NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Short Sleeps, Big Benefits: What a Power Nap Can Do for You

ThinkstockPhotos-530249969.jpgCan you remember preschool when the teacher would turn down the lights and break out the cots? Nap time! You might not have had that exact experience, but as humans we are prone to napping. In our go-go-go life, time is money. To society, sleeping during the day is seen as a luxury that we cannot provide ourselves, and is usually thought of as a sign of laziness.

Unfortunately, napping doesn’t pay the bills. Even so, many physicians as well as wellness-oriented CEOs have championed the idea that a little afternoon snooze is actually beneficial, and can not only provide enough rest to fight off fatigue, but improves your alertness, improves motor learning skills, boosts memory, and enhances creativity (Soong, 2010). Can napping actually make you a better employee at work, give you better results in the gym, or enable you to have a better social life with your family and friends? Yes, in fact, it can! Here is a closer look at napping and its benefits.

What Is the Optimal Nap Length?

First, I’d like to break down naps into two parts. The duration of nap that you are taking will be specific to you, but there is information that gives a good indication that for optimal power naps, 10 to 20 minutes of sleep will provide the best results. Longer naps can make you groggy; this is known as sleep inertia (Dvorsky, 2013). The longer naps, such as a 60- to 90-minute siesta, can put you in a state of REM (otherwise known as our dream state). There are some links to cognitive function associated with longer naps, but the time frame doesn’t always work with our hectic schedules.

When Is the Best Time to Nap?

The second part deals with necessity. Our naps can be planned, in which you know you are going to need extra rest for a long night, so you take a nap. Another would be an emergency nap, where you take a nap because you otherwise would have put yourself in a dangerous situation (think about getting sleepy behind the wheel and then deciding it’s best to pull over at a rest stop for a nap). Then there is the always popular appetitive napping—in other words, taking a nap for the sheer enjoyment of it (Dvorsky, 2013).

What Are the Benefits?

Your health and wellness can benefit from a simple, short nap. At the right length, your nap can provide much-needed alertness, mental capacity, creativity, energy, reduced stress (in turn reducing the risks of heart disease), and more effective learning abilities for children. With all these positives attached to something that can be done quite simply, it’s hard to understand why anyone would not take more naps. For businesses, your employees would be better workers with higher productivity; for teachers, your students would have a better chance of learning; and for you, your overall well-being would be improved. Don’t wait; take a nap TODAY!

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To read more about the other NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: stress Thomas' Corner employee health sleep productivity heart disease wellness naps memory

Nutrition and Healthy Habits: How Much Caffeine Do You Consume?

Many people depend on early-morning caffeine to “jump-start” their bodies. Others consume caffeinated beverages throughout the day when they are stressed or tired to keep their bodies alert and functioning. However, caffeinated foods and beverages should not replace the healthy habits of regular, balanced meals and snacks or adequate sleep.

ThinkstockPhotos-5146474021.jpgAlthough caffeine provides an “energy boost,” the stimulant can also cause anxiety, restlessness, constriction of blood vessels, and an elevated heart rate. For these reasons, limit caffeine to 400mg a day.

Below are some common beverages, foods, and over-the-counter medications that contain caffeine. Caffeine content in coffee varies widely depending on the variety of coffee bean and the method of preparation used.

Caffeine Content in Milligrams (mg) for Common Foods and Medications

Coffee (8 oz.)
(The amount of ground coffee per cup is a key variable.)
Brewed: 65–120mg
Instant: 40–110mg
Decaffeinated (instant or brewed): 2–4mg
Starbucks Coffee (12 oz.): 279mg
Coffee drink with one shot of espresso (12 oz.): 113mg

Chocolate (1 oz.)
Dark: 5–35mg
Milk: 1–15mg

Cola Beverage (12 oz.)
30–60mg

Coffee/Chocolate-Flavored Dessert (1/2 cup)
Ice cream: 18–126mg
Frozen yogurt: 0–25mg

Tea (8 oz.)
Brewed: 20–90mg
(The longer it steeps, the higher the caffeine content.)
Instant: 24–31mg

Cocoa (8 oz.)
Average: 80mg

Chocolate Milk (8 oz.)
Serving: 2–8mg

Caffeine-Containing “Energy Drinks” (8.3 oz.)
Serving: 3–32mg

Caffeine-Containing “Energy Bars” (68g)
Average: 50 mg

Stimulants (per tablet)
Vivarin or NoDoz
Average: 100–200mg

Pain Relievers (per tablet)
Average: 32–65mg

Other Ways to Stay Awake During the Day

If you find yourself reaching for over 400mg of caffeine per day to stay awake and energized, try some of these healthy alternatives to caffeine:

  • Do not underestimate the power of a quality night's sleep. If you generally feel well rested in the morning, you are likely meeting your slumber needs. If not, be sure to turn the TV off before falling asleep and avoid looking at bright devices that can keep your brain waves stimulated. 
  • Another key is to maintain a consistent sleep/wake schedule even on the weekends.
  • Exercise is another way to ensure a good night’s sleep and being more awake during the day.
  • Try more natural ways to wake up.
  • Finally, go outside for brief sunshine breaks. Exposure to bright light helps regulate your body's rhythms.

