Discovering methods to improve a night’s sleep, as well as those sumptuous weekend naps is what you might call a personal hobby. On the surface, this might sounds like a fairly frivolous pastime, but according to most research on the subject, the proper amount of sleep is one of the greatest tools in your health and wellness arsenal. Too little or even too much can contribute to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other health problems. Also, if Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, French Women for All Seasons, and French Women Don’t Get Facelifts: The Secret of Aging with Style and Attitude, has taught us anything, sleep is a key element in any effective beauty routine (Sidenote: I’m also a fan of her book, Women, Work, & the Art of Savoir Faire. After all, she was the president and CEO of Clicquot, Inc., [LVMH] — makers of one of the finest and most spectacular tasting French Champagnes — so she knows a thing or two about success in the workplace).
Sleep, I dare say it, is quite possible the real fountain of youth.
Case-in-point, according to the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine website, “many of the major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly, or in some cases only, during sleep.” This is known as the Restorative Theory, which states that sleep allows our body to repair and rejuvenate itself. If you’ve been paying attention to the skin care experts, it’s recommend to apply your most powerful products at night, allowing those retinoids, vitamins and other anti-aging dynamos to better penetrate when tissues and cells are repairing, rather than out and about, fighting free radicals and other pollutants. This theory also maintains that sleep is an opportunity for the brain to clear adenosine (a by-product of cell activities, which is thought to lead to the perception of being tired). Speaking of the brain, the Brain Plasticity Theory, according to the website, is the most recent theory. It suggests that “sleep is correlated to changes in the structure and organization of the brain,” and that sleep deprivation can have an effect “on people’s ability to learn and perform a variety of tasks.”
Sleep, dare I say it, is quite possibly one of the keys to great wisdom.
Now that you know sleep makes you beautiful, healthy and smart, let’s talk about the perfect amount and how to achieve it. First, it seems the old eight hours a night edict is out the window. Set your sights on seven hours, which in recent studies seems to be the sweet (dreams) spot. The National Sleep Foundation suggests it probably varies a bit from person to person however, so experiment and tweak that number as needed. Second, how do you get that blissful seven hours? Below you’ll find my tried-and-true steps to the best night’s sleep. That said, I realize for those with very young children, this might be a pipedream and for that, I apologize. Bookmark this for when the little ones start sleeping through the night and may the force be with you. Meanwhile, this is for everyone else:
The perfect night’s sleep
1. Exercise regularly: Physical activity gets your heart pumping, which contributes to increased metabolism, energy and vitality. It stands to reason also that it helps you sleep, because if you are inactive and in effect resting all day, you probably won’t sleep very well at night. That’s my personal theory and studies have shown mixed results. That said, exercise does affect body temperature and the latter is connected to sleep. Once again, a few words from the National Sleep Foundation, “Sleep experts recommend exercising at least three hours before bedtime, and the best time is usually late afternoon. Exercising at this time is beneficial because body temperature is related to sleep. Body temperatures rise during exercise and take as long as six hours to begin to drop. Because cooler body temperatures are associated with sleep onset, it’s important to allow the body time to cool off before sleep.”
2. Watch your eating habits: Obesity can cause sleep apnea, which inhibits sleep. Also, people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to eat more. It’s a vicious cycle. The research of Dr. Eve Van Cauter — University of Chicago Professor of Medicine and Principal Investigator of the Program Project (which focuses on age related changed in circadian rhythms) shows that “people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have bigger appetites due to the fact that their leptin levels (leptin is an appetite regulating hormone) fall, promoting appetite increase,” (National Sleep Foundation). Also, be mindful of your caffeine intake. My cutoff for coffee for example is around 4 to 5 p.m., and I usually limit myself to two or three coffee beverages per day.
3. Take it easy on the booze: While one or two glasses of wine or cocktails can relax you enough for a restful and rejuvenating sleep, more than that (New Orleans, specifically Bourbon Street, I’m talking to you) interrupts the rapid eye movement sleep stage, which is the most restorative. Remember the adage: Moderation in all things, including moderation.
4. Create an oasis: Your sleep chamber should be a place of retreat and comfort. Get the best, softest linens and the most comfortable mattress your budget will allow; paint the room a soothing blue or another neutral soft color; keep clutter and decoration to a minimum; and regulate the temperature at a consistent 60 to 67 degrees (the experts recommend this as the optimal temperature range). If your room is bright, like mine, you may want to invest in a sleep mask. I use a Bucky 40-Blinks Ultralight Sleep Mask, $12.95. Combat noise with a fan or a white noise generating machine. Finally, put a drop of lavender essential oil on your pillow. Lavender has a sedating effect and can relax certain muscles.
5. Keep a routine bedtime and a bedtime routine: We are creatures of habit and if each night we power down the electronics, the lights and the chitchat at the same time, our bodies will follow suit.
6. Take a long, hot soak in Epsom Salts: Here’s my recipe for creating a perfect bath that’ll have you relaxed and ready to catch those Zs.
7. Try an herbal concoction: (No, that kind isn’t yet legal in the Big Easy) Drink a cup of steaming, calming herbal tea. Chamomile is a relaxing variety. Add a little honey to taste and sip yourself to slumber.
8. Prepare for tomorrow: Write down anything you want to remember to do the next day, so that you aren’t thinking about it once you lay down to sleep.
9. Meditate or do a few stretches: Clear your mind and relax your muscles. Anxiety is a contributing factor to sleep loss and recent studies suggest that mindfulness meditation “can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression and pain.”
10. Reserve the bedroom for only two things: The rule in our household for more than 15 years has been no TV in the bedroom. It’s a place for sleep and romance. Soft music and maybe a little light reading are on the approved list, but other than that, no exceptions. Find a rule that works for you and stick with it.
After reading all of this, you are probably feeling a little tired. I recommend a good night’s sleep.