Nature’s Sleep Aids

Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? One of the easiest ways to combat insomnia and sleeplessness is to utilize the benefits of natural essential oils. Whether you apply the oils topically, add them to a warm bath, diffuse them, or spritz* them onto your pillowcase or eyemask, certain essential oils provide relief for insomnia and aid in falling and staying asleep.

Lavender

lavender By now, many people know that lavender helps to soothe and relax tired minds and muscles. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “Scientific evidence suggests that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, promote relaxation, and lift mood in people suffering from sleep disorders.” It is also beneficial as a bug repellent and antibiotic, for all you avid campers.

 Ylang Ylang

imagesThis essential oil is one of my favorites for relaxation, probably because of its fragrant floral notes. It reduces stress and relaxes the nerves. I like to mix a couple drops of this with lavender or chamomile for added benefits.

 Roman Chamomile

chamomile-401490_640Roman Chamomile has a sweet, fruity aroma. It has a calming effect, and is great to diffuse for a soothing and peaceful environment, i.e., one that promotes and supports sleep.

 Bergamot

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Bergamot is a good choice for someone who loves citrus scents, but it is much more calming than the more stimulating oils of grapefruit or tangerine. It is great for “clearing your head” in preparation for a peaceful night’s rest.

Vetiver

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This essential oil is extracted from the root of the vetiver plant. It has a warm, earthy scent, and promotes sleep while also relieving stress and muscle tension.

* I recommend adding a couple drops of essential oil to a water-based spritzer so the oil does not stain your bed linens.

Surprise! Sleep Deprivation Affects Emotional Intelligence

It is 8:00 am, pre-coffee (if that’s your thing), and you’re getting ready to walk out the door after a night of staying up with your sick spouse, child, or roommate. You’re starting to feel super-human, juggling all your pre-work morning responsibilities with a heavy head and groggy eyes, when your spouse/child/roommate walks up to you and asks an innocent question: “I’m hungry. What are we having for breakfast?” You look at their cheerful face and take instant offense. You think, “What do you mean, what’s for breakfast? Can’t you see I’m simultaneously feeding the dog, prepping the beans for tonight’s slow-cooker dinner, and reading Junior’s school newsletter?” Excitement      According to a new U.C. Berkeley study published in the Journal of Neuroscience earlier this week, there is a strong link between a lack of quality sleep and decreased ability to distinguish between positive and negative emotional facial expressions in others. Researchers viewed brain scans and monitored the heart rates of 18 adult participants while they randomly viewed 70 images of faces with random expressions: positive, neutral, and negative emotions. Each individual viewed the facial images twice, once when they were fully rested and once after they had been awake for 24 consecutive hours. The study noted a neural link between the quality and amount of sleep a person gets and his or her ability to correctly process others’ facial expressions. The results of the study inferred that there is “a role for REM sleep in affective brain recalibration” and “the next-day success of emotional discrimination…” Sleeping_angel All the more reason to get a good night’s sleep!   For more information on the study, you can refer to the following articles: http://news.berkeley.edu/2015/07/14/brain-facialexpressions/ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/15/sleep-brain-emotions_n_7801726.html

A Good Night’s Sleep

There are all kinds of benefits from getting a good nights sleep. It can help us live longer, lower the risks of having a stroke or heart disease, or even spur our minds to be more creative.

But what about memory?

Shai Marcu teamed up with TED-Ed to make a video that sheds light on the mistaken idea that sleep is lost time or just a way to rest when all our work is done.

Enjoy!

Is Sunscreen Really Protecting You?

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Many people think that exposing their skin to the sun will give them skin cancer. So to combat it, they either slather on sunscreen when going outdoors or try to avoid the sun as much as possible. Sadly, neither of these is a good solution.

Smaller amounts of sunlight can be healthy, but overexposure is what can be harmful. In modern times, most people do not get enough sun as a result of spending large amounts of time indoors. Many people actually become Vitamin D deficient, which can cause more problems than having too much sun exposure. Vitamin D deficiencies have been connected to several types of cancers and problems during pregnancy.

