Tag Archives: sleep habits

10 Ways to Improve Your Memory

notepad-1066735-mDo you lose track of your car keys? Walk into a room and have no idea why you’re there? Can’t remember the name of your child’s teacher?

I recently read that our modern lifestyle plays a significant role in contributing to our memory and brain function. Our exposure to toxins, chemicals, an unhealthy diet, poor sleep habits and stress can actually hinder our ability to remember.

A healthy lifestyle can support your brain health and even help your brain grow new neurons. This process is called neurogenesis.

By simply making healthier choices, here are 10 ways you can improve your memory:

Stay hydrated
Your brain is 75% water so even mild dehydration means that your brain tissues are shrinking, and you may experience mild loss of cognitive function. You may have heard, “Drink when you’re thirsty.” However, when you feel thirsty, you’re already becoming dehydrated. You should shoot for 8 glasses of water a day. Of course, if you exercise or work outside in hot weather, you should drink even more. Learn more about the benefits of drinking water.

Eat real food
I often cook from a box, package or can. Prepackaged foods almost always contain unhealthy ingredients that aren’t good for your brain. The best diet consists of real food. Unprocessed food helps you avoid those chemicals and toxins that can hinder your memory function. Artificial sweeteners and MSG are both known to adversely affect your brain health. Here are some tips for swapping junk food for healthy food.

Cut back on sugar
Brain cells use twice as much energy as other cells, and they get most of this energy from glucose. Your brain cells can’t store energy, so they need a steady supply of glucose. That means you should eat more sugar, right? No, the key part of the equation is a steady supply. Real sugar, including high fructose corn syrup and maple syrup, is hard on your brain and memory. They send your blood sugar levels on a roller coaster ride of spikes and dips. Too much refined sugar leads to poor memory formation, learning disorders and depression. It also impacts your attention span and mood. Here are more reasons to limit sugar.

Keep the fat
Many diets want you to cut out the fat. However, some fats are good for you. Not to mention, your brain is made mostly of fat. It needs healthy fats, such as the type you get from nuts, avocados, oily fish and olive oil. About 25% of your body’s cholesterol is found in the brain. Low fat diets have had a disastrous affect on our brains. We need good fats for overall health, as well as memory function.

Get more sleep
Sleep has so many health benefits. Getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep shouldn’t be considered sleeping in. You should strive to sleep 8 hours every night for your overall health and mental well-being. During sleep, your brain repairs itself, gets rid of toxins and consolidates memories. Lack of good sleep will impair your memory, creativity, judgment and attention span. Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep.

Stop multitasking
We’ve written before that there is no such thing as multitasking. You are simply switching from one task to another. Trying to multitask may actually slow you down, make you more prone to errors and make you more forgetful. You need about 8 seconds to actually commit a piece of information to memory. So, if you’re talking on the phone while bringing in the groceries, you are more likely to forget where you laid down your car keys.

Stay active
Our bodies are meant to move, yet you may spend 10-12 hours a day sitting. All this sitting can lead to memory lapses, brain shrinkage and cognitive decline. Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. Exercise also moves more oxygen and nutrients to your brain. Getting more physical activity can help keep your memory sharp. Here are more benefits of regular exercise.

Reduce stress
Prolonged stress leads to anxiety, depression, poor decisions, insomnia and memory loss. Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to a surplus of free radicals. These free radicals can cause your brain to shrink by punching holes in the brain cell walls and causing them to rupture and die. The next time you’re getting stressed out, take a deep breath and remember that you’re killing brain cells. Here are some more ways to reduce stress.

Check your medicine cabinet
A number of medications can affect memory, including antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and sleep aids. Don’t stop taking any prescription medicines without talking to your doctor, but if you’re concerned about your memory function it may be something to bring up at your next visit.

Keep learning
People who are cognitively active will have better memory as they age. How do you keep your brain going strong? Stay engaged in the world. Play games that make you think. Do a crossword or Sudoku puzzle. Find ways to challenge your memory. For instance, if you meet someone new, make up a way to remember his or her name. Here are 16 Ways to Exercise Your Brain.

