Healthy living is a big part of my focus this year. As I get older I realize that I can no longer neglect my physical wellbeing and still have the energy to devote to my family and to strive towards my goals. My smart watch is a visible reminder of my commitment to good health. At a glance I can see how close I am to reaching 10,000 steps or 30 minutes of exercise. If I am sitting too long, it vibrates to let me know I should get moving. It makes fitness a much more prominent part of my daily life, reminding me to keep striving for vitality (see Looking Forward, Making Plans). I feel cheated if I forget to put the watch back on after a shower and miss tracking some of my exercise!
Another important, but less visible part of healthy living is getting enough sleep. How many times have you dragged yourself out of bed, half-asleep and tried to make it through the day? Or stayed up to do “one more thing” and regretted it the following morning? I’ve added an app for tracking my sleep to my smart watch. It’s now another indispensable part of my health toolkit. Auto Sleep divides my nights into Light, Still, and Deep sleep. It tracks how many hours I’ve spent in each type of sleep, and illustrates the overall debt in my sleep bank as it builds up over a busy week. According to Gallup poll, 40% of Americans are get less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night. Studies link sleep deprivation to a long list of issues including absenteeism, lost productivity, accidents, heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, hostility and weight gain, making it a key component of a healthy lifestyle.
Arianna Huffington authored a fascinating book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time that outlines the current crisis of sleep deprivation, the pharmaceutical industry that benefits from it, the science behind sleep, and what you can do about it. Huffington has a very personal reason for becoming a sleep advocate. She collapsed at her desk and broke her cheekbone, all because she has trying to combine a demanding work schedule with other obligations by sacrificing sleep. This was her “wake up call” to rethink her approach.
The scientific evidence supporting the importance of sleep is compelling. Sleep cleans the toxic waste proteins that build up between brain cells. When you don’t get enough sleep, you lose brain cells. Sleep helps us to accomplish difficult tasks, reduces our risk of mental illness and keeps us healthier. Lack of sleep decreases pain tolerance, is linked to infertility, and increases our desire to eat more fat. Dreaming is a creative state that can help us to solve problems. Examples of scientific breakthroughs from dreams abound: the sewing machine, periodic table of elements, benzene molecular structure, and even Google! Huffington talks about the concept of “dream incubation” where you go to bed with a question in mind, hoping to inspire an answer while you sleep. This is not as unlikely as it sounds. It’s certainly better than sitting up and worrying!
A minimum of 7 hours is needed for optimal health in adults. Younger children need even more sleep. Huffington suggests reframing sleep as a core family value instead of something to be avoided. Other recommendations include:
- Turn down the lights. Low light prepares your body to sleep.
- Remove smart phones from your bedroom. The blue light given off by electronics suppresses melatonin, a chemical associated with sleep. Reading news or viewing social media before bedtime can increase anxiety and depression, which can disrupt sleep.
- Keep it cool. The ideal sleeping temperature is 15-19oC or 60-66oF. Your sleep is disrupted when it is much cooler than 12 oC (54 oF) or warmer than 24 oC (75 oF).
- Exercise. We sleep better when we exercise regularly.
- Avoid eating or drinking before bed. Even six hours before bed, caffeine can decrease sleep by as much as an hour. It can take 2-3 hours to digest a meal. A high fat diet leads to disrupted sleep, as does alcohol.
- Add some lavender. Lavender slows the heart rate, decreases blood pressure, lowers skin temperature and improves sleep quality.
- Prepare yourself mentally to sleep. Write down your to do list for the next day to clear your mind before you sleep or add to a gratitude list (consider using a bullet journal, as described in Looking Forward, Making Plans). Establish a sleep ritual with habits like a hot bath, pyjamas and meditation. Focus on deep breathing and visualization of serene images.
Good habits take a while to establish, so be kind to yourself (see Breaking Habits, Making Habits). Consider adding a nap to your day to recharge in the afternoon. This is one of the benefits of working from home! How will you make sleep a priority in your life?