The notion that laughter is the best medicine has probably existed for years, but the first real proof surfaced in the 1970s when Norman Cousins, a writer and magazine editor of the popular Saturday Review, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. He believed that if stress could worsen his health, which was known at the time, than laughter could improve it. With the approval of his doctor, he tested the theory on himself, by prescribing funny videos, and his disease went into remission. He wrote a paper about his experience, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, as well as a best selling book, Anatomy of an Illness: A Patient’s Perspective, and opened our eyes to the connection between laughter and wellness.
Since that time dozens of formal studies have been published, and the findings are amazing:
Laughter boosts hormones, including beta-endorphins, which elevate mood and human growth hormone, which helps boost immunity. In one study, just anticipating watching a funny video sent the hormones surging by 27% and 87% respectively.
A good belly laugh can also lower harmful stress hormones, including cortisol, which triggers an increase in belly fat, and adrenaline, which can weaken the immune system when it remains elevated.
Laughter has also been shown to lower “bad” (lousy LDL) cholesterol, raise “good” (happy HDL), decrease blood pressure, and cause your body to respond in a way that’s similar to moderately intense exercise. Isn’t the human body amazing?!
One of the reasons I went back to school to get a second master’s degree in public health was because I knew that nutrition alone can’t completely determine wellness. I often ask my clients about their sleep patterns, social support, and even, “When’s the last time you laughed really hard?” or “How many times a day do you laugh?”
Children laugh 300-400 times a day, even when they’re not provoked to laugh. Adults laugh about 15 times a day, but “filter” their responses, which kids don’t do.
I suggest taking Mr. Cousins’ lead, and prescribing yourself some comedy. In other words, a 5-10 minute YouTube detour isn’t a waste of time – it’s kind of like fitting in a workout! Below is my favorite funny video - no matter how many times I watch, it always makes me laugh out loud :)
When it comes to getting enough sleep, I have to admit that I struggle with my goal of clocking eight hours every night. And according to the National Sleep Foundation, I’m in the majority – over 60% of Americans miss the mark. But I’m fully aware that making sleep a priority is one of the most important things I can do for my health, and I encourage my clients to do the same.
Too little sleep has been shown to rev up hunger hormones, increase inflammation (a known trigger of premature aging and disease), up the risk of obesity, depression, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, and negatively impact emotional well-being, mental abilities, productivity, and performance. Yikes!
If you’re like me, you may think, “I don’t have time to sleep!” but getting even a little more can result in a big health pay off (including weight loss results). Inadequate sleep creates a "sleep debt," which is much like being overdrawn at a bank. Eventually, your body will demand that the debt be repaid, and until then, a cascade of side effects continue to wreak havoc on your health.
Despite how normal you may feel, research shows that the human body isn’t very good at adapting to a lack of sleep. Sleep-deprived drivers perform as badly as or worse than those who are intoxicated. Sleepiness also negatively affects memory, and can lead to mood swings and digestive problems. So what can you do? Here are eight effective strategies. Try to actively work on at least one at a time:
- Create a sleep-conducive environment. Ideal sleep conditions include a dark, quiet comfortable room that’s fairly cool (temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit and below 54 degrees will disrupt sleep).
- Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex – working on your laptop in bed is a known trigger of insomnia.
- Fit in some sort of physical activity – my favorite is walking. In S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches I dedicate an entire chapter to falling in love with walking, and explain why I think it’s the perfect form of exercise.
- Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, like a bath followed by reading a book, meditating, or listening to soothing music.
- Try to finish eating at least 2 hours before your regular bedtime.
- Nix caffeine at least 6 hours before you hit the hay.
- Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. Although many people believe a glass of wine or a cocktail will help them fall asleep, research shows it actually disrupts sleep by causing you to wake up in the middle of the night.
- Maintain a regular sleep and wake time schedule, including on weekends. I know this is a really tough one. It’s the most difficult for me, since I don’t have a fixed work schedule, but I’m trying!
Fun fact: prior to the invention of the light bulb, we slept about 10 hours a night. Today, Americans average 6.9 hours of sleep on weeknights and 7.5 hours on weekends.