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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Protein. What do we need it for?

fagioli borlotti - beansProtein is the most abundant substance in our bodies after water. Our hair, skin, eyes, muscles and organs all contain protein. We use it to make hormones, enzymes, blood components such as hemoglobein and ferritin, and antibodies for our immune system.

The average person needs 1g of protein per kg of a person’s weight. So if you are 70kg you want to eat 70g of protein in a day. One easy way to know if you aren’t getting enough is if you crave sugar. Protein is a slow burning energy that helps make us feel full. But when our bodies don’t have enough of it, it seeks to eat fast burning carbohydrates such as sugar. If you increase the amount of protein in your diet, you will notice a decrease in sugar cravings. And studies have shown that increasing protein intake can help reduce weight even without other lifestyle changes.

It is best to eat protein at each meal so that your body gets the sustained energy throughout the day and not leave it to just dinner. Breakfast, as people say, is the most important meal of the day and the most important time to eat protein. Some protein at breakfast will keep you going longer and help prevent those sugar cravings at morning-tea time. And eating a healthy breakfast leads to improved cognition and memory, reduced absenteeism from school and work and improved mood.

Selection of protein sources in kitchen background

There are many great sources of protein. Red meat, chicken, fish and eggs contain the most amount of protein. Cheese, yogurt and other dairy products also all contain protein. There are also many great plant sources that will also give you good fats and fibre such as almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds. Beans, peas and soy are also great sources of protein.Dinner plate

No one wants to be weighing their food to make sure they are having the right
proportions, so an
easy way to make sure you are
getting enough is look at your plate. For a healthy meal, you want half of your plate to be fruits and vegetables, although preferably vegetables. A bit more than a quarter to be protein and a bit less then a quarter to be healthy carbohydrates.

If you need motivation to increase your fruit and veg intake along with your protein, how about this: one additional serving per day of fruit lowers your risk of death from all causes by 6%. Each additional serving of vegetables lowers it by 5%.

Most people are pretty good with having a balanced dinner plate, but struggle with breakfast. Some ideas are smashed avocado with an egg of wholegrain toast. Or make your own muesli or granola with lots of nuts and seeds.

Don’t forget to increase your water intake as you increase your protein intake to avoid constipation. And enjoy the increase in energy you will feel!

References

Wang X, Ouyang Y, Liu J, Zhu M, Zhao G, Bao W & Hu FB. (2014). Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMJ. 29 July. 349.

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.

Caffeine. Is it really good for you?

Coffee cup and coffee beans on old wooden background

Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, and energy drinks.  It is a central nervous system stimulant so people use it to increase wakefulness, enable faster and clearer flow of thought, increase focus, and improve general body co-ordination.  In some situations it has been found to improve performance in sport and in moderate amounts may even decrease the risk of some cancers.  But that doesn’t mean that it is really good for you.

Caffeine is one of the most common causes of health problems I see in practice. Excess caffeine intake manifests as many disorders such as:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Poor judgment
  • Lowered mood
  • Decreased ability to learn and retain information
  • A higher risk of accidents and injury 

Caffeine can cause:

  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased the risk of bladder cancer and osteoporosis

It is a diuretic so can also cause dehydration.  It is addictive and people can build up a tolerance to it so they have to drink more to get the same stimulating effects.

Because caffeine is a stimulant it can cause sleep disorders.  It takes 6 hours for the body to clear half the caffeine taken in.  This means that at 10pm when you are trying to sleep there is still half the caffeine from that 4pm coffee in your system.  This length of time increases with age and impaired liver function. Oral contraceptive use doubles it while pregnancy can triple it.  Some medications can increase it by ten times.  Due to the length of time it takes the body to clear caffeine, it should not be consumed after about noon, and some people may find they need to eliminate it all together to get a good sleep.

What is a safe amount of caffeine?

There are no standards for a safe limit of caffeine.  Food Standards Australia New Zealand recommends no more than 3mg per kg of body weight. So for someone weighing 70kg this is 210mg per day.  Most energy drinks have about 80mg so should be limited to two a day based on their caffeine content.  They still contain all the sugar of soft drinks though so should be avoided.  A Starbucks Grande coffee has 330 mg of caffeine so these should only be for special occasions. 

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Due to its addictive quality, stopping caffeine consumption can cause withdrawal symptoms including:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Drowsiness
  • Insomnia
  • Pain in the stomach, upper body, and joints.

These may appear 12 to 24 hours after discontinuation of caffeine intake, peak at roughly 48 hours, and usually last from 2 to 9 days.

The benefits of caffeine are negligible so really it is best not to drink caffeine at all. If you must, only drink it in the morning. Children should never drink caffeine and teenagers, pregnant women and people on certain medications should limit their intake.

To see the caffeine content in your favourite drink check out this website:

http://www.energyfiend.com/caffeine-content-of-australia-and-new-zealand-drinks