Your lifestyle and habits impact every part of your life, including your memory and brain function. A healthy, balanced lifestyle can improve your memory, mood and well-being. It’s just another reason to live a balanced life!

Advertisements

11 More Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

time-flies-1214482-mAlmost two years ago, we posted 11 tips on getting a good night’s sleep. While I have been working on my sleeping habits, I still have room for improvement.

It’s been proven that sleep, and getting enough sleep, has a huge impact on our overall health and well-being.

Modern life is filled with stress and so many distractions. I am guilty of watch TV or playing games on my phone while lying in bed. So, turn off the devices and use these 11 tips for getting a good night’s sleep:

Keep a sleep diary
To get a better idea of your sleep habits, write down what you do every day for at least two weeks. Keep track of what time you go to bed, how long it takes to fall asleep, how many times you wake up, and how you feel in the morning. You should also track what you eat and drink before bed and if you exercised that day. You might be surprised to see some patterns in your habits and how well you sleep.

Increase light exposure
Getting more sunlight during the day can help set your body’s clock and sleep-wake cycle. Soak up some sunlight in the morning. Try to spend more time outside during the day, even if it’s a few minutes at lunch or walking the dog after work. Keep curtains and blinds open during the day to let in more sun.

Block the clock
When you go to bed, block the alarm clock. If you can’t glance at it in the middle of the night or start checking it in the early morning hours, you might find you get a more restful night’s sleep. Even the glow from your electronic devices, such as tablets and mobile phones, on the nightstand can interfere with sleep. The darker you keep the room, the better.

Turn on white noise
I sleep with a fan running at night. You can also use a sound machine to produce a low-level soothing sound. This white noise helps you tune out the noisy neighbors, a barking dog or the TV that’s on in another room.

Seal the mattress
If a runny nose, sneezing or itching is bothering you at night, your mattress could be the problem. You can develop dust mites, mold or other allergens. By using a plastic, dust-proof mattress cover, you can avoid these issues.

Get your neck in shape
If you wake up tired with a stiff neck, your pillow is probably to blame. Your pillow should keep your neck in a neutral position. It’s best to sleep on your back or side, since stomach sleeping can twist your neck.

Write down your troubles
What’s the most common sleep complaint? I can’t shut off my brain. Every night before bed, write down what’s on your mind. Make notes on chores you need to do, errands you need to run the next day, or calls that need to be made. I sit down with my day planner and jot down all the things I need do accomplish the next day at work. Then when my head hits the pillow, I don’t let myself think about it.

Create a wind down routine
In addition to writing a to-do list for the next day, you can also set your clothes out or pack what you need for work. Then, go through your bedtime ritual, such as washing your face, brushing your teeth or even taking a shower. Now it’s time to relax in bed with a book or practice deep breathing.

Stay put if you wake up
If you wake up in the night, stay in bed in the dark and do some deep breathing or visualize things that help you fall back to sleep. However, if you find that you’re worrying or becoming anxious, get up and do something quiet and relaxing until you feel sleepy again.

Review your medications
Some medicines for high blood pressure can cause insomnia, as well as antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft. If you’re having sleep troubles, you may want to discuss your medicines with your doctor.

Get it checked out
An occasional restless night is most likely normal. If you have difficulties sleeping or insomnia for more than a month, it might be time to take a deeper look. Chronic insomnia may merit a visit to the doctor to have your sleep habits evaluated.

Remember that everyone’s sleep habits are different. Finding out what works best for you may take some experimenting and learning by trial and error. Try some of these tips to discover the sleep formula that works best for you!

8 Serious Dangers of Sleep Loss

sleeping-1094329-mYou know that feeling when you haven’t had enough sleep. I very rarely get a full night’s sleep. I fight going to bed like a 2-year-old child. But then, the next morning I am dragging around, irritable and simply not at my best. I swear I will go to bed early that night, yet I will stay up late again.

You may already know that lack of can affect your memory, concentration and mood. You may be surprised to learn that there can be even more serious side effects to sleep loss.

