Did you know your fitness and health routine starts in your bed? And no, I’m not talking about sex (though I know you guys probably considerate it your favorite form of cardio). I’m talking about sleep and the value of the the sleep you’re getting. Sleeping is one of those under-valued acts. If you don’t get good sleep, a ton of adverse things could happen to you including (but not limited to) weight gain, memory issues, poor performance and depression. Sleeping is one of those things things we overlook when it comes to our health and that tends to be a big mistake. You can work out for hours, eat healthy and keep yourself fit but still be unhealthy by not getting enough sleep.

We’ve become an impatient society, one that doesn’t want to take the time to truly identify problems and define them fully. We’ve neatly summed up poor health to meaning either a lack of exercise or poor diet. Those are the big factors but in the spectrum of wellness, there’s a lot of area in between that shouldn’t be overlooked, sleep being one of those.

I’ll confess, I’ve had sleep issues for years. At first it was chalked up to youth: I could easily stay up all night and get up early in the morning for school. In high school and college, I could function off of just a few hours of sleep. Even when I started working, I didn’t snap into any good sleeping patterns. I was, for a good portion of my life thus far, one of those people who’d go off little sleep during the weekdays and then sleep for hours on end during the weekend. My high school French teacher once told me upon hearing of my sleeping habits that you can’t make-up sleep. It’s taken my young adult years to really understand what she meant: try as you must, the hours of sleep you lose aren’t made-up. You’ve lost them for good and it takes its toll on your body.

When I started dealing with my depression, it was clear that depression and sleep went hand-in-hand; the hours spent awake and the few hours spent sleeping lead to a good amount of those negative, depressed feelings. I was told by a doctor that investing in a good quality mattress from a well-known company such as Leesa would be the best idea. He said it would let me get to sleep easier which would help my moods. I tried it and alongside counselling and much more help, I was able to overcome it. There are so many great products available to help improve sleep quality. Many people, especially in America, suffer from poor sleep. We put in hours for work, hours dealing with home and family matters, hours watching television or chatting online, hours partying in clubs but don’t put in hours of sleep. As usual, our own needs and well-being are put last in the queue of priorities. People … you need sleep. If you want to get a handle on your mental health, on your endurance and fitness, on losing weight, it starts with the hours you devote to sleeping.

There’s always that spill about how everyone needs 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Actually, I’ve read that younger people at times require less sleep than adults. Yet the older you get, the less sleep you seem to get! Then there’s the problem of simply not being able to sleep which leads to us relying on prescriptions to help us do so. Funny, some of these medications meant to make us sleep better and thus make us healthier come with a list of side effects, including weight gain, depression and other unwanted things. There are some really easy things you can do to get a better night’s rest:

1. Reorganize your bedroom. I’m not talking extreme home makeover but instead making your bedroom more of a designated area for sleep. You want to make your room as comfortable as possible, especially when it comes to helping to provide you with a good night’s sleep. You can start this off by looking into a site like bazaarvelvet.com to find the right design and material for your new rug. I know not everyone has thought of this as a way of helping to make your room comfortable, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Our bedrooms are often packed with distractions: televisions, dvd/blu-ray players, laptops, computers, game consoles, etc. A bedroom should not be an entertainment room: It should be relaxing and probably a bit boring and dull. It’s the area you retire to after a stimulating day and after all the excitement. Remove the distractions and your mind and body will adjust. You’ll start seeing your bedroom as the place where you go to sleep, not as the place where you go to talk on the phone, watch television and all of these other stimulating activities that require you to stay awake and alert.

2. Buy an air purifier for your bedroom. One of the best things I did to makeover my bedroom was to improve the air quality in it. Even after removing all of the distractions and being able to fall asleep pretty quickly, I was not getting sound sleep. I’d get 7 or more hours and would wake up feeling groggy, sluggish and as if I hadn’t slept at all. The problem was the air I was consuming and it’s something we often overlook. The air in your home or apartment is full of stuff: chemicals, toxins, pollen, allergies, dust, smoke from the kitchen, things tracked in from outdoors, air ‘fresheners’ full of harmful byproducts. The reason you aren’t getting a restorative sleep is often because even as you sleep you’re being bombarded by toxins, pollutants and chemicals that are invading your body and robbing you of sleep. Trust me: an air purifier can do wonders for your room. You’ll be able to sleep more soundly and hit that deep sleep area easier and quickly.

3. Remove clocks from your view (or from the room, period).
When we sleep we easily become obsessed with either how many hours we’ve gotten or how many we’ve got left. Seeing the time can ruin your sleep! I say that you either place your alarm clock far away from your bed and out of view or at least cover it up so that you aren’t spending the entire night watching the minutes tick away.

4. Be mindful of what you eat or drink before bed. Be smart – if you’re heading to bed, don’t down a cup of coffee or tea or any other drink full of caffeine. Caffeine, being a stimulate, will undoubtedly keep you awake. You should aim to drink only water or decaf drinks 2 or 3 hours before getting to bed. Also, it’s not a bad thing to eat before you get to bed! Some foods, like popcorn, almonds or yogurt topped with nuts, could actually help relax your body and ease you into sleep. However, candy, sugar, ice cream and things that you KNOW are bad will keep your up for hours.

5. Create a sleeping ritual. Counting sheep doesn’t work for a lot of people. You need a ritual that lets your body know you’re preparing to shut down for the night. Perhaps it’s that you change into your pajamas and brush your teeth 30 minutes before you get into bed. Maybe once you’re in bed, you read (an actual book, not your E-mail, Blackberry, or iPad) for 20-30 minutes. Reading an actual book is proven to require more energy and thus will help tire you out and prepare you for bed. Also have a plan for waking up: don’t hit the snooze button but actually get up the moment you wake up or your alarm goes off. You actually hurt yourself by hitting the snooze button because though you may go back to sleep for a few minutes, your body never gets back to deep sleep and so it’s the same as starting your car and letting it warm-up but then turning the engine off and letting it sit idle for hours. Have a wake-up ritual: open the blinds, get dressed for an early morning run or yoga session; eat breakfast; make coffee; read or watch the news. Having a set plan for going to sleep and getting up will get your body to know your sleeping habits.

If you want to get healthy, get your sleep in order! Bad sleep can ruin a good diet, fitness plan and leave you feeling drained and lagging for days if not years. Just another one of those areas of your life most fitness gurus and health professionals fail to really define and talk about.

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