Why a Consistent Sleep Schedule Is Crucial for Good Health

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re in bed, curled up with a good book by 10:15 one night. The following night, you’re up past midnight playing board games with the family or watching “just one more” episode of your favorite Netflix drama. The next night, you start dozing on the couch at 8:30 but don’t actually crawl into bed until 11:30. Whoops.

If your sleep schedule is a bit of a mess these days, it’s time to get things back on track. Consistent and plentiful sleep is fundamental to your wellbeing, and it may be easier to achieve than you think.

How a Regular Bedtime Can Improve Your Health

Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same times each day is vital to your cardiovascular health. In fact, if your bedtime varies significantly from one night to the next, you may be doubling your risk of heart disease. That’s what a recent study from Harvard found when researchers observed the sleep schedules of over 2,000 men and women for six years.

Inconsistent sleep — both in terms of when you go to bed and how many hours of good sleep you get — can also increase your chance of suffering a heart attack and increase your odds of developing metabolic syndrome, an unsavory pack of health problems that boost your body’s likelihood of cardiovascular disease.

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule decreases your chance of developing some of aging’s other heavy hitters as well, including:

  • High blood pressure

  • Obesity

  • Diabetes

  • Stroke

How To Clean Up Your Sleep Schedule

When you’re ready to commit to better sleep, the good news is that there are plenty of ways to do so.

Keep Cool

A cooler bedroom is conducive to quality snoozing. The lower your body temperature, the faster you’ll reach REM sleep, which is the restorative slumber that helps your body recover from a long day. Studies show that the ideal overnight temperature for your bedroom is between 60- and 67-degrees Fahrenheit.

If you can squeeze a warm bath in before bed, too, go for it. While it seems counterintuitive, the warm water actually lowers your body temperature by increasing your circulation.

Banish Blue Light From the Bedroom

If you’re scrolling through your phone or tablet right before bed, you’re not doing your shuteye any favors. For starters, reading the news or work emails will do little to quiet your mind before rest. What’s more, these devices emit blue light that negatively affects sleep quality.

To cement your commitment to excellent sleep, refrain from using screens in the hour leading up to lights out. If you want to read, opt for an e-reader that doesn’t give off blue light or cozy up to a good old-fashioned book.

Avoid Alcohol

Contrary to what your friends claim, a glass of wine or two before bed is not a sleep aid. Beer, wine and spirits before bed may make you drowsy, but they also disrupt your circadian rhythm and diminish melatonin production, both of which lead to sub-par sack time. In fact, drinking in general isn’t great for your sleep.

That doesn’t mean you have to swear off Chardonnay forever, but you should imbibe intelligently. Drinking two or three times a week is fine for most, and the earlier in the evening that you can switch to water or tea, the better. In addition to more restorative sleep, you can also look forward to feeling more energetic and mentally sharp the following day.

Setting yourself up for a successful night of sleep takes discipline, but the health benefits you’ll reap are enormous. Don’t think of sticking to your sleep schedule as an obligation; think of it as a way to pamper yourself. Before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to retreating to your cozy sanctuary, even on the weekends.

Can Negative Thoughts Increase Your Dementia Risk?

The vast majority of Americans have been touched by dementia in one way or another. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease — and experts predict that number will almost triple by 2050. Ask any older adult, and he or she will tell you that the fear of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is very real.

If you’re like me, you do what you can to reduce your risk of developing these conditions: You eat well, don’t smoke and keep your brain active with everything from podcasts to Sudoku. There’s one area of brain training that you may be overlooking, though, and that’s your attitude about aging itself.

The Link Between Negativity and Dementia

In 1996, a groundbreaking study found that people who viewed aging as a negative thing demonstrated a noticeable decline in the size of their hippocampus, a change that’s very closely linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The study, published in “Psychology and Aging,” followed a group of almost 160 participants for decades, asking them various survey questions and conducting 10 years’ worth of MRIs.

Later studies have found similar results: older adults who report negative attitudes about aging are more likely to have the telltale signs of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains, namely tangles and plaques.

My takeaway from all of this research? We need to change the way we think about growing older, and there’s no time to waste.

2 Fun Ways To Maintain a Positive Attitude About Aging

Keeping a healthy outlook on life as you grow older is vital to your overall health. Here are two of my favorite ways to boost your spirits about being a senior.

Stay Social

It’s tempting to become more reclusive as you age, especially if you live with chronic health conditions that make mobility more difficult now than it was at age 30 or if you’ve lost a partner to death or divorce.

