Sleep Deprivation is Killing Us

We live in a society where sleep is undervalued. Burning the midnight oil is not only acceptable but encouraged. We hustle through our lives, stretching the day as far as we can to make the most of it. Even with the perspective that health is a lifestyle, we may be digging our own graves by oil lamp.

In fact, a modern life can conflict directly with sleep. The screens we depend on emit light that simulates sunlight and keeps us awake. Long commutes keep us out of our house for longer periods of time and may result in less sleep as we try to balance our work and home lives.

Even the economy pushes our limits — with about 7 million people working multiple jobs and countless more driving the kids all over town and generally rushing through each hour in the day, it’s a wonder we get any sleep at all.

Furthermore, many people consider sleeping a sign of laziness. It’s hard to get enough sleep when others judge you for it.

What Is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is defined as getting less than seven hours of sleep each night. Some people may need more sleep than others — up to nine hours — but it’s a good idea to aim for at least seven hours if you’re getting less than that. According to Professor Matthew Walker, “no aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation.”

In fact, not getting enough sleep can affect your sex drive, memory, skin, weight, and judgment and can contribute to depressive symptoms. Furthermore, it can even lead to an early death: sleep deprivation can increase your chances of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and more — the same things healthy nutrition habits aim to combat.

What Can We Do About It?

The short answer: sleep more.

For many, that’s easier said than done. Perhaps the first thing that should change is the stigma. Sleep is essential. It prepares you for life and should not be used as a resource to be traded in. So, the next time you’re thinking of waking up early to fit in a run, think about the sleep you’ll lose. If health is a lifestyle, it can’t be complete without good sleeping habits.

Here are some things you can do to improve your sleep:

  • Set a bedtime and stick to it every night — even on weekends.
  • Schedule enough time to get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
  • Stop looking at screens two hours before bedtime. The blue light from screens keeps you awake the same way sunlight does.
  • Start winding down at least half an hour before going to bed.
    • Hot baths can help with this.
    • Meditation does wonders for letting go of the day and preparing for sleep.
    • Yoga is also great for relaxing your body and centering your mind.
  • Regulate your sleeping environment. Most people sleep best in a cool, dark, and quiet room. Find what works for you and stick with it.

It might take some practice to get into good sleeping habits. Give it some time and evaluate the difference. Do you feel less stressed? More productive? Happier? Is it worth it? Only you can answer that, but we’re confident you’ll agree it is.

Is Fat the Enemy? It’s Not That Simple

You may have been told that fat is unhealthy. It makes sense from a linguistic perspective: fat makes you fat. Right?

But in fact, only some fats are unhealthy. Healthy fat will actually reduce your risk of suffering from heart disease, inflammation, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

There are two kinds of fat people talk about: the fat on your body and the fat you eat. It’s natural to have fat on your body; it’s simply stored energy. In fact, your body needs fat — it helps you absorb vitamins and minerals and build parts of cells and nerves. It even keeps your skin soft.

But other kinds of fat, especially when located around your organs in your midsection, increase the risk of heart disease and even cancer.

To prevent a future weighed down by bad fat and dangerous conditions, all it takes is a change in diet. Try to replace those bad fats with healthy fats. Here are some tips for doing that.

Avoid Bad Fats

Trans fats are the worst kind of fat. They are manmade in a process known as hydrogenation, where people add hydrogen to healthy fat molecules to turn them into solids. This kind of fat increases bad cholesterol levels in your body, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Trans fats can be in any kind of processed food. It’s used to increase shelf life and make food taste good. To get you started, look out for the following foods:

  • Anything fried or battered
  • Premade pie crusts and other baked goods
  • Various mixes, like cake, pancake, and biscuit mix
  • Margarine
  • Nondairy coffee creamers
  • Snacks like chips and microwave popcorn, especially the flavored ones
  • Frozen dinners

Whenever you see trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils on food labels, avoid them.

Saturated fats are not as bad as trans fats, but should be minimized because they raise good and bad cholesterol levels. Just like with fats, there are good and bad kinds of cholesterol. The bad kind, LDL cholesterol, increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by clogging your arteries. The good kind, HDL cholesterol, cleans up the bad kind in your arteries and takes it to the liver for disposal.

If you want to raise your good cholesterol levels, incorporate more healthy fats into your diet.

