It’s so easy to fall into comfy habits of eating and living, doing things that provide a kind of emotional and mental comfort at the time. It might start with those well deserved desserts, drinks and late nights around the year-end holidays, which then somehow manage to encroach into the weeks, perhaps even months beyond. The result of this going on for too long is to feel sluggish, tired and low. These feelings make it even harder to get back to a ‘good’ routine with food, sleep and exercise.
Oh yawn! I know these topics are coming at us from all directions, but from my personal experience it just never loses its importance, darn it! I find I periodically need reminders of the particular things that have the strongest effect on my day to day functioning.
As a vision teacher general health is always an important topic for good sight. Additionally, being able to do vision games on a regular basis is impacted by having the mental and physical energy to choose ‘yes! I will do them now’ rather than ‘hmm, maybe later’. So I am always looking for ways to remove the obstacles to consistent vision games practice, and often these strategies include achieving better overall wellbeing, and more mental and emotional energy.
Having enough energy also affects whether we make the effort to prepare healthy meals and exercise. This all becomes a bit of a vicious circle. We need one thing to start with – just one wedge to stick into the cycle and break the habit of low energy that leads to choices that create only more low energy.
Are you getting enough good sleep?
How aware are we of the importance of good sleep on a daily basis? We have all probably experienced the grogginess and mental fog that is the outcome of a very poor night’s sleep. But the body’s requirements for sleep go beyond providing energy for the next day.
Sleeping well has many long term effects. According to Ronald L Kotler, MD, DABSM, in the book 20 Years Younger, sleep is a preventative of heart disease, stroke, and depression. Sleep can also play an important role in weight management due to its effect on hormones that affect appetite. Sleep regenerates connections in the brain, bones and muscles and helps to maintain the immune system, making it essential for learning, memory, decision making, mood control, good visual system function and prevention of illness.
The body clock
A reminder about the importance of not just enough sleep, but when we sleep, came at the perfect time for me. Julie Rennie’s book The Metabolic Clock discusses the daily rhythms of the body and how the timing of eating and sleeping have physiological effects.
Many of us are familiar with the concept of circadian rhythms, and it could be useful to know that there is even more detail in the main time frames in which daily processes of the body are signalled to occur, such as cleansing, digesting, building, resting….
In The Metabolic Clock Julie says “The metabolic clock is your internal body clock, which cues you to be in balance with nature’s rhythms so that you have the right energy at the right time to perform the functions of your daily life comfortably and easily. In recognising this natural 24-hour cycle you can maximise your metabolism for peak digestion, burn body fat more easily and have more energy for daily living. A balanced metabolic clock will have you feeling inspired, energised and empowered. “
Sounds good, doesn’t it! When and what we eat during the day is a strong focus in Julie’s book, but looking for a wedge to break the cycle of low energy my focus fell on what we do at night. When I think of energy levels my first thought is whether there has been enough sleep, but more specific sleep factors have been found to affect not just how much energy we have, but other physiological health factors as well.
We are designed to sleep at certain times based on the daily cycles of light and dark and how our body’s hormonal systems respond to those. How we fit in with these external cycles affects our ability to get the full benefits of sleep.
When we sleep
While each kind of sleep has its benefits, the deep sleep phase is the most restorative. While there may be some individual variation, a number of sources tell us that we may get our best deep sleep before midnight. Julie tells us that “getting some sleep before midnight helps your body to heal and burn body fat”. The CIRUS* website says “We cycle through all stages of sleep every 90 minutes (range 70 to 100 minutes). Most of our deep sleep occurs in the first 2 sleep cycles…”
(*Centre for Integrated Research and Understanding of Sleep)
Interest in the 90 minute sleep cycle has led to ‘sleep calculators’ becoming available on the internet. These are based on the idea that you will be more refreshed and functional if you wake at the end of a sleep cycle, even if you have had less than your usual quota of sleep. Sleep calculators tell you what time to go to sleep based on what time you need to wake up. It may be very useful to look at your response to waking in the middle or the end of a sleep cycle, but another factor is routine and consistency.
The body ‘clock’ is an apt term because our body’s rhythms become set, and while they can be altered through a consistent change of habits, it’s generally found to be disruptive to good sleep, and therefore good health, to change your falling asleep and waking times from day to day, or even week to week. Getting out of routine can interfere with falling asleep and therefore with getting enough good sleep.
In his book The Power of Rest, Matthew Edlund, MD, says that “Few recognize the perils of sleeping in”. For example, the disruption of sleep patterns created by late weekend nights and the subsequent sleeping in means that going to sleep at the normal time on Sunday night can be very difficult. This starts Monday with high levels of tiredness (with the consequent mistakes and accidents sleep deprivation can cause) and the need to spend the next days resetting the sleep routine.
Before we sleep
Some of the habits we have in the hours before bedtime can also have an influence on our sleep. There are many things that can help or hinder falling and staying asleep, and while there will always be personal differences in what works, some of the most basic include:
Do your best to avoid
- Eating close to bedtime (Julie says not after 8pm).
- Caffeine drinks after 2- 4pm.
- Working, or engaging in adrenaline inducing activities after 8pm.
- Using lit screens close to sleep time.
Do your best to:
- Engage in a relaxing activity before bed, listen to music, have a bath or shower.
- Write down anything that is bothering you and set it aside for the night.
- Have a bedtime routine that includes going to bed at a regular time each night, preferably at least one or two hours before midnight.
- Endeavour to arise at a similar time each morning.
So, in conclusion, consistent sleep in our daily routine may be underrated in its importance to our health and wellbeing. We need enough on a constant basis to maintain many areas of physical, mental and emotional health. And the quality of our sleep matters. We need a sufficiency of the deep restorative sleep that is at its best at particular times in our circadian rhythms. For many of us, good sleep needs cultivating and nurturing with some or all of the points listed above. However, if you have insomnia or other sleep disorders please speak to your health care professionals about ways to overcome these.
For me, the wedge to break the year-end cycle of low energy choices this time around has been to explore having a night-time routine that involves consistently going to sleep around 10pm (even on the weekends!), and looking forward to the quiet of the early mornings.