Having Trouble Sleeping?

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As we are sleeping our bodies have many important jobs to do.  This is the optimum time for growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems.  This is when muscle growth, tissue repair and protein synthesis occur.  Our bodies are healing, as this is the best time for white blood cell and antioxidant functioning.  We also secrete hormones such as growth hormone and melatonin and clear the build up of substances like adenosine.  Sleeping is also the key time for brain development and memory processing.

Although we still don’t know everything our bodies do while we are sleeping, we do know what happens when we don’t get enough sleep.  Lack of sleep can more than double the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.  It can also be a risk factor for weight gain, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.  Sleep difficulties are associated with depression, alcoholism and bipolar disorder.  Sleep deprivation affects judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information and increases the risk of accidents and injury.  When sleep deprived our white blood cell count decreases.  In a study, animals deprived entirely of sleep lost all immune function and died within weeks.  Sleep problems have even been associated to digestive problems such as inflammatory bowel and Crohn’s disease.

So what is enough sleep? One study found that people who sleep six to seven hours each night live the longest.  But this is only if people wake naturally instead of with an alarm clock.  It is generally accepted that you have had enough sleep if you have no periods of tiredness through the day.

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If you suffer from sleep problems the first thing to start with is to look at your sleep hygiene.

  • Keep the TV, computer, tablet, phone, anything with a bright screen out of the bedroom.  Artificial light can shift your circadian rhythm.
  • Sleep in complete darkness.  Even a little light can stop the creation of sleep hormones such as melatonin.
  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea or energy drinks after noon.  Some people can take as long as 18 hours to clear caffeine from their system so should not drink it at all.  Check out my blog article on caffeine for more information about its effects.
  • Try using an alarm clock with sleep stage monitoring.  This monitors what stage of sleep you are in so you are woken during a lighter sleep rather then a deep sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol.  Although this will initially aid going to sleep it gives a worse quality sleep and you can wake in the night.
  • Most sources say a routine is very important.  Counter to this is the theory that you should only go to bed when you are tired.  Try both and see what works best for you.
  • And last but certainly not least, exercise and diet. Regular exercise and a healthy diet will improve your sleep along with most other ailments.  Check out my blog article about exercise to learn more about how much we need.

If you are still having problems with your sleep some supplements may be helpful in the short term, but talk to your naturopath before trying anything.  Happy sleeping!

 

References

Ferrie JE, Shipley MJ, Cappuccio FP, Brunner E, et al. A prospective study of change in sleep duration: associations with mortality in the Whitehall II cohort. Sleep 30 (12): 1659–66.

Harvard Medical School: Healthy Sleep

http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits‐of‐sleep/why‐do‐ we‐sleep

Thase M. Depression and sleep: pathophysiology and treatment. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience 8 (2): 217–226.

Rowland R. “Experts challenge study linking sleep, life span”. CNN.

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Stay Healthy This Winter (and all year long)

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While it is summer for all of you in the northern hemisphere, it is winter down under which means cold and flu season has come around again. Although for those of us with kids in daycare and school it seems that cold and flu season lasts all year-round! Here are some helpful hints for keeping the whole family healthy in winter and all year long.

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Sleep is the most important activity your body needs. When sleeping, your body restores, heals, and creates important hormones. Get to bed early and stay there for at least 7-8 hours each night.  Avoid caffeine to ensure you get a good quantity and quality of sleep.  Read my blog article about caffeine for more information on the effects it has on your body.

Psychological stress is associated with a greater risk of depression, heart disease and infectious diseases.[1]  Take time out – exercise, garden, meditate, whatever it is that helps you to relax.

What would one of my articles be if I didn’t mention exercise?  Exercise is important for everyone. To keep your immune system at its best you want at least a brisk 30-minute walk each day.  If you are an avid athlete you also need to take care, as very high intensity exercise can put a strain on your immune system.[2]bacteria on hands

Always wash your hands before eating.  There was a 75% reduction in flu-like symptoms when a test group wore masks and washed their hands.[3]  This is especially important for kids who are more apt to putting their hands in their mouths.  It can really be just that easy!

Our bodies are composed of 70% water. Proper hydration is important for the optimum functioning of all your body systems. Increase your water intake slowly getting up to 2L per day.  Check our my article about water for more information.

Hot-Cold showers are an excellent way of improving your immune system, increasing circula­tion and elevating energy levels. After finishing your regular shower routine, do 20 seconds of cold and 1 minute of hot. Alternate 2-3 times, ending with cold.  The increase in circulation will also help decrease sensitivity to the cold.

There are several supplements you can take to help boost your immune system. Daily zinc supplementation has been shown to shorten the duration and severity of the common cold, reduce the incidence of acute lower respiratory tract infections in preschool children by 45% and reduce the incidence of pneumonia by 41%.[4]

There are lots of herbs that can help boost your immune system.  You can check out my Cough and Cold Soother tea for a delicious mix that can help keep you healthy and fight off germs if you get sick.

Vitamin C is found in high concentrations in immune cells and is quickly consumed during an infection.  It is a natural antihistamine and has been found to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold and upper respiratory tract infections.

More than 80% of the body’s immune system is in the digestive tract.[5]  A lack of good bacteria in the digestive tract can cause a reduction in the immune system allowing increased infections.  Take a good quality probiotic to prevent bad bacteria from taking hold.

Vitamin D has a direct effect on the immune system. Vitamin D stimulates the production of natural antibiotic proteins thus killing more bacteria.  Insufficient levels are related to a deficiency in our immune system to protect us against infections.

These are just a few suggestions.  For personalized advice, contact your local naturopath. Let’s stay healthy this winter!
References

1  Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Doyle WJ, Miller GE, Frank E, Rabin BS, Turner RB. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. PNAS, 2012 April 17; 109(16): 5995-5999.

