The silly season has passed and a number of us are putting plans in place to work towards our New Year’s resolutions. With this in mind, I thought I would bring the column topic back to the basic fundamentals of health and choose a subject that I feel is one of the most vital determinants of optimal health and well being, yet is often overlooked. Sleep.
“Sleep is a naturally recurring state of mind and body characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles, and reduced interactions with surroundings.” Many people think that sleep is a restful state of body and mind but the truth is that while you are sleeping your body is kept incredibly busy repairing and regulating all of the systems in your body – improving immunity, clearing waste product, consolidating memories, fighting oxidative stress, regulating hormone synthesis and metabolic rate and much much more.
We need approximately 8 hours of high-quality sleep each night to keep our bodies functioning at optimal capacity but with modern societal habits and developments many of us are not achieving this.
Without a doubt the largest contributor to sleeping issues is stress. We live in an incredibly fast-paced, convenience-driven, work hard/play hard age where we are constantly pushing ourselves to the limit and many of us are burning out. When our bodies are under prolonged stress our Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis (A complex set of direct influence and feedback mechanisms between three vital organs) no longer responds how it should to the release of our main stress hormone cortisol. This can lead to continuous cortisol synthesis resulting in chronically elevated cortisol levels which have been linked not only to insomnia but also to a raft of other health disorders.
So it’s firmly apparent that to stay well we need to be focusing on managing our stress and reducing its impact on our sleep habits. There are many ways we can do this including the following:
- Before bedtime take a relaxing bath and listen to some soothing music
- Meditate or practise yoga with some deep breathing exercises. This can be done both during the day and at night for immediate relaxation
- Avoid interaction with screens in the 1.5 hours before bedtime
- Make sure you are neither too full or hungry when you go to bed as this may cause you to wake in the night
- Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption to help keep your cortisol levels in check
- Supplement at night with a high-quality mineral formula designed to support deep, restorative sleep
- Lastly, don’t take life too seriously! Many of us get over-stressed and worked up over matters of little significance. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed during the day take a step back and reassess the matter at hand – often it’s not as urgent as we think it is. Be kind to yourself and practise gratitude whenever possible.