Tips to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

By Karen Malkin Health Counseling 

In an ideal world, you’d simply drop off into a peaceful slumber every night, however, sleep—or a lack of good sleep—can often cause you to feel bad emotionally and physically. In fact, research shows that sleep is a complex state that affects a wide range of your body’s mechanisms, including:

• brain plasticity
• memory
• emotional processing
• cardiovascular function
• respiratory function
• cellular function
• immune function

A large study also shows the specific interconnectivity of insomnia and depression. It’s clear that sleep affects your overall wellness. [1]

About Insomnia
Today, with more than 40 million Americans struggling with insomnia, sleep disorders are at epidemic proportions. And they not only effect adults (they are especially common in women); up to 25% of children also suffer from sleep disorders! [2, 3]

Those who suffer from insomnia—which is defined as a having difficulty sleeping for more than 4 weeks—are commonly hyper-aroused and have an increased metabolic rate across the 24-hour circadian cycle. This may explain why they are less sleepy during the day by objective measures than “normal” sleepers. But what are some of the causes of insomnia?

Common Medical Conditions
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Chronic pain
  • Sleep apnea and snoring
Other Common Contributors
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Prescription and over-the-counter drugs
Quality Sleep: 10 Tips

To combat insomnia, here are some specific areas of sleep hygiene you may want to focus on:

1. Follow the rhythm of life.
Establish a regular bed and rising time, get exposure to early morning sunlight and dim evening light, and maintain regular times for meals and exercise. (Although napping has health benefits, it can worsen the effects of insomnia.)

2. Manage intake of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs. 
These are all sleep disruptors. Recommendations about caffeine may not be conservative enough given its significant half-life.

3. Avoid exercise before bed. 
Regular cardiovascular exercise promotes healthy sleep, but not 3 to 4 hours prior to bed (it raises your core body temperature, and can interfere with sleep).

4. Avoid high glycemic and hard-to-digest foods in the evening. 
Instead, opt for complex carbs; they may help transport tryptophan, a precursor to melatonin.

5. Create a healthy sleep environment. 
Keep your bedroom cool (about 68ºF), completely dark, quiet, and as “green” possible. If possible, use HEPA filtration to clean the air and choose organic and non-toxic bedding and mattress.

6. Limit screen time before bed. 
Blue light from your computer and phone screens can cause melatonin suppression and disrupt sleep. [4] Smartphones offer a blue light filter that can be enabled by the user and glass lenses now offer blue-light filtering.

7. Move your clock. 
Clock watching merely stimulates wakefulness. Ideally, position the clock away from the bed.

8. Use mind-body techniques to manage hyperarousal. 
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) addresses sleep-related dysfunctional thoughts that trigger arousal. An excellent resource is a free app called “CBT-i Coach” that provides various relaxation techniques. For best results, couple that with modalities such as mindfulness meditation, muscular relaxation, self-hypnosis, breathing exercises, and guided imagery.

9. Using your bed only for sleep and sex. 
Minimize wakeful time spent there by going to bed only when sleepy. If more than 15-20 minutes of nighttime wakefulness occurs, get out of bed, do a non-stimulating activity, and then return to bed once you feel sleepy.

10. Consider supplementation. 
When discontinuing hypnotics or otherwise indicated, short- term supplementation with herbs like valerian, passionflower, lemon balm, lavender, chamomile, and/or hops can be helpful. Melatonin is useful in older populations or if you have circadian irregularities. Always couple this with other sleep hygiene recommendations.

Quantity of Sleep: How Much Is Enough?

According to Dr. Param Dedhia, MD, Director of Sleep Medicine at Canyon Ranch, it is a fallacy that we need less sleep as we get older. Most all adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. But it evolves throughout adulthood, with older people getting less deep sleep. They are also more arousable at night; however, they are able to better cope with arousals.[5]

Some of the consequences of poor sleep include decreased tolerance for pain and hunger, explains Dr. Dedhia.[6, 7] The following sleep and/or stress chemicals do double duty as hunger chemicals:

Cortisol   |   Signals stress
Hypocretin / Orexin   |   Difficulty staying awake
Neuropeptide Y   |   Carbohydrate craving
Gallanin   |   Fat craving
Ghrelin   |   Immediate hunger signal

To avoid cravings during the day, it’s best to do all you can to clock your 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. But ultimately, it’s impossible to force sleep. We can set the stage and be receptive to it, but we cannot intentionally “go to sleep.” Letting go and succumbing to slumber may be the most important thing we can do to get that perfect night’s sleep.

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5 Ways to Stay Healthy During the Holidays

The holiday season can be challenging when it comes to holding onto the healthy lifestyle habits you’ve worked so hard to cultivate throughout the year. But it doesn’t have to be that way! There are small things you can do each day through the holidays and in January to help maintain your healthy ways.

If you’re someone who works better when you have a goal to stick to, you’ll love this—here’s a Mini-Challenge you can do to help you stay on track this holiday season. Just follow these 5 simple steps and you’ll feel energized and healthy despite all of the temptation in your path.

