blog Oct 01, 2015

Achieving and maintaining great health is much more than simply eating more fruits and veggies. There are actually six components that play a role in determining our overall health; sleep, nutrition, exercise, supplementation, water and stress. I'm going to spend the next few articles working through this list and as sleep and stress often go together, it's a great place to begin.

In today's fast-paced world, being busy is an understatement for many families. Constant demands on our time, regardless of whether or not it's through work, home and family commitments or both, are pushing stress levels through the roof for most Canadians. When was the last time you heard “Wow, I'm just feeling so relaxed and well rested!” in response to the usual “How's it going?” Likely not in recent memory. It's not uncommon for people to be run off their feet all day, having very little, if any, down time to relax and recharge. No wonder that zoning out in front of the TV has become the norm in many households, everyone is too physically and mentally exhausted drained to do much else. As I'm sure you are aware, it's much easier to cope with all this stress and busyness after a good night's sleep. But as stress is a huge inhibitor of sleep, it's definitely easier said than done.

According to a CBC News Health report, the majority of Canadians, upwards of 60 percent in fact, are sleep deprived. At the end of a long day, many people find it difficult to be able to "turn their brain off" before turning in. Tossing and turning, waking periodically in the middle of the night, or simply not being able to fall asleep at all has many people starting their day already exhausted and yet still facing the same busyness and stressful situations as the day before. Definitely not an environment to for a healthy mind or body.

CBC's report had this to say; "Chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and other medical conditions. The amount of sleep and the quality of sleep have been shown to affect appetite, weight control and the effectiveness of diets for weight loss." Shockingly, it's not only adults who are suffering from lack of sleep. Dr. Reut Gruber of Montreal's Douglas Mental Health University Institute noted that "As many as 40 per cent of [Canadian] children aren't getting enough sleep, which is not only impairing their ability to function properly, it's hurting their ability to learn,". An alarming statistic that sheds a little light on the why the numbers of overweight and obese adults and children stands at the highest rate it has ever been. Something definitely needs to change.

Other health issues aside, stress and lack of sleep present as huge obstacles when trying to losing weight. Stress causes the body to release cortisol, which is stored as belly fat. Lack of sleep inhibits the body's ability to properly metabolize food. Put the two together and you have a recipe designed to sabotage even the best laid weight loss program.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do for yourself each day to help manage and relieve some of that stress, and by extension, improve your quality of sleep. Schedule some time every day for yourself. Spending just five minutes two or three times per day in a quite place, deep breathing, allowing your mind to relax and thoughts to organize will do wonders in keeping stress levels in check. These short resets prevent taking home a mountain of built up stress and tension at the end of the day. Of course, keeping this time free from cell phones and other distractions is a must to get full benefit.

Some of my clients have found they have a more restful sleep after writing down whatever thoughts are in their heads right before going to bed. Put the paper away in a drawer if you wish, or even throw it out. The simple act of writing down thoughts lets the brain know you have acknowledged those thoughts and will come back to them at a more expected time. At this point the mind can relax and prepare for sleep.

If stress and/or lack of sleep is something you struggle with on a consistent basis, I urge you to give these simple strategies a try. For more serious cases, visiting a sleep clinic and/or a practitioner specializing in stress may be what you need to find rest and balance. Investing time to improve your health before problems arise is not selfish, rather just the opposite. Being healthy puts you in a much better position to meet the daily demands of everyday life and allows you to give, be and do more for those around you rather than having them get only what's left at the end of the day. There's a reason flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

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