Here are 8 serious dangers of sleep loss and insomnia:

Health issues
One of the biggest reasons to get more sleep is to avoid the risk of developing serious, chronic diseases. Studies have shown that people who suffer from insomnia and sleep loss also have a chronic health condition. These common diseases include stroke, heart disease, heart failure, high blood pressure and diabetes. Sleep deficiency has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Accidents
Serious accidents have been linked to poor sleep and fatigue. Some of the world’s biggest disasters may have involved sleep deprivation, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. Sleep loss can be dangerous in everyday life, too. Driving when tired can slow your reaction time as much as driving drunk. You are also more prone to accidents and injuries at home when you’re tired.

Depression
Over time, lack of sleep can contribute to the symptoms of depression. Studies have shown that people who suffer from anxiety and depression often sleep less than six hours on average a night. Insomnia has the strongest link to depression. Insomnia and depression can feed on each other. Lack of sleep can aggravate depression symptoms, and being depressed can make it more difficult to sleep.

Impaired judgment
Sleep plays an important role in your thinking process and learning. Lack of sleep impairs your cognitive processes in several ways. You are less alert, have trouble concentrating, reasoning and solving problems. These side effects of sleep deprivation also make it difficult to learn and put forth your best effort.

Weight gain
Lack of sleep seems to be related to an increase in hunger and appetite. There is a link between sleep and the peptides that regulate appetite. Sleep loss can also stimulate cravings for high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods. Throwing your appetite out of whack also increases your likelihood to overeat, and this may contribute to obesity over time.

Forgetfulness
When you sleep, your brain consolidates memories, which helps make the things you have learned throughout the day easier to access and recall. Your brain also transfers short-term information to where it can be stored for long-term knowledge. This transfer occurs in the deepest part of the sleep cycle, so losing sleep can hurt your long-term memory and contribute to forgetfulness.

Aging skin
While one night of missed sleep can lead to puffy eyes or dark circles, continual sleep loss can cause more lasting skin damage. Sallow skin and fine lines across the face, as well as dark circles, can become more permanent over time. The elasticity of the skin can also become more damaged when you don’t get enough sleep.

Manage stress
Your mind and body can do a better job of managing stress when you are more rested. Fatigue can put an added strain on your body and contribute to anxiety and make it more difficult to make decisions. Stress can also be harmful to your overall well-being and make it harder to maintain life balance.

Learn more about improving your sleep habits in our blog “11 tips to getting a good night’s sleep.”

 

6 ways winter affects your sleep

How winter affects sleepIt seems like every year I start having trouble sleeping at night right around the daylight savings time change.

I recently read an article that talks about how the Earth’s axis affects our sleep habits. As the days shorten with the arrival of winter, a gap is created between our internal body clocks and our sleep patterns in comparison to the natural day. Daylight savings time was actually created to help deal with these changes in daylight hours.

Before electricity and the daily grind of getting up at the same time every day to go to work, people woke up with the rising sun and went to bed when it was dark. During the long winter nights, sleep was actually biphasic. That means we slept for a few hours, then woke up for a few hours, and then slept again for a few hours.

Artificial light modified our sleep habits and made them more routine. The good news is that a regular sleep routine and getting plenty of rest are good for our bodies. On the other hand, artificial light means we can stay up long after it’s dark outside and get up before the sun rises. We are more likely to create a pattern of sleep deprivation.

From a previous blog, we know it’s important to get plenty of sleep. Here are 6 ways your sleep can be affected during the winter:

Lack of sunlight
We need sunshine to help us be alert and energetic. A lack of sunlight can make us sleepy and sluggish. During the winter months, many of us get up in the dark and drive to work before it’s barely daylight. By the time we leave work, it’s once again dark. We need the light to tell our bodies it’s time to be awake. On the other hand, we need darkness and nighttime so that our body knows it’s time to go to bed. Spend a few minutes outside each day. Even on dreary days, it’s still good to experience fresh air and natural light.

