sleep

Doing Battle with Summer Heat

I am not made for the heat. I know this.

I don't glow; I wilt. I don't tan; I burn. I don't enjoy lazy afternoons while the sun bestows its radiant heat upon me; I park myself in front of a fan and wait for the sun to set.

You get the picture. 

Everything healthy just seems harder when it's hot out--cooking, exercising, sleeping--so, I'm always on the look out for ways to make it easier to stick to the things I know are good for me.

Here are a few I thought might help you too. 

 
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Sleep

If you aren't blessed with air conditioning, here are a few of my favorite ways to sleep despite the heat. 

Pick the right fabric for bedding and pajamas. Cotton and silk are good choices and stay relatively cool.

Ice packs. Some people swear by icing your neck and wrists, which I'm sure works. I tend to just go to sleep with an ice pack (wrapped in a towel) laying across my chest or under my back. (When I say ice packs, I'm talking about those reusable gel ones not ice cubes in a bag.) 

Take a cool shower before bed. I have done this when I've been desperate to cool off. And it does work.

Run a fan in your room and lie still in its path. Tossing and turning won't help you stay cool. If you can lie still on your bed, in the path of a fan, with your little ice pack on, you have a shot at getting comfortable enough to fall asleep.

 
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Food

The last thing I want to do when it's already hot in my house is turn on the oven to cook. So, here are a few of my favorite recipes and hacks for sticking to my healthy eating habits.

Smoothies are your friend. I eat smoothies for dinner on days when I just can't face cooking. And if I load them up with veggies (fresh spinach is a good one), some healthy proteins and fats (peanut butter, avocado, protein powder, even canned white beans), fruit and milk, I've got a fairly nutritious meal for myself. No oven or stove required. I might have a little toast or something too, just for some variety of texture.

Buy things you would normally have to cook, already made. You can get rotisserie chickens at the grocery store. Toss that on top of a salad and you've got a meal. I'm sure the deli at your grocery store has other protein options too. Is it the most cost-effective way to eat? Probably not long-term. But it's a decent short-term solution on especially hot summer days. I don't eat meat, so I tend to throw beans or crunchy edamame on salads for protein. I'm not big on the faux meats, but there are versions of those in some grocery stores that would be good salad toppers or fillings for wraps.

BBQ. Cook outside. If you can stand to be out there, hovering over a grill, you can cook without heating up the house. And if you want something besides the typical burger/chicken/hot dog fare, check out these pizzas you can grill using ingredients from Trader Joe's!

Avocado toast. This is one of my favorite things. I toast some sourdough bread in the toaster. Slather it with some mashed avocado and then...Well, the toppings vary. But I will usually get some protein on it. The pre-roasted crispy chickpeas and edamame you can get at the grocery stare are two options that don't require any cooking. If you're a meat-eater, leftover chicken might be a good choice.  I'll toss some herbs and spices on there--salt, red pepper flakes, maybe some Everything But the Bagel seasoning from Trader Joe's, or some fresh basil. One of my favorite combos is avocado, fresh tomato slices, salt, pepper, fresh basil and some reduced balsamic vinegar. Maybe a little tempeh bacon on top if I've got some. So good.

Pasta salads. If you can stand to have the stove on long enough to cook some pasta, or if you can plan ahead and cook some on a cooler day, this summer pasta salad is delicious and really easy. One I love that requires no cooking at all, is this White Bean Caprese Salad. And this Black Bean, Corn and Avocado version is really good with some healthy tortilla chips or wrapped in a tortilla (which you can warm in the microwave).

 
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Exercise

Oh the misery that is doing something you know will make you hotter when it's already blazingly hot in outside and/or inside your house/apartment. Yes, I'm talking about exercise. So, how do we stick to our commitment to move our bodies when we're already fighting hard to stay cool? Here are a few ways I switch things up with my workouts when summer hits. 

I change the kind of exercise I do. I add things like swimming into my workout rotation. There are aquatic fitness classes, but just swimming laps is a great workout. I'll do things like gentle yoga too that are a little less taxing and a bit more relaxing.

Location, location, location. My house now has air conditioning, but when it didn't, I would join gyms that were air conditioned, just for the summer. I'd go for my walks near the water where it was sometimes a few degrees cooler, or in parks where there were trails with tons of shade.

Timing is important. In the summer I have to exercise in the morning before it gets too hot. Afternoon or evening workouts when I've just spent the day fighting the heat are impossible for me. So morning it is. Fans running. Windows open to let in some cool air. 

