Sleep: How It Can Help Us Lose Weight

We all have times where we don’t get enough sleep: be it because we stay up late having fun, or working, or toss and turn throughout the night, or wake up way too early for what seems like no good reason. I’ve been guilty of staying up too late chatting with a friend, or watching a show, or just lazing about on the couch. Sometimes I just procrastinate crawling into bed.

feet-1466901_1920But sleep is very important, particularly for maintaining a healthy body weight. How many times have you stayed up too late and found yourself in the kitchen pondering a snack. I know I’ve had plenty of nights where I’ve decided to reach for food instead of curling up in my flannel sheets and turning out the lights. Sleep is key for regulating your metabolism because lack of sleep throws insulin production and hunger hormones out of whack, leading you to choose junk food over healthy food. Be honest, how much of your late night eating is having an apple? It’s probably more like eating peanut butter from the jar or digging into a pint of ice cream, right? We rarely make good decisions when we’re tired.

And it’s not just how MUCH we sleep, but the quality of that sleep that’s important. I usually wake up before my alarm, but I’m AWAKE and ready to start the day instead of groggy and wanting to stay in bed, so I’m probably doing okay most of the time. But if all you want to do when your alarm goes off is hit snooze, you probably need to examine your sleep and see how you can get more.

Practicing good sleep hygiene (the best practices to help you achieve a good night’s sleep so you can be alert during the day) is really important. So how can you improve your sleep hygiene?

Limit Napping

Napping for more than 30 minutes a day can make it hard to fall asleep at night, but a short nap can boost your mood, mental alertness and performance. I find I just can’t nap during the day. There’s something about the mood or energy of daytime that makes it very difficult for me to sleep when the sun is up, unless I’m truly exhausted or fighting illness. If I absolutely feel I cannot stay awake then I will nap, but most times I just push through my day.

Avoid Stimulants Close to Bedtime

Processed with VSCO with a9 presetThis includes caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but often it will cause you to wake up in the middle of the night as your body metabolizes it. I’m not much of a drinker, and I don’t use nicotine at all, but I do love me some coffee and caffeinated beverages! I do make it a rule to not consume these after around 3 pm, because it does keep me awake. Some people, like The Hubs, are less affected by caffeine, but I prefer to avoid it in the afternoons.

Exercise

Exercising, even just brisk walking a mere 10 minutes a day, can really improve sleep quality. Avoid vigorous workouts close to bedtime, though, as this can wake up the body as opposed to relaxing it. I find on Wednesday nights when I do kettlebells with my girlfriends that I have trouble winding down for a bit afterwards.

Avoid Disruptive Foods

Heavy meals, greasy or acidic foods and carbonated drinks can perpetuate heartburn when sleeping, so try to avoid those too close to bedtime. (Okay, I don’t have a personal anecdote here. I don’t eat any of those things before bed and haven’t in a long time.)

Get Out in the Daylight

First of all, sunlight is a very good thing for us in moderation: we need it to produce our own vitamin D. Experiencing both natural daylight and darkness helps us maintain our circadian rhythms and a healthy sleep-wake cycle. I find I’m miserable without daylight, I need it and I crave it. Even rainy days can make me mopey because I am a sun worshiper (wear sunscreen, people)!

Have a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

girl-1358371_1280Do some light yoga, meditate, read a book, take a warm shower or a bath. I read before bed. In fact, I fall asleep reading so often that instead of saying “I’m going to bed” I now say “I’m going to go read myself to sleep!” It’s become a running gag in our house.

Maintain a Pleasant Sleep Environment

You want to be comfortable when you sleep, don’t you? I prefer a cooler room and lots of darkness. I also prefer a fan running for both white noise and to keep some air moving. A stuffy room is torture to me, but my husband would prefer to sleep in a sauna, so he wraps himself in a cocoon of blankets to compensate. It’s a tenuous agreement that leans more towards my benefit. 😉

What are your sleep habits like? Do you feel you get enough quality sleep?

