Improve Your Sleep in 3 Simple Steps

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our overall health and well-being. Sleep deprivation leaves the brain exhausted, causes sluggishness, low attention span,

decreased sociability, depressed mood, insulin resistance and decreased performance. Chronic sleep deprivation is strongly correlated with behavioral health issues, such as depression, anxiety and substance use, as well as a weakened immune system.

The body profoundly needs sleep, and when a person is not getting enough quality sleep it impacts all systems of the body. A lot of people view sleep as a passive activity, but to set ourselves up for a restorative night of sleep takes preparation. Here are a few simple steps to take during the day to help set the stage for better sleep:

Preparation: Sleep is not passive; it requires a proactive routine.

  • Get regular physical activity in the morning or afternoon: Exercise promotes quality sleep. Exercise in morning makes it easier to fall asleep/wake up. Exercise in evening is ok if done on a regular basis and not immediately before bed.
  • Outdoor light exposure: Early morning light is best way to keep circadian rhythm synchronized.
  • Control caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol consumption: Minimize caffeine later in the day as it can prevent you from falling asleep. Limit alcohol consumption to 2 drinks/day for men and 1 for women and not after 3 hours before bed. Alcohol can cause you to wake up in the night and it causes sleep to be fragmented. Nicotine is a stimulant that is best avoided entirely.
  • No bright/blue light 2 hours before bed: Blue light can decrease melatonin production and increase cortisol. You can purchase special light bulbs or install an app/filter on your phone to reduce blue light exposure. Of note, phones/computers/TV, etc. are stimulating even if they do not emit blue light.

Environment: Craft your surroundings to support optimal sleep.

  • Use the bedroom for sleep and intimacy only: No TV, laptop, tablet, etc. in bedroom. Recommended no pets or children in bed.
  • Turn thermostat down: Ideally between 60-67F. A drop in core body temp is a sleep signal for the body that it is time to sleep
  • Dark room: Try black out curtains or an eye mask. No nightlight, and cover clocks and other things that emit light.
  • Quiet: Try earplugs to help if your sleep is disrupted by external noises/partner snores, etc. White noise can also help to cancel out distracting noises that can disrupt sleep.

Timing: Establish a regular sleep schedule.

  • Establish a sleep-wake routine: Stick to a routine, even on weekends. Any routine that has a bedtime before midnight and allows for 7-8 hours is reasonable.
  • Don’t eat for at least 2 hours before bed: Your body needs time to begin metabolizing and absorbing food.
  • Keep naps to 20-30 minutes in the early to mid-afternoon: Research shows that naps (even 9 minutes long) can be restorative. Short naps prevent person from going into deep sleep, which can extend the duration of the nap, result in the person feeling sluggish, and interfere with nighttime sleep. If you have sleep problems like insomnia, naps can add to the problem especially if taken late in the day. Naps do not make up for chronic sleep loss or poor-quality nighttime sleep.

For more information, check out this Lifestyle Medicine Sleep Fact Sheet.

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Our Lifestyle Medicine team is here to support you on your journey to better health. Connect with one of our Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Specialists today.

6 Tips for Thriving during the Holiday Season

Along with laughter and good cheer, the holidays often bring busier schedules, an abundance of indulgent food and drink and increased financial stress, all of which can have a negative effect on our physical and mental health.

The good news is looking at the holidays through the six pillars of Lifestyle Medicine gives us the opportunity to rethink those holiday traditions that don’t contribute to our whole-health and focus instead on prioritizing self-care so that we can truly thrive this holiday season.

1. Manage Stress Better

Stress can play a part in headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression and anxiety. Chronic stress coupled with acute stressors that we may experience during the holidays leave the body overstimulated with high levels of basal cortisol which in turn increases inflammation and causes or worsens disease.

Lifestyle Tip: Tools like regulated breathing, positive thinking, meditation, gratitude, and exercise can help manage stress and fight inflammation when used every day.

2. Eat Smarter

Food truly is medicine.  Beyond the physical benefits that a healthy diet affords us, food also effects our mood. It can be especially challenging to make healthy food choices during the holidays. 

Lifestyle Tip: Remind yourself to eat slowly and savor each bite, especially when it comes to calorie dense foods. Be truly present when sharing a meal with those you care about by disconnecting from electronics.

