“I couldn’t sleep a wink last night,

Because we had that silly fight,

I thought my heart would break,

The whole night through,

I knew that you’d be sorry,

And I’m sorry too …”

—Jimmy McHugh & Harold Adamson, 1943

The most underappreciated pillar of health is sleep. Life can be stressful and sometimes there seems to be an endless stream of people, things and situations that are worrisome and beyond our control. This is exactly why we need to take control where we can and apply the findings of cutting-edge research to help us achieve optimal sleep, each and every night.

People who chronically get less sleep than necessary are far more likely to develop diabetes. It used to be thought that poor sleep was a chronic symptom of early onset Alzheimer’s. But researchers now think that it may be directly involved in its actual development. A poor sleep-wake cycle can also make it more difficult to lose excess fat.

Because it’s important that you know on a deeper level the “why” of optimal sleep, it’s helpful to understand three things:

1) during sleep, your body most efficiently removes cellular waste such as neurotoxins, which contribute to memory impairments and dementia

2) sleeping encourages the brain’s neural plasticity, which aids in cognition, learning and memory

3) while sleeping, your body is re-calibrating your immune system

Spend enough time in bed so that you wake naturally. Being awakened by an alarm is just that, alarming. Reading before bed is an absolutely great habit to make part of your “winding down” evening routine. Job one is to keep away from all blue light for 90 minutes prior to sleep time. Where is blue light lurking? ... your television, computer, tablet and smartphone. The blue light destroys your own melatonin for hours, which hampers sleep quality.

Not sticking to a consistent sleep schedule is harmful, because even eight hours of sleep in an irregular schedule is not as restorative—less restoration in the same number of hours. Actually having a routine, a winding down period, a set bedtime and sleeping until you awaken naturally is optimal. By the way, researchers now know that there are great benefits to more sleep than we’ve been told all our lives ... nine-plus hours is the new eight.

Invest in your sleep quality by buying blackout drapes or blinds. Studies show that even the tiniest bit of light in the bedroom has a negative effect on our cells and sends errant messages to our master clock. Another key is to jump up in the morning and spend 30 minutes walking outside or just “being” in the daylight. Light exposure in the morning has a big effect on your sleep at night. As the sun goes down, dim the lights in your home. All these things make a difference in the quality of your sleep.

Whether it’s sleep, exercise, stretching, deep-breathing, water intake, protein-centric meals or buddy-time, keeping track with a daily checklist is actually simple and crucial to your success because it creates clarity and specific calls for action.

Research shows that in order for people to form new habits and sustain them long enough for them to become a pattern of behavior, they must:

1) understand the rationale for why they ought to do various things

2) know how to do them

3) track/log such actions

4) record their measured results

Each of these requirements improves one’s capacity to change, and cementing patterns will automatically make a healthful lifestyle easier to attain.

Don’t forget, as I mentioned last week, “Buddy up!” Have you gotten an official health buddy yet? It takes partnership ... two people who are equally committed to a path of optimal aging. Partner with your spouse or a good friend; make declarations, set goals and get “buy in” or agreement. Make an actual commitment to yourself and to each other that together you will become healthier. Be accountability partners and provide support to each other in this endeavor we call wellness. My contribution, I pray, is to inspire you to stop doing things that are harming you and support you in making the changes that will be beneficial to the quality of your life.

Make it a great day. Be kind to one another, and to yourselves.

Marilyn McConnell is a wellness expert who, over three decades in Toronto and Chicago, has helped people with personal presentation, weight loss, longevity, organization, downsizing and related lifestyle design. She now lives in Arcadia, much closer to her immediate family. 312-659-2424

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