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As for covering yourself in sunscreen for protection, what people don’t realize is that most sunscreens contain toxic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which can actually promote skin cancer and free-radical production in the body. They may protect against sunburn, but do very little to prevent skin cancer and signs of aging.

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The best solution is to get limited daily sunshine to ensure that you are producing enough Vitamin D, but no so much that you risk getting sunburned. If you are planning on being outdoors for the entire day, you should consider loose clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses, as well as locating shady spots to minimize the amount of time you’re in direct sunlight.

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If you are in a situation where you feel it is necessary to use sunscreen (rather than get burned), the best thing to do is try a natural recipe for homemade sunscreen. Below I’ve listed a recipe by Wellness Mama, as well as her personal notes for preparation.

Next time you go out in the sun, be prepared and informed about the proper ways to protect your skin.

Natural Homemade Sunscreen

Homemade natural sunscreen with beneficial oils, zinc oxide and beeswax for water protection.

Author: Wellness Mama

Recipe type: Remedy

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Combine ingredients except zinc oxide in a pint sized or larger glass jar. I have a mason jar that I keep just for making lotions and lotion bars, or you can even reuse a glass jar from pickles, olives, or other foods.
  2. Fill a medium saucepan with a couple inches of water and place over medium heat.
  3. Put a lid on the jar loosely and place in the pan with the water.
  4. As the water heats, the ingredients in the jar will start to melt. Shake or stir occasionally to incorporate. When all ingredients are completely melted, add the zinc oxide, stir in well and pour into whatever jar or tin you will use for storage. Small mason jars (pint size) are great for this. It will not pump well in a lotion pump!
  5. Stir a few times as it cools to make sure zinc oxide is incorporated.
  6. Use as you would regular sunscreen. Best if used within six months.

Additional Notes:

  • This sunscreen is somewhat, but not completely, waterproof and will need to be reapplied after sweating or swimming.
  • Make sure not to inhale the Zinc Oxide- use a mask if necessary!
  • This recipe has an SPF of about 15, though adding more Zinc Oxide will increase the SPF.
  • Add more beeswax to make thicker sunscreen, less to make smooth sunscreen.
  • I recommend coconut or vanilla extract or lavender essential oils for fragrance.
  • Store in a cool, dry place or in the fridge.
  • I prefer to store in a small canning jar and apply like body butter. It will be thicker, especially if you use coconut oil in the recipe.
  • Remove the Zinc Oxide and this makes an excellent lotion recipe!

Best and Worst Sleeping Positions For Your Body

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Most people have experienced mornings where they wake up with aches and pains, wondering what they did to hurt so badly. The rest of the day they are irritable and uncomfortable with joint and muscle cramps.

The sleep positions they are unconsciously choosing could be the culprit! Proper posture, even while sleeping, is important to feeling your best the following day. These infographics from American Infographic on Tumblr shows the best and worst sleep positions and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

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10 Ways to Make Your Vegetable Dishes More Nutritious

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Now that summer is here, I prefer to prepare meals with a lot of delicious vegetables. After looking up some new recipes and information on which vegetables have the most nutritional value, I discovered that the way I cook and store them can actually be making them less nutritious! Investigative journalist Jo Robinson recently published the book Eating on the Wild Side, featuring pages and pages of information on how to properly store and prepare vegetables. Here are 10 ways we are making our vegetables less nutritious and the simple solutions to fix the problems.

 

1. Buying fresh tomatoes instead of canned.

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Cooking tomatoes makes them more nutritious, and the longer you cook them, the better. Heat changes the lycopene into a form our bodies can more readily absorb and — surprise! — canned tomatoes are much higher in phytonutrients, thanks to the heat of the canning process. Tomato paste, being more concentrated, is even better.

