Sleep, self-talk and acute stress

A mild stress — such as a cold shower — may help you to cope better with other stressors. Photos:...
A mild stress — such as a cold shower — may help you to cope better with other stressors. Photos: Getty Images
We have now embarked on winter and for many, this is a tough time of the year when habits can slip. If we reframe our thinking about these cooler months, however, we can actually come out the other side feeling well rested and healthier.

When we look at many of the deciduous trees and plants outdoors, they lose their leaves and look rather lacklustre at the moment. This is their time of rest. They slow down, pool resources and then get ready to bloom in spring and summer.

This is a great time for us to do the same. Instead of watching one Netflix series after another and giving in to food cravings in the dark evenings, this is a great time to go to bed earlier, read a few chapters and get more rest.

There tends to be less on the event calendar in the cooler months, which can impact socialisation, but it also means we can slow down, save money and reset.

More sleep also supports immune function at a time when there are more infections present.

Another new habit to try is shocking the body with cold water immersion. It doesn’t sound appealing but it is oddly addictive once you are used to it. In a trial which was carried out in the Netherlands in the winter months, 3018 volunteers aged between 18 and 65 and with no previous experience of regular cold showers, were randomly allocated to having a cold shower or a warm shower every morning, for a month. The study found that those who had a cold shower took 30% fewer days off sick from work than the control group.

If the idea of a completely cold shower is off the cards for you, consider having your usual shower and finishing off with a burst of cold water. Research has shown that it takes six attempts for the body to get used to it and after that, there is less of a shock to your body and it is somewhat appealing. Start with five seconds and draw it out each day, trying to breathe slowly and steadily. The idea is that repeatedly undergoing a mild stressor such as this will help you to cope better with other stressors also.

Elite athletes have long used a technique called "motor imagery" in which they imagine themselves performing successfully. There is evidence that this actually does increase their chance of doing so. Our mind is a powerful tool so choose words carefully — before turning the shower faucet to cold, try saying something along the lines of "right, let’s feel alive" instead of telling yourself how bad it might be.

Cold water immersion appears to have an anti-inflammatory effect also, so this is beneficial for reducing risk factors for depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and type 2 diabetes — all which have a chronic inflammation element. It also helps to support the circulatory system so makes you feel well and truly awake and alive to start your day.

Dee Copland is a naturopath and nutritionist living in Central Otago.

— The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional.

Winter is a great time to go to bed earlier and get more rest.
Winter is a great time to go to bed earlier and get more rest.

Further reading

A few books I have loved over the years that you may like to add to your winter bedside book pile are:

The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine

Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shanahan

Fast Like A Girl by Dr Mindy Pelz

Women’s Wellness Wisdom by Dr Libby Weaver