We all know that to be at our best we need a good night’s sleep, a diet full of fruits and veggies and regular exercise. But somewhere in between work, soccer practice, endless piles of laundry and car pool, those ideals get pushed aside. Going to bed early, chopping veggies and getting up for a workout take time – time that a real parent running a real family doesn’t always have to spare. So we’ve compiled a list of ways you can move your busy family towards healthy habits without having to completely rearrange your already hectic day
1. Fall asleep faster by controlling light.
Sometimes baseball practice runs late or that science project eats up the evening hours. Then when you finally do get your family to bed with just enough time for a decent round of shuteye, everyone lies awake. One of the best ways to help everyone fall asleep and stay asleep is by controlling light. As humans, we need night to be dark and day to be bright. In darkness, our bodies produce the hormone melatonin, making us feel sleepy. In daylight, our bodies suppress it, causing us to feel awake. Exposure to light at night, especially bluish light that mimics daylight, causes melatonin levels drop and we may find it more difficult to fall asleep and remain asleep all night.
For children limit light exposure at night by putting up heavy window coverings that can be pulled closed at night. Make sure night lights are on a timer that goes off once your child is asleep. For an example of a fun nightlight that shuts downs after 30 minutes, check out Moon in my Room. Motion sensitive lights can be helpful for kids that get up to use the restroom at night, but can cause sleep disruptions if a family pet turns it off and on all night by walking by. Adults and teens may find a sleep mask helpful. Think you wouldn’t be able to sleep with something covering your eyes? You might be surprised how easy it is – and after you get a restful night’s sleep, you’ll be convinced forever.
Adults, teens and kids should be careful about screens at night. Phones, tables and tv’s emit bluish light similar to daylight and can trick our brains into thinking it’s the middle of the day. When it’s not realistic to put away the screens in the evening, apps such as Night Shift (iphone) or Twilight (android) can allow you to change the type of light on your phone or tablet so that it has less of an effect.
2. Sleep more deeply by keeping it cool.
Melatonin not only causes us to fall asleep more easily, it also helps keep up asleep. One way it does this is by lowering core body temperature by a few degrees. Sleeping in a room that’s too warm, counteracts this effect and can make us more restless. Keeping your house a few degrees cooler at night can help the whole family make the most of the hours they have to get some sleep.
3. Add in veggies without elaborate recipes.
There are some great recipes for baking homemade brownies chocked with kale or pasta sauces full of carrots. But let’s be real. If you had time to make homemade brownies, then chopping up some veggies and making a healthy whole foods dinner wouldn’t be an issue. But like a lot of parents, you’ll just be finding time to make something out of a jar or box. So here’s a little trick. Pick up some jars of baby food veggies. Dump a little butternut squash puree into that box of mac and cheese. Or a jar of carrots into the Ragu. No one will ever know. And it will have taken you about 8 seconds. Experiment with your favorite easy-to-make dishes at home and see what you can come up with.
4. Try lower salt and lower sugar items.
Researchers have found that most people can’t tell the difference when salt and sugar is reduced slightly. Try picking up lower salt versions of some foods, especially canned and frozen veggies. Look for no added sugar on other items. It’s not the same as sugar free, but it’s a start.
5. Go for several mini-workouts instead of one big one…and broaden your idea of “workout.”
You can get the same bang for the buck with three 10 minutes workouts as a single 30 minute one. And these shorter workouts don’t have to be at the gym. If you have time at the end of the day, park two blocks from your child’s school or daycare and walk there and back for pickup. If you’re at the playground or ball field on the weekend, walk a couple of laps of the area – you’ll get in some exercise and keep your little guy in sight as well. If you’re on the floor for a few minutes with your baby or toddler, try these moves. You’ll both love it.
Healthy living doesn’t have to be perfect living. Try a few simple changes and see how it goes!