Sleep. Most of us could do with more of it, or better quality for the time we get. Anyone, at any age can improve their sleep, even kids can benefit from the tips outlined below (although I hope #7 doesn’t apply!!). More restful sleep is within your reach, follow our steps to maximise your sleep.
1. Go to bed when you get tired.
Seems obvious right? Yet most of us will push through that sleepy feeling, reaching for a sugary treat or deciding to watch one more episode. Notice when you get tired and go to bed when that hits, don’t push through (notice how you feel about 10pm… )
2. Reduce light and noise in your bedroom.
With almost everyone experiencing stress, we become extra sensitive to light and noise because your body is on high alert for danger. Try to remove as much stimulus from your room as you can, blocking out streetlights, covering bright alarm clock faces, even nightlights can be too much for some people. Noise is harder to reduce, consider earplugs if your situation allows.
3. No devices/screens 2 hours before bed, no screens in the bedroom.
This is a big one. Screens emit blue light, which convinces your brain that it must still be daytime. This can alter your bodies sleep hormone production and make it very difficult to get to sleep. While it may seem drastic, turning off the TV and putting away the devices 2 hours before bed can help your body to regulate itself properly and increase the quality of your sleep. If this is too ‘middle ages’ for you, you can try using blue light blocking glasses, and blue light filters on screens, but it is best to avoid screens altogether if you’re having difficulty with sleep. If you need help changing your settings, have a look at the end of the post for links.
4. No eating 3 hours before bed.
Going to bed on a full stomach can impact sleep quality and sleep hormone production, so it is best to give yourself a buffer of a few hours if you can.
5. Use a posture correction device before bed.
To help calm your nervous system and relieve some stress, you can use a posture correction device for 15 mins before bed. This simple exercise helps to calm your brain and down regulate your fight or flight response, which can help you get a more restful nights sleep.
6. Take your magnesium.
Magnesium has been shown to help with relaxation and quality of sleep, as well as reducing muscle spasm and night cramping. An amazing supplement that can improve many aspects of your life, magnesium supplements can help support healthy sleep.
7. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Alcohol can contribute to increased snoring and sleep apnoea, and has been shown to affect night-time melatonin production, the hormone that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that will keep you awake and can remain in your bloodstream for 6 to 8 hours after consumption, so watch your caffeine intake especially in the afternoon.
8. Hack your body’s natural rhythms.
Sleep cycles are usually about 90 mins, so if you need to be up at 6am, go to sleep at 9.30 or 11pm to fit with the sleep cycle. This makes it much easier to get going in the morning, as you are more likely to wake up feeling tired and drowsy if your alarm wakes you in the middle of a cycle. Your body also craves routine, so try to sleep and wake at the same time each day. Sorry, no weekend sleep in!
9. Pillows can make all the difference.
Your pillow can make a big difference to how you feel when you wake in the morning. Are you waking with a stiff and sore neck, shoulders or upper back? Your pillow could be the problem. A contoured pillow which supports your head, neck and shoulders, whichever position you sleep in, can help you to wake up feeling refreshed. Just remember, when changing your pillow, it can take up to two weeks to get used to the change, and you may feel ‘worse’ for a night or two as your body gets used to the new level of support.
10. Get out in the sunshine, when there is some!
Bright daylight helps with to regulate circadian rhythm and sleep hormones, helping you body know when it is daytime and night. Exercising during daylight hours is another amazing way to help your quality of sleep.
11. Lavender and chamomile.
Essential oils are becoming very well know for their uses in helping to calm and relax. A few drops of lavender oil on a tissue under your pillow can help you drift off a little easier. Chamomile tea is also quite well known for its ability to help calm and relax, a cup of chamomile a few hours before bed can help you wind down.
12. Temperature and the environment in your bedroom.
Your bedroom should be a sanctuary for rest and relaxation. Try to keep your bedroom tidy, no TV or other screens and create a restful, calm area to get your shut eye. The ideal temperature for sleep is between 18-20 degrees Celsius, so use heating or cooling to achieve this. Use your bed for sleep and sex, nothing else! No work, no laptops, no scrolling on your phone.
13. Relaxation techniques before bed.
Just like we do for the kids, a bedtime wind down routine can have benefits at any age. This will look different for everyone, depending on how you like to relax, but some ideas include: meditation, taking a hot bath, reading a book, listening to relaxing music, breathing exercises or visualisations. Anything that involves turning off a screen and allowing your mind to switch off before bed.
