The term for bedtime rituals and nightly habits is sleep hygiene.
Improving your sleep hygiene often means a consistently better night’s sleep. And, who doesn’t want that?!
Recently a report was published that connected dozing off with the television on to weight gain. These early studies suggest that too much exposure to light at night could pose health risks, one of which is obesity. The lead author Dale Sandler, a scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said, “Evolutionarily we are supposed to be sleeping at night, in a dark place. It’s important than people realize this for a whole variety of health reasons.”
Daily exposure to light and darkness helps maintain our 24-hour body clock, which regulates metabolism, sleep-promoting hormones, blood pressure, and other bodily functions. Mounting research suggests disrupting that typical sleep-wake cycle may contribute to poor health, increasing risks for high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and obesity.
Stimulants like coffee and energy drinks, alarm clocks, and external lights – including those from electronic devices – interfere with our “circadian rhythm” or natural sleep/wake cycle making it hard to fall asleep. Caffeine stays in the system for an average duration of 3-5 hours, and could remain for as long as 12 hours. Most people are aware of this, but think that it won’t affect them.
Limit your screen time in the evening. The light from televisions and computers tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime again. The problem with these devices is that they all use blue light, the strongest wavelength of light that your brain perceives as sunlight. This confuses our bodies around bedtime and throws off our production of melatonin, which in turn may lead to trouble sleeping. There are blue light blocking glasses on the market for as low as $10.
To reduce inadequate sleep hygiene, have a regular routine before bed. It will help you fall asleep. Engage in a relaxing activity such as reading, listening to relaxing music, meditating or bathing. Exercising just before bed is not recommended as it increases body temperature and mental alertness. Exercising should be done during the middle of the day. Having an active and healthy lifestyle will also aid in good sleep behavior.
In addition to the routine, you should also have a regular bedtime. This will become ingrained in your internal clock and will eventually help you fall asleep regularly.
Poor sleep can also be caused by the mind being too active and not ‘shutting down’. This is commonly caused by stress, anxiety, fear or excitement. If you find yourself regularly having trouble falling asleep despite practicing many other good sleeping habits, you may need to develop mind tricks or exercises to help take your mind off others things, and prepare it to shut down for sleep. You will also find that after getting in a routine, sleep will naturally come much easier, even without the practice of these exercises.
There are things you can do to get to sleep and stay asleep.
Avoid alcohol before bed. The habit of having a ‘nightcap’ before bed doesn’t fuel a good night’s sleep. Apart from all the other problems with self-medicating in this manner, it seems that drinking before bed can actually be a very bad idea if you want to get a healthy night’s sleep. While alcohol may initially knock you out, the kind of sleep it brings is neither restful nor prolonged.
During a study carried out by the University of Melbourne in Australia, volunteers were fed either a ‘nightcap’ of vodka or a nonalcoholic placebo before bed, and then had their brainwaves measured while they slept. The researchers discovered that those who drank before bed displayed ‘alpha’ brainwaves in addition to the ‘delta’ waves you’d expect to see during sleep. ‘Alpha’ brainwaves occur when the brain is awake. What this means is that any of the positive delta (sleep) wave effects are offset by the wakeful alpha waves. This kind of pattern is only seen otherwise in people who have chronic pain conditions, or who are suffering from great anxiety. It’s the kind of sleep pattern which you can snap out of sleep at any moment, and then have trouble drifting off again. Which is precisely what happens as people start to sober up.
Sleeping in a comfortable environment will promote quality sleep. This includes a mattress and pillow that are right for you, as well as sleeping in an environment that is as dark as you can make it, with calming sound and temperature levels. This can vary by individual. Some people may actually sleep better with low playing music left on but in general you should sleep in a dark, quiet and cool space. A temperature below standard room temperature is ideal, as being under blankets will increase your body temperature. Too cool of an environment can also make it difficult to stay asleep.
Dr. Andrew Weil teaches what he calls the best method for falling back to sleep in the middle of the night. He adopted this exercise from a centuries-long Indian yogi meditation practice.This all-natural remedy is called the 4-7-8 method. First, settle into a comfortable position on your bed. Then, simply inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for eight more seconds. Repeat until you fall asleep. (Use the 4-7-8 technique whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to deal with food cravings. It works well for mild to moderate anxiety.)
Poor sleep hygiene will eventually catch up with you with low energy and overall tiredness, lack of motivation and drive to get things done, mood changes, poor decisions, memory problems, trouble concentrating or headaches.
Know how much sleep you and your loved ones need:
- Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
- Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
- Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
- Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
- School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
- Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)
Basil is a member of the mint family. Native to India, Africa, and Asia, basil is now cultivated extensively throughout much of the world. In China the medicinal use of basil can be traced back more than 3000 years.
The name “basil” is derived from the Greek word for “royal”, indicating the ancient culture’s high respect for the herb.
Basil has many of the same medicinal effects as other members of the mint family. It is used as a digestive aid, a mild sedative, and for the treatment of headaches. The herb is still used in China for spasms of the intestinal tract, kidney ailments, and poor circulation.
There are many different varieties of basil:
- Sweet basil: The most widely grown, popular basil, renowned for its use in Italian dishes. Commonly sold dried in supermarkets. Has a licorice-clove flavor.
- Bush or Greek basil: Has a strong aroma but mild flavor, so it can be substituted for sweet basil. Forms a compact bush with small leaves and grows well in a pot.
