Three Ways to Stay Well During Cold Season

Kleenex cold seasonI volunteered at my daughter’s elementary school a couple of days ago and in the course of two hours had six kids cough on me. Like on me. Like lean on over into their little tiny hands and somehow miss their hands and hit me.

I couldn’t get enough anti-bacterial lotion that day. Seems everybody was hacking or sneezing.

But sneezing and coughing doesn’t have to be synonymous with winter. There are plenty of little life hacks you can use to ward of the seasonal hacking of a cold or flu bug. Give these three a go.

1. Expect the best. Realistic optimism –  the belief things are good or will get better – can diffuse negative moods, and ease stress. That alone helps your immune efficiency. And people with a more upbeat attitude also tend to do the things – eat better, exercise more, engage in life in productive ways – that support physical health. If you are prone to a more pessimistic attitude. That’s o.k. too, just behave optimistically, by engaging in life and finding positive things to look forward to, and you’ll benefit.

2. Get plenty of hugs. Plenty of research shows the importance of appropriate touch. High fives, pats on the back and other healthy forms of touch help people manage stress and perform better. Now a new study from Carnegie Mellon University shows that people who receive more hugs are less likely to get sick. Hugs are one form of social support and researchers say that the more support a person has, demonstrated through the frequency of hugs, the lower their stress and the less susceptible they are to infection.

3. Sleep. Seriously, people, this is not the time to push yourself to exhaustion. Make time to rest. Develop solid sleep habits. Turn off technology an hour before bed time, (the blue light waves interrupt our natural sleep rhythms), and go to bed at the same time each night to establish a sleep schedule that will allow your body to recover and restore its natural health. When we are physically exhausted we are prone to picking up every little bug. Proper rest is a biggie when it comes to staying healthy.  And, it will actually make you more productive during the day

How to Set a Sleep Schedule

Morning stretchesWhen my daughter was young, we put her on a sleep schedule. The same time each night, we’d begin a bedtime routine that started with pj’s and teeth brushing and book reading and ended, finally, hopefully, with her sleeping through the night.

The same thing can work for grown-ups and it’s worth trying, because just about everyone I know needs more sleep than they are getting. We are tired, people, and lack of sleep can do funky, crazy things to our brains (like shrink it)  and bodies (like compromise immune function).

But a consistent sleep-priming routine can help you settle down and rest easy.

Here are some things to include in your routine to help you sleep better.

1. Turn off all devices. Starting two hours before bed, shut down the smartphones, computers, televisions sets and other electronics that emit blue light waves. This light throws off our natural rhythms and make it harder to sleep. Powering off the devices will also help you power down so you can rest.

2Eat early and wisely. If you are an evening snacker nibble on a few crackers and a slice of cheese, or another small protein/carb combo at least two hours before bed. Also lay off caffeine and alcohol in the evening hours.

3. Turn down the lights. When darkness falls, turn off (or at least dim) the lights in the house. Our bodies are sensitive to the natural day and night light patterns called circadian rhythms. When the sun rises, the light helps us wake up and become alert and our bodies secrete cortisol. When darkness falls, our bodies are infused with sleep-inducing melatonin. But here’s the rub: artificial lighting throws off those biological rhythms, suppresses the release of melatonin, and makes it hard to sleep. A habit of darkness at night and exposure to natural light during the day will help.

4. Release the niggling negative thoughts. After you’ve created a sleep-promoting environment, choose a relaxing activity like meditation, a hot bath, deep breathing exercises, journal writing or something else that allows you to release pent up emotional stress.

Sometimes, I practice mindfulness while brushing my teeth and washing my face as a way to release bad feelings and promote calm. No matter which you choose do use this time to quietly observe, without judgment, your thoughts and concerns and then release them. This will keep you from ruminating into the early hours.

5. Go to bed. Finally, after you’ve gone through your sleep routine, head to bed, turn off the light and lie down. Even if you don’t feel like sleep, it’s important that you develop the habit by lying down in bed and getting up at the same time, every single day. It may take a few days, but soon your body will catch on that it’s time to sleep when you lie down in bed.

In this hectic, heavily-booked culture we live in, a sleep schedule may seem like a cumbersome way to get rest. But anything that will help you sleep better will also improve your physical health, daytime productivity, mental resilience and even your relationships and could just be the simplest way to boost overall health and happiness.



A Lack of Sleep Can Shrink Your Brain

Not enough sleepThe fancy digital, pedometer-bracelet thingy around my wrist tells me I slept 6 hours and 25 minutes with four interruptions. As I struggle to awake, my body can tell you, that isn’t near enough.

An estimated 70-million Americans are sleep deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, many nights, I am among them.

Aside from the health risks associated with inadequate sleep, such as depression, inability to focus, difficulty planning, memory issues, and higher risk of physical illness, researchers at the University of Oxford now believe a lack of sleep or poor sleep quality may also contribute to brain shrinkage. As if that thought alone won’t keep you awake nights.