Choose Healthy Fats

Healthy fats are essential, meaning your body needs them but does not produce them on its own. You have to eat healthy fats daily.

There are two kinds of healthy fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats are commonly found in vegetable oils, while monounsaturated fats are in olive oils. Both will help reduce the risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are a kind of polyunsaturated fat and are loaded with known and potential benefits.

Sources of healthy fats include:

  • Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, trout, and catfish
  • Seeds, like flaxseed, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds
  • Nuts, like walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds
  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Dark chocolate, at least 70 percent cacao
  • Olive, canola, and peanut oils

Takeaway

Healthy fats are good and should replace bad fats in your diet. However, too much healthy fat can still be bad, so don’t overdo it. Instead, aim for healthy fats to make up 20–35 percent of your daily calorie consumption. If you need more help, basic nutrition information is easy to find.

Be vigilant when checking foods for bad fats. Even if the nutrition facts show 0 trans fats, check the ingredients list. If it’s there — and remember, it could be hiding behind the label “partially hydrogenated oil” — avoid it. Even in small amounts like that, it adds up. In fact, according to a Harvard Medical School article, “Even small amounts of trans fats can harm health: for every 2% of calories from trans fats consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.”

What is Social Media Doing to Our Body Image?

Social media users now number in the billions worldwide. For some people, it’s a central part of their lives. It’s how they announce major life events, talk to their friends, and get the news.

But social media may have some unintended effects, even when we’re trying to use it in positive ways like inspiration for a healthier lifestyle. More experts are concerned with the correlation between social media use and negative body image. Especially with image-focused platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, users’ body image can suffer. Why? It’s all about comparison.

“Comparison is the death of joy.”

According to a new study, many women are more likely to have negative feelings about their bodies after looking at Instagram, particularly fitspiration — or fitspo — photos. The researchers found the relationship between Instagram use and bad body image was “mediated by the [internalization] of the beauty ideal.” In other words, women view images they believe to be of ideal bodies, turn to their own bodies, and find them lacking in comparison.

And while fitspo posts may be nice for the people posting them, experts also believe they emphasize the look way too much, when they should focus on the feel. Instead of approaching fitness from a perspective of health, strength, and flexibility, fitspo images by default emphasize appearance. This can give viewers a one-dimensional view of health.

Just an Illusion

To top it off, images are often altered. Most people will add a filter, change up the lighting, crop, and pose. You become the star of your own personal photo shoots. And there’s nothing wrong with doing this. But when you see perfected images — of anyone from your best friend to your favorite celebrity — it can skew your view of reality. You might wish you could look like them — whoever it is you’re looking at. The truth is, even they don’t look like that.

A Solution in the Problem?

Despite its negative effects, social media can be used to remedy this issue, too. Body positivity, for example, is a movement gaining traction on social media. Social media users, especially women, have taken to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to rejoice in their bodies regardless of mainstream ideals. Some celebrities have even taken to social media to correct altered images of themselves and offer a more accurate picture.

And for those looking to social media to inspire a healthier lifestyle, remember: health is more than just skin deep. How you look may be a result of your health, but it never gives the whole picture. In fact, we recommend approaching your health holistically, not based solely on appearance.

The Key to a Happy, Lasting Relationship

What makes a romantic relationship last? It’s a question posed by psychologists and astrologists alike, again and again. We’ll admit it, we’re curious too about what makes a happy, lasting relationship.

So we’ve done a little digging. And while we cannot guarantee a secret formula to lasting bliss, we can give some solid advice based on research and relationship experts.

Here are a few key actions you can take toward having a happy, lasting relationship:

Mindfully affirm your partner on a daily basis.

Mindfulness is all about focusing on the details of the present moment. In a relationship, while it may seem obvious to support your partner during big life events, showing interest in the day-to-day details is equally important. This interest and support coupled with expressing love and appreciation are mindful affirmations.

There’s no one way to affirm your partner. Shared activities, conversations, compliments, or physical intimacy are all chances to affirm and express love.

Pick your battles.

We all want to voice our opinion in a relationship — and we should. Communicating to your partner is one of the foundations of a good relationship. But knowing which arguments are minor enough to lose, or which issues are small enough to let go, is crucial too. This means that when the important issues come up, you can speak up clearly and confidently about how you feel. You might even fight about the important issues. But when you pick your battles, you won’t have the history of a million petty arguments clouding your exchange.