1. Drink hot water + lemon first thing in the morning

  • Improved digestion: Lemon juice flushes unwanted materials and toxins from your body. Hydrating also helps curb cravings.
  • Balanced pH: Lemons are one of the most alkalizing foods for your body; disease states only occur when your body pH is acidic.
  • Boosts immunity: Warm water and lemon juice supports the immune system by hydrating and replacing fluids lost by your body. When your body is deprived of water, you quickly feel the side effects  feeling tired, sluggish, constipation, lack of mental clarity, feeling stressed, etc. Lemons are high in vitamin C, potassium, and have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

2. Eat 3 meals and 1 snack

It’s important to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day; otherwise, you’ll end up looking for the easiest (and not necessarily the healthiest) choice when your levels drop. Do this by eating three nutritionally balanced meals and one whole-food snack every day. This allows you to burn your own body fat between meals.

3. Drink ½ your body weight in water

This will help keep you feeling full and satiated throughout the day and help kepp your cells hydrated. By drinking filtered water, you’ll also help your body flush toxins in your system.

4. Enjoy cocktails or treats on the weekends only

Remember: food is love, food is celebration, and during the holidays, you’re surrounding yourself with all of that, so give yourself permission to indulge! On the weekends, allow yourself 2 cocktails and/or 2 treats (or 1 cocktail and 1 treat) at festive celebrations.

5. Eat 5–9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily

Load up on colorful, organic, seasonal fruits and veggies whenever possible, aiming for at least 5 servings per day or 4 1/2 cups, mostly veggies. This will provide your body with lots of fiber to keep you feeling full plus a complete range of phytonutrients to keep you feeling your best.

Whether you indulge or maintain your healthy habits this holiday season, my wish is that you experience great joy and peace.

Karen Malkin Health Counseling Logo

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Why You Should Avoid “Fragrances”

Essential Oils Provide a Healthier Option

We can get very attached to the smell of our favorite lotion or body wash, but there’s often something lurking behind the scent that can harm your health. Many fragranced personal care products contain chemicals called “phthalates,” which help the scent cling to skin and hair. The term hardly ever actually appears on the labels, but instead may be one of the ingredients that make up “fragrance” or “parfum/perfume.”

According to the Environmental Working Group, studies have linked phthalates to testicular cell death as well as hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities. It’s best to avoid them altogether! The EWG’s Skin Deep database can help you discover the safest alternatives.

Essential Oils: A Safer Option

Essential oils have soared in popularity and are commonly found in people’s medicine cabinets, but can they be used as a replacement for the scents you love? When diluted properly, they often can. Essential oils are highly aromatic substances found in certain plants and used for protection from predators and to attract pollinators. After the distillation of a plant, the aromatic substance is referred to as an essential oil.

Safety, Dilution, & Storage

It takes a lot of plant material to make a small amount of essential oil—they are highly concentrated. For example, it takes 50-60 roses to produce one drop of rose essential oil! This means you only need a very small amount to achieve a desired effect. Very few, if any, essential oils should be ingested or applied directly to the skin. I recommend diluting essential oils into a carrier oil or substance. You do this by combining the oils with “carriers” (such as vegetable, seed, or nut oils) before applying them to your skin.

Because essential oils evaporate easily, it’s best to store them in dark, airtight, glass bottles. Exposure to light, oxygen, and heat will break down the oils and they can become “oxidized” and irritating to the skin. Purchasing unadulterated, organic 100% essential oils from reputable manufacturers helps ensure you are using the purest plant constituents while ensuring ethical and sustainable harvesting methods.

Popular Oils & Their Therapeutic Benefits

Here are a few of my favorite oils to diffuse, combine with carrier oils, and use in my homemade cleaning solutions:

  • Lavender — The most widely used essential oil due to its broad range of properties; antidepressant, decongestant, sedative, promotes calming, relieves headaches and muscle aches, healing for burns. Very safe, non-toxic, non-irritant; can use with children.
  • Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) — Great for green cleaning products and first aid; antifungal, antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, decongestant, expectorant, stimulating to the immune system, good for acne; can put directly on the skin.
  • Peppermint — Found in 1000 BC in Egyptian tombs, widely used; anti-inflammatory, antifungal, circulation stimulant, pain relief, nausea, headaches, digestive upset (can have the opposite effect with GERD). Strong; dilute well! Avoid in children younger than 5.
  • Frankincense — Extracted from the resin / gum of the Boswellia tree, grown in the Middle East and Africa; antiseptic, wound healing, expectorant, pain-relieving, nervous system relaxant. May cause irritation in those with sensitive skin. Use in low dilution.
  • Eucalyptus — Uplifting aroma useful for respiratory conditions, decongestant inhalant for colds, antiviral, antibacterial; because it inhibits proliferation of the virus causing the cold, it’s useful as an air spray in the house for protection when other are sick. Non-toxic and non-irritating when used properly, but not be used on or around children younger than 10.

To your good health,

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Karen’s Corner 

Let me help you clean up your own personal environment in just 14 days!

Supporting the important mission of the Environmental Working Group means so much to me and my team. That’s why I’m thrilled that 100% of the profits generated from our Toxin Takedown 14 Day Transformation will benefit the EWG! This self-guided challenge is full of easy ways for you to detox your environment and your health. In just 14 days, you can lighten your toxic body burden. Your body will thank you! Sign up here.

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Toxin Takedown 14 Day Transformation!

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