Sleep is essential to repair and restore the brain, says lead researcher Claire Sexton. If the reparation process is interrupted by a sleepless night, brain function can also be impacted. In her study, participants who experienced poor sleep, also showed brain shrinkage in the three lobes of the brain linked to decision-making, movement, and emotions, thoughts, and memory and learning, according to the study published in the journal Neurology.

It doesn’t take a study to remind us that sleep is essential, but getting a good night’s sleep begins long before bedtime.

Set a Routine

Parents of young children, (I know from experience) talk often and even obsess about how to get their kids to sleep. When my daughter was a toddler we put her on a sleep schedule.

Every night beginning an hour or so before bed, we followed the same routine, a ritual of sorts, to help her wind down and get primed for sleep. We turned off the television, dressed her in her pajamas, brushed her teeth, snuggled in the rocking chair, read books, and finally, after she was tucked in with lights out, we sang some little songs. By the time we left her room, she was, most nights, ready to rest.

The same approach can work for adults. When we prime our body to rest, we have a greater chance of getting some good shut-eye.

Start a couple of hours before bed by limiting what you eat and drink and turning off electronic devices – the blue light can throw off our sleep rhythms. For those who sleep with their Smartphone, this is nearly blasphemous. But, sleep impacts everything from how we learn, to how we feel, heal and perform. It is a key aspect of our health and success.  So try these, and the other tips I’ll offer in Wednesday’s post, as an experiment for three weeks. You might find that a sleep routine is all you need to feel rested.

Tips To Help You Sleep Better and Feel More Rested

I am so tired – literally – of hearing the Big Wigs talk about how important sleep is.

I GET that sleep is a good thing. I’ve even tried sleeping myself and agree – sleep has its benefits.  I was thinking that just last night when Sweet P woke up at 4 a.m., for the third time. (Whoever said kids start sleeping through the night at 6 months does not have children. She’s 4 for gawds sake)

In my limited experience with sleep I know it works well to curb fatigue, end impatience, focus thoughts, heal the body, boost productivity and minimize general crankiness.

I don’t need research to tell me that. What I need, Mr. Scientist,  is a babysitter and a hotel room. For one.

But, that is so not going to happen right now. Instead,  I’m trying some things  to boost my daytime energy levels and help me sleep better at night.

If you’re tired too, pay close attention:  a couple of these tips might give you a bit of a spark.

Eat well. This apply-to-anything life improvement tip really does make a difference. Healthy proteins, a handful of nuts, soy products, whole grains, fruits, vegies help balance the body during the day. Stay away from that big bowl of creamy, white pasta at lunch. Those carbs slow you down. And,  stay away from the sugary soda or sweet snack in the afternoon. It picks you up only to slam your body into the metaphorical ground hours later. A light snack –a  glass of tryptophan-loaded milk and a couple of wheat crackers before bed may help, but avoid the big meal close to bedtime.

Cut the stimulants. Drop the alcohol, nicotine, caffeine (good advice for sure, but I’m so not going to cut my morning coffee) these things are big sleep disruptors. Caffeine and nicotine stay in your body for about 14 hours and at times and both cause you to wake more frequently at night. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but once metabolized it can cause night sweats, headaches, vivid, disruptive dreams or awakening.

Take a power nap. Keep it to 20 minutes and not too close to the evening hours – best time is about 8 hours after you wake up. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, you may want to avoid naps altogether. But if you’re just not getting enough sleep a little teeny, tiny nap can be the antidote to a mid-afternoon slump.

Get outside. Commune with nature. Go for a lunchtime walk in the park, sit out on a bench, have a picnic. Nature is a natural stress reliever – and stress is a major cause of fatigue. Minimize stress, minimize sleepiness.

Meditate. I know, I know. I’ve said it already. But, once you establish the practice – after you get through the weeks where you might fall asleep during a session — meditation is actually energizing.

Those are a few things you can do, below are the things the Big Wigs say you should avoid. Course I do every one of them, but these are good practices — in theory.

Don’t do anything other than sleep and you- know-what in the bed.  I, however, like a little reading before I turn off the light.

Don’t let the cat or other animals on the bed. Do ya hear Boo Boo? Stay away.

Don’t have “emotional conversations before bed.” Since the bed is often the only place I can successfully trap my husband for an in-depth conversation (he’s just plain too worn out to move away from me at this point) I’ve been known to launch into a little late-night talk like:  “How do you feel about our relationship” or “Have you thought about how to solve the World’s hunger crisis?”

For SOME reason he gets annoyed at these kind of pre-sleep questions. On occasion he’ll become snappish, which can only then lead to a discussion about his snappishness. Sleep is slow to come on these nights.

In this case, avoiding deep discussions at bedtime makes sense and perhaps a couple of these other tips will help you sleep better and feel more rested so you aren’t compelled to run away from home. A few have worked for me, after all, I’m still here.

Let me know what works for you. What helps you sleep better or feel more rested during the day?

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