3. Sleep More Soundly

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our overall health and well-being.  Sleep deprivation leaves the brain exhausted, and chronic sleep deprivation is strongly correlated with behavioral health issues, such as depression, anxiety and substance use.

Lifestyle Tip: Set yourself up for a restorative night of sleep by preparing the right way. Strive to set and stick to a sleep routine that allows for 7-8 hours of sleep per night in a cool, dark place and try to disconnect from screens two hours before bedtime.

4. Connect with Others

Social connections and relationships affect our physical, mental and emotional health. Research shows that the single most important predictor of human happiness and long life is having strong social connections. There is evidence that health related measures like blood pressure and heart rate improve even with short, positive social interactions. Technology can improve social connectedness in some cases but research also finds that those who use social media the most are at a higher risk for depression.

Lifestyle Tip: Try chatting with the person in line next to you while doing your holiday shopping, or smiling as you pass others in the hallway – these positive micro interactions scattered throughout your day can have a big impact. If you use social media, be mindful of how you use technology to support the social connections in your life.

5. Move More

Consistent regular exercise benefits us both mentally and physically. Moving our bodies, especially in nature, can do wonders for our whole health. In fact, studies show that being active for as little as 10 minutes per day can positively impact our mood.

Lifestyle Tip: Even as the days get shorter and colder, make it a priority to move naturally throughout the day doing things you love; walk with friends, ride a bike, dance, or play with the children and pets in your life.

6. Avoid Risky Substances

We know that reducing the intake of items like alcohol, vaping and smoking improve our physical health, but they can also have an impact on our mental health and happiness.  When we are not using substances, we are more able to be present in the moment and notice the positive things around us.

Lifestyle Tip: Take a moment to be aware of when you might be using these substances to alter your reality and focus instead on working to identify positive strategies to cope with life’s daily stressors.

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Our Lifestyle Medicine team is here to support you on your journey to better health. Connect with one of our Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Specialists today.

Harvest Bowls

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup quinoa  
  • 2 cups water 
  • 2 cup Brussel Sprouts  
  • 1 acorn squash  
  • 4 tablespoons dried cherries  
  • 1 can chickpeas  
  • 1 tablespoon Ground cumin  
  • 1 tablespoon garlic  
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon  
  • Parsley  

Directions  

  1. Begin by washing all ingredients. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Slice the acorn squash in half and remove seeds. Add olive oil and brush to coat.  
  3. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and place face up on a baking tray. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  
  4. Slice Brussel sprouts in half and toss in oil and garlic powder. Add to a baking sheet and back for 30 minutes.
  5. In a slow cooker, large stock pot, or Instapot, add all your quinoa and water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes.   
  6. Rinse and drain chickpeas and pat dry. Add to a bowl and toss with spices. Transfer to cooking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
  7. When squash is fork tender and rice is cooked through, remove from heat and scoop out insides into a bowl.  
  8. Plate by filling a bowl with cooked quinoa, squash, brussels and chickpeas. Top with cherries and parsley and serve warm. 

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Our Lifestyle Medicine team is here to support you on your journey to better health. Connect with one of our Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Specialists today.

Pumpkin Cookies

Makes 12  

Ingredients  

  • 1 cup almond flour  
  • 2 flax eggs  
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon  
  • ½ cup pumpkin puree  

Directions 

  1. Lay out all ingredients and preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Make a flax egg with 2 tablespoons of flax meal and 6 tablespoons of water and set aside to gel.
  3. Add flax egg and pumpkin together and stir.  
  4. Add in almond flour and cinnamon. Stir to combine. Thin dough with water or plant milk as needed.  
  5. Scoop 2 tablespoon balls onto cookie tray and top with more cinnamon.  
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

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3 Bean Pumpkin Chili

Serves 4 

Ingredients  

  • 1 yellow onion, diced  
  • 1 can kidney beans  
  • 1 can black beans  
  • 1 can pinto beans  
  • 1 can diced tomatoes  
  • 1 cup pumpkin diced  
  • 1 tablespoon, garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon, chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon, paprika 

Directions  

  1. Begin by laying out and washing all ingredients.  
  2. Dice onion and add to a pot with water or avocado oil and sauté until translucent.  
  3. Add canned beans and tomatoes and bring to a boil.  
  4. De-seed and cube pumpkin. Add to mixture without skin.  
  5. Add seasonings and salt to taste.  
  6. Simmer for 20 minutes or until pumpkin is fork soft.

