!  The organic fabric industry is small, but the more demand there is the bigger and cheaper things will be for consumers.

But why should you care about how your clothes are made?  This is a big topic, but one aspect is that non organic cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, and this Huffington Post article does a really nice job of breaking conventional cotton facts down. Then there are synthetic fabrics like nylon, polyester, acrylic, and rayon.  They all are heavily processed (after all, we are MAKING fibers from synthetic materials, sometimes from petrochemicals) and are produced with scary chemicals.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (niosh) suggests that propelyne oxide (which is used to make polyester) be labeled as an occupational hazard since it meets requirements to be considered a potential occupational carcinogen. WHAT?!?  Plus these fabrics are not biodegradable.  Imagine...your spanx are here for eternity!

Wait, there’s more...  dyes and chemical treatments.  Synthetic dyes, just like artificial food coloring, can also be unhealthy.  That wrinkle free blouse?  That could formaldehyde, which you’ve heard of from preserving corpses, and I’ll let the National Cancer Institute tell you more about why it’s dangerous for those of us still living.

Where Was it Made?

As consumers, it’s always important for us to think about who is actually making what we buy.  This is a whole other topic of where clothes are made and by who, and what conditions they work in, and how much they get paid.  We've all heard of sweatshops, and maybe you heard of that Bangladeshi factory burning down in 2013 that killed 112 workers.  So, this is actually something that is a big deal.  If I can, I always like to see that things are made here in the US, or buy clothing that is Fair Trade.  Here’s a great article if you want to read more about working conditions of garment laborers.

How do I Take Care of it?

How you take care of your clothes plays a large role in whether or not you are adding chemicals to your clothing.  85% of dry cleaners use a chemical called perchloroethylene that is “likely to be carcinogenic.”  No thanks.  Dryer sheets are also full of chemicals and all the ones in the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Cleaning Database (http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners) (which is a GREAT resource) are rated either D’s or F’s.  I've stopped using dryer sheets, and when I had more space I really liked it when I could dry my clothes on the line.  (Energy efficient!)  And the less synthetic clothing you have, the less need you have for dryer sheets.  There are things you can buy that are reusable though, like these wool dyer balls.

Food for thought.  It’s sometimes overwhelming to think off all the things we need to do to try and live cleanly in our polluted world, but every small thing you do makes a difference. With the help of my friend Etch, we've come up with some important ideas to start cleaning up your wardrobe and your cleaning routines.  There’s no time like the present to start building up your clean living habits!

Resources:

A lovely conversation with my friend Etch

http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20100209/dry-cleaning-chemical-likely-causes-cancer

http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/89-111/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2088623/Toxic-dyes-Lethal-logos-Cotton-drenched-formaldehyde--How-clothes-poison-you.html

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/EPRS/140841REV1-Workers-conditions-in-the-textile-and-clothing-sector-just-an-Asian-affair-FINAL.pdf

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/beth-greer/fashion-environment_b_3527049.html

6 Tips to Help You Make Successful Habit Changes

Our lovely contributing writer, Stephanie

I LOOOOOVE talking about changing habits, and I love talking about them with down to earth colleagues that have great suggestions and thoughts around transforming habits and creating a life that supports health and expands it!  I'm super excited to offer this guest blog post by Stephanie C.N...she's a fellow Capoeirista, NLP practitioner and just amazing person.  Check out her suggestions! Shift Happens: 6 Tips To Help You Make Successful Habit Changes

As you probably already know your habits and rituals truly make up the foundation of your life. Everything you think, say, do and feel from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep at night, is creating your life experience. Your habits either help you move in the direction of your desired life, or they hinder you on your path toward success. It is no wonder that there is a whole self help industry dedicated to helping people create change and achieve success in all parts of life.

For many the idea of changing a habit still seems difficult and complicated. The main stream media has  taught us that changing our habits is a long, painful, and difficult process. However, if the steps toward habit change are approached in small increments and with commitment and focus, then shifts can happen instantly and with ease.