The thing is, staying part of your community, any community, is great for your mental health. While regular trips out and about are ideal, connecting with friends and acquaintances online provides plenty of wellness benefits, too.

Stumped for ways to get social? Give these a try:

  • Meet friends for a regular dinner and/or drinks date

  • Join or start a book club

  • Get involved at your church

  • Stump for a political candidate

  • Volunteer at your public library

  • Take an exercise class

  • Take an art class

While meeting new people and ditching your pajama pants can be hard, it’s important that you do. By putting yourself out there, you’re boosting your brain health!

Keep Your Stress Low

If you’re like most older adults, you’re enjoying a decreased level of responsibility. Your kids are grown. Maybe you’re retired or only working part-time. In short, you likely have more time to yourself than ever.

Embrace it! Instead of feeling isolated because your sons live across the country or you no longer go to the office every morning, feel liberated, and use that free time to slow down and do what you love. You’ve earned it.

It’s also important. Doing what you enjoy, whether that’s painting, taking a long walk or spending the whole day watching Tom Hanks movies, keeps your stress low. Lowering your stress lowers your risk of developing an incredibly wide array of chronic conditions and illnesses, including dementia.

When your stress level rises, which it’s bound to do from time to time, it’s important that you release that stress healthily. Meditation is certainly one way to do that, but tapping into your favorite iPad game and enjoying the fact that nobody’s going to ask you to wash a basketball uniform is good, too.

Growing older is no picnic, but it is a feast of wisdom and surprises. Lower your dementia risk and improve your overall health by learning to roll with the changes and focus on the perks of being a senior.

Start These Six Habits Now To Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder

Do you tend to feel down when the sun starts to set earlier in the day? Do you find that symptoms of depression go away in the summer and come back in the winter like clockwork? You might have seasonal affective disorder, commonly called SAD, a type of depression that peaks during the shorter days of autumn and winter. If you're dreading the darker days because you experience the symptoms of SAD, such as low energy, depression or sluggishness, try these six smart techniques to reduce the effects of limited sunlight on your mood.

Step Into the Light

Scientists think that the symptoms of SAD stem from a lack of natural light, so sunlight exposure is an easy way to ward off these unpleasant effects. Even if it doesn't get dark before dinner yet, get in the habit of taking a walk each day while the sun's out. Whether you prefer a morning ramble or a lunchtime stroll, time your outdoor activity to max out on sunlight. If it's covered by clouds, you should still feel the effects of light exposure. Even just 10 or 15 minutes can make a difference in your demeanor.

You should also invest in a lightbox that produces at least 10,000 lumens. These nifty appliances mimic the effects of sunlight when the day is gray.

Balance Your Diet

Having the right nutrients in your body can make a big difference in depression symptoms. For example, if you have sad, you might crave sweet foods like ice cream or starchy foods like pasta and mashed potatoes. Giving in to those urges can lead to fatigue and weight gain. Instead, boost your energy with an array of rainbow-colored fruits and veggies, healthy nuts and seeds, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.

Save the special treats for holiday celebrations, when they'll feel more festive.

Grab a Supplement

If your depression causes you to lose your appetite, consider taking multivitamins or supplements to get the nutrients you need to function. Some researchers think that a lack of vitamin D plays a role in SAD. You can get this nutrient from fatty fish, eggs, liver and fortified foods, or from a nutritional supplement. Omega-3 fatty acid intake may also reduce depression symptoms.

Sweat It Out

Have you heard of a runner's high? Exercise helps the body produce endorphins, hormones that make us feel good and offer an energy increase. Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee when you have the afternoon blahs, try jogging around the block a few times or finding a quick dance workout video on YouTube. Try to stick to the federal recommendation of at least 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. When you get your heart pumping, you may find it reduces the effects of SAD.

Become a Social Butterfly

OK, so you don't necessarily have to fill up your event calendar, especially if you're not thrilled about heading out in winter weather. Just meeting a friend for coffee and conversation once a week or so can seriously improve your outlook when you're struggling with SAD. Virtual connection counts too! Schedule a Zoom call with your long-distance bestie or text a family member you haven't seen in person lately.

Know When To Get Help

Make a plan so you seek help for SAD if the symptoms get out of control despite your best efforts. If you don't notice a change in your symptoms after two weeks of these self-care measures, talk to your health care provider. He or she can recommend the best course of treatment for your seasonal depression, often a combination of antidepressants and behavioral therapy.

Sometimes, SAD can cause thoughts of suicide. Get help right away if you have thoughts about hurting yourself. Go to the emergency room or call your doctor.