2  Society for General Microbiology. Couch potato or elite athlete? A happy medium keeps colds at bay(Internet). ScienceDaily. 2012 January 5 (Retrieved 13 May 2012). Available from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120105112158.htm

3  Aiello AE, Perez V, Coulborn RM, Davis BM, Uddin M, Monto AS. Face masks, Hand Hygiene, and Influenza among Young Adults: A Randomized Intervention Trial. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (1): e29744.

4  Hunter P. Health Benefits of Zinc. Bioceuticals Advanced Clinical Insights, 2004; 5.

5  Plummer N. Dysbiosis and Disease: Ground breaking new research into probiotics and their role in preventing treating disease (presentation notes). FIT-BioCeuticals, Ltd. Online. 2010.

FAQs About Exercise

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I talk about exercise in most of my articles as I believe it is one of the key factors to good health and long life.  The list of potential effects of exercise could take up most of my space but include improving cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, depression, sleep apnoea, sleep, arthritis, immune health, and how you look and feel.  Most people know they should exercise but may be unsure about a few facts.  Here I will attempt to answer some of the more common questions about exercise in relation to weight loss.

How much do I need to do?   It has been found that doing at least 150 minutes of exercise in a week will have the best results for weight loss.  The duration is more important than the intensity.[i] This is because the longer you exercise the more fat you will burn.  The body stores carbohydrates in muscle as glycogen.  This muscle glycogen is used for energy in the first 20-30 minutes of exercise.  Between 30-50 minutes the body starts to use fat for energy.  At the transition point is when many people start to feel tired.  If you push through this feeling and do 50 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 3-4 times a week you will get the best results.

When should I exercise? Many people believe that exercising in the morning is the best time to get the best results.  Although this may bring slightly better results, time of day is less important than just getting out there. The best time is the time that fits into your schedule.

Should I eat before I exercise? The best results can be achieved with exercise on an empty stomach.  This will burn more fat, deposit more protein on the muscle and improve insulin sensitivity. [ii] Not everyone can exercise without eating first though.  If you feel lightheaded during exercise make sure you eat something first but just keep it small such as a piece of fruit.Running on the beach

Should I eat after exercise? Yes! This is the most important meal of the day. If you don’t eat then cortisol levels continue to rise leading to muscle breakdown, immune suppression and insulin resistance.  Your body also needs to replenish the glycogen it used so that you can exercise next time.  The best time to eat is within 30 minutes of exercising. [iii]

What should I eat after exercise? This is your chance to eat carbohydrates! Eat at a ratio of 3:1 carbohydrates to protein [iv] (this ratio is ONLY for post exercise).  Have some fruit or low GI grains with a good protein source.  Most protein powders will have a good ratio of protein to carbohydrates.

I’ve hit a plateau.  What do I do? As a person loses weight they need less energy to move around so they burn fewer calories.  If you have hit this point it means you need to step up your exercise.  You need to either exercise longer or increase the intensity.  Trying a different form of exercise can often be helpful too.

Remember to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.  And limit your caffeine intake as this can cause dehydration and muscle cramps.

If you have indulged lately, kick up the exercise level to compensate. The weather is gorgeous lately, so get out there and get your body moving!

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References

[i] Chambliss HO. Exercise duration and intensity in a weight loss program. Clin J Sports Med. 2005 Mar; 15 (2): 113-115.

[ii] [iii] [iv] Sutherland K. Nutrition & Fuelling for Exercise and Leanness (unpublished lecture notes]. Health Masters Live, online; lecture given – 2013 July 24.

Water, Water Everywhere

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Some symptoms of dehydration include headaches, fatigue, poor sleep quality, dark coloured urine, constipation, dry mouth, dizziness, muscle cramps and dry skin.  With chronic dehydration the body learns to adapt and changes the point at which it asks for water.  The less water you drink on a regular basis, the less water your body will ask for.

The generally accepted rule is to drink 8 glasses that are 8 oz each or almost 2L.  If you exercise during the day than this amount needs to increase depending on how much you sweat.  If you are exercising for longer than an hour, weigh yourself before and after exercise to see if you have lost weight due to dehydration.  If you weigh less after exercise, then you need to drink more water.  You may also need to add an electrolyte supplement if you are sweating a lot.

If you consume caffeine during the day than you also need to consume more water. Some people say you can count caffeinated beverages toward water intake.  I strongly disagree.  Caffeine is a diuretic. This means it increases the amount of water excreted in your urine.  My general rule for patients is if you drink a cup of a caffeinated beverage (coffee, tea, energy drink, soft drink) than you need to drink a cup of water to compensate.  This brings you back to zero and you have to drink your 2L on top of this.  Alcohol is an even stronger diuretic and requires even more compensation.  Some medications will also dehydrate you.

As mentioned your body adapts to being dehydrated so you need to increase you intake slowly.  Increase your intake each week by 250ml per day.  Keep increasing until you get to 2L per day after compensating for your caffeine intake.  If you still have any of the above symptoms or your urine is still not clear or light coloured, talk to your naturopath before increasing more, as it is possible to drink too much water.

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Some of your water intake comes from fruits and vegetables especially high water content ones like watermelon or cucumber but unless you are consuming these in large quantities I don’t count them.  Juice is mostly water, but it also contains lots of sugar so should only be consumed in small quantities. If you don’t like the taste of water, add a squeeze of lemon, lime or orange.  Or perhaps some watermelon and mint.  Get creative!

Consult your naturopath if you are on any medications or have a kidney disease.  Start drinking water today and see the difference it makes!

Check out my video about water for the Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge: