10 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

I don’t know about you guys, but its getting to be the time of year where school and life really picks up and becomes challenging, especially when it comes to getting enough sleep.  Between my internship, research job, classes, and getting my thesis done, I have no free time, and I find myself getting to bed late and getting up early so that I can squeeze my workouts in.  On top of that, even when I get to bed on time, my mind is racing with everything I have to accomplish the next day, that I just can’t turn it off and fall asleep.  If any of this sounds like you, here are some tips to make sure you get a good night’s sleep.

  1. Get enough slumber time.  Studies show that chronic sleep deprivation, which is defined in the sleep world as less than 6 hours a night, can negatively affect your health and weight.  Make sure you at least get 6 hours of sleep a night, so that you don’t further your risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.
  2. Don’t get too much.  People who regularly got more than 9 hours of sleep every night have the same problems.  Six to eight hours a night seems to be the magic number.
  3. Pick a time.  Theres a part of your brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or the SCN, that controls your circadian rhythm.  So even if you get 6-8 hours of sleep in a night, if you went to bed at 3 and woke up at 12, and then the next day to go bed at 10 and wake up at 6, you’re never going to feel rested because your circadian rhythm is going to be completely off.  Your brain likes patterns.  Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, at least during the week days, and you’ll feel more rested overall.  Its science.
  4. Drop the temperature.  To 67 degrees or lower.  At bed time, people usually sleep better when its cool, likely due to the decrease in snoring and apnea in cooler temperatures.  In addition, sleeping in a cooler house at night helps your body develop more brown fat, which is good for your metabolism.  Before you get cold though…
  5. Get hot.  Warming your core temperature by a few degrees is showing promise at my university to improve sleep quality.  Take a hot bath, or relax with a heating pad a few hours before (not RIGHT before) you go to bed for a deeper, more restful sleep.  Speaking of getting hot…
  6. Sex has also been shown to improve sleep quality.  Must be those endorphins.
  7. Exercise early.  People who exercised at 7 in the morning slept better than afternoon and night time exercisers.  Theres a lot of reasons this works better, but the main one could be to do with blood pressure.  Exercising early gives you a longer sustained lowered blood pressure, which means your heart and autonomic system have to work less to relax come bed time.  Exercising early also helps wake you up for the rest of the day.  People who exercised in the morning felt more alert during their work day than people who exercised after work.
  8. Lay off the caffeine.  This may seem obvious, but different people have different tolerances and reactions to caffeine.  Caffeine can affect some people upwards of 8 hours.  Additionally, caffeine heightens sympathetic nervous activity, aka your body’s “fight or flight” mode, which can make is more difficult to fall asleep. Switch to decaf after 12.  Usually the sensory stimulus of coffee is enough to perk you back up if you need the boost.
  9. Skip late night munchies.  Snacking and having alcohol right before bed can spike your blood sugar, which will turn on your body’s sympathetic nervous system again so that your food can be used or stored.  Only snack if you’re reeeeeeally hungry (to the point that your hunger will keep you up), and keep it light.  Or have some milk instead, the protein in milk can fill you up til morning.
  10. Finally, Don’t believe in “sleep dept.”  Research has disproved sleep dept.  You cannot make up lost sleep.  Go ahead and get an extra hour or two on the weekend, but if you had a tough week, sleeping 12 hours a night on the weekend is just going to make the following week’s sleep feel less restful.

Happy sleeping!


Something unrelated: Freakers

This is completely unrelated to health, diet or fitness, but I really love the beach town I lived in for four years.  So much community and local flavor.  And I want to share with you one of the things hailing from Wilmington, NC:  Freakers.  You may have seen them on the show Shark Tank. Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 8.55.35 PM

Basically, they are the best of beer coozies – they fit everything from a wine class, to a nalgene, to a whole wine bottle.  Explore the website here, seriously, the product, and the creator are both awesome, and everything is sourced from and made in America.  And now they’re making SOCKS.

Please take some time and back this awesome company here on Kickstarter,  My friends and I went in on the Toe Montana, so we will each get a pair of socks and a matching freaker.  They make great boyfriend/dad/groomsmen/anyone gifts!


