Tag Archives: wellness

Sleep Well with S.E.L.F. Correction

Rest and recovery are often undervalued components when it comes to fitness and achieving performance goals.  Many people feel that they need to do more in order to achieve more, which may be true if you’re currently not doing much, but if you’re already grinding away, then doing more is often not the answer.  Quality restoration is crucial to optimize performance and so I’d like to share some of the highlights and strategies that I found valuable from Eoin Lacey’s presentation on Sleep at the 2018 SWIS Symposium interlaced with some of my own findings on the topic.

Your body rests in cycles as you sleep and there are 4 stages within a sleep cycle.  There used to be 5 stages, but recently stages 3 and 4 have been lumped together as researchers have stated that there were no physiological changes between the two stages to necessitate having two different stages.   Each cycle can last from 90 to 120 minutes in length.

Stage 1 – Is usually the shortest stage lasting from 5-15 minutes where your eyes are closed, but you can still be easily awakened.

Stage 2 – Is a little longer in length than stage 1, but your body temperature and heart rate starts to drop along with a reduction in muscle tone as your body prepares for deep sleep.

Stage 3 – Is usually the longest stage where you are in a deep sleep.  In this stage physical restoration such as tissue repairs occur along with strengthening of the immune system.  If you were to be awakened during this stage, you would feel a little disoriented and groggy.

Stage 4 (REM Sleep) – REM stands for” rapid eye movement” and happens around the 90-minute mark of the sleep cycle.  In the first cycle it usually lasts about 10 minutes but increases with each successive cycle of uninterrupted sleep.  During your final sleep cycle REM sleep may last up to 1 hour.  The REM stage is where you may experience intense dreams as your brain is the most active during this phase of sleep causing the rapid eye movements.  Heart rate and breathing quickens along with an increase in oxygen consumption by the brain.  This stage is thought to be the most restorative stage for our brain and central nervous system.  While some may use alcohol to aid in falling asleep, it interferes with the body’s ability to achieve REM sleep and will reduce your overall REM sleep.

Ideally, we would like to get between 3-5 uninterrupted sleep cycles each night.  That’s about the popular 7-9 hours we’re accustom to hearing, but 1-2 hours should be a deep REM sleep.  According to studies, most people get about 60% of the sleep they need for optimal functioning.  Most of us are going through our daily activities only having a 60% recharge!  Most of us don’t like leaving for work in the morning with a cellphone that’s only got 60% of a recharge, yet we do this with our body and mind regularly.  If you consider that studies revealed that people who suffer from sleep apnea are 3 times more likely to develop diabetes and 23 times more likely to have a heart attack, that drives home the importance of getting proper restorative sleep.

So how can we improve our sleep at night?  There’s an array of tips out there for what is known as Sleep Hygiene that we’re familiar with such as sleeping in complete darkness, set a cooler temperature, avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime, reduce blue light exposure, etc.  While many of these tips have been shown to help, they are usually part of a wind down routine performed close to bedtime.  But it’s what you do upon waking in the morning and your habits throughout the day that have a greater impact on how you sleep at night.

S.E.L.F. Correction is an approach that might be of greater value, especially if these habits are stacked with good Sleep Hygiene.  Before I break down the S.E.L.F. acronym, I’m going to quickly explain the hormone cortisol because it is mentioned a few times throughout the S.E.L.F. Correction approach.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands and released into your bloodstream.  It helps with many of the body’s functions including the control of blood sugar levels, metabolism regulation, blood pressure, helps reduce inflammation and assist with memory formulation.  It is a crucial hormone for wellbeing.  It has a bad rap as it is well known as being the “stress” hormone.  There’s a lot of articles about lowering your cortisol levels, but we absolutely need cortisol for proper balance.  The problem comes when we secrete too much cortisol too often and have sustained high levels.  Sustained stress is one of the top culprits for that happening, which causes the release of too much cortisol as our body tries to combat the stress.  Cortisol is trying to help us, it’s not the bad guy.  We want to lower stress to properly balance our cortisol secretion.  That generally means a lifestyle shift that involves less stress.  Proper sleep habits and S.E.L.F. Correction can help with this by boosting cortisol when it’s supposed to be high and having it taper throughout the day.

Here’s what S.E.L.F. stands for:

Social stimulation – within your first hour of waking, interact with someone or people.  Whether it be your partner, children, possibly even some emails if you can’t be face to face with a real person.  Social stimulus boosts cortisol levels which is what you want in the morning to feel awake.  As the day goes on cortisol levels should taper down as adenosine (sleep drive) levels rise toward the evening.

Exercise – get moving sooner than later upon waking.  There is a post exercise spike in cortisol levels which will contribute to that wakefulness, not to mention increased circulation and the array of other health benefits exercise has to offer.

