Monday, November 23, 2009


The body naturally works in tune with the sun, moon and earth's rotation. Research indicates the body's natural, involuntary system is interrupted when normal sleep patterns are skewed.

What types of activities interrupt normal sleep patterns? One is an altered work schedule – changing from a daytime work schedule to the "graveyard shift.” Another negative sleep habit is going to bed late and waking early, which doesn’t allow the body to get the 6-8 hours of sleep recommended for health. Finally, if you do not sleep continuously through the night, you’re setting yourself up for irritability, lethargy and possible weight gain. I’ve had clients report getting up at 1 or 2 in the morning to snack, read or watch television. This type of unnatural activity negatively affects the involuntary processes the body goes through when we sleep – digestion, cell rebuilding, and memory “download” or storage by the brain. Additionally, nighttime snacking increases caloric intake without expending those calories, which causes weight gain.

If you find it difficult to unwind and enjoy a night of peaceful sleep, here are a few tips:

*Avoid strenuous exercise 1-2 hours before bedtime. Metabolism increases during exercise and typically remains up 1-2 hours after a bout of rigorous exercise. Instead, participate in less active physical activities like gentle stretching, meditation, or reading.

*Engage in focused deep breathing while lying in bed. Inhale for 10-20 seconds, then exhale for the same amount of time. Don’t hold your breath between inhalations and exhalations. Let the breath flow evenly in and out through your nose. Breathing through the nose will filter and warm the air coming into the body. Slow, concentrated breathing relaxes the muscles of the body and slows the heart rate.

*Do not eat immediately before going to bed. Move around a bit after dinner – clean the dishes or go for an evening stroll. Light activity after a meal helps to burn calories and aids digestion.

*Take a warm bath with Lavender and/or Chamomile oil in your bath water. These two essential oils have a calming affect when inhaled. If you do not have time for a bath, take a warm shower and smooth Lavender or Chamomile scented lotion or cream on your body afterwards.

*Drink warm (not boiling) decaffeinated Chamomile or white tea about 1-2 hours before bedtime. Chamomile tea, like the oil, has a calming affect. Since tea is a diuretic, make sure to allow an hour or so before bed so you won’t wake up for a bathroom run.

*Sleep in your bed, not on the couch. I know this sounds simple, but how many people do you know fall asleep late at night in a chair with the television on? Your spine needs the support of a sturdy mattress and your neck and head need the support of a good pillow.

*Discuss any breathing and sleep challenges with your physician. Obesity, heavy snoring and sleep apnea are three common causes of abnormal sleep patterns due to interrupted breathing. Check to see if you suffer from these or other issues.

Be good to yourself – you might be pleasantly surprised with the results of 6-8 hours of peaceful slumber.

Althea Lawton-Thompson, Certified Fitness Expert, is the owner of Aerobics, Yoga & More Fitness Studios in Lilburn, GA and the Fitness Coordinator of the Johns Hopkins Youth Obesity Program in Baltimore, MD. See classes and workshops she offers at

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