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This blog was written by Angie Scheetz, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy habits sleep caffeine coffee

Wakey Wakey: Why Waking Up Right Is Just as Important as Sleeping

Since the dawn of time (I’ve always wanted to start a sentence like that), humans have slept for a little while, and then were awakened by something or someone that told them it was time to start the day. We know now the huge roles that sleep plays in so many aspects of our health:ThinkstockPhotos-453226511waking

  • Physical recovery
  • Healthy hormonal environment
  • Stress regulator
  • Cognitive retention and memory
  • Appetite regulation
The list can go on and on. (For more reasons why sleep is essential to your overall health, check out this article from Precision Nutrition.) Bottom line is that we need ample and quality sleep to be at our best every day; I don’t think anyone can argue against that. But there is a pretty important aspect of our daily ritual of rest and recovery that is not always worthy of the front page, and that is how you WAKE UP. 

The Science Behind Sleeping and Waking

We have circadian rhythms that act as an internal clock of sorts, which usually run on roughly a 24-hour cycle. Researchers have identified that circadian rhythms can influence our sleep-wake cycle, and abnormal circadian rhythms have been associated with obesity, diabetes, depression, and other disorders. 

Why am I telling you all this? Well, your circadian rhythms are produced by natural factors in your body, but can also be influenced by the environment. Light is the major cue influencing the rhythms that turn on or turn off genes that control your internal master clock. Having a normal, healthy circadian rhythm can be the difference between waking up ready to conquer the day or having to hit the snooze button a hundred times. 

Using Light to Wake Up

So if light is one of our biggest cues to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, use it! My beautiful wife gave me a gift on my birthday recently that I have found to be so helpful in waking up and feeling rested and ready to go. It’s a Phillips Wake-up Light, and it allows you to wake up naturally with the warm glow of the sun-like light that radiates from this futuristic-looking alarm clock. I absolutely love it! 

The light will begin to glow anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes prior to your set time to wake up (how hard you sleep will determine how much time you should have the light begin glowing). The light begins a reddish color to simulate the sun rising, and gradually becomes brighter and brighter until you wake up and turn it off. And if you were to sleep through the 20-minute light glow, you would be awakened by birds chirping. 

I have definitely noticed a difference in my energy level when I wake up these days, as well as my attitude and mindset heading into a tough day. I was experiencing some not-so-positive reactions to my alarm clock, which really set me up for rough start to the day, which in turn affected me throughout the entire day. Now that I am waking up naturally, and not shot out of a cannon to the sound of the buzzer, the morning is much more pleasant and meaningful.

Other Benefits of Waking Up Naturally

Some other fantastic benefits of waking up naturally include the following:

  • Improved insulin regulation. This is important in managing body weight and body composition.
  • Improved parasympathetic response. Instead of waking up in a “fight or flight” sympathetic response, which will result in elevated resting heart rates affecting many other aspects of health, we stay in a calmer state, allowing the internal environment to adjust appropriately to stress.
  • Decreased muscle tone. I am not talking about losing muscle tissue. I am referring to “turning down” the tone of certain muscle groups that can be putting you into less-than-optimal body positions. For example (and one of the most common), toned-up lats will cause you to be in extension, which can lead to lower back pain. When we are calmer, and not so jacked up, we can allow the body to tone down when needed to improve positioning and movement patterns.
  • Better mood! Life is way too short to be miffed all the time, and it just causes problems in so many facets of our lives. Most of this bad mood is communicated nonverbally, which in most cases is so much stronger than anything you could say. Take my word for it, be happy in both your message and how you deliver it. This can be greatly improved if you feel good and not groggy, which started hours earlier with the whack of the snooze button. 

I highly recommend implementing some sort of a natural wake-up process that works for you. Most of us have smartphones. There are plenty of apps out there that can do the same thing as the wake-up light I describe above. Many of the newer fitness trackers such as a FitBit can also be set to gradually wake you up. Give it a try and let me know what you think, but have a back-up just in case it doesn’t work for you right away—don’t be late to work on my account!

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This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: stress attitude sleep technology energy

Sleep and Athletes: Are You Missing Out?

Sleep can be a wonderful thing. Then again, when we oversleep, we sometimes feel more tired than we were when we went to bed. Is Mr. Sandman playing a prank on us, or is sleep even more of a mystery than we’re led to believe?

