Many of us live our lives in a wired and tired state. We are stressed out, overwhelmed and unable to cope with everything the world throws at us.
This leads to the stress hormones being produced at the wrong times of the day. When I run hormone tests on clients I see super low levels in the morning and higher than ideal levels at night which set you up for being too tired to get anything done in the morning and then come night time you can’t sleep.
Conversely, you can have sky high anxiety and cortisol, stress hormone levels first thing in the morning before your feet even hit the floor. Then, by the afternoon your energy have tanked and caffeine barely shifts it and yet come bedtime you still struggle to get to sleep or stay sleeping.
There are many things you can do to help balance the stress hormones and achieve a better circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is the fancy name for your natural sleep-wake cycle where you normally need oomph in the morning and want to collapse in a nice dreamy sleep come bedtime.
To be honest after a busy day I quite often just pick the collapse in bed option. However, lucky me, I sleep like a baby. If you are one of those people that struggle to switch off in the evenings, need supplements like magnesium, CBD Oil, or melatonin, or blue light blocker glasses for watching Netflix on your iPad, or need to sleep in room at the correct temperature, socks on, total darkness and complete silence and still struggle to sleep you could do with adding to your repertoire.
Making sure you don’t eat foods at dinner time that stress out your gut or raise your blood sugar would be wise, avoiding alcohol and coffee in the pm definitely fits the bill. Avoid intense exercise too close to dinner or the evening. Also, try to stop yourself going on the phone to speak to family, friends or work colleagues that stress you out.
Practice abdominal breathing
I am a fan of lying in bed and doing at least a few minutes of deep abdominal breathing. This helps to quiet the mind and activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Simply breathe in through your nose and make your stomach go fat, then breathe out through nose or mouth and draw your stomach all the way in to go skinny. Repeat with a slow and steady tempo.
Using apps like Calm or Headspace can help to guide meditation, switch off a racing mind and uses stories and sounds to distract and help calm things down.
Read a good book
I can be guilty of working late and allowing my mind to creep back into work mode. However, I have found reading a book helps me to shift into sleep mode. Even one that is work related, for example most of what Kelly Brogan MD writes about I find fascinating or more textbooks that help you learn and understand different practices you can use with clients.
The irony in reading “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker isn’t lost on me as although its a great read jam packed with nuggets on what is sleep, how we sleep, the science of sleep and provides a better understanding of what a good nights sleep really is, I have had it for over 2 years and I have yet to finish it as I fall asleep, as I’ve said reading any book in bed. I’m sorry as I know thats a case of lucky me.
However, over the past few months with the COVID pandemic and the constant feeling of the bogey man at the front door I have been trying to read real books, ones made from paper and you can hold in your hand, and do not have to be in anyway connected to work.
Having said that the book I am hooked on at the moment, Ben Thomson’s take on politics in the UK and specifically governance of Scotland and staying within the UK versus independence. This book specifically covers the option of Home Rule the middle ground option, maybe even the way to get a win-win if there is such a thing in issues of such historical magnitude.
I like to talk about stress and it’s effect on hormones, digestion, function of your liver and your immune system. I do this from the perspective of having studied biology and then at an ever deeper level on continual training courses. I can apply what I have learned with clients and get direct feedback on works and what doesn’t, constantly tweaking my practice as I go in turn learning from my clients. So when I say to a client reading a book you enjoy and stimulates your imagination, helps you see the story in pretty pictures inside your mind, distract you from your day to day and stimulate you think about a subject other than the one you routinely obsess about and likely a contributor to your stress and anxiety, then I can be fairly confident of the effect.
I practise abdominal breathing, I check my pulse oxygen levels (how much oxygen is in your blood that increases with deeper, relaxed breathing), heart rate and heart rate variability (greater variation in the time between each heart beat shows greater resilience and stress coping). I can prove to myself that in the example of helping me sleep better and recover from stress a lifestyle habit such as reading a book before bed taps into my parasympathetic nervous system. Your parasympathetic nervous system is your rest and digest or repair and recovery branch of your nervous system.
The fight or flight response and start of the stress response where you break your body down to deal with the stress originates from your opposing branch of the nervous system, the sympathetic. Activating the sympathetic nervous system before can be done with bright light, watching the news about the rise in “cases” of coronavirus, reading emails from your boss or waiting 15 minutes after a glass of wine for your blood sugar to start to crash and your adrenal stress hormones being fired up instead of switched off to raise blood sugar and keep you calm and with stable energy. If your adrenals are “tired” or otherwise involved in other activities then the stimulation of your fight or flight sympathetic nervous system is stronger.
I am nowhere near an expert on politics and found it refreshing to read something I felt unbiased but informative about a subject I have previously acted on emotion, gut feeling and followed advice from those I believed to be knowledgeable but presented information to support the narrative I was following. I am not even half way through the book and already feel far more informed than ever on the subject.
However, I am actually biased in my praise as I am friends with the author, we are in fact business partners in a well-being app, Omnos, and have known Ben for several years so maybe the fact he is a real person to me, I can hear him speak when I read the book and I trust him that helps the read, helps reading this book in stimulating my parasympathetic nervous system and helps paint clearer, more vivid pictures in my head. This all adds to making me feel more excited to read the book and relaxed and less stressed in reading it. I am explaining this in detail not to justify me buying the book or promoting the book itself but to explain the effect of the book and how doing the right thing does actually work. If its going for a late evening walk with the dog or playing solitaire on your phone whatever as long as it does the job to help you switch off.
A really good interesting book can be the ticket to go along with your mug of cocoa. As with all health tips they have to be personal. If you hate reading or always choose thrillers then grabbing a book at bedtime is of course bad advice. Then maybe we are back to a drop of melatonin or abdominal breathing to switch off but in these stressful times we need a variety of tricks up our sleeves to switch off or the overload just continues day to day. Some of us need several tricks up our sleeve and just have to work that bit harder to get our health under control or establish what are the root causes of your symptoms and challenges. If its sleep it can be magnesium deficiency and a hair tissue mineral test is a great tool to uncover this cause and associated effects. There can be bugs in your gut and digestive inflammation causing bloating, gas and stopping you sleep and a stool test is a great tool to investigate what’s going on in the inside and what to do about it. Poor mood with anxiety and depression in the mix alongside weight gain and the role of stress and your hormones is where we should place our focus and we can of course test your hormone levels and design a specific plan of action.
There are always things we can find out about how our bodies work and then we have the insight to see what to do in the meantime a good bedtime read may reduce your stress, lead to a better nights sleep waking refreshed and having more energy to make a clear decision on how to turn your health around.