Lack of exercise
Because you feel tired and unmotivated during the winter months, you may skip your exercise routine. In addition, cold weather can keep you from getting outside and doing chores or activities that would normally tire you out. Try to take a brisk walk or even use the stairs to increase your movement during the day.

Fluctuating sleep patterns
Winter time and cold weather makes it even more appealing to snuggle under the covers and sleep in on the weekends. Just as too little sleep affects you mentally and physically, too much sleep on the weekends can throw off your sleep patterns during the week. It’s best to only vary your bedtime and wake up time by about an hour or so, even on weekends.

Bad eating habits
I know I tend to hibernate in the winter. I want to eat warm, filling comfort foods that aren’t the best choices. But when you eat a heavy meal in the evening, your body has to work harder to digest it. Your full belly can actually keep you awake at night or disrupt your sleep pattern. Keep up your healthy eating habits even in the winter, especially if you aren’t burning as many calories.

Your house temperature
Turning the heat up may make you more comfortable on a cold evening, but it will make it harder for you to sleep. We tend to sleep better in a cooler room because it will keep our body temperature down. However, a room that’s too cold can make it difficult to sleep as well. You need to find the temperature that’s just right to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

Sickness
Winter often brings on more colds and flu. We need sleep to help heal our body. Yet, when we get sick, it often interferes with our sleep because we may have a sore throat, stuffed up nose, or run a fever. It can be harder to get a good night’s sleep with cold and flu symptoms.

If you notice you are feeling tired, sluggish and grouchy this winter, take a look at your sleep habits. You may need to make some adjustments to your routine and your sleep environment so that you can get a better night’s sleep.

Do you have tips for creating a healthy sleep routine, even in the winter? We would love to hear from you!

11 tips to getting a good night’s sleep

good nights sleepI do not have the best sleep habits. I like to watch TV or mess with my iPad while lying in bed. I usually have a snack when I should be hitting the sack. I have a hard time shutting my brain down so I can fall asleep. And then I don’t want to get up in the morning.

In a recent blog, we talked about the health benefits of getting more sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep or getting enough sleep, here are some tips to help you get a better night’s rest:

Set a regular bedtime
Go to bed at the same time every night. By going to bed at the same time, you condition your body to follow a regular pattern of sleep. Then, your body can set its natural clock to help you initiate and maintain sleep.

alarm clockWake up at the same time
On the flip side, you need to wake up at the same time every morning – even on weekends. This will also help regulate your sleep patterns. If you sleep in on weekends, you are more likely to feel draggy during the day and then be unable to fall asleep at your usual time that night. Once the work week starts, your natural sleep rhythm will be out of whack and you’ll have to reset your system again.

Power down the electronics
I know it’s hard, but turn off all the gadgets. That means no TV, laptops or tablets at least an hour before bed. No cuddling with your smart phone either. Some research has shown that using backlit screens before bedtime interferes with sleep.

read a bookRead a book
It’s time to go old school and read a book if you need to relax before bed. Preferably a real book or an e-reader that doesn’t use an internal light source. Also, a fiction book can help you lose yourself in the story and forget about the worries and stress of the day. When you’re trying to fall asleep, think about the story to keep your mind occupied until you drift off.

Make yourself comfortable
Turn your bed into a comfy retreat. If you wake up with a sore back or stiff neck, it may be time to think about a new mattress or a different pillow. Make up your bed with a bedspread or comforter that you love and add soft sheets. The more cozy you feel in bed, the easier it may be to go to sleep.

Keep the room cooler
Another way to be more comfortable is to keep the temperature in your room slightly cooler – around 65 degrees. If you are too hot or too cold, it can interfere with the quality of your sleep.

Watch what you eat and drink
Try not to got to bed either hungry or feeling too full. Your discomfort may keep you awake. If you need a snack to keep you from feeling hungry when you get in bed, keep it small and avoid high-fat foods that will take longer to digest. You also want to limit how much you drink before bed, so that you aren’t making frequent trips to the bathroom in the night.

caffeine cup of coffeeAvoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
Both caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that raise blood pressure and energy levels, making it harder to fall asleep. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can act as a sedative but when the effects wear off, your sleep patterns will suffer.