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Recipe: Lighter Butternut Squash Lasagna

Last week  I had a severe crisis on my hands: I bought a ginormous butternut squash for a mere $1.50. I’m serious that the thing was easily 5 lbs. I needed a mere pound of it for last week’s Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette so I had a lot leftover. Three and a half pounds worth to be honest. I’ve had this recipe for Butternut Squash Lasagna sitting in my Pinterest account for a long time, and with the sub-freezing temperatures here in South Jersey it sounded like the perfect opportunity. There was only one problem. This recipe is pretty high in fat. At 549 calories per serving it isn’t actually too bad calorie wise, but I knew I could tweak  it just a bit to get it below 500 and drop some fat. (You could absolutely cut the calories in this some more by switching out the 4% cottage cheese for fat free if you really wanted.) So here goes!

I had a blast taking photos of myself making this dish, but since I used my front facing camera please excuse the graininess.

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I don’t have photos of the whole squash because a) I’d already used some of it previously and b) The Hubs was super helpful and had already cut it up for me! Also, I’m not sponsored by any of these brands you’ll see in the photos (although if they see this and are interested, contact me! 😉 ) I drizzled the olive oil and salt onto a sheet pan lined with foil, then tossed the squash in it. It went into a preheated 450 degree oven for 30 min while I worked on the rest.

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The milk and sage went into a large saucepan and I set it over medium heat. Don’t walk away from it at this point, because if it winds up hitting a boil you’re going to be scrubbing scalded milk off of your stove for hours! I brought it just up to a simmer and then turned off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then pull out the sage. Meanwhile…

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Next I made a white roux. A roux is a thickening agent consisting of equal amounts fat (in this case, butter) and flour, cooked together into a paste. I softened the garlic in the butter over medium heat before I added the flour. Cook the flour just about a minute, don’t let it brown. Remove from the heat.

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Next up I combined the milk and roux to make a béchamel. A béchamel is one of the basic French “mother” sauces, so it’s a really good one to learn. Off heat, I whisked the warm milk into the roux. I then returned it to medium heat and whisked gently until it came to a simmer and thickened. It’s done when you can draw a line in the back of a spoon with the sauce.

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By then the squash was all cooked so I stirred that into the sauce. Voila! I turned the oven down to 375 degrees.

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Then it was time to layer! I used two 8 x 8 glass baking dishes so I could freeze one for later. I poured one scant cup of the sauce on the bottom of each, then layered two pasta sheets on top. I repeated this step three more times, ending with pasta sheets.

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Next I mixed the cottage cheese and Parmesan together in a bowl, then split the mixture between the two lasagnas and spread it evenly on top. I covered each with aluminum foil and popped them in the oven.

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I baked each one for 30 minutes at 375 degrees, then I removed the foil and baked them for an additional 10 minutes until the cheesy topping got golden brown and bubbly! The hardest part? Waiting ANOTHER 10 minutes for them to rest so I could nom a piece! (Definitely let them sit so they can solidify a little before you try to cut into them or you’ll have an oozy mess.)

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Dig in!

Man oh man was this good. The pasta was cooked through but still al dente so it contrasted perfectly with the soft and creamy butternut squash filling. The filling was delicately flavored with hints of garlic and sage, and the cheesy topping adding the perfect level of saltiness. The best part? It’s a pretty sizeable portion, too!

I managed to tweak the recipe down to under 500 calories per piece, but as I said above, you can definitely get that lower if you use fat free cottage cheese. Here are all the numbers:

Original Recipe My Version Even Lower Fat
Calories 549 482.9 435.9
Fat (g) 31.5 18.6 13.8
Cholesterol (mg) 113.3 77.2 62.2
Carbs (g) 53 59.1 59.9
Fiber (g) 5.2 5.7 5.7
Protein (g) 16.2 22.9 21.2

I hope you guys like the format I used for this recipe. I found it really fun to take pics of myself doing the work, and I’m going to be working on improving the photo quality over the next few months (saving up for a digital camera) and also The Hubs and I will be converting one of our Ikea tables into a rolling cart in the kitchen so I’ll have some extra work space (I’ll be documenting the process I promise). Definitely let me know if you try this one! It’s worth the time, I promise. 🙂

Lighter Butternut Squash Lasagna

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

A lighter yet still velvety and luxurious butternut squash lasagna with hints of sage and garlic.

