Want a healthier, happier life? Then sleep on it!

Sweet dreamsWhen it comes to wellness, good nutrition and regular exercise tend to be the rock stars. It’s no wonder with benefits like increased energy, better fitting clothes, bolstered self-esteem and so much more becoming apparent within a relatively short period of time. But did you know that getting enough sleep is just as important if you want a truly healthier, happier life?

Until recently, it felt like sleep was the red-headed stepchild of wellness – a necessary practice but one that often got overlooked in our 24/7 super-charged lives. I often had insomnia from my teenage years throughout my thirties, rarely grabbing more than five or six hours of shut-eye a night during the week. Sadly enough, I thought this as a good thing, giving me extra time to read, be social or work when others were still ensconced in their beds.  That changed when I hit my forties and suddenly my body started craving more sleep. At first I was annoyed.  Until I realized that my mood and concentration levels tended to be better when I caught seven hours of slumber.  Started doing research and found some really compelling reasons for getting enough sleep for optimum wellness:

1) Sleeping more can help you eat less. According to this 2012 Time Magazine story, sleep deprivation can lead to overeating. In fact, a report presented by the American Heart Association’s annual Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism conference found that study participants who were sleep deprived ate more than 500 additional calories daily. It doesn’t take a math whiz to realize that amount of calories can quickly add up into unwelcome extra pounds.

“From a physiologic perspective, we know that sleep is a very important time for the release of many physiologic hormones,” says Virend Somers in the article, lead author of the study and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.  “It’s a time when the body repairs itself, the brain consolidates memories, and growth hormone is released. All of these important functions are impacted by less sleep time.” And that includes levels of hormones involved in appetite. Regardless of why sleep loss contributes to weight gain, Somers says in the article it’s important for people to start appreciating that the two are intertwined.

2) Sleep makes you more creative. Ever heard that when faced with an issue or question, sometimes it is best to sleep on it? In this intriguing article from BBC, researchers found that sleep helps make people more creative by building remote associations. Making the links between pieces of information that our awake minds see as separate seems to be easiest when we’re catching some shut-eye.  I’m a big believer of this practice. When I’m stuck on my writing or branding work, I will sometimes ask myself to think about the issue or challenge right before dosing off and usually wake up with great insights.

3) Lack of sleep can leave lasting damage. Feeling sluggish and looking tired aren’t the only negative physical side effects of substandard levels of sleep. In this recent article, researchers found that inconsistent sleep patterns can hurt your brain. The problem is the potential loss of neurons that impact alertness and cognitive function. Think you can catch up on sleep deprivation on the weekends and this will all remedy itself? Actually, researchers say not so much. Getting enough sleep most nights is the key to better health and wellness.

I hope this information doesn’t keep you up at night and instead, puts you to sleep (never thought I’d say those words about anything I’ve written). What are your sleep habits like? Is catching enough slumber part of your wellness strategy or a goal you are working towards in the future?

Five Ways to Make Your Wellness Well-Rounded

Think healthy living is just about eating carrot sticks and getting your downward dog on in Yoga class? While those elements can help, my experience at the 2012 Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference in Denver over the past few days reminded me there’s a whole lot more to the equation. In the spirit of sharing and caring, here are five ways to make your wellness more well-rounded:

1)      Eat wisely.  According to MarketData Enterprises, the number of American dieters is going to soar to 108 million in 2012; yet 95% of those individuals will regain lost pounds and then some. A big reason is deprivation eating: people taking in a ridiculously low amount of daily calories or other extreme practices until they snap like a rubber band and eat all sour cream and onion potato chips within a two mile radius. Most nutrition experts I’ve spoken with advise aiming for a 90/10 balance of healthy eating choices with occasional spikes of planned treats. I’m happy to report that the Conference managed to serve foods that lovingly blended both attributes. Hungry when the trade show started, I immediately darted to the Refuel With Chocolate Milk booth to chug a yummy low fat sample for a protein boost before becoming obsessed with snack squares from goodness knows.  Other delicious, nutritious treats included portion-controlled dried cherry packets and anytime maple energy squares.  Sure beats the stale Danish rolls served at the corporate conferences I’ve attended in the past!

2)      Move often.  I’m not talking about renting a U-Haul and plying friends with beer to cart furniture around. You’ve got to move your own body to enjoy prime health.  As wellness rock star Dr. James Hill said during the conference, “Exercise is the one proven thing you can do to fight aging.” The conference provided us with access to the state-of-the-art  Anschutz Health and Wellness Center and instructor-led stretching breaks between sessions.   How can you add more movement to your daily life?

3)      Connect. My favorite part of this experience was the camaraderie.  Spending time with lovely, like-minded souls in person nourished my spirit and mind. Instead of constantly pushing yourself to stay late at work or schedule an extra run, it may do you even more good to spend quality time with a friend. Kymberly from Fun and Fit and Tamara from fitknitchick blew off the evening exercise sessions yesterday so we could shoot the breeze and it was a blast.

4)      Share. Lots of friends from the healthy living community wanted to attend the conference and couldn’t make it this year. So our group decided to make this experience as inclusive as possible by tweeting frequently with the #FHBC12 hashtag. Yesterday morning, our conference was one of the top trending topics on Twitter. Make sure you share any tidbits of wisdom collected in your personal healthy living journey with others who would appreciate it.

5)      Rest. I bombed out on this last point Stayed up way past my normal bedtime talking to new friends while the early-riser internal body clock kept waking me up before the butt-crack of dawn.  With so many interesting things to experience and learn, I didn’t have a moment of downtime during the days either. Yet true wellness is also about knowing when to rest and recharge. So my next big priority is SLEEP.

Disclosure: ReFuel With Chocolate Milk provided me with a scholarship to attend the 2012 Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference. However, all opinions are my own!

How can you make your wellness more rounded? Have you implemented any changes or new practices  recently to bolster your healthy living journey?