No matter how big or small your life changes feel, it is important to believe in yourself and remember that change is possible in any area of your life. Follow these tips below when beginning your journey toward transformation:

  1. Take responsibility for your own outcomes in life. In order to make any changes in your life you must first understand that you are responsible for all of the results and outcomes in your life. No one is doing  it for you and it's not other people’s fault you haven't accomplished your goals. Nobody thinks for you, nobody feels for you, and nobody takes actions for you. Embrace the power of being in control of your own life.
  1. Make a new action plan and do it (even when it gets hard). If something has not worked for you in the past try something new and see if it works better. Try a different workout, a different approach to relationships, a different diet or a different job. There are endless strategies out there to help you make major changes to any part of your life, find the one that works best for you. Write out a plan with your actions steps and precise goals. This will help guide you in your transformation.
  1. Start small. Making small changes at first is much more effective and manageable.  Your new rituals and habits will feel foreign at first so it is important that you set yourself up for success and not give up. Integrating a larger shift too fast could feel overwhelming to your system. Most changes that really last won't feel very drastic. It’s the small changes over time that will add up and lead you toward your bigger vision in the long run.
  1. Trust your intuition and focus on what feels good. The point of life is to feel good and have fun! Seek out the things that make you feel good. This will help to change the tone of your life and set you on a path toward shifting your outlook and perspective. The more you follow what feels good to you, the easier it will be to seize the right opportunities. The universe will unfold in magical and synchronistic ways for you, but you must pay attention.
  1. Create accountability.  Finding a way to create accountability is one of the best ways to integrate new habits. Find a workout buddy, join a support group, make a public announcement or find another way to hold yourself accountable to your new rituals. If you know others are watching or holding you accountable you are less likely to skip or make excuses for your new habits.
  1. Fake it 'til you make it. Act as if you have already achieved the change you want to see. Embody it, talk about it, feel it and think like the person who has already achieved those goals. This will help you get there faster. Start today.

Remember anything is possible. Relax and be gentle with yourself.  Be determined, committed and fierce. Time is precious so start creating small shifts in your habits today. Here is to your best life ever!

Stephanie C.N. is a life coach with a background in hypnotherapy and NLP. She blogs about wellness and self improvement here and runs an online membership program called Align With Wellness. You can read more about her and contact her.

Stress and You Part 2: Stress and Immunity

No Stress (1)It always seems that we come down with something at the worst possible times… before a big test, a presentation at work, an event or special day. We cross our fingers, pay close attention to our hand washing techniques, and are sure to drink an extra-large glass of orange juice during these times. Despite our gallant efforts, we still end up sick. Why? Believe it or not, our state of mind and stress play a huge role in how healthy we are. There is actually an entire concentration of science dedicated to studying the relationship between stress and our immunity- psychoneuroimmunology. When we are under stress our body is incapable of functioning at its highest potential. Think of it this way- when our bodies are in that fight or flight mode we are in a heightened state of emotion. Our bodies are working harder in a sense “protect” us, so all of our non essential functions power down; including our immunity!  All we need at the moment is to be able to run from that tiger, which is a bigger threat than the possible far away future of getting sick.  So when we are stressed, we are in essence turning off our immune system.  This also means that when we want to heal, our recovery time can take longer as well!

It is important that we manage stress to avoid these complications. Heart disease, cancer, heart attack- studies show these can all be induced by chronic stress. When our immune system is compromised our overall health is greatly affected and if you need a brush up on why stress can halt your weight loss efforts, read here.  We simply lose the desire to make conscious health choices, stay active, and feel happy.

Manage Stress Before it Makes You Sick.

- Take time each day to unwind and find inner peace. Whether it’s by diving into a good book, trying a new local spot with a friend, or taking an extra lap on your run, find something that you can make your “go to” when you become stressed. Having a conscious plan to address stress when it first begins will greatly decrease the impact on your immunity.

- As mentioned in part one of the Stress and You series, avoid foods and drinks that stimulate stress. Items high in caffeine and sugar cause havoc on the body and put us in a artificially amped up state.  I once went swimming after drinking coffee...and I was like a robot...  nonstop! I also was hyper aware that the energy almost wasn't my own!  So steer clear of these stimulants and if consumed, do so in moderation.

- Pay regular attention to your body’s messages. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or stress starting to develop, assess your current situation. What may be triggering these feelings? What can you do to address them? Start to put yourself in control of your reactions in order to inhibit them from manifesting into something more detrimental.