Lets talk about spot training…

How to get a toned butt!  How to get a flat belly!  How to get lean arms!  How to get slim thighs!  Spot training is such a well researched thing that is almost always shown not to work, but magazines (hi again, Women’s Health!), advertises their workouts as such.  Here are some points about spot training, and better options.

  • You can spot train, but you can’t spot reduce.  When you burn calories, you burn them all over, so you can’t target just one area, like, say your belly, and try to lose only belly fat.  If you want to get a toned tummy, you’re going to need to lose fat everywhere.  Same with your thighs, your butt, etc.
  • You aren’t going to see tone without muscle.  Kindof the opposite concept as above:  If you want lean arms, or abs, you can’t just lose fat and presto six-pack!  You have to have some muscle under there.
  • Lets talk about chicken legs.  You know, those big buff guys that only do upper body, and have disproportionately skinny legs.  Thats a form of spot training.  Don’t spot train and get chicken legs!  You can have lower body days and upper body days, sure, just make sure you work your whole body by the end of the week.  Besides, why would you only want toned arms, when you can have toned everything?! Think about it.

How to not spot train:

  1. Follow the trusty American College of Sports Medicine formula.  Incorporate a combination of cardio and resistance exercise.  Plan for cardio 4-5 days a week, for 30+ minutes each bout, and resistance training 2-3 times per week, focusing on total body strengthening.
  2. Don’t fall into the fads.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if any program, diet, supplement or product claims to help you lose weight FAST, then it is probably not a reliable resource for you.  What is a reliable resource?  Invest in a personal trainer, a class that you love (yoga,dance lessons, horseback riding, spin classes!), or a nutrition consultant to get you on the right track.  Lifestyle changes, people.
  3. Accept your “flaws”.  Everyone’s body is different.  I have a pelvic tilt, which makes it physically impossible for me to have a flat stomach.  Sometimes you can’t fight genetics.  Accept your body for all it can do, and focus on your health and strength.

Here’s a picture of my not so flat (but very strong!) stomach, and the boy 😉 on a recent escape from the frozen tundra to sunny Freeport:IMG_5690

Happy NOT spot training!


jules v. Pinterest: Black Bean and Quinoa Enchilada Bake

Sometimes grad school and eating well don’t go together.  I’m sure thats the case with many people who are in school or working full time.  So during the week I like to depend on batch meals that I can tupperware up and take with me.  I found this, the Black Bean and Quinoa Enchilada Bake:


This one caught my eye on Pinterest this week for several reasons:

  1. Cheese
  2. Black beans – I have too many cans
  3. Gluten free – So I can share with my boyfriend, who cannot eat gluten.

So here are the instructions for the Black Bean and Quinoa Enchilada Bake courtesy of Two Peas & their Pod:


1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed,diced
1 red pepper, seeds removed, diced
1 orange pepper, seeds removed, diced
1 cup corn frozen kernels
Juice of 1 small lime
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 (15 oz) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups red enchilada sauce
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese
Toppings: Sliced green onions, avocado slices, sour cream, optional


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

2. Add quinoa and water to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Cover quinoa and set aside.

3. In a large skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeño. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add in the peppers and corn. Cook for about 3-4 minutes. Add the lime juice, cumin, chili powder, and cilantro. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

4. In a large bowl, add the cooked quinoa and black beans. Add the sautéed vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Pour in the enchilada sauce and stir. Add 1/2 cup shredded cheese.

5.Pour the black bean and quinoa mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with remaining shredded cheese. Cover the pan with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove foil. Bake an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and edges are bubbling. Remove from the oven, and let cool for 10 minutes. Garnish with toppings, if desired. Serve warm.

What I did Different:

  • I did not add peppers or jalapeños – not because I don’t like peppers or jalapeños, but because I forgot to write them on my grocery list.  Would it have been better with them? Yes.  Was it still delicious without them? Yes.
  • Instead of cumin and all the seasonings for the sautéed onions, I used taco seasoning, because we had it.
  • I did not use cilantro, because to me it tastes like soap.
  • I used canned corn instead of frozen.

My Result:


Look at all that bubbly cheesy goodness!  Ok here are my scores:

Level of Difficulty: 1/5.  I honestly chose this recipe because it looked easy, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Taste: 5/5.  Because cheese.

