One of the biggest obstacles I come across when I am coaching clients, particularly corporate or executive level clients is getting them to understand the importance and impact of sleep on their health. We live in our world of rapidly changing technologies, cities that never sleep and an increasing reliance on devices such as phones, laptops and i-pads. All of this has resulted in our bodies natural sleep patterns being interrupted and for most of us, not getting enough good quality sleep that has an enormous impact on our overall health.
The best way to demonstrate the impact of not enough sleep or poor quality sleep is to share the experience of one of my clients named Amanda*.
Amanda had been a client of mine for over 10 years, during this time she had given birth to 2 boys and got back into the workforce. Amanda started working for a large Corporate and quickly moved up the ladder, which resulted in more travel, more responsibility and thus more hours being dedicated to her job. Amanda started taking work home in an attempt to stay on top of her workload and would find herself often on her laptop until 1am in the morning. What started out as a ‘one off’ became a common place theme most nights of the week. When the alarm would go off at 6am Amanda would feel like she had been hit by a bus the fog was that bad in her head.
During our sessions, Amanda would discuss how she was starting to feel anxious and overwhelmed with everything, she felt she was always cranky and moody with her husband and kids. She was having a hard time ‘holding it together’ at work and she felt she had no patience with her staff. Physically her body reacted thru a 10kg weight gain, her skin broke out in rashes and hives and she started suffering from headaches.
Amanda was getting approximately 5 hours sleep a night and waking up exhausted and tired. I explained to Amanda that it didn’t matter what she did, unless she got to bed by 10.30pm each night she was wasting her time and her money.
Whilst at first, these changes were overwhelming and hard, Amanda followed my advice and started changing her schedule by going to bed by 10pm. The changes in how she felt were dramatic, the headaches abated, her concentration and focus returned and she lost 2.5kg in the first week. From this experience Amanda started to pay attention to her sleep/wake cycles and her health improved dramatically.
Sleep/Wake Cycles and Hormones:
Our natural sleep/wake cycles are influenced by our environment and the movements of the sun, this hasn’t changed from ancient times. Animals as well as humans are designed to go to sleep when it is dark and wake when the sun comes out. Whenever light stimulates your skin or eyes, regardless of the source, your brain and hormonal system think it is morning. As a response to this light, your hormonal system releases cortisol.
According to Paul Chek in his book “Eat Move & be Healthy” (1993)
“Cortisol is an activating hormone that is released in response to stress, light being a form of electromagnetic stress’.
This cortisol production peaks between 6-9am which activates the body for movement, work or any other activity. This is why we may feel our energy is best at the start of the day and as time goes on this cortisol production starts to drop off significantly. As the sun goes down, decreasing levels of cortisol allow for the production of melatonin and increased levels of growth and repair hormones. If we are to follow the bodies natural hormonal production we should be winding down when the sun sets and should fall asleep by 10pm -10.30pm at the latest.
According to Chek (1993) the physical repair of the body takes place between 10pm and 2am when the body is asleep. After 2am, the immune/repair energies are more focused on psychogenic (mental) repair that lasts until we awaken.
The physical repair that takes place when we sleep assists in repairing our body at a cellular level strengthening our immunity and our ability to stay healthy. Our cardiovascular system is constantly under pressure and sleep helps to reduce the levels of stress and inflammation in the body. High levels of inflammation are linked to heart disease and strokes and getting your 7-8 hours every night can reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol as well lowering stress hormones.
Interrupted sleep cycles can have a detrimental impact on our physical health as well as causing us to gain weight. Shift workers such as nurses or doctors who often work thru the night can have a endless list of physical injuries, headaches, anxiety and other neurological disorders. When our body has not had enough repair, the hormone that stimulates our appetite called ‘ghrelin’ is released which makes us crave foods rich in fat and carbohydrates. Coupled with this increase in ghrelin is a reduction in the satiety-inducing hormone called ‘leptin’ which tells us when our body feels full. The flow on effect of sleep deprivation can also result in decreases in physical activity as we have less energy for our and motivation for our workouts.
Interrupting the sleep/wake cycle can also lead to ‘adrenal fatigue’. Chronic exposure to stress and light of a night -time can overload the adrenals which causes them to produce more cortisol than normal. Excessive production of cortisol can lead to adrenal fatigue which presents itself by headaches, chronic fatigue symptoms, viral infections, bacterial and fungal infections.
So how can we ensure we get a better nights sleep?
