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updated: 11/18/2013 9:34 AM

Improve your sleep to enhance your health

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  • Sleep quality is a major factor in overall health.

    Sleep quality is a major factor in overall health.


Sleep is a state of reduced or absent consciousness that should technically take up about a third of our time.

Sleep gives the body and mind time for much needed rest and repair. Many people wake up tired due to poor sleep quality or just too little sleep.

Besides being fatigued and irritable, lack of sleep can have negative health consequences including a weakened immune system, an increased chance for heart disease, and even diminished brain health.

New research has shown that the body maintains and restores healthy brain function by flushing toxins out of the brain during sleep. Cerebrospinal fluid flows through channels in the brain when the person is at complete rest.

With adequate sleep, the brain is physically recharged and ready to go the next morning, but lack of sleep can hinder the cleansing effect and the brain's health and productivity. Sleep quality, therefore, is a major factor in overall health.

We recommend the following five tips to clients who wake up tired.

Set your surroundings. For restful sleep, the environment needs to be dark. This means no distractions from streetlights or passing cars. Keep blinds and drapes closed at night. Even the glow from a night light or alarm clock can disturb sleep. Your bed should not be a place to watch television or check emails. When your head hits the pillow, you should be thinking about sleeping and not the stressful day you had. Take care of the emotional stress before you climb into bed.

Settle in. Everyone has their preferred sleeping habits -- side sleepers, multiple pillows, etc. -- but if you find yourself tossing and turning, try the following. Lie on your back with your neck neutral. Place both hands on your abdomen. Inhale slowly for seven seconds and allow your abdominal wall to rise as air fills your lungs, hold your breath for one second, and then exhale for another seven seconds. This will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and allow your body and mind to fully relax.

Make it a habit. If possible, try to get to bed at the same time every night. The most restful sleep is between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. By getting in the habit of going down around 10 p.m. every night, your body's internal clock will stay more consistent and will actually prepare itself for sleep, making it easier for you to fall asleep and easier to stay asleep through the entire night.

Work hard, rest hard. The body rests harder when it works harder. But, the right type of stress makes all the difference. Strength training is a good type of stress that strengthens the body, but also strengthens the quality of sleep. A recent study showed that even just one strength training session using moderate weights positively influenced the sleep of test subjects. Just one more reason to hit the gym regularly.

Feed your sleep. The importance of nutrition is a no-brainer for improved health and controlling body weight, but changing your food intake can have a dramatic effect on your sleep as well. Eating starchy or sugary foods too close to bedtime can cause a temporary spike in blood sugar, only to have it crash back down a few hours later, waking you from restful sleep. Instead, focus on eating your last meal several hours before bedtime, and if needed, have a light snack consisting of a quality protein and fat source a couple hours before bedtime.

Improve your sleep and improve your life.

For more exercise and nutrition tips, visit our website at for links to our Facebook and Pinterest pages.

• Joshua Steckler is the owner of Push Fitness, a personal training studio located in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning, and nutrition. Contact him at

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