Cultivate your own emotional intelligence.

It’s hard to even know what’s important, though, if you don’t know yourself. Emotional intelligence is understanding what your feelings mean and why they’re happening. This is another key to a happy, lasting relationship. When you know yourself, you can act with clarity and compassion toward yourself and toward your partner. This is achieved through honest reflection.

Cultivating emotional intelligence also lets you know what your boundaries are. Consequently, if your partner crosses those boundaries, you can draw the line and speak up. In this way, your emotional intelligence helps you know when a relationship is not meant to last. Your emotional intelligence may signal the reason why your partner does harmful things and if they’ll be able to change — or not. Deep emotional intelligence may also help you to change yourself if you’ve done harm.

A happy, lasting relationship is a decades-long adventure. In truth, no one set of rules that will get you through. However, these basic tenets could be the building blocks of a strong partnership that will last many years.

How to Be Prepared for Any Emergency

Emergencies, by definition, are unpredictable. You can’t usually prevent emergencies, but you can prepare for them. In the wake of several major hurricanes, now might be the best time to evaluate your emergency readiness.

To prepare for any emergency, it’s a good idea to have a plan and a kit ready. The most basic emergency kit will have items like food, water, first aid supplies, and a flashlight. Check out ready.gov for more advice on what to put in your emergency kit. It’s a good idea to keep a kit at home, in your car, and at work, so you’re ready wherever an emergency finds you.

Your emergency plan should include evacuation routes, contact methods, and rendezvous locations. This includes knowing where community resources will be; if you can, get together a couple maps with those locations for your family to use.

You and your family should practice the plan periodically. Who will grab the emergency kit? What if you’re at work and the kids are at school? Who will reach out to Grandma to make sure she’s okay? What will you do with the cat or dog (or both)? You must consider every scenario.

Natural Disaster

Based on where you live and the type of natural disaster that’s likely to hit your area, your emergency kit will be stocked differently. For example, for disasters with flooding and rain, important documents and supplies should be in airtight containers and waterproof clothing should be handy. Other disasters like tornados, earthquakes, and wildfires will all have their unique requirements. Consider every possibility in the event of a natural disaster in your area and plan accordingly.

In case you need to evacuate, gather important documents in a secure easy-to-access location. If possible, have backup digital copies.

Your cell phone should automatically receive emergency alerts, but it’s a good idea to make sure. Check with your service provider to ensure your device will get Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs).

Medical Emergency

In the case of a medical emergency, it’s especially important to have the right resources available. Have emergency phone numbers on hand, either a hard copy next to your phone or programmed into your phone.

Make sure you have a well-stocked first-aid kit. Regularly check expiration dates and make sure to have all current prescriptions accounted for.

It’s also a good idea to take CPR classes so you’re prepared ahead of time.

Home Emergency

A home emergency can be anything from a fire or flood to a power outage. Depending on your house, you’ll need to prepare for anything. For example, if you live in a house with old pipes, make sure you’re prepared for a water leak. If your stove is getting old, be prepared for a fire. Of course, if you can, you should update appliances before they become a problem.

Have fire distinguishers on hand. It’s a good idea to have more than one in your house. Make sure you know how to use them, and replace them regularly — they do expire.

In case of a power outage, have portable cooking options, like camp stoves, so you’ll have a way to make food. Flashlights and electric lanterns are always good to have on hand, as well as extra batteries or solar charging devices.

Lastly, think about where you live and invest in some good insurance. For example, if you live in an area that may flood, get good flood insurance. If you live near a fault line, get earthquake insurance. If you live in a tornado-prone area, get tornado insurance.

A normal homeowner’s insurance policy will likely cover things like water damage from burst pipes, but it’s a good idea to check on that before it happens.

Financial Emergency

If you get laid off or otherwise find yourself with no income, you may find yourself in a financial emergency. To prepare for this, you should build a financial safety net. Calculate how much you spend on living expenses in a month and set aside enough money to cover at least 3 months.

While financial emergencies don’t require an emergency kit as described above, if you do have one stocked with food, using it will allow you to reduce how much of your financial safety net needs to go toward groceries. This could stretch your savings another month if you plan carefully. Just make sure to replenish the kit as soon as you can.

