Is a Sleep Disorder Undermining Your Healthy Habits?

By Tiffany Lester, MD for Parsley Health

Many Americans are suffering from a sleep disorder that will go undiagnosed.

How can you tell if it’s really a problem?

You wake up after a full 8 hours of sleep. You hit the snooze button. Once, maybe twice. Then you drag yourself out of bed searching for the nearest source of caffeine. Sound familiar?

RELATED: Having trouble sleeping? Talk to a free health expert today to find out how Parsley Health can help you get a better night of rest.

Sleeping through the night is not a guarantee to wake up refreshed and alert. Sleep is about quality, not quantity. Quality sleep means you cycle through all 4 stages at least 5 times before awakening in the morning. Each stage allows you to clear out the cobwebs from the day and detox without any distractions.

For most of us, losing just one night of sleep makes us irritable, craving carbs, and gives us brain fog. It also affects us on a much deeper level when the problem becomes chronic. Research says that after just three nights of sleeping 4-5 hours, our insulin sensitivity (the hormone that controls our blood sugar levels) is lowered making us less responsive to big upswings in glucose when we eat carbs. This is the exact same process that leads to diabetes. A sleep disorder and sleep deprivation basically throws your body into a pre-diabetic state which can lead to unwanted weight gain.

We have all had a sleepless night here and there. It’s normal to wake up not feeling 100%. However, this should be the exception not the rule. If you are consistently waking up feeling exhausted, having a comprehensive evaluation by one of our highly trained Parsley Health doctors is essential to determine the root cause of your sleepless nights to try to figure out if you might be suffering from a sleep disorder.

Some common reasons you may not be sleeping soundly include the following:

Your cortisol is spiking at night. Cortisol is a major factor in our stress response. Normally it should start to rise about 3 AM and peak around 6 or 7 am. Then it slowly declines throughout the day and is low at night so you can sleep soundly. If your cortisol is elevated at bedtime, you are likely tossing and turning the entire night. This is a common sleep disorder that often goes undiagnosed. Tip: Meditating for at 20 minutes at night can help switch on your parasympathetic nervous system allowing your body to fully relax for a peaceful slumber. If this doesn’t help you likely need in-depth testing by one of our Parsley Health doctors.

You have a mineral deficiency. Most of us live these crazy, stressful lives and spend 8-10 hours a day sitting and/or slouching over a laptop. This may lead to tight neck muscles and hip flexors. Couple this with a deficiency in relaxing minerals like magnesium and it’s a recipe for disaster. Rubbing a quality magnesium oil into your muscles before bed will help your muscles and mind relax into a peaceful slumber.

You are exercising after 8 pm. Exercise is key to maintain a healthy weight and sound mind. However timing is everything. For a restful sleep, the ideal time to work out is in the morning. If that’s not possible, try to workout before 8 pm so that you don’t disrupt your natural circadian rhythm. Adding in a warm bath or hot shower before bed will raise your body temperature which is naturally followed by a drop. This is another way to prepare our bodies for sleep given that research has shown cooler temperatures are better for a good night’s rest.

You have a “Netflix and chill” addiction. The blue light that emits from our devices lowers melatonin, the master sleep hormone. This tells our brain it’s ok to watch just one more episode of Chef’s Table knowing that we have to wake up in 5 hours. Do yourself a favor. Turn off all your devices at least one hour before going to bed so you have adequate melatonin to fall asleep and stay asleep.

The subsequent problem is that people try to replace the lost melatonin with a supplement. This doesn’t work for everyone.

I hear from patients all the time who have tried melatonin to help with their sleep issues and ended up feeling even worse than they do when they can’t get enough sleep. I am constantly being asked How much melatonin should I take to sleep? Why isn’t melatonin helping me sleep?

There are plenty of reasons why melatonin might not be working for them, but one of the most common is that they could be taking it wrong.

It’s helpful to first understand a little about what melatonin is and what it does.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland—a pea-sized gland in the middle of our brain. Its purpose is to regulate our circadian rhythm to fall in line with the natural dark/light cycles of the sun. When the sun goes down, our pineal gland gets turned on by the suprachiasmatic nucleus which is located in the hypothalamus. Then melatonin levels rise quickly to make you sleepy.

