Get More Sleep…Starting Tonight!

Written by: on Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
Woman sleeping on white chair with book

You need at least eight hours of uninterrupted shut-eye a night. Sleeping on the chair before bedtime doesn't count!

It was Saturday morning. My toddler son was finally down for a late-morning nap —after fussing, fussing for the better part of an hour­. My eyes had been glazing over as I was trying to soothe him and get him to sleep (he had been up at least three times last night—leaving me with little restful sleep).

My older kids were at a birthday party and a play-date. Finally, I could get into my bed and get caught up on some sleep. After all, every advice column and book says: “Sleep when baby sleeps” as a seemingly simple answer to the sleep deprivation that all moms experience at one time or another.

If only it were that easy.

I snuggled down under my comforter, grabbed by favorite squishy pillow, put on my eye mask, and shut my eyes. Then I tossed and turned for at least half an hour, trying to get comfortable and then praying for sleep to come. “Please God, just let me sleep for half an hour.” But sleep didn’t come. (It’s not easy to sleep when you’re waiting for the inevitable cry to come through a monitor positioned near your bed). And then…guess what? Yep, you’re right: my baby was up again.

But sleep is critical, not just for proper brain functioning (I’ve already lost a credit card, my baby’s birth certificate, and numerous other important things—not to mention forgotten some key appointments…all since he was born) but also for losing weight and staying healthy. So I’ve put together some strategies for getting some much-needed shut-eye:

1) Ask your guy for help. Sometimes I feel guilty waking up my guy and asking him to help with a nighttime or early morning feeding. Not sure where the guilt is coming from (!!), but it’s so important to let people know when you’re in need of a break. It’s okay and doesn’t make you less of a mom (or person!). Now I try to hand off my son to my husband when he wakes around 6 a.m. My son sits with my guy as he drinks his coffee and reads the paper…and I try to get another hour of sleep before the day starts up yet again.

2) Hire a babysitter. I can’t say enough about this. Even if you hire your next-door neighbor or your neighbor’s daughter just to watch your baby while you get a nap, do it. It’s money well spent. One person recently said to me, “I’ve never known anyone to need as much help as you.” My response to that comment is that I’m willing to sacrifice clothes, vacations, and just stuff in general to have someone help me do the things that are necessary for me to be my best. And with three kids, I need all the help I can possibly get!

Guy snoring next to woman trying to sleep

Do yourself (and your health) a favor and move him to the guest room tonight!

3) Give yourself permission to relax. As a mom, it’s hard to be able to justify time for yourself (a bath, reading a good book, watching a movie, or just surfing the Internet) when there’s so much to be done: laundry, washing dishes, lunches to be made, dinner to prepare, etc. But the point is, if you can’t sleep, brew a pot of tea and just sit for half an hour or 45 minutes. Sometimes, I get a 20-minute rest with my eyes closed in the rocking chair while I’m rocking my baby to sleep. Finding a way to allow your body to slow down can help you deal with the mind-numbing fatigue.

4) Banish your guy to the guest room. I love my man, but when I have very limited sleep time, the last thing I need is him waking me with his loud snoring—or his early morning alarm clock. It’s not forever…and doesn’t have to be every night. But give yourself a break and a better night’s sleep by making this the new rule. Then one day, make him do kid duty. Then you head to the guest room.

5) Curb after-dinner snacking. When you eat too close to bedtime, your body expends energy trying to digest the food when it should be resting—making it tough to get to sleep. Plus, I’ve found … even when you do get to sleep after eating pre-bedtime snacks (particularly sugary ones), the sleep you get is more restless. A better bet: have a light snack after dinner so it curbs your hunger but lets you get some shut-eye. Good options include an apple with peanut butter, a small bowl of cereal with milk, a yogurt, or a banana.

6) Shut off your Smartphone. Study after study shows that the flickering lights of electronic devices—when used within an hour of bedtime—can interfere with restful nighttime sleep. Invest in an alarm clock instead of using your Smartphone (and leave your cell out of your bedroom altogether). And banish the TV and laptop from your bedroom. It may seem relaxing to fall asleep watching Crazy, Stupid Love (one of my favorite movies!) but it’s anything but!