If You Do Get Sick, Pay Close Attention to Keep Stress at a Minimum.

- Rest, but don’t baby yourself. When we are sick we immediately want to curl up on the couch and wait out the storm. While it is important to rest and replenish, too much nurturing can actually cause more harm. Engage in low energy activities that are stimulating to the mind- do a puzzle, read a book, etc. Keep your mind active while still getting the rest you need.

- Take a bath! Baths are great for managing stress and super helpful to help kick out those germs when we are sick. Take a warm bath with a few drops of essential oils such as lavender or eucalyptus to naturally calm your body.

- Sleep!

Sleep will not only help you get better quicker, but feeling well rested is one of the number one ways to prevent stressful days.

The importance of managing our stress levels is great on a day to day basis, but is especially important when faced with illness or injury. Try using the different stress management techniques as often as possible to implement as a normal routine!

Written by Ashley Green and Tammy Chang for The Nourished Belly

Sources: American Pyschological Association. Stress Weakens the Immune System. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/research/action/immune.aspx

Seinberg, S. The Sweet 16 of Holistic Stress Reduction. Retrieved from http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5947/The-Sweet-16-of-Holistic-Stress-Reduction.html

Stress Series Part 1: Stress and Weight Loss

As a nutrition and health coach, most people come to me to lose weight and get healthy. Many of them exercise regularly, and after working together, their outlook on food dramatically improves, and some lose weight and feel great!  Others who make all these changes, however, have a harder time, and for the most part, the stressful way we live our lives is the answer. I live in the Bay Area, which in my opinion is the greatest place on earth.  There's a million and one things to do, amazing friends, and work opportunities to explore.  But this urban life, despite its excitement is stressful.  And not just bad stressful...  there's a good kind of stress called Eustress, which you experience when you are excited about something, and then DISstress, when sh*t hits the fan and it keeps you up at night with worry.

Stress itself is a naturally occurring psychological response. When faced with a situation that we feel inadequate, unsafe, or as though we may lose something, our bodies go into a fight or flight mode. We either face the situation up front or attempt to avoid it at all costs. Neuroscientist and author of “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”, Robert Sapolsky, explains that stress is anything in the external world that knocks ourselves out of homeostatic balance. Sapolsky points out that unlike other mammals, we turn on our stress response for things it is not scientifically designed for… emotions, memories, feelings, etc. We have an anticipatory response to stress we think we might experience, which when not managed well can become chronic and lead to a variety of additional health problems.

As a part of a series, Stress and You, we are going to focus on three major areas in which stress can negatively impact our overall health: Stress and Weight

Stress and Immunity

Stress and Mental Health

All three of these aspects of overall health are connected. When one area is affected, a snowball effect can occur and lead to trouble in others. Understanding the impact of stress on our bodies and the importance of and proper ways of managing it is key to leading a healthy lifestyle.

Stress and You Part 1: Stress and Weight

Imagine a time where you came home from a stressful day at work or after handling a stressful situation. What did you do? Did you reach for that comfort food you’ve been craving while you let yourself cool down and unwind? What about in the long run… despite your exercise and nutritional habits are you struggling to lose weight or even notice yourself gaining?

All of this… while typical, is avoidable. Unfortunately, our bodies do not differentiate amongst different stressors. Stress is stress and regardless leads to negative health issues. Pamela Peeke, MD, author of “Body of Life for Women”, says stress can actually be one of the biggest barriers of maintaining a healthy weight. When stress occurs, our bodies release hormones that can upset our chemical balance. Adrenaline is what gives you that burst of energy to either fight or flee from the situation. In response to adrenaline, our bodies’ release the hormone cortisol, which raises our blood sugar.  Which in turn sets off our insulin response, which is our fat storage hormone!  Vicious cycle, right?

A stressful day also can stop you from making good decisions.  In a simple experiment at Stanford, volunteers were either asked to remember either two numbers or 7 numbers, then offered a piece of chocolate cake or fruit salad afterwards.  Those that had to remember 7 numbers were TWICE as likely to reach for the chocolate cake!   So it makes sense right? That when you've had a long stressful day working, you are MUCH MORE LIKELY to reach for something sweet.

