How This Simple Habit Could Improve Your Sleep (And Slim Your Waistline!)

Raise your hand if you’re stressed, even the slightest bit. Yeah, that’s what I figured. When that question is asked, all hands in the room tend go up because nearly everyone has at least one thing to be stressed about, if not more. And you know what stress brings? Bad sleep. Which, of course, only adds to your stress levels. So, instead of forming a borderline dependence on valerian root to help you snooze (“hey man, it’s all natural”), we have a science-backed sleep aid and de-stresser that’s about as natural as it gets: nature sounds. 

As Health reports, a new study performed by researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in England, published in the journal Science Reports, found that nature sounds — like say, the sounds you’d hear on a hike through a rainforest — decreased the body’s sympathetic response (responsible for that anxious fight-or-flight feeling) in participants while increasing the parasympathetic response, which helps the body relax. The study also found that participants who were most stress-ridden to start reaped the most relaxation benefits from the nature noises.

But what really caught our eye, more than nature sounds reducing stress, was the idea that they could improve sleep:

Finding that ideal background soundscape could potentially help to promote better rest, as well. “Poor sleep causes autonomic stress (the fight-or-flight response), and autonomic stress causes poor sleep,” she [lead study author Cassandra Gould Van Praag] says. “This would suggest that anything which can reduce the fight-or-flight response may be beneficial to improved quality of sleep.” Minimizing manmade noise—like street traffic—may also be helpful, she adds.

And stress isn’t the only reason to improve your quality sleep. As Science of Us noted earlier this week, not getting enough sleep can lead you to eat more during the day than you would if you’d gotten a good night’s sleep. Per Science of Us, new research presented last week at Cognitive Neuroscience Society found that sleep-deprived people had a heightened sense of smell — but just for food. And that heightened sense of smell paired with your brain not functioning at top-speed can make it a whole lot harder to turn down whatever food you’re smelling. Meaning: Instead of politely declining the Krispy Kreme donuts at your morning meeting, you’ll nod your head yes — and then ask for seconds. This research backs up a study from November of last year that found that people ate a whopping 385 more calories on days when they skimped on sleep, clocking a measly 3.5. to 5.5. hours per night. Long story short: Getting bad sleep is no good for your waistline.

So if you live in the city, how are you supposed to squeeze these sleep-improving nature sounds into your nightlife? Well, that’s what Spotify’s for. If the sounds you hear when you open your window aren’t exactly soothing, Gould Van Praag told Health that it’s okay to use an app (seriously, Spotify has a bunch) or a sound machine. Excuse us while we go test out all of Spotify’s nature-sound offering.

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