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Getting a Good Night's Sleep

The Martha Stewart Show, January 2008

Most people spend nearly a third of their lives in bed -- and if we want to make the most out of the time we're awake, it's imperative that we get a good night's sleep.

Fatigue is just one symptom of too little sleep. Poor sleep can impair cognitive function and mental performance, making you less efficient at your job. Too little sleep can also contribute to cravings, overeating and weight gain.

We absolutely cannot talk about making this our healthiest year ever if we don't talk about the importance of sleep to our overall well-being. It's a vital, restorative function and there are vast cardiovascular benefits of a good night's sleep. Also, sleep wards off type 2 diabetes and obesity and can even promote infection resistance, wound healing and boost the immune system.

Bedtime Food 101
Foods to Avoid Around Bedtime
- Chocolate not only contains caffeine but other compounds called alkaloids, which have a stimulating effect.

- Alcohol may make us feel calm and relaxed, but it actually greatly diminishes the quality of sleep by disturbing neurotransmitter production, such as serotonin. Alcohol is also a diuretic and may keep you running to the bathroom all night.

- Artificial sweeteners like aspartame contain phenylalanine and aspartic acid, both of which are excitatory.

- Fatty foods are also a no-no before bedtime. They take longer for the body to digest and the process of digestion can keep you awake.

- Spicy foodscan contribute to heartburn and keep you awake.

- Highly processed carbohydrates, which are found in white bread, can cause rapid changes in blood-sugar levels, which disturbs sleep.

Foods That Help You Fall Asleep
- Milk contains tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin.

- Vitamins B6 and B12 are also necessary for your body to generate serotonin. B6 can be found in spinach and B12 in animal-derived products such as dairy foods.

- Magnesium-rich foods, such as green vegetables and almonds, can also facilitate sleep. Magnesium acts as a muscle relaxant.

- Some people take melatonin supplements to help them regulate sleep. Bananas are a good source of melatonin.

- All foods should be consumed at least 45 minutes before your planned bedtime to allow the majority of digestion to occur before you try to sleep.

Create an Ideal Sleeping Environment
There isn't one solution that fits everyone, so put forth effort to figure out what works best for you. Set the alarm clock and then turn it around, or put it under the bed. Once you start thinking about the fact that you have only a few hours to sleep, you're likely to create anxiety, which can cause your body temperature and blood pressure to elevate and your heart rate and brain waves to quicken, making it less likely for you to fall asleep.

For many people, watching TV is a way to help them relax. But the noise level is erratic and sudden loud noises can disturb your sleep. Pay attention to how long you generally stay awake once you're in bed and watching TV, then start setting the sleep timer on your TV.

Also, think about the room temperature and the amount of light and noise in the bedroom.

Choosing the Right Mattress
You might be tossing and turning because your mattress is uncomfortable. A mattress is a big-ticket item, and most people don't give it enough thought. But the integrity of the mattress and your body change over time. What worked for you before might not work for you now.

The most important thing is to do a basic comfort test. Try to lie on the mattress for at least 10 to 15 minutes. If it's at all uncomfortable, you'll know.

Special Thanks
Special thanks to Tempur-Pedic for giving our entire studio audience one of their newest mattresses, the Bella Sonna. This mattress senses body temperature and weight and conforms to exact body dimensions. It relieves pressure and absorbs your motion while it adjusts and flexes to provide support. It also never needs to be flipped or rotated.

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