Monday, October 05, 2015

The Effect of Alcohol on Sleep

You may have realized by now that drinking alcohol tends to make you feel sleepy. It helps you fall asleep faster due to the sedative effects of alcohol, but beware because it can also interfere with sleep later on.

Effects on Sleep

As mentioned above, drinking can help you fall asleep faster, but the problem comes later on when your body tries to enter the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep. REM sleep is the second stage of sleep that is much deeper than the initial stage. It is in the REM stage of sleep that we dream, store memories, and recharge so that we are better able to concentrate, learn, and pay attention during our waking hours.

As your body starts to metabolize the alcohol, this interferes with REM sleep. You will likely toss and turn and end up negatively affecting your quality of sleep, and your total overall sleep as well. The negative effect of alcohol on sleep usually affects women slightly more than men due to the fact that women metabolize alcohol more quickly than men, and, therefore, women reach the restless, toss and turn stage earlier in the night than men do. These affects are more pronounced when women drink more than one drink and men drink more than two.

Sleep Debt

Even one night of restless sleep will add to your sleep debt. Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep you need and the amount you actually get. Every minute of sleep that you sacrifice adds to the debt. Eventually, the debt will have to be repaid. If you lose an hour of sleep, you must make up that extra hour somewhere down the line in order to bring your “account” back into balance.

Although, keep in mind that you will never be able to fully repair your sleep debt. Sleep professionals warn that cognitive function may still be negatively affected for some time after the debt is repaid. It is easy to see how drinking too much alcohol can not only have short term effects such as headaches and sleepiness the following day, but it can have a lasting impact on your ability to keep your sleep debt “paid”.


The more a person drinks before bed, the stronger the REM disruption. Health and sleep experts say that moderate alcohol consumption is the key to avoid sleep disruption. Not to mention the drinking more than moderately would also have negative health effects. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. This definition is referring to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days.

Bottom Line

Don’t be tricked into thinking alcohol can help you sleep better. While one or two drinks may help you fall asleep faster, you will likely become more restless later on during REM sleep.  It is best to not drink alcohol at all, because let’s be honest…most people don’t stop at one or two drinks. The key is, if you do decide to drink, don’t have more than one or two glasses, lest your sleep pay the toll. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

5 reasons to shop the inside aisles (Not just the perimeter)

You have probably heard the saying “shop the perimeter” before. Health experts often recommend that grocery shoppers eager to purchase the healthiest foods should stick to the perimeter of the store. This is because fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grain breads, and meat and seafood are typically located on the outer edge of the store. While all of these foods are great examples of healthy food staples, it is important to remember that this is not meant to be a hard and fast rule. Like many rigid nutrition “rules”, this one is meant to be bent.

There are many nutrient dense foods located on the inner aisles of the store. In fact, some frozen foods may be more fresh and affordable than their non-frozen counterparts. For example, frozen spinach is much cheaper than fresh and is optimally flash frozen at its peak freshness. Talk about a double win!  After reading this blog, you will be equipped with the knowledge to identify the hidden healthy food gems that are located in the inner aisles of the grocery store.


Beans are a low fat, fiber rich source of protein. They are considered "heart healthy" because they are a good source of soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They are also recommended for people with diabetes due to their low glycemic index.  Additionally, beans are a great source of iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, as well as vitamin A and folate.

Tip: Ideally, you will want to buy the beans that come in a bag and cook them yourself. But, if you are looking for a more convenient method, you can buy the canned variety. Just make sure to get the reduced sodium or rinse thoroughly in water to rid excess sodium.  

Fun Fact: After soaking dry beans (preferably overnight), drain the water off and give them a good rinse with fresh water. This rids the enzyme called raffinose which is responsible for the “unwanted side effects” of eating too many beans!  If you don’t have time to soak dry beans overnight, put them in a pot of boiling water for about an hour then rinse for the same effect. (Soaking helps soften the bean so the actual cooking process is quicker.  Do not add salt to beans until after they are fully cooked-adding salt too soon makes them tough).

Frozen fruit

Fresh fruit can get expensive, especially if it’s out of season. Frozen fruit, on the other hand, is priced fairly consistently throughout the year. It is usually cheaper than fresh fruit. (Hint: stay away from most canned fruit!-see below) As mentioned with spinach, fruit is also flash frozen at its peak ripeness. This means that vital nutrients are “locked” in the food, rather than sitting on a shelf and losing some of its nutrients.

Tip: look for plain fruit that doesn’t have any added sugar or other ingredients. Or stick to canned fruit in its own juice as opposed to light or heavy syrup. Frozen fruit is also good to throw into a smoothie.

Whole grains

Grains such as whole grain rice, couscous, and quinoa are excellent sources of fiber and protein. Fiber moves through your digestive system slowly, leaving you feeling full longer. Plus, soluble fiber also aids in digestion and has been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Most adults should aim for about 25 grams of fiber per day, so including these grains should help you meet that goal.

Tip: Read the ingredient list to make sure there are no added ingredients such as sugar or thickener.

Be sure that “whole grain” (and it’s variations like whole wheat, etc.) is listed first in the ingredient list, as some manufactures simply use caramel coloring so the items just “looks” brown. 

Nut Butters

We’re talking about peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, you name it! Nut butters are a great source of protein as well as heart healthy (unsaturated) fats.  These fats have been shown to decrease risk for cardiovascular disease as well as increase satiety (the feeling of being satisfied).

Tip: Looks for all natural nut butters with no added ingredients. The nut butter ingredients should only be nuts and salt. Although, you can usually find no salt added varieties as well. Smucker’s is one brand that most stores carry that doesn’t contain any added sweeteners. Choose regular PB over low fat PB. Why? Compare the nutrient labels and you will often find that the (healthy) fat has been replaced with sugar! This goes for salad dressings as well. Always check the USDA food label to know what is really in the food.

Olive oil

Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are known as a healthy dietary fat. MUFAs have been shown to decrease inflammation, lower risk of heart disease, lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Additionally, MUFAs may also help improve insulin levels and blood sugar control, which is ideal for people with type 2 diabetes.

Tip: look for an olive oil that is stamped with the date it was pressed on. This will ensure that you’re getting the freshest olive oil possible, which is crucial to receive the associated health benefits.

FAQ: What about coconut oil?  Although coconut oil does have some positive health benefits, they are minimal compared to olive oil. Most of the research that backs the health claims of coconut oil uses medium chain triglycerides (MCT) in their purest form. As you can imagine, this is not the version we see on the shelves. For more info about coconut oil, check out our blog. 

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