Light – natural light is preferred, but light first thing in the morning will help shut down melatonin and boost cortisol levels to wake your body up keeping your circadian clock on a healthy sleep/wake cycle.  It’s recommended to get at least 1000 lux of light in the eyes for about 20 minutes upon waking.  (This does not mean stare at the sun.  Please do not do that.  You will go blind.)  1000 lux is comparable to an overcast day.

Food – What you eat and when you eat it throughout the day will affect cortisol levels and mood.  Food creates stimulation in your body so eating breakfast and consuming the majority of what you will eat throughout the day earlier on will help make winding down at the end of the day easier.  Foods such as legumes, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, leafy greens and colorful vegetables, whole grains, dairy, lower sugar level fruits such as berries, and healthy fats are good options for breakfast and early day meals to help boost morning cortisol.  Starchy carbs boost adenosine and serotonin levels and actually help you wind down, which is one of the reasons why you feel nice and lethargic after eating meals with a high carbohydrate content.  I can sum this up as saying eat balanced meals comprised of real food, don’t get crazy with extremes.

I hope that you have found this information useful!

3 Tips to ensure you stick to you New Year’s fitness resolution

Consistency is the key element.  You need to be consistent to ingrain a new habit.  That may be a good habit or bad.  You didn’t become a couch potato by sitting on the couch once or twice, it took a consistent pattern over the long haul to get you there.  Likewise, going to the gym a handful of times at the beginning of the New Year isn’t going to transform you the way you’d hoped.  It will take a consistent pattern, and sorry to burst your quick fix bubble here, but it’s going to have to be a lifetime habit.

So, here’s 3 quick tips to ensure you stick with your habit:

  1. Choose a physical activity you will actually enjoy!  If the gym isn’t for you and you hate going, don’t go!  You won’t stick with it and it will deflate your mental wellbeing doing something you hate or hating yourself for missing your workouts because you hate them.  Choose an activity that suits you.  Once that is consistent you might find that an extra gym day or two added on might become palatable and add more value to the other activity you like.  They will feed each other and you’re on your way!
  2. Choose one new thing. Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking you need to do everything at once.  You can’t, so you won’t be able to maintain it for the length of time needed for it to become a habit.
  3. Make Space. Many people start a new thing in an already cluttered life without actually making space to fit it in.  It’s sort jammed in because you think you have to.  This additional pressure is unhealthy and makes your life harder, not easier.  If you’re going to start something new, you’re going to need to make space for that thing and take something else away.  Think of it as purging a crowded closet.  Creating this space makes everything visible so that new thing doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.  You see it every time you look in the closet, so you’ll use it.

Meal prep – you don’t have the time to not do it

Food Prep

Preparation in general is a habit that pays back tenfold.  Meal prep in particular (in my opinion) is one of the best foundation habits you can have.  It’s close to the base of the pyramid in that it supports and affects so much of your daily structure.  There are a plethora of studies that show how proper nutritional balance improves everything from cognition and sleep to performance and body composition and much more.  Basically everything you need to be the best version of you, yet so many resort to the habit of, “Oh, I don’t have time to prepare a proper meal, so I’ll just grab something on the go.”  That’s okay every now and again, but that shouldn’t be the norm.  With all of the positive outcomes that can occur from one simple habit, it should be a priority, which is a nice segue into a few suggestions that might help make it so for you.

 

Make it a priority – because it is!  Do it during the hours that you feel the most productive so that you can get it done and out of the way efficiently so it takes less time and you can put the quality into it that it deserves.

 

Build an arsenal – Thinking of what to cook is an age old dilemma, but slowly building an arsenal of recipes that become easy to prepare, is a key element in being consistent with food prep.  Try learning a new recipe every couple of weeks and before you know it, you’ll have a wide variety of meals to choose from.  This takes a little bit of time in the beginning, but once it’s in place it will always be there for you.

 

Batch Cook – If you don’t like leftovers, get over it.  Batch cooking is one of the most effective methods of meal prep.  Each week I’ll take a couple of hours to prepare a few different meals all at once so that there’s variety and I have them ready to go for the week.  A lot of recipes will use similar base ingredients, such as onions, garlic etc.  So, if you’re chopping those up already for one meal, you might as well chop up what you’ll need for a different dish as well and prep that too.  It saves more time in the long run, plus it frees up intellectual real estate throughout the week when you don’t need to think or worry about what to cook or eat.

 

Have the right tools – Having the right equipment to perform a task makes it far more efficient and a lot more enjoyable.  A few good quality kitchenware items such as a good knife and frying pan can really make a world of difference.  This plays into something that I mentioned in a previous post about creating an environment that is conducive to the habit you want to create.  What items do you find yourself using the most when you’re cooking?  Do you feel miserable when you have to use them?  Get quality items for the tools you use the most that help you the most and you’ll find a much more enjoyable experience.

I hope these tips give you some food for thought!  Enjoy your week.