Would I make again?  Definitely.  Everyone loved it, plus it filled me up and kept me energized for a busy day.  I might need to make an entire separate 9X12 for the boyfriend however, because he can put away some food.

Overall for this Pinterest attempt: Nailed it.


So You Have a Chair…

Not everyone has access to a gym or fancy workout equipment, and sometimes even if you do, just getting out of the house proves to be the greater challenge.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a great workout in right from home.  Here are some moves you can do from home using just one common household item: a chair.

The Chair Workout: make sure your chair has all 4 legs and is stable enough to stand on.

  • Lateral leg raises: Standing behind your chair with feet side by side, extend your leg out to a 60 degree angle and return to start.  Remember to perform this one slowly, squeeze your butt and keep your core tight.  Do 10-12 reps, 2-3 times.

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Step ups: Face your chair now, and step up with one foot and lower back down.  Do 10-12 on one foot, and then 10-12 on the other, 2-3 times.

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Butt raises: Face your chair, and lie on your back with your heels up on the seat.  Slowly lift your butt off the ground, squeeze, and return to start.  Do 10-12 reps for 2-3 sets.

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  • Push ups: Face your chair and place one hand on either side of the seat, and get into a plank position.  Lower down and push back up for 10-12 reps, for 2-3 sets.  Remember not to let your butt drop or your shoulders haunch.  Keep your core engaged.  FullSizeRender-8 FullSizeRender-11
  • Knee to shoulder: Get back into that plank position, but this time hold it, and bring your left knee to your right shoulder for a crunch, and then bring back to plank.  Do the same using your right knee and left should and return to plank.  That is 1 rep.  Do 10-12 for 2-3 reps.

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Tricep dips: Facing away from your chair, place your hands on either side of the seat.  Keeping elbows extended, get into a reverse plank position.  Lower so that your elbows are at about a 90 degree angle, and then push back up.  Do 10-12 reps for 2-3 sets.

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All done! The most activity you’ve ever done in a chair!


Spin It to Win It

Guys, I love riding my bike.

I can’t express how great it is to just be outside in the sunshine riding your bike all day long. However, I am a wimp and just can’t cut the winter riding, so my trusty steed is up on the trainer November through March, and I hop on a couple times a week, or more if the weather is especially bad. As you can imagine, its easy to slack on the bike when you’re riding inside. But just because you don’t have any wind or hills doesn’t mean you can’t get some resistance in.  If you’re stuck on a trainer, or at the gym on a stationary bike, or you missed your spin class, try this 45 minute workout to get your heart rate up:

  • 5 min warm up:  don’t skip the warm up!  Keep it easy and the resistance low to get your blood flowing and your muscles warmed up.
  •  First block: 9 minutes.  Alright, bump up that resistance to a low to moderate grade.  Think of it like you’re going up a little hill. We’re going to do some single leg spinning.
    • 1 minute: right leg.  Unclip your left foot and let it rest, keep that right leg moving.
    • 1 minute: left leg.  Same thing, but with your left foot.
    • 1 minute: both feet.  Keep it spinning on that low to moderate grade.  Repeat this block 3 times.  After the third time, turn that resistance back down and spin it out for a 1 minute break.
  • Second block: 9 minutes.  Its hill climbing time!  Get ready to feel some burn.  You’ll do this set 3 times as well.
    • 1 minute: mild hill.  This is going to be up to your discretion.  Think of it as feeling like you are going up a little hill.  You should have your resistance up enough to have slowed down your cadence by about 5 rpms, and you should be breathing a little harder.
    • 1 minute: moderate hill.  Crank that resistance up more, this hill should feel like you’re pedaling through peanut butter.
    • 1 minute: Stand it up.  Crank up the resistance one more time, it should be up enough that you need to stand up to pedal.  This ones where you’ll feel the burn, keep it up!  At the end of your third set of block 2, crank the resistance back down and take a minute to spin easy.
  • Third block: 15 minutes.  Time to get fast, this last block is all about the cadence.  Crank back to your mild hill, you gotta have a little bit of resistance.  If you don’t have RPMs on your machine, or a cadence sensor on your back, go off of you’re rate of perceived exertion.  On a scale of 1-10, we want you to be about a 3-4 (moderate) on off periods, and 8-9 on on periods. You’ll be repeating this block 5 times.
    •  2 minutes: speed it up!  Keep your cadence between 80-90.  If you can’t hold this, turn your resistance down. If you are easily above 90, turn that resistance up.
    • 1 minute: off, bring your cadence down to 50-60.  This is your rest, so take sip of water, and get ready to get back on your horse.  Repeat 5 times.
  • Cool down: 5 minutes.  You made it!  You’re done with your workout, but keep those legs spinning for 5 minutes to give your body a chance to get your heart rate and blood pressure down before you stop altogether.