Get some exercise
Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and experience a deeper sleep. However, you should exercise earlier in the day. If you exercise too close to bedtime, it can actually energize you and make it harder to fall asleep.

take a power napTake a power nap
A short nap (15 to 20 minutes) can help you feel energized during the day. However, a long daytime nap will actually interfere with your nighttime sleep, especially if you already struggle with falling asleep or waking up during the night.

Quit worrying!
Trust me, I know that this is easier said than done. I am a huge, obsessive worrier. When I go to bed at night, my brain just won’t shut down. I keep a notebook beside my bed so that I can write down things that I think of as I try to fall asleep. Or, I have found that sometimes it’s better to get up and take care of something I forgot to do before I got in bed. Otherwise, I will just continue to lie in bed and think about it.

Do you have trouble falling asleep? What are your tips to getting a better night’s sleep?

How a budget can help you create balance

balanced budgetEvery January, I panic over the amount of money I spent for Christmas. I start looking at the bills coming due and our monthly income, and I panic even more.

After a more careful review of 2012, I know that we have over spent and could live more frugally and responsibly. Why does it matter?

First, we can live without some of the things we buy. We don’t need all the “stuff.” Second, I have noticed that my kids seem to feel a sense of entitlement. If they want something, we should just go out and buy it for them. It would be good for them to understand the importance of living within a budget.

In addition, if our finances are out of balance, we will feel out of balance. It can affect relationships, stress levels and sleep habits. Here are a few more reasons to establish a budget, balance your finances and live a balanced life:

Uncover waste
When you create a budget, you see – in black and white – where your money is going. For example, without a detailed account of your spending, it’s easy to ignore how much money you are paying for meals at restaurants and on take-out. After working on my budget, I was shocked to see how much we spend on fuel (gasoline and diesel) in a month. I know I have to do a certain amount of driving, but it makes me think about planning my trips and grouping my errands together.

Reduce stress
As the person who pays the bills, I know when our funds are tight for a particular month. It stresses me out. I lose sleep at night. By having a budget in place, I can be more prepared for the bills and unexpected expenses that come up. I won’t be guessing if we have enough money for a large purchase, or if we need to wait a few months. And I will know that we have the money available to pay all the bills.

Guide spending
Your budget can help you see where you can reduce spending on extras you may not need. At the same time, you may be able to put more funds toward eliminating debt and into savings.

Eliminate debt
There is good debt, and then there is bad debt. How can debt be good? Your home mortgage is a good debt because you are building equity in real estate, which has value. Your car loan is good debt if your loan payment is reasonable. Credit cards are considered bad debt. If you have outstanding credit card balances, creating a budget can help you pay off these debts. You may also be able to put extra funds toward mortgage or car payments to pay down the loan principal and reduce the amount you pay in interest.

Set priorities
A budget helps you get a big picture view of your finances. Your spouse may have different financial goals than you do. You may want to reduce debt, and your spouse may want to save for a vacation. By seeing your budget on paper, you can discuss the priorities you each have and find a way to align your priorities with your budget.

Build new habits
By working within a budget, you can develop new spending habits. You may think about that pair of new shoes or – in my husband’s case – new power tool before you buy it. With the big picture in mind, you realize that your budget plan is more important than these items.

Grow savings
Savings can include your emergency fund or the money you invest for retirement. If you think about saving from every dollar earned, it becomes easier to put the concept of savings in perspective and increase the amount you set aside. You can add your emergency fund and retirement contributions to your budget and make them as important as the house payment and the electric bill.

Give back
Making donations to your church or a favorite charity should also be a part of your financial plans. If you add it to the budget, then it is top of mind and is included in your monthly finances. You’ll feel good knowing that you are improving your financial situation and helping others.

Now that you know WHY it’s important to establish a household budget, next week we will write about HOW to create a budget. Do you have other reasons for living within a budget? Do you have tips for making a budget? Let us know!