– Minimise your exposure to electro-magnetic stress such as laptops, phones and i-pads. The blue light emitted from computers, tv’s and phones causes sleep problems because it tricks your body into thinking it’s sunlight. According to research from the ‘Sleep Health Foundation”, around 44% of Australian adults are using the internet most nights before falling asleep, which is ultimately sabotaging our chances for a good nights rest. For tech addicts switch your phone over to a ‘night mode’ function, or you can download a filter application to switch to yellow or red light at night, which has a weaker effect on melatonin.
Try unplugging all electrical appliances in your room including tv’s, clocks and lights. Rearrange your bedroom furniture so that your exposure to electrical devices are as far from your bed as possible.
– Try eating more foods high in tryptophan for dinner. A 2015 study found that university students consuming high amounts of dietary tryptophan reported improvements in sleep quality and lower levels of insomnia. Good sources of tryptophan include yoghurt, milk, pumpkin seeds or cherries.
– the consumption of stimulants such as energy drinks, caffeine, soft drinks and nicotine after lunch. People who put away soft drinks and energy drinks regularly are more likely to get inadequate sleep, researchers at the University of California, concluded. In their paper published ‘Sleep Health’, they noted that participant’s who slept about 5 hours per night, drank 21% more caffeinated, sugary beverages than survey respondents who get 7-8 hours of shut eye.
– Get to sleep by 10.30pm. Start winding down by 10pm so your body is ready to fall asleep by 10.30pm.
– regular exercise can help improve sleep quality. Beware however of the time of day you exercise and the intensity. You may find that sleep quality is disrupted if you exercise after dinner, particularly if the exercise is intense. If you’ve ever gone for an evening jog you may actually feel more awake by the end of it. Some studies suggest this lack of sleep post exercise is related to body temperature. Most experts agree that the room temperature should be around 15-20 degrees for the best sleep. Vigorous exercise can raise your body temperature and it can take 5-6 hours before it drops so it’s essential to give your body enough time to cool off before going to bed.
Recently there has been a shift away from the terms ‘health and fitness’ to a more encompassing term used to describe our overall health called ‘wellness’. You only need to look on social media for an increase in the amount of people describing themselves as ‘wellness warriors’ using hashtags such as #nourishing and #fitmotivation whilst striking the latest Yoga pose. I should know! I am one of the converted as well!
The shift for me has been a positive one as more and more research has come out to support the fact that our overall health is made up of much more than what we put into our mouths and what type of exercise we do.
Whilst our diet and exercise play an important role in how we look and feel, these are just smaller parts to the bigger picture to what I describe as, our ‘Holistic Health’.
Our Holistic Health is comprised of the following 5 lifestyle factors:
We have somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts on any given day that is 35-48 thoughts per person per minute. As you can imagine that is a lot of information for our rational brains to process. When we think, we manipulate information to form concepts, engage in problem solving, reason and make decisions. Not all thoughts are deemed equal, and sometimes when we are under stress or are feeling tired or depleted our rational brain finds it hard to make decisions and think positively this can be described as ‘stinking thinking’.
Long-term stress can wreak havoc on our physical health thru the presence of injuries and mental health concerns. If left untreated, the ill effects of stress can lead to time off work, niggling injuries that don’t get better and even the breakdown of oneself and our relationships.
In order to maintain positive thinking and manage stress levels it is important to take time out everyday to ‘switch off’ from distractions and allow yourself to be present with your own company and thoughts.
Options to help manage stress levels include mental awareness apps such as ‘Head Space’ which encourage you to take 10 minutes out of everyday for some mental wellbeing activities. Other ways you can help manage your stress include participating in a Yoga class, practicing some meditation or Tai Chi and even doing some adult drawing or colouring in.
How we breathe effects the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood at any given time replenishing our brain and other vital organs with essential nutrients. We take on average 20,000 breaths per day which, makes it an important part of our health to get right.
Breathing correctly can reduce your stress levels, improve the performance of your workouts and boost your immune system. Poor breathing can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, hyperventilation and even insomnia and depression.
When we are stressed our body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode and our breathing becomes more shallow and frequent. This causes us to breathe like we are hyperventilating which in turn increases our heart rate, leading to palpitations and contributes to feelings of anxiety and being out of control.
In order to breathe correctly we should focus on what we call ‘diaphragmatic breathing’. This technique involves placing one hand on our chest, say our left hand, and our right hand on our abdomen. When we breathe in and out your left hand should remain still and your right hand should move up and down. If your left hand is moving your breathing is too shallow and you are not using your diaphragm correctly. Practice taking slow deep breaths in and out until you perfect the technique. Take note of how this correct breathing technique will help boost your workouts and your health.
