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Fit Nation: Sweet dreams for better health, weight loss

Fit Nation: Sweet dreams for better health, weight loss | Healthcare and Technology news |

"You can sleep when you're dead," I've told myself while answering work email in the middle of the night.

To combat the previous night's loss of sleep, I'd go to bed at 8 p.m. the next night, only to find myself wide awake at 1 a.m.

The ping-pong of sleeplessness leaves me disoriented and cranky.

I wore my crazy work hours like a badge.

"I worked 60 hours last week," I'd say tiredly, but with a secret glee that this must mean that I was the best at what I was doing.

My disregard for a healthy work/life balance showed my dedication and loyalty to work.

This imbalance fed others in my life: How could I possibly go to the gym? I have work to do. I don't know how to fall asleep naturally. I'll have a drink or two before bed to "help" me fall asleep. Since I didn't shop for groceries on Sunday because I slept all day, on Tuesday, I had to order takeout.

A year and a half ago, I returned from my second long-term assignment in India and felt pretty burnt out.

With the help of my boss, I found a new role within my company. This was a role that allowed me to develop a healthy balance between doing good work and living a good life.

So I started leaving work at 5 p.m. I worked from home on some days. I filled my free time with dozens of new hobbies.

But I still wasn't getting regular and consistent sleep.

I'd seen the news reports that said insomnia can hinder weight loss. But I still held on to those late nights, which were now filled with knitting and "Law & Order" reruns instead of work.

"How could I do it all if one-third of my day was spent sleeping?" I wondered.

Fast forward to our Fit Nation kickoff weekend.

Paul Kriegler, corporate dietitian for Lifetime Fitness, led a nutrition workshop for our Fit Nation team.

When the discussion of sleep came up, I listened even more intently as he explained the havoc that sleeplessness can wreak on our bodies, our blood sugars and our metabolism.

I left that weekend determined to tackle my insomnia head on.

I decided on three simple behaviors that I could change immediately:

1. Do not drink alcohol at home

I used this as a crutch to get to sleep for many years. But while that drink might knock you out, you're not getting restful REM sleep and a few short hours later, you're right back where you started: awake!

2. Set a consistent bedtime

I decided to go to bed at 10:30 every night, including the weekends. The first few days were weird, but by the third night, my body was used to winding itself down around 9 p.m.

3. No screens an hour before bedtime and no cell phone in the bedroom

I spend most of my days planted in front of a computer. If I'm not working, I'm surfing the Internet or watching a movie online.

My eyes and brain are constantly stimulated.

Unplugging an hour before bed allows me to have a conversation with my boyfriend without distractions. I read a few chapters in a good book or I knit a few more rows on my latest sock project.

It's been nice having this time for reflection and to quiet my mind right before bed.

Banishing the phone from the bedroom means if I roll over in the middle of the night, I simply wait for myself to fall back asleep instead of reaching for the phone and scrolling through Instagram.

I'm at the end of the third week and I have to tell you, I'm now sleeping through the night!

I feel energized and excited to start the day.

I've got energy for workouts and cooking.

I feel great. And I look forward to bedtime each night.

Sweet dreams at last.

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Why You Should Put Down That Tablet Or Phone If You Want Better Sleep

Why You Should Put Down That Tablet Or Phone If You Want Better Sleep | Healthcare and Technology news |

If your plans for the New Year include figuring out how to work a little more better-quality sleep into your schedule, here’s one word to remember: Blue. Using electronic devices that emit blue light before bedtime can disturb sleep patterns and deprive you of those precious ZZZZZs your brain and body needs.

Devices that emit blue light include e-readers, tablets, laptops, smart phones and several types of flat screen televisions. The sleep-disturbing effects of blue light—also known as short-wavelength enriched light– have been suspected for quite some time, and new research adds to the scientific evidence counseling us to put down our gadgets well before we hit the pillow.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston tested the effects of reading an IPad versus reading a paper book before bedtime. Participants used the IPad or book for four hours before bedtime for five consecutive nights. People who read the IPad felt less tired before trying to sleep, spent less time in REM sleep, and produced less of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.

According to lead study author, Dr. Anne-Marie Chang: “We found the body’s natural circadian rhythms were interrupted by the short-wavelength enriched light, otherwise known as blue light … Participants reading an eBook took longer to fall asleep and had reduced evening sleepiness, reduced melatonin secretion, later timing of their circadian clock and reduced next-morning alertness than when reading a printed book.”

Since more of us are using blue-light emitting devices in the evening, it seems we’re unwittingly short-circuiting our sleep needs despite best intentions.

If you really want to read at night, and aren’t into using old school books, the researchers say that the original e-readers (such as the first generation Kindle readers) are probably fine for the purpose because they do not emit blue light. But any tablet (IPad or other) emits plenty of blue and is liable to disrupt sleep.

If you’re wondering whether you can supplement with melatonin in pill or capsule form to combat sleep deprivation, there’s plenty of evidence that doing so works – but be careful. As with any hormone naturally produced in your body, supplementing too often can disrupt natural production and trigger additional problems. A better policy is to address the issues that are causing sleep deprivation (like using gadgets before bedtime) instead of trying to patch the problem with a pseudo-solution that can eventually become another sort of problem.

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