Good sleep and good diet are twins

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There is absolutely no question but that sleep in general and good, uninterrupted sleep including a period of REM or rapid eye movement sleep is essential to good health. Sleep allows the body, including the brain, to reenergize so that it can perform at peak ability while awake. Yet for many reasons, including obesity, many people do not get good sleep on a regular basis. A recent study was done by which explain how much sleep do we really need to stay healthy. Since we sleep about one-third of our lives we should take care of our body, and think about how and on what we are sleeping.

One “solution” is to take various forms of medication or other substances that we believe will aid our sleep. One of the most common is alcohol. But there are several problems with alcohol including the obvious physical damage it can cause to vital organs such as the liver when consumed excessively. Also there is evidence strongly suggesting that alcohol has a rebound effect, meaning that it can actually reduce sleep and lead to insomnia and a reduction in essential REM sleep. So a small glass of wine may be fine but beyond that you are heading into murky and dangerous waters using alcohol as a sleep aid.

There are also many sleep aid drugs all with their own set of disadvantages that tend to exceed their benefit. One of the most commonly prescribed sleep aids is Ambien. Oh yes Ambien will put you to sleep but it can also cause a wide ranging variety of very negative side effects including but not limited to: clumsiness, confusion, depression, difficulty breathing, dizziness, fainting, falling, rapid heartbeat, delusions, skin rash, facial swelling, oh and even difficulty sleeping. So Ambien does not seem to me to be a good option.

The one sleep aid I have personally found to be superb with minimal negative side effect if any is Melatonin. It’s a naturally occurring hormone that regulates sleepiness. It is made in the brain, where tryptophan is converted into serotonin and then into melatonin, which is released at night by the pineal gland to induce and maintain sleep. But the very best thing you can do to assure good sleep is guess what? Yes proper diet.

A study in the Western Journal of Nursing Research in 2011 compared how sleep quality was affected by four different diets: a high-protein diet, a high-fat diet, a high-carbohydrate diet, and a control diet. Results indicated that the diets high in protein resulted in fewer wakeful episodes during nighttime sleep. The high carbohydrate diet was linked to much shorter periods of quiescent or restful sleep. These results suggest that ingested nutrients do play a role in determining sleep quality.

Another investigation published in Nutrition Research in 2012 examined the effects of various combinations of dietary choices in regard to sleep. Although it is difficult to determine one perfect diet for sleep enhancement, this study indicated that a variety of micro and macro nutrients are needed to maintain levels of healthful and restful sleep. A varied diet containing fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat proteins, and whole grains [emphasis added] can be the best nutritional option for individuals seeking to improve the quality of their sleep.

And should you already be amongst the more than one third of Americans already obese the problem gets even worse as you can easily develop a breathing disorder or sleep apnea. Once that condition sets in you will find it even more difficult to engage yourself in very much needed good levels of physical exercise which in turn will tend to continue or even permit further gain in your obesity. This is truly a vicious cycle.

The take away from all of this is fairly clear and it begins with diet; not “a” diet but rather your regular every day diet that must be heavily focused on fresh fruits and vegetables, low fat proteins and whole grains. If you are not yet obese, avoiding becoming obese while challenging is clearly the best option.

If, however, you are already in the obese category than the task gets harder but even more compelling. The good news, the really good news in all of this is that you do have the ability to control your choices. Simply put, it really is entirely up to you.

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Editor’s Note: For more of Ron’s series on beating obesity and good health, he is located in the “Columnists” drop down menu at the top of this page. You will also find his theater and travel reviews.