- Thai basil: Has an anise-licorice flavor and is commonly used in Thai and Southeast Asian dishes.
- Cinnamon basil: Native to Mexico. Has a cinnamon-like flavor and scent. Commonly served with legumes or spicy, stir-fried vegetables.
- Lettuce basil: Features large, wrinkled, soft leaves with a licorice-like flavor. Works well in salads or tossed with tomatoes and olive oil.
Because basil is generally used in small quantities, the only substantial nutrient it provides is vitamin K. Because basil leaves are high in vitamin K, which helps blood clot, high intakes could interfere with blood-thinning drugs, such as warfarin.
Preliminary studies suggest sweet basil may:
- Reduce memory loss associated with stress and aging
- Reduce depression related to chronic stress
- Reduce stroke damage and support recovery, whether given before or right after a stroke
- Improve fasting blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides
- Reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension
- Relax blood vessels and thin your blood, similar to aspirin
- Protect against aspirin’s damage to your gut, particularly preventing ulcers
- Prevent certain cancers, including of the breast, colon and pancreas
- Increase mental alertness when inhaled as aromatherapy
- Inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause dental decay
- Improve food safety, such as if integrated into food packaging by manufacturers
- Provide an alternative to antibiotics for infectious diseases, including combating antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria
- Repel insects, such as mosquitos and ticks
The basil commonly used in supplements and herbal tea is holy basil, sometimes called tulsi. It is added to some Thai dishes because of its distinct flavor.
Holy basil has a long history of use for many ailments, including many of those listed above. When 60 people with type 2 diabetes took 250 mg of holy basil extract alongside a diabetes drug each day before breakfast and dinner for three months, they had an 18% decrease in average blood sugar compared to those only taking the drug. Avoid holy basil if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Animal studies suggest that holy basil supplements may negatively affect sperm and trigger contractions in pregnancy. Risks during breastfeeding are unknown.
How to Buy
Though fresh basil has a stronger flavor, dried basil is less expensive and available year round. Look for crisp, vibrant green leaves with no signs of decay. For both fresh or dried be sure it is from an organic source as these herbs are less likely to have been irradiated. Dried herbs will last for about six months in a sealed glass container in a cool, dark, dry place.
Sweet basil is most widespread, but you may find other varieties at farmers markets.
Alternately, try growing your own. You can grow basil anywhere with nighttime temperatures above 60℉ (15.5℃) for at least two months. Basil is sensitive to cold and likes sun exposure all day. The plant can also be grown indoors and will last about a year if you prune it regularly to prevent flowering.
You can cultivate basil from a seed planted in dirt or a stem cut from another plant that you put in water until roots start to grow. Basil will thrive in a garden or patio pot that drains well.
How to Store
Harvest basil leaves as you need them, but don’t pluck them from your plants. To encourage proper growth, cut the stem toward the bottom so that only two to four leaves remain on the plant.
Put fresh basil stems in a jar with tap water to keep the leaves fresh for a few days. It’s debatable whether you should refrigerate fresh basil, as cold temperatures can discolor the leaves. I like to rinse the leaves and store in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp towel. The herb will last for up to a week.
Basil can also be frozen, whole or chopped, in airtight containers. Fresh basil can be chopped or blended with olive oil and stored in the fridge or freezer. Frozen basil is good for three months.
If you have a lot of fresh basil, you can dry the leaves and store them in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Avoid crumbling the leaves until you need them, as this helps retain their essential oils, aroma and flavor.
How to Cook
Basil gives zest to tomato dishes, salads, zucchini, eggplant, meat seasonings, stuffing, soups, sauces and more.
Pesto is a creamy, green sauce and is one of basil’s most popular uses. It’s typically made from crushed basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil and pine nuts, though dairy-free options are also available. Try it as a dip or sandwich spread. Combine one cup fresh basil with 2-3 cloves of garlic and 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a food processor. Add 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts.
Basil complements other herbs and spices such as garlic, marjoram, mustard, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, rosemary and sage.
If you have fresh basil, take only the leaves — not the stem. It’s generally best to add fresh basil at the final step of cooking because heat can diminish the flavor and bright green color.
If a recipe calls for fresh basil but you only have dried, use just 1/3 of the measurement, as dried is more concentrated.
Pan-Seared Pine Nut Pesto Tofu (Non-Soy option included)
Candle 79 Cookbook
1 cup pine nuts
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup water
2 cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 cups fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
3 T nutritional yeast
1/2 t sea salt
2 pounds extra-firm tofu, sliced into 1 by 2 by 3-inch pieces – substitute for non-soy eaters mushrooms or seitan (not gluten free)
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
At the Candle 79 Restaurant, they serve this dish with roasted fingerling potatoes and sautéed trumpet mushrooms. They also make summer sandwiches with this tofu, roasted red peppers, and pesto on slices of grilled country bread.
To make the marinade, put the pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, and water in a blender and process to form a chunky puree.
Add the parsley, basil, garlic, nutritional yeast, and salt and process for 1 minute.
In a large pot, bring about 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add the tofu, decrease the heat, and simmer for two minutes. Skip this step if you are using mushrooms or seitan.
Drain the tofu well, then transfer to a large, nonreactive, ovenproof baking dish.
Pour the marinade over it, cover, and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. Turn the tofu occasionally.
Remove the tofu from the marinade and reserve the marinade.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over low heat. Add the tofu and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side.
To serve, heat the marinade and spoon a bit of it in the center of the plate, then top with the warm tofu.