So how do we manage stress and its influence on our eating habits?

- Try to avoid snacking as a method of coping with stress. Despite what your body may tell you, eating will not alleviate stress. Temporarily it may sooth the feeling, but will only lead to more stress down the road. Get active. When stressed, take a walk, hit the gym, do yoga. Getting up and moving will release other hormones that will counteract the ones creating the desire to snack. Focus your mind on something other than the stressor in question. Tackle your to do list to enable that sense of accomplishment or go for a run. You hold the power- so show stress who’s boss!

- Pay attention to the foods and drinks you are consuming. Avoid stimulants that can fuel stress. We may not realize it, but there are plenty of foods and drinks that only further fuel our stress levels. Alcohol, fast food, coffee, and soda are some of the most common triggers. While we may think of some of these as “comfort” foods, they actually end up making things worse.

- If you do snack, make selections that fight stress. Believe it or not, there are wonderful super-foods that actually fight stress and can bring relief. The foods that we normally crave may serve as a temporary anesthetic , but some foods have calming chemical properties.

  • Foods high in folic acid or B vitamins such as asparagus and avocados help create serotonin, a chemical that directly impacts moods in a positive way.
  • Almonds provide a plethora of vitamins such as Vitamin C and E that are proven to fight stress while still satisfying those crunchy cravings.
  • As mentioned above, Vitamin C is a major stress fighter and can be found in blueberries, oranges, etc. Mix these nutrient rich fruits with some cottage cheese for a soothing snack.
  • Drink calming teas!  Chamomile, Rosemary, Asian Ginseng, Ashwaganda, Holy Basil (Tulsi), and Licorice Root are all part of a group of herbs call Adaptogens that help the body deal with stress.

The most important thing to look at is your LIFE!  What can you say no to?  Where are your self care boundaries?

It's time to really think about these things...because no matter what you do, even if you exercise like crazy, and you eat extremely well, too much stress will sabotage you EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  Think about it!

Written by Ashley Green and Tammy Chang for The Nourished Belly

Sources: Sapolsky, R. (1994). Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping. New York, NY: Holt Paperbacks.

Peeke, P. (2009). Body of Life for Women: A Women’s Plan for Physical and Mental Transformation. Holtzbrinck Publishers.

Whole Living. Good Mood Foods that Reduce Stress. Retrieved from http://www.wholeliving.com/135935/good-mood-foods-reduce-stress/@center/136756/stress-relief-your-guided-tour

Why is Sleep Important?

"I'll just watch one more episode... .""I'll catch up on sleep during the weekend." "I have so much to do. I'll sleep when I retire!"

These thoughts are too often in our daily narratives...  Due to our busy lives, many of us place sleep at the bottom of our list of priorities and never give it a second thought.  When an endless to-do list is running through our minds, why would we use up precious time to sleep?

Then we wonder why we crave sugar (want to kick sugar with us?), why our colds stick around, and why that bit of belly fat just won't go away.  Sleep is the single most important behavior that humans experience. When consistently sleep deprived, a multitude of  health issues can affect our overall well-being.  We need to place sleep as one of our top priorities to ensure a healthy body and mind.

Today, the majority of us get 5 hours or less of sleep each night.   Most of us are walking around consistently sleep deprived.

"How do I know if I am sleep deprived?"

When suffering from sleep deprivation, your body will tell you. You just have to listen and watch for the signs. One key thing to look for is whether or not you are experiencing micro sleeps. Essentially, your body is telling you it needs to rest, and when this issue is not addressed you may start to experience involuntary moments of sleep. Micro-sleeps can happen at the worst times! During a meeting, during a lecture, even during a conversation with a friend... we feel our head start to nod and are usually awakened by a concerned co-worker or peer... or even the start of drool down our cheek. Definitely embarrassing, these micro sleeps can also be extremely dangerous and even fatal. It has been reported that 31 percent of drivers have fallen asleep (micro sleep) at the wheel. These micro sleeps also lead to poor judgment. If at the wrong time, a micro sleep can put us and anyone around us in great danger.