7) Kick Fido out of the bed. Sorry, dog and cat lovers, but sleeping with your pet is akin to sleeping with a guy who’s snoring—or a baby who’s waking you up every hour. Pets are proven sleep distractors, say researchers, and the sooner you get them off your bed and on to a bed on the floor, the more rested you’ll be feeling come morning.

Eat beets, drink tart cherry juice & 4 other stay-healthy tips

Written by: on Monday, July 16th, 2012

Want to be healthy—and have enough energy to power you through sports and your daily activities? Follow these tips:

fresh organic beets with greens

Beets are packed with disease-busting antioxidants—and are high in folate and fiber.

1.) Eat beets…as well as rhubarb and arugala. They’re rich sources of dietary nitrates, a compound that gets converted into nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, and allows a person to exercise using less oxygen. In one study, cyclists consumed pre-ride beets and then three hours later (when nitric oxide peaks), they rode in a time trial. Every cyclist improved (on average, 2.8%) as compared to the time trial with no beets. Impressive! The amount of nitrates in 7 ounces (200 grams) beets is an effective dose. How about enjoying  beets—or a bowl of borchst—in your next pre-game meal?

bowl of red cherries

Tart cherries contain substances called anthocyanins, which help reduce inflammation and may even reduce tumor growth.

2.) Drink tart cherry juice. Tart cherries (the kind used in baking pies, not the sweet cherries enjoyed as snacks) have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, trained athletes consumed two 10.5-oz. bottles per day of tart cherry juice the week before an excruciating exercise test. They recovered faster and lost only 4% of their pre-test strength, compared with 22% loss in the group without cherry juice.

woman's feet running up stairs

You exercise every day—but you still need to stay active the rest of the time (e.g. always take the stairs instead of the elevator).

Tart cherries can help not only athletes but also individuals who suffer from the pain and inflammation associated with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. Consuming tart cherry juice (two 10.5-ounce bottles/day for 10 days) reduced the muscle soreness associated with “fibro-flares” and enhanced recovery rate. Similar findings occurred in people suffering from osteoarthritis; drinking tart cherry juice for three weeks reduced arthritis pain.

Research to date has studied the effects of drinking 21 ounces of tart cherry juice per day for 1 to 3 weeks. (That’s the equivalent of eating 90 tart cherries/day). More research will determine the most effective dose and time-course. Because 21 ounces of tart cherry juice adds 260 calories to one’s energy intake, athletes will need to reduce other fruits or foods to make space for this addition to their daily intake.

3) Sit less, move more. While sleeping used to be our most common “activity,” today it is sitting. The average person sits for 9 hours a day. Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for heart disease and creates health problems, including deep vein thrombosis  (as can happen on planes). Athletes who exercise for one or two hours each day still need do more daily activity and not just sit in front of a screen all day.

athletic woman leaping in air

Get enough sleep and you'll not only feel more powerful—you'll be more powerful in any activity you undertake.

4) Get some sleep. While we may be sitting more than in past years, we’re sleeping less: 80% of teens report getting less than the recommended nine hours of sleep; nearly 30% of adults report sleeping less than 6 hours each day. Not good. Sleep is a biological necessity. It is restorative and helps align our circadian rhythms.

Sleep deprivation (less than five hours/night) erodes well being, has detrimental effects on health, and contributes to fat gain. When we become tired, grehlin—a hormone that makes us feel hungry—becomes more active and we can easily overeat. Sleep deprivation is also linked with Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Sleep deprivation is common among athletes who travel through time zones. This can impact performance by disrupting their circadian rhythms and causing undue fatigue and reduced motivation. In comparison, extending sleep can enhance performance. A study involving basketball players indicates they shot more baskets and completed more free throws when they were well rested versus sleep deprived. For top performance, make sleep a priority!

couple walking together

Doing activities with other people is one factor that may help you live a longer life.