The average amount of water contained in the human body is approximately 50-65% for the average adult person. Considering our bodies are largely made up of water then it is crucial that we consume enough good quality water on a daily basis.
Water in the body is responsible for flushing wastes and toxins thru the body as well as metabolising and digesting food. It is also the primary building block for all of our cells, as well as helping to insulate and lubricate the body, and assist in regulating our body temperature.
The research around how much water to drink does vary but you should aim to consume 35-45ml/kg of fluid which translates into about 2-3 litres per day. An active person who trains for longer than 40 minutes per day training at a high intensity should add an extra 500-1000ml a day with athletes or people exposed to extreme heat more again.
Generally, an indication of being thirsty is the bodies way of telling you, your already dehydrated. Just losing even 1% of the bodies water has an impact on our physical performance as well as impairing our mental performance. Up to 70% of people are dehydrated at any one time a result of drinking too much coffee, juices and smoothies which are loaded with caffeine and sugar.
If your having trouble drinking enough water daily, try carrying around a drink bottle with a slice of cut up lemon or lime. Add vegetables such as sliced up cucumbers, carrots or mint leaves for a fresh zesty flavor. Add a glass of water before every meal and snack to help you feel fuller for longer and to stop the urge of wanting to overeat. Add a pinch of rock salt to assist in replacing essential minerals and salts lost thru perspiration as well as to help slow down the urination process.
Life is a about balance and when it comes to nutrition nothing beats a strong foundation of carbohydrates, good fats and proteins or what we commonly refer to as macronutrients. Where a lot of people get it wrong is when we start eliminating certain food groups in an attempt to lose weight often replacing proteins and carbs with foods loaded with hidden sugars.
The need to refuel throughout the day will largely depend upon your workload and individual energy requirements. If for example, you are a Personal Trainer like me and get up before 5am every morning to train and work, then I often need 2 small meals before lunchtime to keep me going. If you exercise during your lunch break you may find that you need a small snack before you train and a bigger meal after training to help manage hunger and energy levels or vice versa. As a general rule of thumb try not to leave longer than 3-4 hours between eating as this will help regulate your blood sugars and prevent you from overeating at your next meal.
Your 3-4 meals a day should consist of lean proteins to help build lean muscle and keep you feeling full as well as good fats such as olive oils, avocado’s nuts and seeds. Green vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, beans and peas should be eaten with every meal to ensure you boost your immune system and help you get all of your essential vitamins and nutrients in.
We are a nation of alarming statistics with obesity levels on the rise with data from the ‘National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’ (NHANES 2013-2014) stating that ‘1 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight. More that ‘2 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight or have obesity and ‘1 in 6’ children between the ages of 2-19 were considered to be obese.
‘Sitting’ has become the new ‘smoking’ with the majority of our adult population sitting at a desk for 8-12 hours a day up to 5 times a week. It’s no surprise then that the incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is also on the rise, this is adding more strain to an already overflowing health system. According to the U.S division for “Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention’ about 630,000 Americans die from heart disease every year – that is 1 in 4 deaths. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. According to the report also, the estimated cost of covering health care services, medications and lost productivity is approximately $200 billion each year.
Coupled with the heart disease facts is our current statistics on the incidence of diabetes. According to the “National Diabetes Statistics Report’ from the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)), 30.3 million Americans have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes that is 9.4% of the population. From this 30.3 million people, 7.2 million are undiagnosed which means they do not even know that they have it.
Alarming statistics aside, a strategy to help improve our current health situation is to get moving more often. When clients ask my advice on how often they should exercise my response is always ‘everyday’. Now this may seem a little excessive but exercise doesn’t always have to be in a gym environment it could involve taking the dog for a walk after work, swimming laps in your lunch break or playing some social sport of a weekend.
Try to stick to exercise that you enjoy doing as you are more likely to stick with it long term. For those times when you think your motivation may be an issue enlist the services of a Personal Trainer who can design workouts specifically tailored for you or grab a workout buddy as you are less likely to cancel on them.
When it come to exercise variety is the ‘spice of life’, your body is very good at adapting to exercise so ensure you do a variety of cardio, resistance training, body weight exercises and stretching.
Ultimately, the responsibility of our health and wellness comes down to 1 person….which is ourselves. In order to not be a statistic of disease we have to move more and watch the amount of processed foods and drinks we consume.
Perhaps one of your goals for 2018 is to prioritize your health, which involves quitting the excuses and putting more time into your physical and mental wellbeing.