The following article appears in the February issue of Tonic Toronto Magazine. The Secret to Better Fitness Everyone knows how fabulous they feel after a good night’s rest. But how many of us consistently get enough sleep? Proper sleep not only makes us feel better, it enhances memory and cognition, immune functioning, and tissue repair. Studies have linked insufficient amounts of sleep to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, weight gain, Parkinson’s disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The National Sleep Foundation in the United States maintains that seven to nine hours of sleep for adult humans is optimal, and that sufficient sleep optimizes alertness, memory, problem solving, overall health, as well as reducing the risk of accidents. A widely publicized 2003 study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine demonstrated that cognitive performance declines with six or fewer hours of sleep. It has been found that a lack of sleep can more than double the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, but that too much sleep can also double the risk of death. It is possible that too much sleep is linked to co-occuring variables such as depression, or fatigue that results from serious illness. In terms of prevention, findings indicate that consistently sleeping around seven hours at night is optimal. Sleep is also essential for tissue repair and recovery. It is a well-established fact that individuals who suffer from fibromyalgia, a syndrome characterized by systemic, chronic muscle pain, spend little time in delta sleep. Delta sleep is the deepest stage of the sleep cycle, when human growth hormone is released and our bodies heal themselves. Each sleep cycle is 2 hours, and we require three to four cycles per night. Losing sleep translates into lost opportunities for recovery from everything from back pain to sore knees! A lack of sleep also impairs immunity. Sleep deprivation of 24 hours can decrease white blood cell counts by 20 percent or more! By taking care to get enough sleep, you boost your body’s ability to fight off colds, flu, and other infections. In addition, you also stave off getting sidelined by annoying ailments in the first place. Also, because many cancers are linked to immune system malfunction, its stands to reason that chronic sleep shortage may lead to an increased risk of cancer diagnosis. It is well-known that women who do nightshift work have a 60 percent increased risk of breast cancer. Exercise Specialist Recommendations: Insomnia is rampant in our society. Severe insomnia should be treated by a physician or naturopathic doctor. Here are some tips to get your much-needed rest: 1. Retire substantially before midnight, so you don’t lose a sleep cycle. Moreover, we have more trouble falling asleep when we are overtired, just like small children do. You cannot make up for lost night sleep by taking a daytime nap! 2. Go to bed at approximately the same time every night. 3. Spend an hour before bed unwinding – take a cool bath or shower (to lower your body temperature), drink some relaxing chamomile tea, have a light carbohydrate snack, read, dim the lights. Move more slowly. Avoid stimulating activities like exercise, going up and down stairs more than necessary, engaging conversations, tv, and the computer. 4. Turn off your Blackberry/iPhone!!! 5. Sleep in a very dark room. If this is not possible, wear eye shades. 6. Keep the temperature cool where you sleep. 7. Do not drink large amounts of liquid before bedtime. 8. Exercise in the late afternoon - this has been shown to improve night sleep! Jennifer Salter, MSW, is the director of Lifeline Personal Training, a personal fitness training and consulting practice serving midtown and downtown Toronto. The focus of Lifeline PT is to help people use evidence-based exercise to manage their medical problems, from back pain, arthritis, cardiovascular risk factors and disease, autoimmune diseases, cancer, and everything in between. Find out more at www.lifelinepersonaltraining.com.