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What is it about a great night’s sleep that is so wonderful? You almost want to sing, “Sleep, sleep, wonderful sleep!” There just isn’t anything better.
Following my last two articles on making healthier choices, I would like to fill you in on three other necessary additions to a healthy lifestyle- sleep, hydration and laughter!
Sleep is a much needed commodity-not a luxury, but a necessity for optimal functioning. There will be times in your life when you can sleep easily and for great lengths of time. Let’s see, that was probably when you were 16! Then babies come along, family needs arise, etc., and sleep is often elusive. Or perhaps menopause arrives, and since all the hormones are whacky, sleep is often compromised for a time. There probably isn’t ONE answer to give to help a person sleep, but I think it’s good to hear about a few things that might be beneficial for sleep.
Healthy sleep has four stages. As we progress through stages 1 and 2- we become increasingly unplugged from the world until we reach deep sleep in stage 3. During this stage, brain and body activity drop to their lowest point, and blood is redirected from the brain to muscles. Deep sleep is crucial for physical renewal, hormonal regulation, and growth. Without deep sleep, you are more likely to get sick, feel depressed and gain an unhealthy amount of weight.
The last stage is called REM (rapid eye movement.) Our brains become busily active during this stage and dreaming often happens here. We experience 3-4 such cycles, each lasting about 60-90 minutes.
In the REM cycle, the brain processes and synthesizes memories and emotions, activity that is crucial for learning and high level thought. A lack of REM results in slower cognitive and social processing, problems with memory and difficulty concentrating. (Taken from a Harvard Business Review study.)
Since 1960, we have seen the average night’s sleep decrease from 8+ to 6.5 hours a night. Distractions like e-mail, texting, online shopping (!) and other things have brought about this change. Most men require a full eight hours of sleep, while women need about seven.
Sleep deprivation has many manifestations, ALL of which are quite serious. Most of you mothers can understand being sleep deprived- especially after bringing home a new baby- but there are other times that make it difficult to get good sleep. Sometimes, a family emergency occurs, and your daily plans are horribly interrupted; you are demanded upon beyond what is normal and sleep is often what suffers. Insufficient sleep affects both our physical and mental health. Weight gain is a real result of lack of sleep. Our moods change: we can experience anxiety, depression, and poorer memory, and sometimes we get “snappy!” Our heart health is affected. Five or less hours of sleep a night results in a 5-fold risk of resistant high blood pressure. Sleep is so important to our overall health.
How to get good sleep? It can feel impossible at times in our lives, BUT here are some things to consider that are often helpful: get physical activity during the day- walk, exercise, bend and stretch. in other words, BE BUSY AND ACTIVE. This helps program your body for sleep at night. Get sunlight/time outdoors- a little difficult to do in North Dakota in the winter, but helpful to synchronize our internal clocks for sleep. Pay attention to food choices- again, add fruits, vegetables, proteins and eliminate or decrease sugar. Watch medications, as they can interrupt “normal” sleep patterns. Avoid caffeine before bedtime, (some articles say, up to 10 hours before bedtime, so, that seems to indicate to enjoy those good cup(s) of joe in the morning!). I’ve read that a small amount of magnesium, valerian or melatonin is helpful for sleep, but do your research. Darken the room– light will interrupt sleep.Even light from an alarm clock or a cell phone can be problematic. Face those away from your side of the bed. We recently changed our light-filtering blinds, to room darkening, and it made a huge difference in my sleep. Keep your bedtime and awake time the same. This helps the body establish a pattern of rest. Use deep breathing exercises for a minute or so after getting into bed—inhale deeply for 4 seconds through nose, hold for 2-3 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds through mouth. This has a relaxing quality and sets our body in motion to sleep. The use of essential oils can be helpful- lavender especially. The last suggestion (and perhaps the BEST one) is to give all your burdens and problems to the Lord. This is not always easy for a busy “Martha,” but as the saying goes, “The Lord is up all night, anyway!” Engage in prayerful submission of your concerns to the Lord. I Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” Consider Psalm 55:22a: “Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee:”
Another necessity for a healthy body is hydration. EVERY cell and system in our body needs water. Joints. Brain. Body Temperature Regulation. Bodily Functions. ALL require water. Water actually makes up half our body weight. Some common symptoms of needing water are fatigue, thirst, hunger, headache, and dizziness. Most articles I read said 6-8 glasses of water a day is a good goal. There are times when you might need more, like during the summer or if you are expending a lot of energy. To know if you are hydrated your urine output should be light in color. Dark yellow or amber color means you need more water. Of course tea, fruit juices, and even caffeinated beverages add some water to your diet as do some vegetables and fruit, like cucumbers, watermelon and lettuce. But additional water is always needed. MOST people do not need sports drinks to hydrate. Often, these are full of sugar and may contain high levels of sodium. Perhaps an athlete or someone working outside in the summer could benefit from a sports drink. Energy drinks are something to generally avoid, because they are loaded with caffeine and stimulants!
I have a container full of ice and water that I carry around all day. I love fresh lemon, lime, cucumber, or a mashed strawberry for added flavor. No sugar. No salt.
The benefits of water will be healthier skin, healthier teeth and bones, healthier joints, healthier mind and body, healthier digestive system, better metabolism, better transport of nutrients and better elimination. All good things, right?
Finally, laughter is a necessary component of health. The Bible says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” (Provers 16:23a) Who doesn’t like a good belly laugh? Laughter, when shared, actually binds people together and increases happiness! Laughter triggers healthy physical changes in the body. It strengthens your immune system, boosts energy, diminishes pain and protects from the damaging effects of stress. (See Proverbs 15:13a and Proverbs 15:15.)
Laughter relaxes the body. A good laugh leaves your muscles relaxed for 45 minutes following the event! It triggers endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemical. It improves the function of the heart, increases blood flow, and helps with the cardiovascular system function. Laughter helps you recharge and relax. It can shift perspective toward a more realistic view of a situation. (http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm)
How to laugh more: SMILE – it’s the beginning of laughter. It is contagious. When you have a clerk help you at the grocery store, and she’s smiling, don’t you want to smile back? Practice smiling.
COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS– Sometimes you literally have to make a list! If you feel overwhelmed and discouraged, then make a list. Begin with the Lord and all His benefits: Psalm 68:19 “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loaded us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah.” Psalm 103:2 says, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:” Note also Psalms 116:12: “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits towards me?” Next, list your health, your husband, your kiddos, your friends, etc. Gratitude and gratefulness make one happy! SPEND TIME WITH FUN PEOPLE! Really, there are those that laugh easily, at themselves and at everyday events. Engage with them. Learn to laugh with your husband and your kids.
So, don’t forget to add these three things to your daily healthy habits! And, I must say I am thankful for those of you who have commented on appreciating the last two articles on healthy food choices. I am thrilled that there are those that are actually considering making better food choices. Several commented that they were spurred to do better, when they actually saw other ladies get healthier (and slimmer.) It was an encouragement to them to consider the information and change their own choices. PTL – It reminds me of the verse in Matthew 11:15- “He that hath ears to hear, let them hear.” Learning, considering and applying principles- both spiritually and physically- are beneficial and reap wonderful rewards. It’s encouraging for me to hear! May you be blessed for doing the right thing.
*Correction to last article. I mentioned that ancient grains do not have the “overloaded” gluten amount (3x more) as do the grains of today, but they still have gluten. Sometimes, people with wheat sensitivity can still enjoy any one of those ancient grains, and not have the health issues they will experience with the other grains.