This is the fourth part of our post-lockdown wholistic health reset. We’re focusing on simple mindset and lifestyle shifts that have the power to create significant results.
Recently we introduced the concept of ‘big rocks’ and the benefits associated with ‘crowding out’ unproductive or harmful habits with beneficial ones.
This week we’re applying it to lifestyle shifts and the small steps we can take in this area, to radically improve our health.
Now, don’t get your hopes up for some trendy new hack that you haven’t yet tried that promises to finally resolve everything. The two areas I couldn’t bring myself to sidestep are those we already know we’re supposed to be prioritising: sleep and movement.
However here we are in post-lockdown Spring and if you’ve been engaged in this series at all, you’re probably keen to clamber back onto the wagon in some area of your life. And if that’s the case, perhaps you need a reminder of why these ‘big rocks’ are indeed big rocks.
And look, don’t get me wrong, I have lots of time for hacks. But if we can apply them to the fundamentals instead of thinking we can hack our way out of actually doing what works, we’ll be miles ahead.
So, let’s take a look at these two areas with a fresh perspective and see if we can’t inspire a little inclination to upgrade your existing relationship with them.
As someone who routinely used to glaze over at this suggestion, I’ve finally come to appreciate how crucial good quality sleep is to health. As a type A personality and former night owl, I had my head in the sand with this for many years, because I thought I could cheat – by ticking all the other health and lifestyle boxes and ignoring this one.
It turns out, you can’t.
There are hacks to be had, here, though!
The most important thing to realise is that quality sleep isn’t determined by the amount of time you spend sleeping, but by how long your brain is in its deepest brainwave state.
And the majority of us aren’t getting much deep sleep at all.
By redirecting your focus to facilitating better quality sleep, you can likely get away with a slight reduction in the total hours you’ve always been told is ideal (8-9 hours).
So, how do we set ourselves up to achieve deeper, more restorative sleep?
The most important window of sleep is 10pm-2am. Anything that prevents the deeper brainwave states being accessed within this window drastically decreases overall sleep quality and has huge, accumulative impacts on our hormones, energy and health. If this occurs regularly in mid-life, we’re drastically increasing the likelihood of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, later in life.
To state the obvious, you can’t access deep sleep if you’re not actually asleep within this window. And if you’re hitting the sack at midnight, chances are that you’re foregoing deep sleep altogether.
You might have heard the phrase ‘every hour before midnight is worth two’ – well, it’s actually a great way to think about it. The impact of facilitating deeper brainwave states in this window can’t be overstated. Getting to bed as early as possible is worth everything you can throw at it.
Priming ourselves for deep rest
To achieve a state of deep sleep within the 10pm-2am window, your body needs to be physiologically primed to get there, shortly after you fall asleep.
Unfortunately, many of our modern habits greatly undermine this process. Our screens and devices emit blue light, which from an evolutionary perspective signals to our bodies that it is peak daylight and time to be alert. This completely messes with our circadian rhythm and prevents deep sleep across the board.
So, the worst thing we can do is to look at a screen prior to bedtime (although TV is the best of the worst, if you must).
Ways we can lessen the impact:
• Aim to lengthen the gap between screen time and bedtime as much as you possibly can. Ideally, aim for a window of two hours.
• If you can’t avoid screen time at night, buy a pair of blue-blocking glasses and wear them after sundown. (And early morning if screen-time is part of the routine, then.)
• Use the ‘nightshift’ setting on your devices, which can be automatically set to reduce the blue light emission in favour of warmer tones from a certain time of day.
Other ways to improve sleep:
• Move electronic devices out of the bedroom where possible (or switch your phone on airplane mode if it’s beside your bed) to reduce the electromagnetic radiation in that space, which has been shown to interfere with sleep quality.
• Have a cool or tepid shower in the evening to reduce body temperature prior to sleeping. Keeping your body temperature on the cool side during the night also facilitates better quality sleep.
• Natural fibre bedding such as cotton, wool and down go a long way in helping to achieve this. On this note: avoid polyester at all costs. It’s hard to comprehend how we arrived at the idea of sleeping wrapped in plastic!
• For the last 30 minutes before bedtime, try switching your light source to candlelight or have a red coloured light globe in a bedside lamp. Surely, you’ve noticed during extended power outages how unusually relaxed and sleepy you feel by mid-evening? The complete removal of blue light (which is also emitted by standard globes) makes a radical, very noticeable difference to sleep quality. If you have any issues with sleep – try this one hack and see for yourself.
• Aim to go to bed and wake earlier, at a consistent time as often as possible.
One of the pitfalls of living in the information age and being relentlessly bombarded with theories and data, is the risk of disempowerment. When you’re out of the habit of moving regularly, there’s a tendency to overthink what needs to be done and create self-imposed barriers that interfere with actually getting started.
Stories like: “I need to join the gym to start exercising” or “I need to workout for 30 minutes for it to ‘count’”. All these ridiculous, arbitrary rules, when the truth is, if we look to the oldest, fittest people on the planet, it’s obvious that consistent, very low-impact movement is extremely effective. No gyms or active wear in sight.
The best way to reboot your routine is to start with just one thing – today. Donning your headphones and dancing to a single song. Running down and up a short flight of stairs. Doing a few squats whilst you clean your teeth in the morning.
It might seem inconsequential, but the dopamine hit from kicking that small goal, the endorphins released from that tiny sliver of movement is enough to invigorate and restore motivation. Then you can build on it, with ease.
If you have any resistance in this area, start by banishing the word ‘exercise’ from your vocabulary and replace it with ‘movement’. It evokes an entirely different response.
Find ways you love to move your body and simply build them into your daily life. As your fitness level starts to improve and the associated feel-good chemicals become a more natural state, you’ll instinctively desire more of both – and the need for discipline and regimented routine will become obsolete.
Georgia is a clinically trained nutritionist, wholefoods chef, columnist and mum. She’s been featured in Body & Soul and had TV appearances on ABC Breakfast and Studio 10 for her unique approach to food and health. She’s known for reinventing traditional foods for the modern kitchen and was instrumental in a radical new approach to sports nutrition with a program for the NRL Parramatta Eels, kickstarting their ascent on the ladder in recent years. Find out more at stirringchange.com.