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New moms' sleep patterns

We generally think of new moms as sleep-deprived zombies, but they actually get a little more shut-eye than the average American, logging 7.2 hours a night, according to a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Here's the catch: They aren't getting the quality of sleep they need.

"New mothers aren't really sleep-deprived," says study author Hawley Montgomery-Downs, a psychologist and the coordinator of the Behavioral Neuroscience Program at West Virginia University. "They're sleep-fragmented." Her research tracked the sleeping patterns of moms in the first four months after delivery.

Normal patterns of sleep follow definitive cycles, each lasting 90 minutes to two hours. Women who must get up for feedings (as well as those who suffer from disorders like sleep apnea, or the oft-awoken victims of partners with restless leg syndrome) may not log enough cycles to feel refreshed. When it comes to sleep, quality beats quantity.

Experiencing a string of rough nights? Follow these tips:

1. Take naps: If you're severely sleep-quality deprived, you'll benefit most from a 90-minute nap (one long enough to rack up another cycle). But usually, a 20-minute power nap temporarily restores brain power. Set aside 30 minutes, since it should take 10 minutes to fall asleep.

2. Cut back on caffeine: Don't drink coffee after 2 p.m. If you're truly dependent on an afternoon pick-me-up, reach for green tea after lunch.

3. Avoid nightcaps: Yes, alcohol makes you sleepy. It also keeps you out of the deep stages of sleep, causes dehydration, and wakes you in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Stop after a glass of wine with dinner.

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'Undiet' and lose weight

"Go UnDiet" (HealthCastle Media, 2011) by Gloria Tsang, R.D., is all about getting off the "diet" merry-go-round and taking small steps to achieve weight loss.

The "undieting" approach described by Tsang, founder of the popular online nutrition network HealthCastle.com, cuts through the confusing diet advice you've heard for years, such as that the best way to lose weight is on a low-carb diet, low-fat diet, high-protein diet, high-, low- whatever diet. She believes that rigid meal plans advocated in many diet books can help you lose weight over the short-term, but they're often overly restrictive, unrealistic, and leave you hungry and unsatisfied.

So, what's the antidote to frustrating weight loss diets? Unplug and "undiet" according to Tsang, who offers a collection of 50 simple, "undieting actions" (essentially eating tips) that can change your diet and result in weight loss without the necessity of strict diet plans.

"Go UnDiet" is written in a simple, straightforward fashion, and offers easy-to-follow actions that you can incorporate into your diet immediately, such as "start one change per week" and "unleash whole grains for breakfast." Each action comes with a brief discussion that prompts you to think about how the suggested action fits into your own lifestyle.

Tsang introduces a whole new vocabulary of "un-actions" along the course she plots for "undieting," such as recommendations on how to "un-bore water," "un-count 5-a-day fruits and vegetables," and "un-complicate your breakfast cereals."

In addition to the 50 "undieting" actions offered in "Go UnDiet," there are a variety of mini-lessons on nutrition, such as which packaged foods to avoid, relearning the facts on healthy fats, and understanding healthy beverage choices. Helpful charts that display facts like the amount of sugar found in beverages and the number of calories found in "extras" like sauces and dips further enhance your nutrition knowledge.

The nutrition advice offered by Tsang, a registered dietitian and accomplished nutrition journalist, is sound and fact-based. If you've had it with diet books, then the commonsense, small-steps approach to weight loss that she offers in her book just might be the answer for you.

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Serving sizes matter

If you flip over a food product and look at the nutrition facts, there's one fact in particular that's important to note: the suggested serving size. That's how the food manufacturer calculates the amount of calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, and sodium contained in the product.

Unfortunately, people aren't paying enough attention to those suggested serving sizes. More than one-fourth of consumers who ate products labeled as containing two to three servings reported that they frequently ate the entire product in one sitting, according to a survey of 2,500 U.S. adults performed by the market researcher NPD Group. And family or party-size frozen meals, targeted to be shared by four people, are routinely being eaten by one or two people.

If consumers regularly consume up to four times the suggested portion size, this disconnect between suggested serving sizes and reality can translate into increased calorie, saturated fat, and sodium intake that can contribute to obesity and heart disease risk.

Compiled from News wire sources