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Sleep Yourself Healthy
By : Jayson Kroner

It's no secret that a full night of uninterrupted slumber can make things much easier for us the following day. Because after all, when we sleep well, we're much more inclined to live well. Healthy sleep finds us more alert, more refreshed, more productive and most certainly more responsive. Getting the rest we need keeps our eyes bright and our energy levels high. Sadly, getting a good night's sleep isn't always as easy as it sounds.

We're often quick to forget that while we sleep, there's a lot going on. As we slip into our nightly nocturne, our body continues on as if it were business as usual. The cardiovascular system pumps and circulates the blood we need to live. The brain keeps busy by sending millions of neurotransmissions every second. The metabolic system continue to convert calories into the energy that makes this never-ending series of biological processes possible.

But the benefits of a good night's sleep extend far beyond how well we're able to function the following day. Because the simple truth is that the quality of our days is often heavily influenced by the quality of our nights. I'll explain.

Sleep and healthy hearts

A study conducted at the University of British Columbia suggests that people who sleep less than 5 hours per night are 39% more likely to develop heart disease than those who register a full seven to eight hours per night. Moreover, depriving the body of quality Z's can raise blood pressure and may also contribute to the formation of varicose veins as well.

Sleep and metabolism

Before hastily blaming our bathroom scales for unexplained weight gain, it's important to make sure that we're spending enough time lost in peaceful dreams. Researchers at the University of Chicago have determined that sleep deprivation (even in the most modest amounts) can interfere with how efficiently the our body regulates the release of cortisol. This stress-related hormone is produced by the adrenal gland, and plays a significant role in hunger, stress and appetite. What's worse, excessive cortisol levels can interfere with the production of serotonin. As a result, we may feel depressed and hungry - even in situations when we've eaten to the point of being full.

Sleep is good for the mind

Believe it or not, that groggy feeling you experience after a night of tossing and turning all night has a physiological explanation. Somewhere between the time our head hits the pillow to the time we hurl blunt objects at our alarm clocks, our brain's third shift goes to work. Their job, in a nut, is to repair damaged cells, replenish neurotransmitters, restore our immune system and recharge us for the following day. Not getting the sleep you need prevents these absolutely imperative processes from taking place. This can ultimately leaves you dazed, down, and uninspired.

Instinctively, millions of people turn to OTC sleep aids and alcohol to quickly eliminate the problem. Not only does this discourage one's ability to establish natural sleeping patters, it can also leave you feeling more tired and sluggish throughout the day. And while there's no magic formula to winning the insomnia battle, there are alternatives. Here are a few of the best ways to ensure a night a peaceful dreams.

Cut your caffeine intake

What most people don't realize is that caffeine can remain active in your system from 6 to 12 hours. If you're planning on a 10:00 PM lights-out, get in the habit of avoiding coffee and other caffeinated beverages after lunch. If you find yourself in need of extra energy throughout the day, there are many supplements that can have positive impact on metabolism and cellular energy production. L-Carnitine, CoQ10, CLA, and Omega-3 essential fatty acids are among the very best.

Don't sleep too much during the day

Yes, a short occasional 15 minute power nap can leave you feeling awake and refreshed, but use discretion when taking lengthy naps day after day. Over time, they may begin to interfere with your normal biological rhythm, and could make it difficult to fall asleep when your body needs it most. If you still find yourself exhausted during the day, in light of getting the 7-8 hours that you need every night, take the time to honestly examine the integrity of your diet. If the majority of what you consume is being handed to you through a window, try to get in the habit of eating more fresh foods, and fewer processed meals.


This natural hormone is manufactured by the pineal gland, and serves as the body's biological alarm clock. Natural production piques during the teenage years, but gradually declines as we age. Supplementing melatonin has become increasingly popular and is considered quite safe when taken as recommended A number of quality melatonin products are at your disposal, ranging from 1 mg times release formulas that work gradually, to 3 mg formulas for greater effectiveness.

Don't eat heavy meals before bed

Eating a large meal before going to sleep stimulates metabolism, and just like every other process in the human body, metabolism requires energy. Instead, prepare a small snack or protein shake. Both can help curb common hunger pangs throughout the night, while keeping you nourished in the process. Calcium caseinate powder is one of the best, as it digests slowly, making it possible to utilize more amino acids and nutrients over a longer period of time.

Use aromatherapy

Essential oils such as Lavender, Chamomile, Sandalwood, Oregano and others have calming properties that can help induce peaceful sleep. There are a number of ways to incorporate essential oils into your sleep routine, though the most popular are through mist and diffusion. Adding a few drops to a warm nighttime bath is also popular. As a person who's had my fair share of sleepless nights, I've found success by adding a few drops of Lavender to my pillows two to three times a week. It's surprising effective.

Try sedative herbs

Sedative herbs and extracts such as valerian, kava, skullcap and passionflower are safe, natural, and have been successful in helping many find rest without resorting to potentially habit forming OTC sleep aids, prescription medications and alcohol.

Develop a sleep ritual

Lack of preparation is honestly one of the most common pre-sleep mistakes a person can make. Trying to accomplish everything on our daily to-do list can leave us scrambling around at hours that should be spent preparing mind and body for slumber. And while there's no definitive formula that defines a good "nighttime" ritual, the most important things to consider are the amount of noise, light and stress you're exposed to.

Dim the lights

Or turn them off completely. This will remind your body that the time has come to start releasing the melatonin you'll need to sleep deep through the night. If you watch television prior to retiring, do so at a low volume and try to avoid anything emotionally harsh or overly violent. Subjecting yourself to such can inspire a level of excitability that may make it difficult to doze off. Regardless of the specifics, make sure that the last 10-20 minutes of your night account for the most peaceful and relaxing 10-20 minutes of your entire day. It will help you greatly in both the short and long scope of things.

About prescription sleep aids

In just the past few years, a number of prescription sleep aids have made their way on to the scene. These medications are classified as hypnotic sedatives, and may be extremely habit forming. Even more concerning, they carry a list of potential side effects that range from hallucinations and temporary amnesia, to severe emotional instability and night terrors. I have heard dozens of horror stories from individuals who took prescription sleep aids to counter very mild sleep issues. Many are now helplessly addicted, sleep less than they originally did and have lost close friends on account of the unpredictable and often outrageous behavioral side effects. I don't recommend going this route, but if you must resort to prescriptions, use absolute caution in doing so. It's important to make absolutely sure that your physician understands your unique situation, as well as the nature of the drugs they are prescribing.

Jayson Kroner is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, freelance health and fitness journalist and co-author of the book 7-Syndrom Healing. He makes his home in Oak Park, IL and can be reached via e-mail at