After 34 years working the night shift, I wondered whether I’d be able to adapt to a normal sleeping schedule when I retired from the TV news business.
Not only have I adapted, I haven’t even seen the 11 p.m. news in more than four years! No offense to Kimberly or my other news pals, but these days I’m lucky to make it past nine before drifting into dreamland. My body clearly loves the change. I sleep soundly and wake up refreshed and ready to face the day.
Not only that, within a year on my new schedule – completely unintentionally, I’d lost nearly 10 pounds. What a surprise… until I looked at the facts.
For years I think I was always just a little bit sleep deprived…getting by on about seven hours, when my body craved closer to nine in the sack. And, if I’m honest, I’d developed some pretty unhealthy eating habits working those weird hours.
On a busy night at work, I’d miss dinner altogether, then exhausted and wired after the late news, I’d come home, turn on Conan and fix myself a plate of cheese and crackers and wash it down with a glass (or two!) of wine… to unwind, you understand.
Bad plan. A fat and calorie-laden snack combined with sugar in the alcohol often made for light, interrupted sleep. When I finally adopted my husband’s routine an early dinner with only a light snack before bed, I began sleeping like a baby and reaping the health benefits.
Adequate slumber (7-9 hours is the sweet spot for most of us!) does more than make you feel good. An abundance of sleep research has found a well-rested engine is essential for controlling your weight and sharpening your memory.
What you eat can play a major role in the quality of your rest. My best snooze advice?
1. Warm milk can help you sleep better. Milk contains tryptophan, which your body uses to make serotonin, a brain chemical that promotes sleepiness. Because tryptophan needs carbohydrates to work its sedating magic in your brain, milk is a natural choice since it has the drowsy duo. (While warming it up adds to the soothing sensation, I still prefer my milk cold.)
2. Avoid eating a late meal, then going straight to bed. Consuming a heavy dinner or even a super-size bedtime snack can make you feel uncomfortably full when you lie down. Even worse, you may develop heartburn or gas… which makes falling asleep extra-challenging. For a peaceful slumber, aim to eat dinner at least three hours before you hit the sack. (When that’s not possible, enjoy a lighter meal –
less than 400 calories.) If you need a late-night nibble, keep it at 200 calories or less.
Three smart pre-sleep snacks that work for me:
*1 cup fat-free vanilla Greek yogurt topped with some crunchy, low-sugar cereal
*3 cups low fat popcorn topped with grated Parmesan
* Rice cake topped with hummus and a slice of turkey breast or (my fave) peanut butter
3. Talk to you doctor about sleep aids. One of the most popular options is melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep and wake cycles. You can even increase your intake of foods that naturally contain melatonin…like tart cherries, walnuts or some special sleepy-time teas. (Nights when it’s difficult to fall asleep or when I travel, my doctor prescribes Ambien but only occasionally…and ONLY with my doctor’s okay.)
Don’t minimize the importance of sleep. It’s crucial for good health and wellbeing.