Unfortunately, what do most of us do when we can’t shake the Zzzz's? We resort to some type of stimulant to "wake us up." Coffee, energy drinks, supplements, nicotine, etc. The list could go on and on. Stimulants fuel the awakened state of the mind and it becomes hyperactive. Essentially, we trick our brains into thinking that it is time to be awake and we disrupt the electrical functions of our brains.  We then have trouble falling asleep at night, and some of us rely on depressants, such as alcohol or sleeping aids to fall asleep; however these sedate us rather than induce healthy sleep. Only further damage occurs from here, and yet we follow the same patterns day after day.

Poor quality and lack of sleep leads to a plethora of unwanted side effects. Poor memory, poor creativity, and irritability are just a few. Aside from side effects,  improper sleeping habits can lead to weight gain, trigger our stress response, and affect our delicate hormone balance.  There are at least 10 different hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain that function improperly when we don't sleep enough. These hormone shifts lead to changes in our appetite, fertility, mental health, etc. It's no wonder we aren't the friendliest people when we are tired... everything is irregularly wired!

Healthy sleeping patterns can help prevent all of those side effects and health issues plus more. While we sleep, three major functions occur:

  1. Restoration. While we sleep, our brain rebuilds and restores the body's energy sources. It works to prepare our body for the next day’s work, ensuring that it is properly fueled and functioning.
  2. Energy Conservation.  Going along with restoring our energy sources, our body conserves energy while we sleep. This way our body is not running on empty throughout the day!
  3. Memory Processing and Consolidation. Just as any organ in the body, waste needs to be cleared out in order to ensure proper function. While we sleep cerebrospinal fluid flows through our brain, flushing out these products. A good way to think of it is as your kitchen. What would happen if you stopped cleaning your kitchen for a month? Dishes would pile up, bacteria would grow. Eventually, it would be come unlivable. Cleaning the kitchen makes space, protects from infections, etc., just as our brains do while we sleep.

"So, what can I do?"

There are many things we can do to ensure we get the proper amount and quality of sleep that our bodies need.

1)  Listen to your body! Our bodies have a unique way of letting us know when we need sleep. Pay attention to those moments when you feel exceptionally fatigued, can’t seem to focus, or you notice changes in your mood, stress levels, and overall health. Plan your day to ensure you can get to sleep by a decent time or allow yourself to take a nap in between activities. The more hours of sleep that you can get before midnight, the better!

2)  Take some time to wind down: Prior to going to sleep, chill for a bit! Turn off electronics which excite the brain and seek darkness. Avoid those late night urges to watch television in bed or scroll through the internet on your iPad or phone. Our brains register this light as daytime which stimulates them and prohibiting rest.  So instead, dim the lights about an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Use this time to allow your body to adjust and begin to calm down.

3)  Make the room slightly chilly:  Sleeping in a slightly cool and dark room is the best practice for quality sleep.

4) Watch your sugar and caffeine intake: Especially late in the day.  As we get older as well, our ability to process caffeine diminishes, so you might to be able to drink as much caffeine as you used to.

5) Have a warm beverage!  Go for a cup of chamomile tea or warm milk, both of which work natural magic on our bodies and promote healthy sleep.

6)  Take a little magnesium!  Magnesium is one of the few supplements that have studies to back up its effectiveness.  200 to 400 mg of magnesium citrate or glycinate before bed can help relax the nervous system and muscles.

7)  Make the room pitch black.  Cover all those blinking lights, better yet, unplug all those blinking lights.  If you don't have heavy curtains, it's time to invest in some.  Ideally, you shouldn't be able to see your hand in front of your face!  Even slight light has been shown to hinder melatonin production, which helps us to sleep and to restore.

All in all, pay attention to your body’s needs. Sleep is just as important as exercise and proper nutrition. It is together, that these activities ensure the highest level of health and overall wellness! Written by Ashley Green and Tammy Chang for The Nourished Belly Sources: Main, E. (2014). 9 Foods to Help You Sleep: These Food Cures Will Get You Back to Your Zzzs. Organic Gardening. Retrieved from http://www.organicgardening.com/living/9-foods-to-help-you-sleep?page=0,0 Foster, R. (2013). Why Do We Sleep? TED Talks. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep?language=en Wiley, T. S., Formbly, B. (2000). Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival. New York, NY: Pocket Books.