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 lbs peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into 1/4″ pieces
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 quart 2% milk
  • 1 small bunch sage
  • 4 Tbsp butter, salted
  • 1 Tbsp garlic, minced (3-4 cloves)
  • 4 Tbsp flour
  • 2 cups 4% milkfat cottage cheese
  • 1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, shaved
  • 1 box (mine was 9 oz.) no boil lasagna noodles

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. On a sheet pan covered with aluminum foil, toss butternut squash with olive oil and salt. Roast for 30-40 minutes until soft but not charred.
  3. In the meantime, combine milk and sage in a medium saucepan over medium low. Bring it just to a simmer and then shut it off. Allow the sage to steep in the milk for at least 10 minutes, then remove the sage leaves from the milk.
  4. In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté garlic in butter until fragrant but not browned. Sprinkle in flour and stir well to form a roux. Cook over medium heat until slightly thickened and golden. Remove from heat.
  5. Slowly whisk the milk into the roux mixture, then return to medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and holds a line when a finger is swiped across the back of a spoon. Stir in the roasted butternut squash cubes.
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
  7. In each of two 8 x 8 glass baking dishes, layer 1 cup sauce, then 2 noodles, sauce, noodles, sauce, noodles, sauce, ending with noodles.
  8. In a medium bowl, stir together cottage cheese and Parmesan. Divide evenly between the two dishes and spread evenly over the top. Cover each dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  9. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes or until top is slightly golden and bubbly. Allow to rest 10 minutes before serving.

Like recipes like these? Get the AML 2015 Recipe Collection PDF on my Etsy Store!

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What I Do When I Just Don’t Wanna Work Out

A dear friend of AML, Gina, aka Spark Mama, asked me to write about what I do to keep going when I don’t really feel like working out. Well, as it turns out, Saturday was that day. Don’t get me wrong, I love working out, and I know that once I get it over with, I feel a thousand times better: getting my sweat on really improves my mood. It’s why I choose to start my day with exercise. But sometimes working out six days a week takes it’s toll both physically and emotionally. I didn’t wanna do it.

I hemmed and hawed about it awhile, knowing it was butt and thigh day, and also knowing that my shoulders were achy from the previous day’s kettlebell upper body workout, so holding 25 lb weights on my shoulders while squatting certainly wasn’t going to help that. I considered skipping my workout altogether. I went through my day in my head, knowing that I should just do it. I’d feel better physically if I moved, and I’d definitely be more chipper at work. Still, my heart wasn’t in it. Finally I decided what to do: compromise!

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If you don’t feel like doing a thousand burpees you could just let your dog pull you around your neighborhood for a few miles.

I’m a big proponent of just doing stuff anyway and just getting it over and done with, but on this day that just wasn’t going to work. I decided that instead of doing Fitness Blender’s At Home Butt & Thigh Workout, which is a pretty intense 25 minutes, that I would do two, shorter, much less intense workout videos, one that was a low impact abs, butt and thigh workout plus a relaxing yoga stretch workout for a total of 30 minutes. So I wound up working out longer, while burning fewer calories, but I was much more relaxed and at peace afterwards than I would have been without working out. Plus I didn’t over stress my shoulders, which probably would have happened if I hadn’t taken it easy.

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Recovery sessions mean better workouts later and avoiding burnout!

Because I took it easy for a few days (and by easy, I mean not skipping workouts but doing less intense workouts) I really owned my Tuesday morning kettlebell workout!

What do YOU do when you don’t feel like working out? Let me know in the comments!

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