7 habits of highly healthy people part 3: Quality sleep and relaxation
Healthy people understand that life is about balance, if you lean too far in one direction you lose equilibrium. As important as it is for us to be active we require an equal balance of inactivity. Our autonomic nervous system can be broken into three major parts but it’s the latter two which we will focus on in this article.
Enteric System – This governs the function of the gastrointestinal system.
Sympathetic Nervous System – This system governs our activity.
Parasympathetic Nervous System – This system governs restorative functions.
In order to be healthy we need to ensure that we stimulate both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems through our habits.
“Man should forget his anger before he lies down to sleep” – Mahatma Ghandi.
During the day we go about our daily lives and routines and we create and repeat our habits which make us who we are. These daily activities will help you build your own perception of how happy you are with your life. It is important we spend as much time as possible on activities that we find fulfilling. As we tend to spend the majority of our waking hours working, it is so important you create a work life which you enjoy. Many of us will have made social, domestic and business related commitments which dominate our time often leaving no time for ourselves, I have seen this time and time again in people that I perceive to be unhappy.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to chose one thought over another.” – William James.
During our waking ours we must find time to do some of the activities that make us happy. Time to yourself is important to allow you to process your thoughts and see the big picture of where your life is headed. The way you chose to do this will be individual to you but some of the examples I have seen in people include:
Playing a musical instrument
Growing and tending plants
Reading and writing
Sleep is essential to our survival. Sleep deprivation can lead to hallucination, delirium and even death. Sleep is not an energy saving activity, even on a full nights sleep our energy economy changes very little. Sleep helps us to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us to grow, repair and develop.
Our bodies run a complicated 24 hour hormonal cycle which is stimulated by night and day and which requires sleep to function optimally. Deep sleep allows our endocrine (hormonal) system to maintain balance and regulate the right hormones as and when we need them. Disturbing this cycle can influence our immune system, our body composition our physical performance and more.
“Sleep is the best meditation” – Dalai Lama.
Although it does give our bodies chance to rest it is our brains that require sleep most of all. Our large and complex cortex particularly our frontal lobes are allowed to power down and develop during stages of deep sleep. If these areas of the brain become sleep deprived our mental performance is drastically affected. Many mental functions are affected including attention span, speech, memory, emotional control, and ability to cope with new and challenging situations. Overall we become more zombie like and we cling to habit and routine. The amount of sleep we need is individual to each of us but according to the Loughborough University Sleep Research Centre it will be somewhere between 5 and 11 hours per night with the average being 7.75 hours.
“The amount of sleep we require is what we need to not be sleepy in the daytime”. – Jim Horne, Loughborough University Sleep Research Centre.
Bad Sleep Habits
Arguments, violent games or shows, stressful reading, stressful thoughts and even exercise create a ‘fight or flight’ type response in the body. This puts you in a state of alertness which is the opposite of what you require before you go to sleep.
As light hits our eyes and skin it stimulates hormonal responses that prepare us for morning. This is true of both daylight and artificial light. We disrupt this cycle with brightly lit rooms at the wrong time of the day. Even relatively low sources of light have an effect such as tablets, phones and televisions.
Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine will all interfere with the quality of your sleep. Unfortunately many of us associate these stimulants with relaxation. Drinking wine or tea, smoking, eating chocolate are all examples of habits people may have of an evening. Although they initially seem to relax, they will disturb your sleep later in the evening.
Asking your body to digest a large meal when it should be winding down to sleep is a sure fire way to slow the sleep process. Many of us consume meals late at night after a long days work. Worse still if your diet is typically western (which is very likely) then it will be high in fast release carbohydrates which will spike your blood sugar and further disrupt your bodies sleep preparations.
Good Sleep Habits
It’s is important to establish a bedtime ritual which allows you to wind down. This could include turning off electronic distractions, dimming the lights, bathing, listening to relaxing music or sounds and even simple forms of meditation such as breathing or candle gazing. Allow yourself a short time to relax without distraction. Have a set bedtime and wake up alarm that is consistent every day. To get the best nights sleep you should be hitting the sack at 10pm and then rising between 6 and 8am. I use a progressive alarm clock that begins by turning on a light to stimulate the wake cycle subtlety. This helps you wake more naturally and feeling more alert.
Your bedroom should be a sleep temple. Remove all gadgets, block all sources of light and create a warm and comfortable environment which compels you to do no more than relax. This is probably one of the simplest but most effective actions you could take.
Avoid eating 3 hours before sleeping and keep carbohydrate intake to an absolute minimum in the evening. Opt for meals that contain good meats, fish and plenty of vegetables. Do not be tempted to consume alcohol, caffeine or nicotine during this period.
Regular exercise has been shown to improve restful sleep. It is important however that your training is performed in the morning or afternoon, training too late in the day or evening is too stimulating to promote quality sleep.
“We become what we repeatedly do.” – Sean Covey.