Wardrobe is key. I'm normally not one for wearing shorts and tank tops when I work out in public places, but I'm also not a huge fan of heat stroke. So, I bare my arms and legs in the summer, even though I don't want to. It maximizes the opportunities for evaporative cooling, and that's worth the tiny little bit of self-consciousness I feel. 

Feel free to share your favorite ways to stick to your healthy activities when it's blazing hot outside in the comments below. Take care, friends and stay cool!

Give Yourself Permission

I have the very best doctor. I found her through a Google search for, "best doctor in (my city)." Patients had given her amazing reviews online and so I called and got a spot as a patient. Even though I've now moved about an hour away, I still go to her. She's awesome in so many ways. She never makes you feel like she's got somewhere else to be, even though I know she's got a full schedule of patients. She has a sign above the scale in her office that says, "It's Just a Number." And she shares my first name :-) 

During one of the first appointments I had with her, I was lamenting my weight. How it had gotten out of control and how hard I was trying  to lose it without success. I was tired. And stressed. And basically just miserable. 

She asked me about my schedule. How much sleep did I get? What did I eat? What was going on at work? How many hours was I working between my two jobs? What was my commute like? What kind of social support did I have? I answered all of her questions and then prepared myself for the diet and exercise recommendations--the tough love--I was sure was on the way. 

But instead of a lecture. Instead of warnings. Instead of a prescription for Weight Watchers or the local gym, she said...

Sleep. She told me my only job right now was to make sure I got 7-9 hours of sleep every night and then figure out which quantity of hours made me feel my best. That’s it. I didn’t need to worry about changing my diet. Or getting up at the crack of dawn to exercise.

Just sleep. 

And when I had done that consistently for a few weeks, I could add in one other healthy activity. Just one.

She gave me a tremendous gift in that moment—the permission to be kind to myself. I am telling you, when she said “just sleep” I felt like crying, I was so happy. And relieved.

Sleep? Sleep I could do. Take everything else off the list for now and just focus on sleep? Yes. Yes, please.

I had to trust that if I did that one thing, that I would know when I was ready to add more.

And I did. One day I woke up and felt like trying to exercise again.

I had to reset a couple of times. I tried to do too much, too fast. But I caught myself each time and went back to the basics. Back to sleep. Then adding one thing at a time.

There are good reasons why my doctor had me focus on sleep first. There is not a single function of the body that does not rely, in large or small part, upon getting adequate sleep. Here are just a few:

  • Sleep helps to regulate your hormones, including the hormone that generates feelings of hunger (ghrelin) and the one that gives you the signal of being satiated (leptin). If you don’t get enough sleep, the former goes up and the latter goes down. So, you feel hungry more often and have trouble feeling full, both of which can lead you to eat more.
  • Your body repairs itself during sleep. Your muscles, blood vessels, heart and other major organs use the time when you are asleep to fix damage and (in the case of your muscles) increase mass. If you exercise, sleep is when that microscopic damage you did to your muscles during your workout gets repaired and additional muscle fibers are generated.
  • Your immune system relies on sleep to function at its optimal level. Inadequate rest leaves you vulnerable to infections like the common cold, but also to chronic disease. Studies have found a relationship between insufficient sleep and an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Your ability to complete basic and complex tasks at work, school or at home is compromised. Things can take longer, and you are more prone to making mistakes when sleep deficient. The National Institutes of Health reports that, “after several nights of losing sleep—even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night—your ability to function suffers as if you haven't slept at all for a day or two.” Your memory, athletic performance, creative powers and the ability to learn new things are all improved with adequate sleep.

Okay, so how much sleep is enough and how do we make sure we are consistently getting enough sleep? For adults ages 18-64, the National Sleep Foundation (yes, sleep is so important there are research foundations dedicated to it!), recommends between 7-9 hours per night. For adults 65 and older, the recommended range is 7-8 hours. They have a sleep duration recommendations chart, which you can access here.

The foundation also has tips for ensuring a good night’s sleep, including: sticking to a sleep schedule (even on the weekends); exercising regularly; avoiding caffeine, alcohol and using electronics in the hours before bedtime; and making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and not too warm or too cold.

Here's some homework for you, if you're up for it. If you aren't getting your 7-9 hours, commit to doing that and determining your magic number of hours. It's 9 for me. Come up with your own bedtime ritual to follow too. Maybe you light your favorite scented candle and read for an hour before sleep. Maybe you do some yoga (there are some great evening yoga dvds out there). Maybe you meditate, or journal or just sit and think about your day.

And let us know how it goes!