5) Enhance your life. In a few communities in the world, an usually high number of people live to be older than 100 years. What happens in those communities that contributes to the longer life? Some factors include choosing a plant-based diet, rarely overeating, having a life filled with purpose and meaning, connecting with others in the community, moving naturally and/or socially (as in bike commuting and walking with family and friends), enjoying alcohol socially (in moderation), and not smoking. If you want to join the centenarians, take steps to re-create those life-enhancing practices!

Creating that life-extending culture has been done, to a certain extent, in Albert Lea, MN. The “Blue Zone” project included improving sidewalks and building walking paths around a lake. Restaurants supported the program by not bringing a bread basket automatically to customers, and not serving French fries (unless requested) with meals. These and many other environmental changes contributed to a healthier lifestyle that resulted in a 40% drop in the city employee healthcare costs over two years. Impressive, eh?

6) Appreciate your body. Athletes, as well as those who aren’t athletes, commonly struggle with the belief their body is not “good enough.” This struggle gets too little attention from health care providers who focus more on the medical concerns of heart disease, cancer, and hypertension. Yet, whether you are lean or obese, having poor body image often coincides with having low self-esteem. This combination generates poor self-care.

Image with I am beautiful written in mirror

If you have to, write notes to yourself to remind yourself just how amazing you (and your body) are.

In a five-year study of teens, low body satisfaction stimulated extreme and destructive dieting behaviors that led to weight gain, not weight loss. The same pattern is typical among many seemingly “healthy” athletes. If you want help finding peace with your body, please seek help from a sports dietitian. Use the referral network of Sports & Cardiovascular Nutritionists (SCAN)——to help you find someone local. What are you waiting for…?


Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD, May 2012


Enough with the noise, already!

Written by: on Monday, February 6th, 2012
woman standing in silence

You don't need to be on a gorgeous beach like this to be silent; you can have five minutes of noise-free peace in your own living room.

As I lay in bed this morning, snuggled under my down comforter up to my nose while the frost lay on the ground outside, I prayed for a little more silence before the day’s craziness began.

The sun had yet to come up and the morning was quiet—kids still asleep, no alarms buzzing off, no phones ringing, yet. (And no, I did not immediately get out of bed to exercise—as I intended to do; I was quite happy to ensconce myself in my covers!)

It struck me, though, how little time we have in silence these days. We wake up with a jolt to alarms or music or our phone ringing or vibrating (or a baby crying, which is the case with me these days). We spend most of the day

Party in My Crib 3:00 am onesie for babies

This is my reality these days, my baby waking up at frequent times during the night, which means I have to enjoy every moment of silence I can get!

with smartphones connected to us at every moment—even by our beds—offering plenty of sound options (apps, music, different ring tones, and more!); at work in meetings, talking to people; in the car with the radio on; watching TV at home. We never have to be quiet anymore. In fact, so many people are seemingly afraid of silence, needing to be at home with the TV or music on…background noise as we so often call it. I even find it hard to be in the car a minute or two without reaching for the radio control knobs. And I know I’m not alone.

We need to try to relish silence more—particularly as our world becomes even more full of noise. I’m not saying we have to be monks, abstaining from all our electronic gadgets and toys and living in noise-free harmony, but there are some things we can do to help clear our heads of the cacophony of sounds from our daily lives. The end goal: bring more silence into our days to help reduce the stress and anxiety that we shoulder—and give us time to just think already!

1) When you’re exercising outdoors, leave your iPod at home. I remember the first time I ran outdoors without music; it was early in the morning and it was so invigorating and inspiring. I actually thought about different things while listening to the birds chirp (imagine that!). Next time you go for a walk, run, or bike ride, take time to listen to nature. (It’s safer this way, too, as noise prevents you from being 100 percent attentive to what’s happening around you—and can result in accidents.) I also think this is one of the reasons I like swimming: there is silence in the pool other than the noise my hands make when they cut through the water. But let’s be honest, though, I cannot live without my tunes on the treadmill or elliptical; I’d be bored out of my mind!!