I enjoy my recommended 7 to 8-hour snoozes each and every night. For the average Joe and Jane, many studies link sleep deprivation to brain function, hunger control, and disease and illness prevention.

How Much Sleep Does an Athlete Need?

ThinkstockPhotos-78056869The question I have is, “Do athletes and individuals with higher fitness aspirations need more, less, or the same amount of sleep as everyone else?” Although not many studies have been conducted on the topic, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute published an article entitled “Sleep and the Elite Athlete” that talks about sleep deprivation in depth. 

The article is somewhat inconclusive in some areas, but it goes on to state that elite athletes can perform, but begin to decrease output at around 30 hours of deprivation. The main side effects were stated as being diminished cognitive capabilities. On a positive note, napping is encouraged for improved performance, even in sleep-deprived individuals. In summary, it’s safe to assume that athletes need and benefit from sleep and naps just like everyone else (Halson, 2014).

How Can You Get More Sleep?

You may be asking yourself, “What can I do to maximize my sleep potential?” The answers vary depending on the person. 

  • Know your body and your goals. Your goals, lifestyle, and demographic (age, gender, etc.) are the major factors of your individual needs. 
  • Set the right mood by ensuring your sleep sanctuary is nice and dark, and free from distractions. 
  • Try not to take your pre-workout supplements two hours before bedtime (the instruction/warning label will give you exact information on the subject). For that matter, any caffeinated beverages will hinder your ability to fall asleep. 
  • Start a sleep journal to chronicle your sleep behaviors. Indicate duration of sleeps and naps, moods, exercise production, and eating patterns to determine what works and what does not work for you (Halson, 2014).
One thing that we know for sure is we need sleep to live. It’s part of our everyday routines, just like eating food and blinking our eyes. Trying to make sleep a priority isn’t an easy task in this fast-paced society that encourages overtime and pushing deadlines, and puts rest, relaxation, and recovery on the back burner. In a previous post, we found that sleep, along with exercise and nutrition, is one of the pieces to our fitness puzzle. Without it, we cannot see the entire big picture. 

You can improve your fitness results with a healthy sleep schedule along with exercise and nutrition. For more about the positive impacts of sleep, contact an HFS at NIFS to discuss a sleep game plan. Lastly, take time for a nap; all the cool kids (at least those aged 0 to 5) are doing it!

Until next time, REJOICE and EVOLVE.

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, Health Fitness Instructor at NIFS. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers click here.

Topics: NIFS fitness Thomas' Corner mental sleep

Top 3 Tips for Staying Healthy in College

collegeEven though it’s been a few years since I graduated, it still feels like I was just walking through campus and living in the dorm. I absolutely loved college, and while many people gained the freshman 15, I took advantage of the opportunity to live on my own for the first time and make lots of healthy habits that I still follow today. Just because I created healthy habits doesn’t mean I didn’t have an amazing time.

For me, living a balanced life full of fun is essential for being healthy. Here are my top three tips for staying healthy your freshman year and beyond (that leave room for plenty of college-style fun and experiences).

1. Keep a Routine

I am a routine type of girl, but I have come to learn that having a routine is not just a “me” thing. The human body was designed to function on a schedule and to have a routine. Everyone can have a different routine, but I found that I functioned best when I went to bed a little earlier than most people and woke up a little earlier. Of course, I would stay up later on weekends to participate in events, hang out with friends, and attend socials and parties, but I would give myself a curfew (typically midnight) so that I could get some sleep and still feel great the next morning (even after having a great time the night before). The most important thing is to figure out what works for your body and stick to it. 

2. Take Advantage of the Rec/Fitness Center

Most colleges and universities have a fitness center or are affiliated with a fitness center for students to use. Guys, this is a no-brainer! Just go to the rec center or fitness center. These places offer tons of group fitness classes, personal training sessions, and weight and cardio equipment for you to do your own workouts, and they are usually open for the majority of the day. Stop making excuses; find a friend and hit up the rec/fitness center. You’ll thank me once you do!

3. Walk It Out

I went to a small university, so the farthest thing away on campus was typically a 10-minute walk. That’s it! I would only use my car if I had to take a large load somewhere or if I was leaving campus, which was very rare. Walking is amazing for the body because it gets the body moving, but it doesn’t put a lot of stress on the muscles and joints. Walking as your form of transportation is a habit that you can start during your college days and then continue throughout the rest of your life! Seriously, just walk. You’ll feel great and those freshman 15 pounds will stay far away. 

Of course, there are tons of other things you can do to stay healthy in college; these are just a few for you to start with! 

Let’s hear from you below in the comment section. What are some of your favorite ways to stay healthy?

This blog was written by Tara Deal Rochford, contributing writer, group fitness instructor, and author of healthy living blog Treble in the Kitchen. Meet our other NIFS bloggers.

