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Today’s topic came about from one of those really stiff necks you get from sleeping in a bizarre position, in an exhausted state, writes Deanna Copland.
My snoring, thanks to some very cheesy cheese rolls with dinner (not the norm, by the way), was so loud it even woke me up and now I’m left with a neck that stiffly swivels like the line-up of clown faces at the fair.
Fortunately, my computer screen is ergonomically sound, so this task will be possible today. Driving not so.
As a naturopath, I am often asked what is the most important thing for our health. My response is three things: I believe that quality sleep, nourishing food and physical activity are all fundamental for healthy physiological functioning.
Unfortunately, many adults do not get the required seven-nine hours required per night. We seem to have this current cultural belief that sleep is for the unmotivated or lazy and that as it happens at the end of the day, it is not a priority.
I hear many mothers defending their need to stay up late at night as it’s the only time they get to themselves. When exploring the cultures that have the longest-living people in different pockets of the world (‘‘blue zones’’), one of the common trends is that they truly value sleep.
Neuro-imaging studies show that sleep-deprived brains look the same as depressed brains on scans.
This is concerning as when we don’t sleep well, we tend to make poorer food choices, which affects sleep quality, mood regulation, stress responses, energy . . . The list goes on with the vicious cycle.
When we sleep for a longer period in a natural way (without the use of alcohol, drugs or sleeping tablets), we go in and out of different sleep cycles. The deep, slow delta sleep is when we consolidate memories from short term into long term. It is like allowing your computer to download and save files.
Some tips to encourage a more restorative sleep:
Try to wake at the same time each morning. When our hormones are balanced, we are more productive in the morning, so rising early and going to bed earlier in the evenings is a good habit to get into.
Think of when you go camping in summer; usually the birds and/or the warmth of the sun wake you up nice and early and if you’re in the great outdoors, you probably only have torch light to see with at night, so you don’t stay up late anyway.
You feel relaxed, restored and at peace and this is partly due to the fact you are working with the natural circadian rhythms in nature. It sounds like a hippy concept but in reality we have just moved away from this normal physiological need and unfortunately it isn’t serving us particularly well.
The optimal room temperature is between 16degC and 18degC - any hotter, and your body may compensate by cooling you down via sweating, a major sleep disturber.
On the flipside, a too-chilly room will cause your body to start shivering in an attempt to warm you up.
Spend money on good bedding and look for natural fibres - bamboo, wool, feather, 100% cotton etc. These breathe and change with your body temperature, helping to keep you asleep.
It is a good idea to try to air your bedding outside on a still, sunny day, at least each season.
If light comes in through your window, consider switching to blackout curtains as this can affect melatonin production.
Interestingly, some ‘‘blue zones’’ don’t even have street lights at night as evenings are a time for rest, not being out and about.
Shift workers and new parents know the effects of working against the natural sleep-wake cycle and this is supported by studies showing a decline in cognitive function due to the misalignment of physiological processes.
If you have an alarm clock, red or amber displays are better than blue or green since warmer hues are less disruptive.
If your wake-up call comes from your phone, set it to ‘‘do not disturb’’, so you’re not prematurely woken by lights or sounds and try to keep it away from your bed.
Sunlight produces more blue light, as do TVs, computers and cellphones, which let the body know it is daytime.
Sunsets have more red light to start the wind-down process, encouraging your body to make melatonin for the impending night’s sleep.
Dust-mite allergies are common and can prevent you from breathing and sleeping well; specific pillow and mattress protectors may help sufferers sleep more soundly. Remember to vacuum behind the head of your bed regularly also.
If you have back problems, you may favour a firmer mattress. Seeing an osteopath or chiropractor regularly for spinal alignment as well as doing regular weight training may also help with sleep issues due to discomfort.
Some people claim their furry friend helps them sleep, but for others, dogs and cats should stay out of the bedroom as they may wake you up with their movements or noises.
Energy-saving LED and CFL bulbs tend to emit significant amounts of blue light, so turn them off two hours before tucking in, and use bedside lamps with traditional incandescent bulbs (no more than 60W). Bulbs that give off ‘‘warm spectrum’’ light may be even less rousing to your brain.
Tart cherry juice is available at health shops and can help to induce melatonin production.
Avoid dairy products, especially at night if you are prone to snoring.
Avoid eating too late at night, especially rich or fatty foods which create more work for the liver.
Turkey is a source of tryptophan, hence why people often need to nap on Christmas afternoon after having it, so consider having more of this lean protein.
Keep a note pad beside your bed to jot down things playing on your mind.
Make peace with your past to avoid ruminating over things which can’t be changed.
Ensure you are getting in around 30 minutes of designated exercise a day. This is over and above what you may do around work or the home.
A purposeful walk is a great way to clear your head, improve heart health and circulation and help to physically wear you out.
Dee Copland is a Dunedin naturopath and nutritionist. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be asubstitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional.