One of the easiest and fastest ways to improve your health is to simply get better sleep, both in terms of quality and quantity! For most of us, this week brings about the dreaded change in daylight savings, meaning we lose an hour of sleep. This has been shown to have negative effects for some time until our body gets adjusted. That is why it is even more important to take the right steps, and set up the proper routine to get enough sleep each night.
Lack of sleep leads to illness!
We have all heard the evidence of why we need to get sleep. Well, they just keep adding more and more reasons. This week released a new study that proved that as little as a week’s worth of poor sleep can turn off our genes that are responsible for protecting us against illnesses and diseases, including cancer! It is widely known, that lack of sleep is related to obesity, heart disease, and increased cancer rates. And not just poor sleep, but changing sleep schedules, as seen in shift work, where shift workers are unfortunately many times more vulnerable to diseases and illness.
Sleep does the body good!
If you are serious about changing your health, and we all should be, than you should make the effort to get a good quality sleep every night. While we sleep, our body takes care of any damage that was done that day, repairing, healing and protecting us from the negative effects of stressful environments. Our stress hormones are balanced, our sugar and insulin levels are corrected, our melatonin and growth hormone are secreted, and tissues that had been damaged or stressed are repaired. But the positive effects of sleep doesn’t stop with the physical. Our brain also balances it’s activity, and sleep has been shown to increase our creative output and problem-solving ability. (How many times have you gone to bed pondering a dilemna, when miraculously you wake up to the solution?)
Sleep like an athlete!
I loved the fact the fastest human in the world, Usain Boldt, who said proper sleep was the most important factor for him to succeed at the last Olympics. He totally focused on the quality and quantity of sleep he had during training before his big race. In fact, he even had his own bed flown to London for his races. This was as important as all the other aspects of his training at the time. In fact, the vast majority of professional athletes get 10 hours or more of sleep every day. Any deficiency in sleep has been shown to decrease stamina, attention, reactivity, strength, attentiveness… all skills necessary to perform at an elite level. (Interestingly, Tiger Woods has reportedly only been getting 4-5 hours of sleep the last few years, can this explain where he is now?)
So, if you are having issues with your sleep, try these measures, they may be all you need to get you into that blissful state of deep REM sleep. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask us.
1. Warm bath
This can also ease any underlying stress that prevents you from getting calm before sleep. Just make sure your room is cool enough to sleep, as your body needs a slightly cooler environment to sleep deeper.
This can be a good way to ease the tension in your body, and also ease any sore and painful spots that are preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Exercise during the day is the best way to regulate your hormones and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. (And reciprocally, if you aren’t sleeping, it is hard to exercise properly!) Just make sure you aren’t exercising too close to bed time, as that can keep you too alert to fall asleep.
The best sleeps I have ever had in my life have always been while doing he Canadian Ski marathon, where we cross-country ski 80 kilometres each day, while carrying our food and supplies, and sleep out at night under the stars. Never is the body so prepared to sleep, and in the fresh cool air, you can’t help but get a fully deep sleep.
Here is a picture of my buddy Keith sleeping at night, where it had snowed 4 inches while we were sleeping, and woke up completely covered! Fun times!
Meditation and breathing techniques have been shown to slow our heart rate, lower blood pressure, and focus our mind away from the stress of the day that may be causing us to lie awake at night. Give it a try, and don’t give up on it too soon, as it takes practice to learn to quiet the mind successfully.
Melatonin is a hormone released at night, that has an immune boosting effect. Incidently, it is suppressed when we are exposed to bright light, another reason to darken the room at night. If you do choose to supplement with melatonin, go small, as it is a hormone, or talk to our naturopath to ensure you don’t over-do it.
6. Light out/reduce exposure to electronics
You want to eliminate any light from your room while you sleep, but also slowly reduce your exposure to light the final 2 hours before bed. This means reducing your exposure to electronics. If you are on a computer or laptop before bed, try downloading F.Lux which automatically reduces your computers blue light near sleep time. Use candles to read before bed.
Watch what you eat in the last half of the day, definitely lower the sugar intake and no caffeine. Simply improving your diet with less processed foods, and better quality proteins and fats will even out your energy throughout the day, and allow your body to naturally wind down at the end. You won’t experience the up and down yo-yo causing you to need the highly sugared and caffeinated drinks throughout the day, thereby interfering with your body’s natural cycle and response to light.
Try these simple steps to get better sleep, and your health will thank-you for it.
Coming up: The importance of position and pillows when sleeping for health!
Next time we will talk about and demonstrate the most important positions to sleep in to reduce the postural stress on your back and neck.