Ready to take the next step?

Our Lifestyle Medicine team is here to support you on your journey to better health. Connect with one of our Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Specialists today.

Falafel Pita with Veggies

Ingredients  

  • 1 can chickpeas  
  • 1 Parsley  
  • 1 head garlic  
  • Ground Cumin  
  • 1/4 cup cooked quinoa  
  • 4 tablespoons tahini  
  • 1 lemon, juiced  
  • Salt and pepper to taste  
  • Cucumber  
  • Radish  
  • Mixed greens  
  • Whole wheat pita  

Directions 

  1. Wash and lay out all ingredients.
  2. Finely mince garlic, onions, and parsley and add to a bowl with the spices.
  3. Add chickpeas, rinsed and drained, to the bowl as well as the cooked quinoa and ½ of lemon juice.  
  4. Mash together and add salt to taste.  
  5. Scoop into balls and set on baking sheet.  
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden.  
  7. Slice veggies thinly.  
  8. Mix tahini and remaining lemon juice to make sauce. Thin with water.  
  9. Remove falafel from oven and place in pita with veggies, greens, and dressing. Enjoy!

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Sambar

Ingredients  

  • 2 cups red lentils (dal)  
  • 4 cups water 
  • 1 green pepper  
  • 1/2 medium eggplant  
  • 2 medium carrots  
  • 1/2 yellow onion  
  • 4-6 baby potatoes  
  • 2-3 tablespoons Sambar Spice Blend 

Directions 

  1. Wash and lay out all ingredients.  
  2. Dice onions.  
  3. Add 1 tablespoon spice blend with 2 teaspoons oil and onions to a pot.  
  4. Dice carrots, eggplant and pepper. Add to pot when onions are translucent.  
  5. Add dal and water and bring to a boil. 
  6. Add remaining spices and salt to taste 
  7. Cook 20-30 minutes until soft. Option to blend 1/2 for smoother texture.  
  8. Serve warm.

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Citrus and Beet Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • Mixed greens
  • 1 grapefruit
  • 2 oranges
  • 1-2 medium beets, peeled and roasted
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar

Directions

  1. Wash and lay out all ingredients.
  2. Begin by peeling citrus fruits and removing all the white pith. Slice fruit into round ½ inch thick pieces. Arrange flat on plate.
  3. Next slice roasted and peeled beets into ½ inch think circles and arrange on top of fruit.
  4. Top with mixed greens to add color.
  5. Mix zest, juice, vinegar, and oil to combine for a dressing. Drizzle on fruit and beets and serve.

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Marinated Mushrooms and Beans

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 carton of cremini mushrooms
  • 1 can butter beans, rinsed
  • ½ bunch parsley, chopped
  • 2-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 roasted red peppers
  • ½ red onion
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup white whine vinegar

Directions

  1. Wash and lay out all ingredients.
  2. Rinse and drain beans and add to a bowl.
  3. Dice onion and red peppers and add to mix.
  4. Mince herbs and garlic and add with salt and pepper.
  5. Finally quarter mushrooms and add to bowl and combine.
  6. Top with oil and vinegar and let sit for 1 hour or more.
  7. Serve with whole grain bread or store for up to one week.

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Wild Rice and Lentil Stuffed Acorn Squash

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups of a wild rice and brown rice blend
  • 1 carton of cremini mushrooms
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce  
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3 medium celery stalks
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 1 acorn squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Directions

  1. Begin by washing all ingredients. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  
  2. Slice the acorn squash in half and remove seeds. Brush the acorn squash with olive oil to coat.
  3. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the squash and place face up on a baking tray. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes.
  4. Mice garlic and dice onion. Set aside and let sit for 15 minutes.
  5. Dice celery and peppers and slice mushrooms. Set aside.
  6. Rinse rice and lentils. Set aside.
  7. In a slow cooker, large stock pot, or Instant Pot, add garlic, onion, celery, peppers, mushrooms, rice and lentils. Add in remaining seasonings. Mix well and cook for 2 hours (slow cooker), 1 hour (large stock pot), or 30 minutes (Instant Pot) respectively.
  8. When the acorn squash is fork tender and rice is cooked through, plate by filling the center of the squash with ¾ cup of the rice and vegetable mixture.

Ready to take the next step?

Our Lifestyle Medicine team is here to support you on your journey to better health. Connect with one of our Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Specialists today.

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