 

2. Storing lettuce wrong.

You might think that damaging your vegetables before storing them is a mistake, but when it comes to lettuce, tearing the leaves triggers a protective blast of phytonutrients that you can take advantage of by eating the greens within a day or two. Lettuce that is torn before storing can have double the antioxidants of whole lettuce leaves.

 

3. Boiling spinach — or any vegetable, really.

You may have heard that boiling vegetables is a no-no because water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C leach out of the food and into the cooking water, but you might not know that boiling also reduces the antioxidant content. The difference in spinach is especially dramatic: after 10 minutes of boiling, three-quarters of its phytonutrient content is in the cooking water, not in the vegetable itself. (Of course, if you consume the cooking liquid, as you do when making soup, you consume all the nutrients in the water as well.) Steaming, microwaving, sautéing, and roasting — cooking methods that don’t put vegetables in direct contact with water — result in more nutritious vegetables on the plate.

 

4. Eating your salad with fat-free salad dressing.

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We’ve known for a few years that you absorb more of the nutrients in salad when you eat it with fat, but the type of fat can make a difference. Most commercial salad dressings use soybean oil, but extra-virgin olive oil is much more effective at making nutrients available for absorption. Unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil is even better, as it contains double the phytonutrients of filtered.

 

5. Cooking garlic right after chopping it.

If you mince a clove of garlic and quickly throw it in a hot pan, you consume almost no allicin, the beneficial compound that makes garlic such a health star. That’s because the enzyme that creates allicin is not activated until you rupture the cell walls of the garlic — and is quickly inactivated by heat. Just two minutes in a hot pan or 60 seconds in the microwave reduces the allicin in just-chopped garlic to almost nothing. Letting the chopped garlic sit for 10 minutes before exposing it to heat gives the enzyme time to do its work, so your finished dish contains the maximum amount of allicin. Using a garlic press is even better than mincing, as it releases more of the compounds that combine to create allicin.

 

6. Throwing away the most nutritious parts of the vegetable.

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Most American recipes call for only the white and light green parts of scallions, but the dark green parts have a higher concentration of phytonutrients. Instead of throwing out the nutritious tops, you can ignore the recipe instructions and toss in the green parts as well, or explore recipes from elsewhere in the world which utilize the entire green onion. And don’t forget vegetable peels, which often contain a higher concentration of antioxidants than the rest of the vegetable. You can try roasting them and eating them like chips!

 

7. Eating potatoes right after cooking them.

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Many people avoid white potatoes because they are a high-glycemic vegetable, spiking blood sugar after eating. But chilling potatoes for about 24 hours after cooking converts the starch in the potatoes to a type that is digested more slowly, making them a low-glycemic vegetable. So potato salad chilled overnight is a low-glycemic food, as is a cooked, chilled, and reheated baked potato.

 

8. Cutting carrots before you cook them.

Cooking carrots whole and cutting them up after they are cooked keeps more nutrients in the vegetable. And speaking of cooking, carrots are one vegetable that is better for you cooked than raw — cooking helps break down the cell walls, making the nutrients easier to absorb.

 

9. Buying broccoli florets, instead of a whole head.

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Broccoli looks like a hardy vegetable, but from an antioxidant standpoint, it is shockingly perishable, quickly exhausting its stores of powerful phytonutrients after harvest. “I call it one of the ‘eat me first’ vegetables,” says Robinson. One study found that after 10 days — the time it took to get the vegetable from field to supermarket produce section — broccoli lost 75 percent of its flavonoids (a type of antioxidant) and 80 percent of its glucosinolates, the compounds in cruciferous vegetables that are associated with numerous health benefits. Cutting the broccoli into florets doubles the rate of antioxidant loss, so in addition to buying the freshest broccoli you can find and cooking it right away, you should choose whole heads rather than the bags of pre-cut florets.

