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Getting Your Beauty Sleep

There’s a reason they call it beauty sleep! A full, deep, restful sleep can help you stay healthy, lose weight, be more alert, improve your concentration, increase your productivity, elevate your mood—and ensure that you wake up gorgeous. You might be aware that you look and feel better after you get a good night’s sleep!

Sleep is a time for your body to repair damage caused by everyday wear and tear as well as by sun exposure, stress, illness, and so on. During sleep the body focuses on regenerating cells and on maintaining and building bones, muscles, and other tissues. This kind of repair work also can occur while you’re awake, but sleep allows the body to concentrate on healing without having to divide its energy sixteen different ways. While you are sleeping, you also recharge your immune system and rebalance the chemicals in your brain.

In addition, you subconsciously process the day’s events and even mull over problems—sometimes even producing bright ideas in the middle of the night. When you have a problem, it always helps to “sleep on it.”

Sleep Yourself Thin

Researchers have uncovered an interesting connection between sleep and weight. People who do not get enough sleep are at increased risk of eating too much—not because they lack willpower, but because their hormones are working against them. Have you ever had a sleepless night, followed by a day when you just wanted to keep nibbling? Welcome to the effects of the hormones leptin and ghrelin. Leptin and ghrelin work together to control feelings of hunger. Ghrelin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract and stimulates appetite. Leptin is produced by fat cells and sends a signal to the brain that you are full. Research shows that when you don’t get enough sleep, it reduces your levels of leptin, so you don’t feel as satisfied after you eat. Sleep loss also causes your levels of ghrelin to rise, which stimulates your appetite. This dynamic creates the perfect conditions for overeating. In fact, researchers have found that people who sleep less than seven hours per night are more likely to be overweight.

Two studies—the first conducted at the University of Chicago in Illinois and the second at Stanford University in California—reveal a great deal about how leptin and ghrelin operate. In the Chicago study, researchers subjected 12 healthy men in their 20s to two days of sleep deprivation, followed by two nights with 10 hours of sleep. During this time doctors monitored their hormone levels, appetite, and activity. After two nights of sleep deprivation, the partici-pants’ levels of leptin (the appetite suppressor) went down, and their levels of ghrelin (the appetite stimulator) went up.

They experienced greater appetite, and they specifically craved high-sugar, high-salt, and starchy foods. The researchers were surprised to discover that hormone levels could be affected so much, in such a brief amount of time. In the Stanford study, about 1,000 volunteers reported the number of hours they slept each night. Researchers tracked their levels of ghrelin and leptin and charted their weight.

This study revealed that those who slept less than eight hours a night not only had lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin but also had a higher level of body fat. Specifically, there was 4 percent increase in body mass index when sleep was decreased from eight hours to five hours—a finding that can represent a difference of 25 pounds!

Conquering Insomnia

Waking up with a puffy face and bags under your eyes is an unfortunate consequence of insomnia. If you are having some problems getting your beauty sleep, here are some things to try:

*Take a hot shower. If you take a relaxing shower, then lie quietly in bed, it may be just what your body needs to get to sleep. If you have time, a hot bath—complete with scented candles and bath salts—is even more relaxing.

*Open the window. Fresh air and a cool room temperature provide the best sleeping conditions. If you need more warmth, buy a cozy comforter, but leave the air temperature cool.

*Get comfortable. The kind of mattress and pillow you like best will help you get comfortable right away. Few things are more annoying than trying to sleep in an old, worn-out mattress with a lousy pillow.

*Write down your worries before bed. Try to empty your brain of concerns by writing everything down before you turn out the light. If you have any solutions or bright ideas, write them down too. This way you don’t have to keep reminding yourself to remember something.

*Keep to a sleep schedule. Your body will respond to a regular routine. Your head may complain, but your body will thank you for going to bed and waking up at the same time every day—even on weekends.

*Close the curtains. Your eyes know what time of day it is and send a daytime/nighttime message directly to the pineal gland inside your brain. When your eyes sense darkness, your pineal gland produces melatonin and you get sleepy. On the other hand, when it’s light, your body knows it’s time for action. This is why, if you pull an all-nighter, you’ll get a “second wind” at dawn the next morning even if you never get to sleep. Be sure your bedroom is dark to help your body produce the melatonin it needs.

*Hide your clock. A big, illuminated clock may make you feel stressed and anxious about the time that is passing while you toss and turn. Cover the face of your clock so you don’t obsess about the time.

*Cut out caffeine. For some people, even a small amount of caffeine early in the day can cause problems with falling asleep 12 hours later. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, stay away from coffee, caffeinated tea, chocolate, and soft drinks. If you aren’t sure whether caffeine is a problem for you, try eliminating caffeinated food and beverages for one week and see if your sleeping patterns improve.

*Avoid alcohol. A glass of wine may make it easier to fall asleep, but drinking before bedtime increases the likelihood that you will wake up during the night. If you enjoy a drink at night, it’s probably best to limit yourself to one alcoholic beverage with dinner.

*Eat dinner early. Too much food before bed can cause distention and discomfort, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Also, fat takes longer to digest and may cause distention at night. Lying down makes heartburn worse, and heartburn itself makes falling asleep more difficult. Heartburn also awakens sleepers with middle-of-the-night discomfort. Avoid large dinner meals and wait at least two hours after eating before going to sleep.

*Avoid spicy foods. Spicy foods can contribute to heartburn, which can make it difficult to fall asleep by causing discomfort throughout the night. Watch out for chilies, curry powder, and other offenders.

*Exercise early. Exercising right before going to bed can make falling asleep more difficult, as it wakes up your system, revs up your body temperature and metabolism, and can lead to increased alertness. It is best to complete your workout at least a few hours before bedtime. In general, exercising regularly makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep. However, exercising sporadically or right before going to bed will make falling asleep more difficult. Late-afternoon exercise is the perfect way to help you fall asleep at night.

*Don’t smoke. According to the National Sleep Foundation, new evidence suggests that smoking may negatively impact sleep. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University compared the EEG recordings of a group of cigarette smokers with those of a group of nonsmokers. They found that smokers spend less time in deep sleep, especially in the earlier part of the night, and they are more likely to report feeling unrefreshed after sleeping. Nicotine in tobacco products is a stimulant and contributes to sleep problems.

*Have a small bedtime snack. A glass of warm milk 15 minutes before going to bed will soothe your nervous system. Milk contains calcium, which works directly on jagged nerves to make them (and you) relax. You can also try a cup of hot tea. Most stores have special blends of herb tea designed to help you get to sleep.

*Check to see if you have sleep apnea. If you sense you aren’t sleeping well, or if your partner notices you are snoring or waking up repeatedly because you can’t breathe, go to a sleep clinic and find out if you have sleep apnea. This disorder interferes with your ability to get a good night’s rest. Once it is corrected, you’ll sleep better and have more energy—and many people report they are able to lose weight more easily.

n  Now that you are armed with my nutrition and lifestyle tips for feeling and looking fabulous, it’s time to put it all into practice. To get started, turn the page to begin my delicious Beauty Diet!

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