2) Get the TV/computer out of your bedroom. You’ll find that you may get to sleep more quickly—and sleep more soundly—as a result. (Studies also show that the flickering of TV or computer lights—if you use either before bed or fall asleep watching TV, as some people do—actually interferes with our ability to sleep deeply.)

3) Allow time in your day, regularly, for silence. I truly believe this is one reason why meditation is so powerful when it comes to keeping your body healthy. It’s not just about clearing your mind; it’s about doing so without noise.

4) Give yourself permission to shut off your smart phone. Just put it away; that way, it won’t vibrate every time a new message or text comes in; it won’t ring; and it won’t tempt you to check it every couple of minutes. This is a simple solution to the noise of being “wired” 24/7.

For better health, let’s all take more time for silence. It may be just as important as diet and exercise when it comes to taking care of our bodies!

3 new snacking rules for weight loss

Written by: on Wednesday, February 1st, 2012
woman caught snacking

Resolve to ditch your bad snacking habits—and the pounds will start coming off!

I’m not sure about you, but lately I’ve found myself nibbling quite a bit. For starters, there are the kids’ lunches, which I make the night before—a few Goldfish before I put them in my daughter’s lunchbox, a spoonful of peanut butter before I swipe it on my son’s slice of bread…and it doesn’t stop there. Well, my four-year-old left her half-eaten (but still good!, as I told myself) bagel on her plate this morning—and I had to have a bite (well, maybe if I’m being honest here, it was three).

Nibbling is definitely not okay! If I was to add up the calorie tab (which I typically don’t…I mean, really, who does??) on just the snacking I do while I’m standing up, it would come to: Goldfish, Cheddar (70 calories); peanut butter, one tablespoon (about 94 calories); one quarter bagel, with cream cheese (about 120 calories)—so that’s 284 calories, not including other nibbles and meals (which are so easy to forget when you’re doing it mindlessly as I am).

Honesty is also typically lacking in the case of stand-up snacking, as I call it­—as is a reliable memory. Most of us aren’t as honest about what  (or how much) we actually eat. And each bite counts here as it all adds up over time.

I’m already trying to lose an extra 20 pounds in baby weight—so I’m not sure why I think I can afford to eat these extra (and completely unnecessary) calories.  So I’m putting new 2012 rules into effect; these will work for anyone struggling with a case of too much snacking like I am:

1) NO SNACKING unless I’m eating off a plate AND sitting down at the table. This is a good rule for anyone keeping tabs on his/her weight—and ensures that eating is a purposeful and satisfying ritual, not a mindless or nervous habit. If you’re making the effort to do this, you must really be hungry (avoiding the on-the-way-out-the-door nibbling…and extra calories). It’s not easy, but I’m committed. (I’m sure that I’ll have a few slip-ups every now and then, but key thing is to just try and try again until it becomes a habit). Just think, if I continue at this rate, I’ll put on a pound every 12 days—and about 30 pounds over the course of a year!

2) EAT PROPER MEALS. When I’m nibbling, I find myself skipping lunch (who needs the extra calories? I think to myself). But skipping meals is one of the worst habits to get into because it sets you up for hunger later on—and more snacking. Eat a proper meal (always with protein and a few carbs) and you’ll be satisfied—and have the willpower to not nibble later on.

3) SKIP SUGARY SNACKS. Empty carbs (think: cookies, cake, candy, and any processed sweets) do absolutely nothing for you; in fact, they set up you for an energy spike—and then a crash. I know why I’m reaching for these quick fixes: I haven’t gotten enough sleep lately (thanks to a newborn’s frequent night wakings). Sleep is CRITICAL for willpower—and keeping your metabolism stoked for weight loss. But 7 to 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep every night, plus protein-plus-carb snacks (apple with peanut butter, a few almonds with half a banana, yogurt with a tiny bit of granola…) sets anyone up for consistent energy throughout the day and long-term success at weight loss.

So right now, as the mid-afternoon energy slump is starting to take hold, I’m having an apple with peanut butter and a giant class of water (too little—and your body will think you’re hungry when you’re not).

Do you have strategies for coping with snacking? Share them! I’d love to know what they are.