Live Well: Give Yourself the Gift of Less Stress and Better Sleep
This post is written in partnership with New Chapter, however all opinions are my own. I only work with and recommend companies whose products I love and use everyday, and I’m so excited to share these with you!
The best holiday gift you can give yourself this year? Restful, restorative sleep!
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Health Index of 2014 just 12 % of Americans reported “excellent” sleep, with 35% of Americans reporting their sleep quality as “poor” or “only fair”. Achieving consistent, restful and restorative sleep is incredibly important for our overall health, with most people needing between 7-9 hours a night for optimum health. Lack of sleep, or impaired quality of sleep can have a hugely negative impact on our health and wellbeing, and can result in hypertension, activation of the sympathetic nervous system, impairment of glucose control, and increased inflammation.
One of the most popular topics I am asked to speak on is managing stress and improving sleep, and the (much underestimated) link between the two. The key to consistent, great quality sleep is not what we do in the two hours before bed, or just before we fall asleep (often referred to as ‘sleep hygiene), but the daily holistic health habits we practice from the moment we wake up.
Normalising your circadian rhythm (think of this as the conductor of your body’s orchestra) and managing your cortisol levels (your stress and energy hormone) throughout the day (the two are inextricably interlinked) is the key to managing stress and achieving a restful night of sleep. High levels of stress resulting in the constant activation of our central nervous system (our fight or flight mode) can also be terribly damaging, and can negatively affect our immune function, hormonal balance, insulin sensitivity and cognitive function.
When we experience stress our adrenal glands release cortisol and adrenaline, hormones that can up-regulate body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, which are useful strategies for when we are in real danger and have to fight for our lives. However, our body cannot recognise the difference between a life-threatening situation, and an email from our boss, losing our phones or that last minute holiday gift shopping just before the stores close!
Thankfully, implementing some super simple holistic health habits throughout the day can help regulate our circadian rhythm, boost cortisol metabolism, and help you get that longed for 8 hours of sleep:
Consider a natural alarm clock, instead of emitting a sharp piercing noise that spike cortisol levels (cortisol should gradually rise in the morning) these work as the light activates the pineal gland (one of the main regulators of our circadian rhythm) and suppressing melatonin (one of our sleep hormones) and waking us up naturally and gradually.
Continue the light exposure by opening your blinds and curtains to get as much natural light as possible. Working out outside in the morning can be of double benefit by getting you in to the natural light, and gives you an exercise induced boost of energy raising cortisol when levels are supposed to be high (working out in the morning gives cortisol levels time to lower by the evening).
Ensure breakfast is a blood sugar stabilising balance of quality protein, fibre packed veggies and low GI fruits, and healthy fats. Blood sugar swings can also lead to cortisol spikes, and leave us hungry and bad tempered (aka hangry) meaning we reach for the closest high sugar, highly processed treats that can be found everywhere at this time of year!
Following breakfast, I take my New Chapter Perfect Calm Multivitamin – this is my go-to multivitamin at times of stress and a busy schedule, i.e. the holidays! I love this multivitamin as it does double duty as my daily multi and it provides stress supporting vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts such as Holy Basil, Lemon Balm and Chamomile. Vitamin C supports our hard-working adrenal glands and helps promote a healthy stress response (so important at this time of year), and New Chapter’s patented fermentation process ensures each nutrient is available for your body to absorb and utilise (remember, you are not what you eat, but what you absorb)! *
Throughout the day being conscious of your breathing patterns can be a super simple but incredibly effective way to manage your stress and cortisol levels. Simply by ensuring your exhale is slightly longer than your inhale you can up-regulate your parasympathetic nervous system (your ‘rest and digest’ mode) and down regulate your sympathetic nervous system (your ‘fight or flight’ mode). A simple Box Breathing exercise can be performed anywhere, and is a great tool to use when you may not have time for yoga or mediation, such as in line for groceries the day before holidays, or when about to face another holiday party that you would just rather skip!
To perform the Box Breathing exercise inhale for a count of 4 (through the nose), hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4 (through the nose), and hold for a count of 4.
Following these steps throughout the day will help ensure that your cortisol levels start to drop in the late afternoon and evening, preparing you for much needed deep and healing sleep. However, there are a few extra strategies that I love to employ in the evenings that can help even further, and prioritising sleep quality is essential when low on sleep quantity:
Finish eating at least two hours before going to bed so your body has finished the bulk of digestion before sleep. This can also be hugely beneficial for gut health and body composition.
Minimise electric light at home and blue light exposure from devices two hours before bedtime. As mentioned earlier light is one of the main regulators of circadian rhythm, and minimising exposure at night can help ensure the release of melatonin (a naturally occurring sleep hormone) from our pineal gland.
Your bedroom should be cool, not cold, ideally 65 degrees for deep sleep and efficient repair of all body systems.
A great eye mask and ear plugs are essential, especially if you live on a busy street, or you go to bed earlier than the rest of the family.
Block all light in the room including ambient light from outside, and any light from electrical devices. We have light sensors in our skin cells that when activated can disrupt sleep.
About an hour before I go to sleep I love to take New Chapter’s Turmeric Force Nighttime – a blend of antioxidant packed Ginger and Turmeric that helps support a healthy inflammatory response, and Chamomile, Hops, Valerian Root, and Lemon Balm that naturally promote restful sleep.* We keep ours in our bathroom cabinet next to the floss and toothpaste to make it an easy to remember part of our nightly routine.
For all New Chapter products (including my must haves) head to: www.newchapter.com/products
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.