Happy spinning everyone!



Jenny McCarthy’s Slim Secret!

Hi everyone!  Its been a while since my last post, and that is because I was on vacation away from internet and phone service for a week and it was great!  Its so nice to unplug.  But now that I have returned, I’ll treat you to some good ol’ fashion, calling out of Shape Magazine.

Recently, Shape featured actress/comedian/anti-vaccination nut Jenny McCarthy, and focused on her hot bod and how she manages to stay thin.  She claims its not hours at the gym (or photoshop), but instead her secret is a diet supplement, Zantrex SkinnyStix.  Here is an excerpt of the article below: Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 9.26.52 AM

Mmmmm nothing like diet supplements and vodka!  But anyway, I find a lot of these types of product placements in magazines and on social media.  Keep in mind that Jenny McCarthy is getting paid to tell you that this little drink mix works and she doesn’t have to exercise or think about her diet.  Sounds a little too miraculous to me.  I think its important to really point out the nutrition information and proven facts behind these supplements before you spend time, energy, and money on a product that may or may not give you the results you are looking for.   Lets start by looking at just the directions for using Skinnystix:

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So there are a few red flags to point out that you can get just from the directions, and I have underlined them in red for you.  The first one being that they tell you to work out and diet to get the best results, and individual results will vary.  This is a buffer.  If it isn’t working for you, you must not be exercising or dieting enough in conjunction with this supplement, and individual results vary, so its not unexpected that you didn’t get the same results.  The second thing they throw at you is this ingredient: xanthine.  I’ll come back to that, first, lets look at the ingredients list.

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If you notice, this ingredient, xanthine, is nowhere to be found.  This is because the form of xanthine they are referring to is caffeine.  Caffeine is a derivative of xanthine.  In addition, notice that there are no percent daily values listed because none are established.  How can they know that this supplement is going to do what its going to do, when there is no minimum value established for each of these extracts?  And further, in my experience actually working in a biochem lab in which we test various antioxidant supplements on the human body, its takes a lot of the supplement to illicit changes in the blood.  In fact, in just a blueberry study my university is conducting, our subjects are consuming the equivalent of 2 cups of blueberries a day.  And who knows if those changes in the blood will translate into other physical changes.  In a watermelon study conducted by my university that I was also involved in, watermelon supplementation showed increased blood values, but did not translate in terms of blood vessel health (If you are interested in learning more about this, and happen to be in San Diego around May 28, I’ll be presenting this study at the ACSM National Conference!).

So lets talk about how these SkinnyStix actually work, and how you can get the same benefits without buying into these supplements.

  1. They fill you up: the directions tell you to consume 16 fluid ounces before each meal.  Thats two cups.  You fill up your stomach, which causes the stretch receptors to tell your brain that you are full.  You can easily get the same effect by drinking a glass of water before each meal.
  2. They get you amped: these supplements contain caffeine, which is what is really making Jenny more energized and putting her in a good mood.  Just have a cup of coffee, or instead of paying 40 (YES, FORTY) dollars for a pack of 12, pick up some Crystal Light On The Go energy for 3 dollars.  Same thing.
  3. finally, They dazzle you: they like to throw fancy terms and specific instructions to make this product sound more research and medically based than it actually is.  Don’t be dazzled, in this case, its best to be a skeptic.

I hope you find this helpful, and can better analyze or at least have the forethought to do some research before buying into weight loss supplements.   And BOO Shape magazine, for giving this supplement a platform, and giving women everywhere false hope in a miracle supplement.  Its nothing fancy everyone, just diet and exercise!