 

10. Cooking beans from scratch and discarding the cooking liquid.

Dried beans are some of the most phytonutrient-rich foods out there, but the big surprise is this: canned have more antioxidants! If you prefer from-scratch beans, let the beans sit in the cooking liquid for about an hour after cooking to reabsorb some of the nutrients that have moved into the liquid. And try using a pressure cooker to cook beans; one study found that beans cooked in the pressure cooker had more antioxidants than those cooked with other methods.

 

Enjoy your extra-nutritious meals!

 

Sleep and Exercise: A Reciprocal Relationship

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Many people feel that they get a better night’s sleep after a day of physical activity. It makes sense: The more active you are during the day, the easier it may be for you to relax and fall asleep at night. Interestingly enough, sleep may have as much of an effect on exercise as exercise has on sleep. Also, people who regularly sleep well may experience these effects very differently than people who have chronic sleep problems.

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According to a study published in the Mental Health and Physical Activity journal, a nationally representative group of participants reported a 65% improvement in sleep quality and daytime alertness when they exercised for at least 150 minutes per week. Aerobic activities seem to be best for sleep, as they increase the levels of oxygen that reach your bloodstream. The exact reasons behind exercise helping with sleep are unknown, but there are some theories from the National Sleep Foundation. One is that your body becomes heated during a workout, and the post-workout drop in temperature may promote sleep. Another reason could be that physical activity decreases anxiety, arousal, and symptoms of depression, which may contribute toward sleep problems. By keeping active during the day, it may be easier to deal with stress, and with less stress comes a deeper and more restful sleep.

Sleep also maximizes the benefits derived from exercise. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, the body performs vital activities during sleep, such as providing an opportunity to recover from being used during the day. Restorative functions almost exclusively take place while asleep, such as muscle growth, protein synthesis, and tissue repair. Alternately, when humans are deprived of sleep it can cause health problems by modifying levels of hormones involved in metabolism, appetite, and stress response. If your body has not had a chance to recover and restore itself, you will not be as fit for activities the following day.

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Most studies that look at the correlation between exercise and sleep do not use subjects with existing sleep issues. For people who do not have chronic sleep problems, the relationship between exercise and sleep is not as complicated. For people with insomnia, the relationship between sleep and exercise can become a vicious cycle, the lack of one hindering the other and vise versa. Insomnia can come in many different forms: difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, waking during the night, non-restorative sleep, and daytime sleepiness.

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A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine takes a closer look at a previous study on physical exertion and sleep. It concentrated on sedentary older women with insomnia. They were randomly directed to either remain inactive or begin doing cardiovascular exercises for 30 minutes, 3-4 times per week for 16 weeks. After the 16 weeks, the active group was sleeping much more soundly than they had been at the start of the study. They were sleeping for 45 minutes to an hour longer each night, were waking up less frequently, and were more energized during the day.

What was most interesting though, was the fact that the active participants did not experience immediate results. They did not notice an improvement in sleep the night following a day of physical exertion. In fact, they instead noticed diminished corporeal performance after a night of poor sleep. People with insomnia tend to experience extreme arousal of their stress system. Random single bursts of exercise will not help overcome this arousal, and may even aggravate it. In order to help with insomnia, an exercise routine needs to be implemented and maintained. Eventually the regular activity will start to silence a person’s stress response, and sleep will come more readily.

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The process is very gradual, and does not offer immediate gratification. This makes it harder to implement into daily life, because it takes regular exercise several months to show significant and consistent changes in sleep behavior for those with insomnia. And when you are tired, it is hard to motivate yourself to be active, and your workout suffers. Once sleep and activeness become a normal routine, each will benefit the other.

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As a whole, sleep and exercise are mutually beneficial, and both help maintain overall health. For people who do not experience regular problems with sleep, these benefits can be reaped almost immediately after implementing regular workouts and sleep routines. For those with insomnia or other sleep issues, it may be a bit harder to find the initial energy and endurance to begin this lifestyle change. Either way, the conclusion of these studies is that regular sleep and exercise should be incorporated into everyone’s lives, and as a pair, they can improve your health!