Your New #1 Stay-Healthy Mission: Get More Sleep
Think you don’t have time for eight hours of z’s a night? Here are seven reasons-including trimming your waistline and improving your skin-why you need to fit it in.
We’re a nation of busy women, so while we’re whittling down our to-do lists, sleep often gets the pink slip first. Surveys from the National Sleep Foundation in Washington, D.C., show that women snooze nearly 90 minutes less than the eight hours a night most experts consider a healthy standard.
1 Keep off those extra pounds
Scientists at the Columbia University Medical Center recently discovered that people who logged five hours of sleep a night were 60 percent more likely to be significantly overweight than those who managed to get seven to nine hours. One reason behind the bulge: Tired people eat more. "Sleep deprivation increases hunger by altering levels of leptin and gherelin, hormones that regulate appetite,"
2 Muscle up your memory
"During sleep, your mind processes everything you’ve learned that day," says Jeffrey Ellenbogen, Ph.D., an associate neurologist at Harvard Medical School. So pulling an all-nighter to nail tomorrow’s presentation is not an effective strategy. "You’re better off reviewing what you can, then getting enough rest so the details can sink in." Recent studies show that different stages of sleep may improve various aspects of memory. In new research from the journal Nature, German scientists found that late stages of non-REM sleep (the non-dreaming phases that comprise most of our sleep) help us consolidate and recall the facts we’ve just acquired. And in another recent study, Canadian researchers discovered that an earlier stage of non-REM sleep increased significantly after people learned how-to tasks-like a new knitting stitch or cooking technique-just before going to bed. After noting that the participants completed the activities 20 percent faster the next morning, the researchers concluded that shut-eye helps keep our reflexes sharp
3. Reduce your risk of diabetes
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that women who slept only five hours a night were two and a half times more likely to have diabetes as those who slept seven to eight hours. A serious condition that occurs when your body can’t effectively convert glucose from food into fuel for your cells, diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and nerve and kidney damage. One explanation for the link is that too-little sleep throws key hormones off kilter. "Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline-which increase when you’re sleep-deprived-reduce the effectiveness of in**sulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose," says study co-author Susan Redline, M.D., director of University Hospitals of Cleveland Sleep Center. When you can’t use insulin properly, glucose levels rise, which increases your diabetes risk. Another possible reason is that you expend more energy when you’re well-rested than when you’re wiped out. Picture yourself after a night of refreshing sleep: You’re ready to tackle anything, whether it’s mastering the plow pose during your morning yoga session or plowing through your overstuffed in-box. "But if you feel exhausted, you’re less likely to completely engage your brain, so it needs less glucose to function," says Kristen Knutson, Ph.D., a research associate at the University of Chicago. The glucose that your brain would normally use instead continues to circulate at higher levels in your blood.
4. Protect your heart
While you slumber, your heart rate slows and blood pressure dips by an average of 10 to 20 percent, says Columbia University’s Gangwisch. "When you don’t sleep, your body loses this opportunity to slow down. Your heart works harder for a larger portion of the day, which causes blood pressure to increase over time," he explains. In fact, Gangwisch’s research team discovered that women who snooze less than six hours each night increase their risk for developing high blood pressure by 70 percent, compared with those who get seven to eight hours. Slacking on sleep also triggers inflammation, which occurs when your stressed-out immune system goes into overdrive, flooding the body with an overabundance of infection-fighting white blood cells that actually damage healthy tissues.
5. Take years off your looks
When you’re short on sleep, it’s written all over your face. "Inadequate shut-eye triggers a chain of physical changes that negatively affect your skin," says David E. Bank, M.D., an associate in clinical dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center. As you begin to feel tired, your body prepares itself for rest by lowering blood pressure and pulse rate. This means less blood flows to your skin, which can take a toll on radiance. And if you’re literally fighting to stay awake, your body kicks up its stress response-secreting hormones that help set off breakouts.
6. Stave off the sniffles
When a nasty cold strikes, all you want to do is sleep, right? No wonder: Your body requires rest to fight off invading germs. But even one night of frag*mented slumber can break down your immune response, according to researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. They found that women who were least able to snooze through the night had the lowest levels of virus-combating cells in response to a stressful situation.
What’s keeping you from a good night’s sleep?
1. Stress. Even low levels of stress (worries about bills, a looming work deadline) can trigger hormones that increase blood pressure and make your heart beat faster-not exactly optimal conditions for drifting off easily.
What’s keeping you from a good night’s sleep? continued...
Slumber strategy: "Write down stressful thoughts in a notebook earlier in the day, then brainstorm solutions," suggests Walsleben. "This trains you to deal with worries at that time instead of when you’re lying in bed."
2. PMS. Symptoms like tender breasts, bloating, and headaches cause discomfort that keeps many women awake.
Slumber strategy: Consuming 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 mg of magnesium daily may help reduce fluid retention, breast tenderness, and bloating, says Walsleben. Ask your doctor about supplements.
3. Your bedmate. Austrian researchers found that couples had more disrupted sleep on nights they slept together than when they snoozed solo.
Slumber strategy: Noisy sleepers should see a doctor, since snoring can be the result of sleep apnea, a potentially deadly condition that occurs when relaxed throat muscles block air passages and make breathing difficult.
4. Pregnancy. Your growing uterus puts pressure on your bladder, so you’ll wake up frequently to use the bathroom, and hormonal changes may increase your risk of experiencing late-night heartburn.
Slumber strategy: Try supportive pillows and lying on your side. Cut down on liquids before bed to minimize bathroom breaks, and avoid spicy foods late in the day to prevent heartburn.
Your all-day sleep-prep plan
A good night’s sleep doesn’t just begin when you hit the pillow. The habits you engage in throughout the day can influence how well you snooze. For better rest, take these sleep-smart steps.
6:30 a.m. Get snooze button-savvy
Your sleep-regulating internal clock works best when you wake up at the same time every day. To break your habit of repeatedly hitting the snooze button, move your alarm clock across the room. A new study in the journal Neuron found that the physical act of rolling out of bed activates brain cells that prevent you from falling back asleep.
8:15 a.m. Soak up the sun
A half-hour walk tells your brain to stop making melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. But leave your sunglasses behind this time-the rays actually have to hit your retina to send the signal, says Meir Kryger, M.D., author of A Woman’s Guide to Sleep Disorders. If you can’t hoof it to work, try a pre-breakfast hike.
12:30 p.m. Make a date
Social people are better sleepers, according to a recent study from the Duke University Medical Center. Having frequent lunches or other get-togethers makes you more likely to stick to a schedule, say study authors, who believe that your body’s internal clock runs best when you follow a regular routine.
3:15 p.m. Dump the decaf
University of Florida researchers found that most decaf coffee still contains small amounts of caffeine, which can add up if you drink several cups after lunch. Snack on some fruit instead, says Cynthia Sass, R.D., a Tampa, Florida-based nutritionist. "The combination of vitamins, fiber, and carbohydrates provides enough energy to get you through the rest of the afternoon," she explains.
5:45 p.m. break a sweat
Hitting the gym raises your body temperature, which makes falling asleep more difficult. Give yourself at least three or four hours between working out and lights-out to allow adequate time to cool down.
"If you asked me for my New Year Resolution, it would be to find out who I am."