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So, You Want to Reduce Stress
Already know all there is about stress reduction? Just need some suggestions to make it more fun? Then click the link below:
OK, Show Me The Fun!
There are lots of different stress reduction techniques, but perhaps one of the most important ways to reduce stress is to make sure to get enough SLEEP. It is not only important for optimal health, but for weight loss! So let's address this issue here.
If you need to reduce stress BEFORE you can sleep very well, let us know by e-mailing us. We'll try to help with your particular stressful situations. Meanwhile, read on for the benefits of sleep and for some tips for going to sleep more easily.
Why make sleep a priority?
People with chronic sleep deprivation tend to have higher blood pressure, higher resting pulse rate, more infection with contagious illnesses, etc. Immune function and many other functions do not work at their optimum with insufficient sleep!
In fact, a new study links sleep quality and quantity to both better physical health and better mental health (1*).
*Numbers in parentheses refer to articles listed on our References page.
Furthermore, recent studies have shown that those who sleep the least tend to have problems controlling their weight. There may be an attempt by our poor overworked bodies to keep our energy levels up by providing caloric energy from food. Obviously, however, if you are overweight, this is self-defeating in the long run, particularly since heartburn and apnea, both of which may interrupt sleep or result in poor sleep quality, are far more common in the overweight. So sleep!
***But read our Web pages first, of course!***
America has a sleep debt, and many other nations are following suit as we become a 24/7 world. And as this becomes more common, the average weight in America and in other nations is increasing! Linked? Possibly. So make sleep a priority.
YOU WANT ME TO EAT RIGHT, EXERCISE AND STILL FIND TIME TO SLEEP MORE?!?
It may seem like living a wellness lifestyle requires a tremendous investment of time. However, as we discussed on our Activity pages, there are activities that do not require any additional investment of time. Furthermore, if you get near-daily sustained aerobic activity, you will find that you either do not sleep as long naturally, or you sleep more deeply and feel more rested after your usual number of hours. So these two balance each other at least somewhat. If you are building muscle, you may find you need a little more sleep at first, but then your sleep needs will probably taper off.
The trick to sleeping soundly is what is called "good sleep hygiene":
Bring Your Body from Warm to Cool:
The body should naturally cool down just prior to sleep. You can help this along by warming your body shortly before bed, so that it cools while you are lying down. Try taking a warm bath or shower before going to bed, or walking or some other low-key activity a few hours before bed, or drinking a hot drink such as decaffeinated green tea. That way you start off warm, and as you cool off, you will naturally feel sleepier. If you need help cooling off, keep your bedroom temperature cooler at night, run a box fan, use covers sparingly.
Try Not to Ruminate at Night:
Develop a nightly routine that calms you. TRY to stop thinking about things that bother you. This can be difficult, since as soon as we stop all our other activities and inputs, we tend to start thinking about things we've been avoiding all day. You can keep a notebook & pen by your bed, write down anything important that you think about prior to falling asleep, then let it go until morning. You won't forget, since you wrote it down. Or get into the habit of visualizing a vacation scene, as vividly as possible. Give your brain something to do besides worrying over your problems!
If cognitive tricks don't work for you, you can try calming herbs. Chamomile and lavender are well known for this. Find bath products with the scent, or candles, although of course don't light them once you lie down (if they help you fall asleep, they may be left burning all night!). Or try a potpourri. You can find the essential oil and apply a little to a pillow or something else near your head, but be sure you're not allergic to the scents first.
There are several habits you can adopt to decrease risk of heartburn:
(1) Avoid large meals before bed! The pressure can push open the sphincter leading from the stomach up into the esophagus.
(2) Avoid mint and spices shortly before bed. Also avoid alcohol and caffeine. All these tend to relax the sphincter between your stomach and your esophagus, which can contribute to acid reflux.
(3) Raise your head and shoulders either with some extra pillows, or by placing boards or bricks under your bed, to raise the head of the bed a bit.
If heartburn still keeps you awake, please check with your doctor to make sure it isn't anything more serious, and to receive advice that will work best for your situation. Your doctor will probably recommend that you try over-the-counter products such as Tagamet and Tums. These will decrease stomach acidity so if you do get reflux, it won't burn. Tums is just calcium, can even be used as a supplement, so it is relatively harmless. If OTC products don't work for you, your doctor can prescribe a variety of prescription medications for you to try. One or a combination of these is very likely to work for you. Surgery can also be performed to eliminate this problem, if conservative measures and medications don't work.
Does Diet Make a Difference?:
Yes, you can also help yourself go to sleep by avoiding a lot of protein in the evening, instead opting for a higher-carbohydrate meal. This increases the level of calming serotonin that influences the brain. (On the other hand, protein in the morning will help you wake up.) Warm milk really does work, also -- in addition to the milk sugar, which is a carbohydrate, one of the amino acids present in a fairly high amount in milk is tryptophan, which contributes to a calming effect. Limit the size of the last meal or snack you eat before bed; too much food shortly before bedtime can contribute to acid reflux. But eat a little something shortly before bed, or hunger may keep you from sleeping soundly.
What About Exercise?:
Keeping up a reasonably high physical activity level throughout the day will help you sleep more soundly and more efficiently, so this is another good reason to get regular aerobic physical activity. However, too much vigorous exercise shortly before bed can keep you from falling asleep; instead, you'll feel revved up and ready to go! So schedule your more vigorous workouts earlier in the day. After supper, just do winding down type activities. This varies somewhat with the individual, but if you have trouble falling asleep, consider scheduling some of your more vigorous activities earlier in the day to see if it makes a difference.
If you still have trouble, please consider a Sleep Clinic. They can watch you as you sleep, pinpointing problems such as sleep apnea, and helping you with a comprehensive plan for better sleep. If you're just too busy, please rethink your priorities. The more you think you don't have time to get enough sleep, the more you probably need to catch up! Studies have shown that productivity increases as people catch up on their sleep, so if you won't do it for health reasons, think how much better you will be at your job if you're well rested!
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to e-mail us or call us in Lexington, Kentucky at (859) 269-1500.
MAKING STRESS REDUCTION FUN
**Suggestions From Us, Our Clients and Others**
They say laughter is the best medicine, so we get a group together every Friday night to watch the stand-up comics on late night TV. When they're not particularly funny, we grade them and make our own jokes about them; but when they are hilarious, we get to share the experience! We also have food and drink of the soothing variety, since most of us go home and to sleep shortly afterward. We alternate hosts, so nobody has too much to do.
We have a Book Club for self-help books! We each take turns reading and distilling out the best of the suggestions, then get together to discuss the advice and try the exercises. With the mutual support, the advice is easier to take, and with the group effort, we're more likely to actually DO some of the exercises, instead of just reading about them!
My husband and I make a date at least once a week, where we turn on the stereo and dance. The kids are not allowed, but they don't want to listen to our kinds of music anyway. We usually do this while they're doing homework. It's a great way to be silly, get back in touch with each other, and unwind after a long day!
Do you have suggestions for enjoying stress reduction, or favorite stress reduction techniques you want to share? Please e-mail us and let us know!
This page was last updated on 04/23/03.