However, if you are not in a dimly lit environment, the brain is tricked into thinking it is still daytime.That’s why you don’t get sleepy when you’re on your tablet or watching TV. The blue light emitted from electronic devices suppresses our natural production of melatonin. So even if we know we are tired and need to go to sleep, our brain is getting the opposite message.

Some people may be wary of trying melatonin due to side effects. This usually occurs because the dosage is too high.

Most people overdo it with the melatonin and then claim it doesn’t work. You only need tiny doses to support your natural sleep cycle. As little as 1-3 mg about an hour before you go to bed can boost your melatonin by 20 times. If melatonin still doesn’t work for you, it’s likely your sleep problems have other causes and need further workup by one of our Parsley Health doctors. The short answer is: Try to take less, and then call your doctor.

This piece was originally published on Parsley Health. Parsley Health is a groundbreaking medical practice of highly trained doctors and health coaches in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Parsley Health takes a smarter, whole approach to helping you live a healthy life. You deserve a better doctor. Sign up here to speak to a health expert to figure out how Parsley Health can help you achieve your goals today.

6 Tips for Better Sleep

Aside from food (and sex perhaps) what’s our favorite topic?

Sleep!

Only 30% of Americans reported their sleep as being “very good” or “excellent”, which leaves the vast majority of Americans surveyed in desperate need of increasing the amount and quality of their sleep.

So let’s flip the mattress and improve your sleep. Not only will this make you feel better overall by boosting energy, but you’ll be happier, reach your weight loss goals faster, and simply enjoy life more.

Those who are lacking the 7-8 recommended hours of sleep every night are 23% more likely to be obese compared to those who get those crucial zzz’s.

When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your hunger hormone (ghrelin) increases, your satisfaction hormone (leptin) decreases, and your stress hormone (cortisol) increases.

This is a formula for disaster.

It’s almost a guarantee that you’re going to crave worse foods the day after a poor night’s sleep, and you’ll likely retain weight in the worst way – your midsection.

I’m giving you six tips to incorporate into your life NOW to help increase the quality of your sleep. Even if you can’t make the change to do all six, try at least a couple of them.

Watch the difference it makes in your sleep, how you feel the next day, and in your overall health.

6 Tips for Better Sleep

 

How to Be Healthy On a 3 Day Weekend

Three day weekends. They’re all about your favorite F words: friends, family, food, and fun. You know the drill.

But it’s amazing how an extra 24 hours makes it so easy to overdo everything and turn what could’ve been a chance to press the reset button on your life into a hangover-filled, sleep-deprived, food-coma weekend.

 

I always talk to my clients about changing their mindset about what weekends mean, especially those clients who tend to eat well all week long and then go bonkers come Friday night, undoing all the “good” work they did since Monday.

 

This weekend, break the cycle. Flip the switch. Redefine what a weekend means. Learn how to be even healthier during a time you normally reserve for your most unhealthy habits.

 

Instead of thinking it’s time to go “off” your diet, skip your workout, and binge watch Netflix, use this 72 hour break to be kind to your body. Approach this weekend as a kickstart to good health and a little more happiness.

 

Today I’m teaching you how to be healthy on a 3 day weekend, and I’m not even gonna talk about food.

 

How to Be Healthy On a 3 Day Weekend

 

 

Sleep Deep: Allowing yourself to become sleep deprived can leave you feeling lethargic, dull, cloudy, and can even worsen your metabolism and interfere with proper decision making. I want you to tuck yourself in a little bit earlier and aim for a minimum of 7 hours with the Sandman, sans electronics! Winding down before bed is important for setting yourself up for a good night of sleep. Chamomile tea, a little lavender oil, some deep breaths can go a long way. Figure out a routine you can stick with even if just on the weekend, and treat your body to some much needed downtime.

 

Love More: While I have you thinking about your time between the sheets, go ahead and stimulate the release of those feel good hormones by creating a little extra time to connect. Intimacy and sex flood the body with oxytocin, and I’ve never heard anybody say they are getting too much oxytocin in their, er, diet. And did you know that research shows oxytocin lowers stress, which also helps lower your weight? Wham bam thank you ma’am. Sometimes a busy schedule can leave the importance of intimacy on the back burner, so use the extra time this weekend to light that fire again.

