How Your Morning and Nighttime Routines Affect Your Health
Why that's bad: Research presented at ENDO 2015 (the Endocrine Society's annual meeting) suggests that a mere 30-minute difference in sleep duration on weekdays compared with weekends can impact your health—for every 30 minutes of daily weekday sleep debt, subjects' likelihood of being obese rose by 17 percent, while their risk of developing insulin resistance jumped by 39 percent.
One more thing: In addition to messing with leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that help regulate your appetite, "sleep loss also results in high cortisol levels that predispose you to high blood sugar levels," says Shahrad Taheri, MBBS, PhD, study author and professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in Doha, Qatar. "All of these hormonal changes contribute to insulin resistance, the hallmark of type 2 diabetes."
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Why that's good: Coffee consumption has been linked to decreased risk of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and more recent findings have linked it to a lower risk for multiple sclerosis and melanoma, and lower levels of abnormal liver enzymes. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says consuming 3 to 5 cups per day (up to 400 mg of caffeine) comes with no long-term risks for healthy people and is likely beneficial.
One more thing: Your go-to coffee order is probably more than one cup's worth. One cup of coffee generally means 6 ounces—a tall drink at Starbucks is 12 ounces, and a grande is 16 ounces, while a medium iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts is 24 ounces, though some of that is ice. (If caffeine makes you jittery or you have or are at risk for certain health conditions, it's best to modify your habit.)
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Why that's bad: We all know how important breakfast is—but if whatever's within reach isn't nutritious (like a doughnut), you may be better off skipping your first meal entirely, says Elisabetta Politi, MPH, RD, Nutrition Director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. How do you decide? If you're someone who's all-or-nothing (i.e., you can't help but follow the doughnut with a day's worth of junk and say you'll start fresh tomorrow), then you're better off holding out until you can grab a healthy snack or lunch.
One more thing: There's an exception—If you've got the willpower to course correct, and a track record of actually doing it, taking the doughnut now and then isn't a big deal.
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Why that's good: On top of helping sync your internal clock with the day's dark-light cycle, getting bright-light exposure in the a.m. hours (whether it's natural sunlight or indoor light) could help you maintain a healthy weight. In a small study published in PLOS One, researchers from Northwestern University found that the earlier subjects' light exposure occurred, the lower their BMI. The researchers speculate that light can help regulate metabolism, and that even 20 to 30 minutes of bright light between 8 a.m. and noon is enough to impact your weight.
One more thing: Morning light has the highest amount of short-wavelength blue light (which has the strongest effect on our circadian rhythms, helping regulate sleep and its influence on weight), which may explain why it has a more significant effect on BMI than afternoon or evening light.
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Why that's good: It helps protect against damage from environmental pollutants like smog, car exhaust and small particulates in the air, which, research shows, can lead to signs of accelerated skin aging, like dark spots. Living in high-traffic areas can increase forehead and cheek pigmentation by 20 percent compared with low-traffic zones, found one study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. The study, like many others examining the effect that pollution can have on skin, was partially funded by a skincare company, but we've spoken to several dermatologists who agree that adding an antioxidant to your morning routine is a smart move.
One more thing: Put your antioxidant on before your sunscreen. Products should be layered in order of consistency, from lightest to heaviest, so the heavier products don't block the absorption of the lighter ones.
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Why that's good: Yes, some research has linked morning exercise to benefits like increased fat burning, but the most important factor when it comes to exercise is consistency, says Russell Pate, PhD, professor in the Department of Exercise Science at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. So if early workouts just aren't your thing and nighttime is the only time that you know you'll exercise, stick with your after-hours sweat sessions.
One more thing: The notion that a relatively late workout will lead to lousy sleep is a myth, says Timothy Morgenthaler, MD, sleep expert at the Mayo Clinic and president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "Most people can work out, shower and be able to go to bed after that," he says. In one small study of insomniacs, a 50-minute moderate-intensity workout that ended roughly 2 hours before bedtime actually helped participants fall asleep faster and sleep nearly 20 percent longer than they did before they began the exercise program. The exception: very vigorous exercise very close to bedtime, which may make it harder to drift off.
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Why that's good: Any kind of light can suppress the secretion of melatonin, the calming hormone that brings on sleep. "The color or wavelength doesn't matter as much as people think it does," Morgenthaler says. Exposure to normal room light in the 8 hours before bedtime delayed the onset of melatonin secretion by more than an hour and a half compared with explosure to dim lighting, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
One more thing: You don't have to sit in darkness after the half-hour-till-bed mark. Light that's just bright enough to read by shouldn't compromise your sleep, says Morgenthaler.
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Why it's good: You're listening to your body instead of mindlessly munching, a key to maintaining healthy weight, Politi says.
One more thing: If you can't get your mind off the cookies in the cupboard, Politi suggests thinking about a food you don't strongly like or dislike to figure out if your hunger is physiological or emotional. (Maybe a type of fruit that you neither love nor hate.) "If you'd eat the cookies but not the other food, your hunger is emotional and you should just go to bed," she says. "But if you would eat the other food, then you're actually hungry and should eat the food you're craving so you feel satisfied and your hunger doesn't affect your sleep."
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Why that's bad: Medicated cleansers need more contact time with your skin to be effective, says Joshua Zeichner, assistant professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. For glycolic cleansers, which gently slough off dead skin cells, "the acid is inactivated by water, so you need to let it sit on your skin for a couple of minutes before you wash it off," he says. Acne-fighting salicylic acid requires at least 1 minute of leave-on time, as does benzoyl peroxide, another acne fighter.
One more thing: Letting cleanser sit on the skin for a minute or two is even more important when you're using a medicated body cleanser to fight chest or back breakouts—the skin there is thicker than the skin on your face, meaning the cleanser needs extra time to penetrate into follicles and pores.