Lunden Souza: Fitness

Lunden Souza: Want to get some sleep? Stop stressing

Lack of sleep always makes everything so much more dramatic in my life. Traffic makes me cry, not being able to find a parking spot at school tees me off, and I have to put so much more effort into minute tasks. We are humans; we are emotional beings. But really, crying over traffic? Yes, I have done it, real tears. The more consistent my sleeping patterns are, the better my mood is.

You may be thinking, "Duh, Lunden, we have heard this a million times," yet people are still not sleeping as much as they should.

Aside from sleeping disorders, what makes us unable to get or maintain an adequate amount of sleep? Problems at work, relationship or family issues, loss of a loved one, finances, household duties, school, children, or even the pressure of reaching your goals. That's just a short list of stressors we encounter in our lives. If you're anything like me, stressors cycle throughout your head constantly and can sometimes interfere with other tasks, such as sleep.

I thoroughly enjoy having a lot to focus on and trying to tackle a number of obstacles, but that's not always realistic and rarely does it go smoothly or as planned. Stress, to me, comes like a slap in the face. I can go from zero to bananas when something unexpected comes crashing into my life.

I have been working really hard on focusing my energy on stress-relieving tasks so that I can feel less overwhelmed and more relaxed and able to sleep. One thing that helps me eliminate stress is this quote: "What's better than answers to our 'Why?' questions? Trusting a good God who has his reasons." When I first read this quote, I typed it up and put it in my bathroom, on my fridge and in my car. It gives me a constant reminder that I am not in control of what is going on around me, and sometimes you just have to roll with what you've got and realize that's how life is. I read this quote about 30-plus times a day.

Writing is another thing that helps me relieve stress. To-do lists, journals, newspaper columns, blogging, poems and letters to friends and family help me relax and organize my merry-go-round thought process. Once it's written down, I feel as if it is being transferred from my brain and a weight has been lifted.

A third stress-relieving tactic I use in order to sleep better is stretching with the lights off. This works best at night so that your visual sense is turned off. You cannot see the room that needs to be tidied, the windows that need to be washed or the pile of laundry in the corner. This is a good opportunity to take time for yourself and really focus on relaxing your muscles and listening to your body. I try to do this for 15 to 20 minutes before I go to bed, sometimes accompanied with a decaffeinated tea for ultimate relaxation. This is my time to love my body and be thankful that I am alive and able to stretch.

When we are stressed, our body releases a hormone called cortisol, which is directly related to fat storage and weight gain. Lack of sleep combined with this stress hormone also leads to weight gain, especially around the midsection. People with excess belly fat have an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Now if that isn't a chain reaction, I don't know what is.

Eggs, Swiss cheese, lean beef and shellfish are some food options that are high in Vitamin B. Vitamin B can help with stress reduction, so try to incorporate more of these foods into your diet and see if that helps.

My stress-reducing tactics might not be ideal for you and your lifestyle, and they might not be the key to a restful night's sleep for everybody. I challenge you to try these ways and find others that aid in your unique situation. That might take some effort and trial and error, but it's your life. Embrace it.

Lunden Souza can be reached at