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Don't Neglect the Importance of Sleep

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If you've made it to a place in your life that you're reading this newsletter, congratulations! Odds are, you've made a huge commitment to fitness and drastically changed your life. You exercise almost every day and eat a balanced, healthy diet. Hopefully, you've never felt better. But with all that in mind, I have one question for you.

How are ya sleepin'?

If you're like most Americans, probably not so well. Although the average adult should get at least 8 hours of sleep each night, the National Sleep Foundation's 2003 Sleep in America Poll indicated that a pithy 27% of Americans ages 18 to 54 sleep that amount or more.

In relation to exercise, it even becomes more important. Your body does most of its repair and growth while sleeping. In fact, not sleeping will cause overtraining quicker than actually training too much does.

And, even if you do want to sleep, it can be tough. According to the National Institute of Health, more than 70 million Americans will, at some point, experience insomnia. It's an ugly little problem that spreads into your daylight hours, creating fatigue, decreased concentration, achy muscles and an overall rotten emotional state. Eventually, it can even lead to depression.

But there are things you can do -- lots of things, in fact -- to keep this from happening to you.

Exercise
Simply put, exercise poops you out! In 1997, The Journal of the American Medical Association did a study on the impact of exercise on older adults with moderate sleep-related complaints. They split 43 healthy men and women between the ages of 50 and 76 into two groups. One group exercised moderately, meaning 30 to 40 minute aerobics classes four times a week, for 16 weeks. The other group made no changes to their lifestyles. By the end of the study, the exercisers reported more improvement in their quality of sleep than the control group.

Of course, it's best not to do this before bed. As we'll discuss later, the time before sleep should be all about repose. So limit late night workouts to stretching and relaxation exercises.

Diet
First, the 'do nots.' In addition to impeding weight loss, heavy meals before bedtime hinder sleep, largely because they make you uncomfortable. Furthermore, sleeping shortly after eating tomato products, spicy foods or other heartburn-inducing grub is a no-no. The act of lying down exacerbates heartburn that, in turn, makes it tough to fall asleep and stay asleep.

You also want to avoid caffeine and other stimulants before bed because, well, they're stimulants. Alcohol, although a depressant, is also a good thing to pass by. It may help you drift off, but it tends to increase the amount of times you wake up in the night

Now the dos.' If you're having a tough time sleeping, it may be due to low blood sugar. Your best bet here is a light snack of complex carbs or turkey, both which increase your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical in your brain that both makes you happy and promotes sleep.

But before you go packing to the fridge, remember, fat burning is something your body does very well when sleeping -- and that's totally inhibited by food in your tummy. So keep fats and sugars out of that snack and keep it small -- just enough to get you through the night.

Habits
Anyone who has a dog knows of their freakish inner clocks. They know when it's time to eat, to sleep and to play to the minute. It's part of what are called circadian rhythms, daily cyclical patterns in behavior. We're not so far away on the evolutionary chain -- we possess a little bit of that internal Timex too.

If you're having trouble sleeping, set a schedule for yourself. Up until just a few generations ago, mankind woke with the sun and slept with the moon. It was only the invention of the light bulb that ruined that. So, if you can, try to get back to that rhythm. When it gets dark, sleep. When it gets light, wake up.

For most of us, that can be a tough call, so instead, just get some kind of rhythm going. Make sure you sleep in a calm, dark room to promote the sensation of night. When it comes to napping, limit them so they don't effect bedtime. The occasional three-hour siesta in front of the television will only throw off your clock.

In fact, it's not a bad idea to avoid the couch entirely for sleeping. Conversely, make sure your bed is used for nothing but sleep and sex. When you climb in the sack at night, give yourself 25 minutes to doze off. If it doesn't happen, get up and read a book or something else relaxing. By doing this, you decrease the associate your bed has with sleepless, anxious tossing and turning. This may be a bit tough at first. You'll probably make your way through a few novels and feel like a zombie at first, but eventually, your bed will become about nothing but peaceful rest and you'll find yourself drifting off before the head hits the pillow.

Finally, give yourself permission to sleep. I know, I know, we all have so much work to do, but sleep is every bit as important as eating or breathing and you find time for them, don't you?

It's best to avoid exercise or stress six hours before bed, but if you can't do that, at least try for three hours. For those three hours, relax, read, listen to music, have a nice walk, look at your garden. Allow yourself to transition into rest. If it helps, turn this into ritual -- something that afore-mentioned inner clock might dig.

It's a lot of advice and some of it might not sit with you quite right. But, as we all know, sometimes, radical change is necessary. As is the case with everything here at Beachbody, it's all about common sense. So, before you pass this advice up, it might be a good idea to sleep on it.


Quick Tip: Sleep Aids
By Steve Edwards

There are many sleep aids on the market, from drugs to teas. Unfortunately, most of the major medications have some type of side effect for a high percentage of the population. Other popular "natural" remedies are often effective. Two of the most popular are Melatonin and GABA. The former is a hormone releaser that does, occasionally, cause a groggy state but is thought to be more-or-less safe. The latter is a neuraltransmitter and should be taken with care only. Valerian root extract and herbal teas are the most innocuous from a safety standpoint. Since the ability to fall asleep is often a mental state, 15 minutes spent relaxing with a cup of warm tea might be all you need to take the edge off.

My favorite bedtime relaxer is chamomile tea with valerian root. While I don't find valerian root extract particularly effective on its own, coupled with the calming ritual of a cup of chamomile tea is the perfect pre-sleep ritual in all but the most anxious of circumstances. If making a cocktail is too much work at this time of night, Celestial Seasonings packages the two together. Look for Sleepytime tea with valerian.

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