 

Nurture Yourself: Sometimes being passionate in our lives is easier when we take a moment to love ourselves a little more. There are endless benefits to feeling your best, and most of them happen on their own. Your posture will straighten, your face will soften and brighten, you’ll naturally be exuding the best version of yourself. Think about what makes you feel pampered and do it. It might be a massage after work or a mani pedi tomorrow with your morning coffee or even just taking time to use that delicious moisturizer you normally skip after a shower because you’re running out the door. Whatever it is, remember that it’s not selfish to use time for yourself.

 

I hope this long weekend you enjoy a lot of your favorite f words, and that you do it in a way that is kind to yourself. Learning how to be healthy doesn’t have to start on a Monday. It can start on a Friday and continue all weekend long.

 

 

Can’t Sleep? 4 Bulletproof Tools to Kick Insomnia

Can’t sleep? Tossing and turning making for some very restless nights?

Losing precious hours of sleep can make even the most bright-eyed and bushy-tailed of us feel groggy, unfocused and just flat out cranky the next day.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems at least a few nights a week, and greater than 40 percent of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few days each month.

If none of that describes you, we’re all jealous.

For the rest of us, we need to be proactive to get ahead on some zzz’s.

Science tells us that just like there are healthy foods that help you feel energized, boost your immune system and have glowing skin, there are also foods that help you sleep. But if you’ve got that covered, then I’ve got four non food tips for when you can’t sleep, too.

Can’t Sleep? 4 Bulletproof Tools to Kick Insomnia

Sleep (with the right) light: It’s time to stop caring what you look like when you’re asleep, peops. A sleep mask can go a long way by creating an environment of complete darkness. I’ve been accused of keeping it too bright in the bedroom, so take it from me, I know this change works.

If the whole mask thing freaks you out or you’re more high tech than that you may want to try one of my favorite gadgets by Withings. This sleek alarm clock lights up your room in just the right way to help promote the secretion of sleep hormones! Yep, you read that right.

Snooze without sounds: If the sound of cicadas is driving you crazy instead of helping you drift off to sleep, take control of your eardrums and invest in a white noise machine. On the go? Digital noise works, too. In fact, your white noise app just may take Instagram’s spot on your iphone. It’s also useful for those times when you find your hotel room is by the ice machine.

Smell your way to sleep: Aromatherapy is one my favorite ways to help with relaxation and sleep. Try a dab of lavender on your pillow or rub into your temples. One study even showed essential oils like lavender cause a similar reaction on specific neuroreceptors as anti-anxiety medications. Lavender has long been associated with reducing anxiety and decreasing insomnia. Have you heard of Lavender and chill? It’s like Netflix and chill without the Netflix.

Stress it out: Got things on the mind? I feel your pain, big time. I usually go to bed with just about 1,000 things on my mind nightly. A good way to put the buzzing in your head to rest is to write it down. Yes, put pen to paper and write down the few things you’re stressing about. You can get back to them in the morning but they’ll be less likely to take your zzz’s when you’ve released them for the evening. Can’t sleep just became can’t stay awake.

Say goodbye to blinking cell phones, digital clocks, or faulty window shades. It’s time to make your dreams come true and get the rest that you deserve.

Now go buy yourself some new fave pjs – seriously, if fun workout gear motivates you to get to the gym, then fun jammies should motivate you to get to bed – and challenge yourself to get a solid 8 hours tonight.

 

3 Essential Oils for Sleep

You can admit it. There’s nothing better than a delicious night’s sleep, right? I mean, how great do you feel when you wake up actually feeling refreshed, recharged, and ready to take on the day?

Now admit this – you’ve forgotten what that truly feels like, because it feels like you haven’t gotten a delicious night’s sleep since you wore footed jammies.

I want to help you get your much needed zzz’s.

It’s time to consider some essential oils for better sleep, and you came to the right place.

One of the 8 Pillars of Nutritious Life (and something I talk up all the time) is the importance of sleeping deep.  Resting at the end of the day and waking up in the morning would seems like it should be easy, but we know that that just isn’t the case for so many of us.