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Topics: healthy habits fitness center walking sleep college

Finding Balance in Your Life

So I have a question for you: How is your “balance”? I’m not referring to your single-leg stand on the BOSU. I’m referring to the balance in your life. The juggling act of all the responsibilities and the people we are responsible for and to can be as if we upgraded from simple juggling balls to flaming knives.Work life balance

Sometimes I think of that line in the movie Fight Club, when Brad Pitt’s character says to Ed Norton, “Things you own, end up owning you.” For me, it is my career that at times owns me, and tends to monopolize my focus and energy. The balance among work, rest, play, and spiritual wellness is a crucial one, and it does take some juggling at times to ensure that proper balance.

Legendary coach Dan John puts it best that if you have to work more (say, your busy time of the year), you must plan to rest more, play more, and spend more time developing spiritually (this could be religion, alone time, meditation, etc.). As you expand each facet of your life to ensure the proper balance, you too should expand. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? If you work more to complete an important project at work and increase your rest time revolving around solid sleep patterns, you will increase the benefits of great sleep. Expanding work and rest will then lead to more play time, resulting in better moods and perception.

Lastly, expanding the preceding three facets of your life will result in you spending more time expanding your spirituality. Now this is different for everybody. For me, it is alone time where I develop both personally and professionally. Or it is a long walk with my wife, Teri, and our Snorkie dog named Traveler. What is it for you? I feel to be the best “YOU” that you can be, all other facets of your life must lead you to a strong and centered spiritual sense that must involve a close relationship with the ones you love the most.

I came across a survey years ago, and if it has stuck with me for this long it is probably worth repeating. The survey polled 100 senior citizens about what they would do differently if they could do it all over again. Here were their top 3 answers:

  1. Laugh more
  2. Spend more time with loved ones
  3. Take more risks

As you look at your current balancing act, would those three be on your list later in life? Sometimes you need reminding of what is truly important in your lives. THIS IS YOUR REMINDER! Spend time with the people you love and who love you, find a way to laugh out loud every day, and have the courage to take that risk you have been fearful to take. Create the true balance in your life. You won’t regret it.

Tony Maloney is the Fitness Center Manager and leads Group Training Sunday through Thursday. Follow Tony on Facebook at ELITE. Meet our NIFS bloggers.

Topics: NIFS staying active healthy habits fitness center motivation work/life balance sleep

How Sleep Affects Exercise and Weight Loss

On March 4, 2013 the National Sleep Foundation released findings that connected sleep and exercise. The key points of the poll are as follows (but you can read the complete poll):

  • Exercisers say they sleep better
  • Vigorous exercisers report the best sleep
  • Non-exercisers are the sleepiest and have the highest risk for sleep apnea
  • Less time sitting is associated with better sleep and health
  • Exercise at any time of day appears to be good for sleep

In 2009, NIFS wrote about this same connection that stemmed from a research study on the topic. Below is an excerpt from that article written by NIFS Fitness Center Director, Melanie Roberts. We hope it will give you some added z's from it's insights!

The Sleep and Exercise Connection

The sleep, weight loss and exercise connectionThe Sleep and Exercise Connection Researcher Karla Ann Kubitz published findings of a large meta-analysis covering more than 10 years of sleep and exercise studies. The review shows that exercise significantly increases total sleep time and aerobic exercise decreases REM sleep. Kubitz also noted that those who exercise regularly, as well as those taking up a single bout of exercise, both experienced an increase in NREM and total sleep time. The result: those exercising went to sleep more quickly, slept longer, and had a more restful sleep than those not exercising.

The Sleep and Weight Loss Connection

While some researchers feel the link between sleep loss and weight gain is weak, others continue to investigate what happens in the body when it doesn’t receive the 7 to ­9 hours of recommended rejuvenation time. “Sleep loss is associated with striking alterations in hormone levels that regulate the appetite and may be a contributing factor to obesity,” says Michael Thorpy, MD, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Joyce Walsleben, PhD, past director of the Sleep Disorder Center at the New York University School of Medicine, agrees. “When you disrupt sleep, you disrupt your hormones. You become glucose intolerant, you want to eat more, and you don’t metabolize what you eat as well.” Not only can this hormonal disruption lead to weight gain, Walsleben warns, but also to an increased risk of developing diabetes. Even mild sleep deprivation can lead to a disruption of these hormone levels that regulate appetite which operate on a 24-hour rhythm.

Need another reason to choose sleep over late night web surfing or TV watching? Based on findings from Pennsylvania State University, lack of sleep causes chronic low-grade inflammation and predisposes you to cardiovascular events and a shorter life span.

Sleep On This

So whether you've been exercising regularly or have just started with a single session, you can expect a more restful sleep than someone who does not exercise. And since sleep plays an instrumental role in the body’s metabolic equation, consider starting a fitness program today.

Topics: NIFS exercise healthy habits weight loss sleep