Great Ways to Keep Up with Your Pet’s Health

We all know pets can give us joy. There are a plethora of personal benefits to owning a pet. However, the science isn’t quite there yet when it comes to determining if pets positively impact our health or not. Regardless, your pet’s health is precious.

Plus, the reality is taking care of a pet’s health is the responsibility of the human. It’s not the pet’s responsibility to take care of us. (The exception would, of course, be service animals.) Keeping up with your pet’s health may save your pet and you a lot of misery and save you some money as well.

Prevention

One way to keep up is through preventative care. Experts say simple actions like regularly checking your furry friend for ticks and fleas, spaying or neutering your pet, and vaccinating your pet can go a long way to staying ahead of disease and infection.

Healthy Diet and Exercise

Another way to keep your pet healthy and happy is managing its diet and exercise. One-third of pets in the United States are overweight. It may not be apparent to you that your pet is in pain because of its weight. Find out the recommended diet for your particular pet and stick to it. Maintain an active routine for your pet — even animals like indoor cats can get plenty of exercise. You can always tailor your approach to keeping your pet healthy to the type of creature you are taking care of, like letting your snake go for a swim or dancing with your bird.

Pet Insurance

However, there are times when you can’t foresee when your pet’s health will fail. That’s where pet insurance comes along. If it’s financially feasible for you, taking out pet insurance could save you thousands of dollars down the line. Insurance is handy if your pet gets injured, needs surgery, or develops an unanticipated condition.

All in all, treating your pet’s health like you would human health is a good strategy: preventing diseases and infection, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and insuring against unforeseen issues. Regardless of the genus or species, these practices can help keep your furry, scaly, or feathery friends in good shape and your peace of mind intact.

The Great Breakfast Conundrum

Breakfast seems to be the most controversial meal in the course of the day.

If you have an opinion about breakfast — and really, who doesn’t — it’s probably one of these:

  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
  • Breakfast is the least important meal and can be skipped with no consequences.
  • Pizza is an acceptable breakfast food.

All for Breakfast.

Breakfast eaters argue that breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it breaks the fast you were in while you slept. Your brain and body need energy to function, so breakfast eaters rely on breakfast to replenish their blood sugar levels.

In fact, studies have shown that kids who eat breakfast do better on tests.

Breakfast eaters point to studies that show that people who eat breakfast are healthier and less likely to be overweight. They also stand behind the claim that eating breakfast stimulates weight loss by boosting metabolism and preventing overindulging in snacks and lunch.

Plus, breakfast foods are some of the most nutrient dense — think of all the cereal boxes advertising “heart healthy,” not to mention omelets, yogurt, and fruit — and, some argue, the tastiest. Just ask anyone at Extra Crispy, the digital home of breakfast worshippers.

Breakfast? No Thanks.

Breakfast skippers argue that it may be better for you to keep the fast going. Intermittent fasting is when you schedule all your eating into a window of time, often the eight hours between noon and 8:00 p.m. Many people who practice intermittent fasting experience weight loss.

Breakfast skippers point out that in studies that show that breakfast eaters are healthier, there is no clear cause and effect: breakfast eaters are not healthier because they eat breakfast. Instead, they are simply more likely to get enough essential nutrients.

But that doesn’t mean breakfast skippers can’t get them in other meals. The health-conscious breakfast skipper can be just as healthy as the average breakfast eater.

Breakfast skippers also cite studies to refute the claim that skipping breakfast will make you overeat in other meals and gain weight.

Pass the Pizza, Please.

These rebels argue that the best breakfast is one of leftover pizza. Within this group, you will hear some who favor cold pizza and others who heat up their slices. Either way, pizza eaters may argue they’re making a better choice than someone who grabs a sugary muffin from the local coffee shop.

So… Which Advice Should I Follow?

While there are studies supporting both sides of the breakfast conundrum, experts now advise trusting your body. If you wake up hungry, go ahead and eat. If you aren’t hungry until lunchtime, don’t eat until then. At least for losing weight, the consensus seems to be to eat only when you’re hungry.

Of course, no matter when you eat, you should eat healthy foods. Leslie Bonci, a registered dietitian, recommends eating when you’re hungry and opting for a balanced meal.

If you constantly reach for that leftover pizza for your first meal of the day, Bonci also suggests mixing it up. That could mean reaching for other leftovers with a good nutritional balance, or it could mean planning a nice, hearty meal with protein and fiber to get you going.