Don’t be frustrated if sleep doesn’t come easy for you. That usually just makes the situation worse. Instead, try smelling your way to better rest.

Yep, certain scents are linked to better shut eye and require very little work on your part. No counting sheep, no reading the most boring thing you can find, no listening to ocean noises that make you seasick.

Try sniffing these 3 essential oils for sleep, and you just may have to check tomorrow morning to see if in fact you’re wearing footed jammies – your sleep may be that good.

3 Essential Oils for Sleep:

Lavender: Probably the most famous scent linked to sweet dreams is lavender. Research has shown it helps to slow your heart rate, increase drowsiness, lower your blood pressure and promote calming. Leave a little bottle of lavender oil on your night table and rub a couple of drops into your palms. You can also leave a bowl of lavender flowers on your nightstand, next to your charging iphone that you have definitely shut off by bedtime, right?!

Chamomile: A cup of chamomile tea releases a relaxation aroma that is good for the mind and soul. Chamomile is linked to feelings of calm, and managing symptoms of stress and relaxation. If you’re worried about trips to the bathroom all night, skip sipping. Wrap your mitts around a mug and inhale. The smell alone will do the trick to help your slumber. You can also put a couple drops of essential oil in your humidifier for long lasting effects.

Vanilla: Vanilla isn’t only for your baked goods. It’s linked with the feel good hormones that help you sleep. Yes, you can have a cup of warm milk with vanilla, like you used to as a kid, but have you tried massaging your hands with vanilla oil? Or put a couple drops of vanilla in an atomizer and sprayed it on your pillow before hitting the sack? If it’s anxiety that’s keeping your peepers open, give a whiff of vanilla a go.

Sweet dreams friends. Your sleep is worthy of your time and effort, and a good night’s rest will make a healthy day of eating, hydrating, destressing, and exercising that much easier.

3 Healthy Things to Do Every Winter Solstice

The winter solstice comes once a year. Some of us don’t notice it. Some of us don’t even know what it is.

But some of us look forward to it, knowing it’s the shortest day of the year and daylight will increase after it passes.

Like many milestones and holidays of the year, this event can mark a moment for personal reflection and action planning. Take a moment to consider the choices you make as you live your most Nutritious Life.

3 Healthy Things to Do Every Winter Solstice

 

1. Sleep deep. Shortest day = longest night. Take advantage of this and plan for it to be a perfect night of sleep.

Check in with yourself to evaluate your sleep hygiene. Sleep experts recommend that you establish a simple ritual before you go to bed to tell your body it is time to rest.

Brush your teeth, wash your face, read a book or meditate for several minutes before you close the light. Make your slumber environment clear of stressors by making your room as dark as possible, turning off the television and silencing your phone.

Set yourself up to be successful by making your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep.

 

2. Sweat often. It’s dark when we leave for work and dark when we return home. It’s only normal that motivation to move wanes without the friendship of the sun.

While it’s tempting to skip the gym in favor of extra time hunkered down, do your best to move each day, especially today.

Walk an extra few minutes to a bus or subway stop further away, take the stairs and walk the mall to incorporate a little more movement into your daily routine.

Also, you don’t have to be a weekend warrior to enjoy an hour or two of cross country skiing, a few minutes on the ice rink, or an afternoon sledding with the kids. Make time during the week for simple, active pleasure.

The benefits will show in your mood first. Remember these little bits of movement can not only add up but can also motivate us to move more and get in a “real” workout.

 

3. Live consciously. We spend a lot more time inside when it’s dark and cold outside. Spending time making your home or office a space that you like to be in will deflect some of the stress and help you lead a well and healthful life.

Winter cleaning isn’t so bad when you play your favorite music and the result often makes you feel great. Carve out an hour to freshen up your space today.

Light scented candles and shift some furniture around so that you can enjoy it in a new way. Take a minute to look at what is and isn’t working in the space you live in so that you can feel empowered in your world. Take time to appreciate your surroundings today – those in nature and those you created for yourself.

Acknowledge the winter solstice this year, and every year going forward. Honor yourself and your work as you pursue your personal Nutritious Life ambitions for another season. Make it a day every year that you press the reset button amid the chaos of the holiday season, and focus on you.

As you look forward to sunnier days, remember to enjoy the darker days, too!