There are so many factors involved in a good bedtime routine and working towards a good restful night’s sleep. This list is not intended to be implemented all at once, take one or two steps at a time and find what works for you.
Blue light filter for Samsung
Blue light filter for iPhone
Blue light filter for computers
I am well aware that I sound like everyone’s Grandma when I say, “Stop slouching, posture is important!”. But the thing is, Grandma was on to something! The more we learn about the human body, how it interacts with the world around us and how it works to keep us alive, the more integral posture becomes.
Why is it bad to slouch?
When our head drops forward and our shoulders round down and forward, this sends a feedback signal to our brain, specifically an area called the red nucleus. The red nucleus is always on the lookout for signs that you are in danger, and this slumped posture is a big red flag for it. When the red nucleus thinks you are in trouble, it rallies its friends (other nuclei that are in the mesencephalon) and makes you hypervigilant. These friends start a cascade of defence mechanisms within your body, releasing cortisol (a stress hormone), tightening muscles, increasing your sensitivity to light and sound, all so you can be aware of any impending danger and be ready to run or fight at a moments notice. Yes, your poor posture just switched on your ‘fight or flight’ response and made you stressed!
How does your poor posture make you irritable and tired?
When your fight or flight response is turned on, it makes you hypervigilant. Your brain is looking for any signal that you are about to be attacked, and your body is not worried about any basic functions like digesting food properly or keeping up your immune system, because there will be time for that once the danger is passed! It is hard to sleep, because your brain will wake you at the slightest sounds. You are sensitive to light and this can lead to headaches. So you are tired, overwhelmed and getting headaches, of course you are going to be cranky and irritable! The slouching posture can also decrease the range of movement of your ribcage while you breathe. This can mean that you take shallower breaths, which can affect the oxygenation levels in your body, making it harder for your cells to work efficiently and making you even more tired.
Why does my back hurt?
Part of the stress response we outlined above is muscles tightening. The muscles across your shoulders and up the back of your neck get very tight as part of this, and your low back can also get tight as your body has to compensate and redistribute the weight to keep you upright. A slouched posture is not a mechanically sound position for your body. It disengages some larger muscles (like lower trapezius and deep neck flexors) and puts their work onto muscles not designed to take such a big load (like smaller spinal extensor muscles, superficial neck flexors and suboccipitals). This can leave you stiff, sore and more prone to injury.
What is good posture?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as ‘perfect posture’. There are definitely some positions to avoid, like the slumped forward posture we have talked about, but the key to good posture is… *drum roll please*…. Movement! Our bodies were not designed to sit in one position all day. Our muscles and brains thrive on movement and the feedback it provides. Taking regular breaks to move and stretch every 15-20 minutes can decrease back pain and increase your productivity. Following good ergonomic advice with your workstation set up is also a good idea, and if you are lucky enough to have a sit stand desk, varying the height so you can go between sitting and standing throughout the day. It would take far too long to write out all the ways to keep moving, so if you would like more information, have a look at our Facebook live videos this month at #SundayLiveAt8
So why is posture important? Because it can affect every system in our body, and make us tired, moody and sore if we aren’t getting it right. Make sure you check out our live videos this month, and if you have any questions please message us or talk to us during your appointment.
To learn more about the stress response, have a look at Sympathetic September (Sept 2018 in the blog archives)
While sometimes it may be tempting to do this when someone mentions gratitude, the benefits are greater than you think!
How being thankful can make your brain happier
It can seem obvious, being thankful for what you have. But it can be easy to fall into the trap of ‘I’ll be happy when…’, waiting for the stars to align and make ‘everything perfect’. In reality this very rarely happens, and we can make ourselves pretty miserable waiting for it.
Comparison is the thief of joy. If you are always looking at what others have or have achieved, it can be very hard to celebrate your own wins or be grateful for the good things in your life. The grass is not really greener on the other side!
How your brain will thank you
Being grateful can make massive changes to your life. It can help you express more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. It does this by affecting how your brain is functioning- when you express gratitude it affects your hypothalamus (where your stress response is triggered), and your ventral tegmental area (the part of your brain responsible for your reward mechanism that can produce feelings of pleasure). People who have practiced gratitude for as little as 3 months have huge changes in their brain on functional MRI in these areas and others, most to do with pleasure, positive emotion and lowered stress response.
Sometimes it can be easier to recognise what others do for you, before you can see what positives you already have. So, make a start by thinking about the people in your life that help you or do nice things for you. If you are really struggling with this, try to flip around any negatives you notice about people. Rather than picking on what they have missed or could have done better, say thank you for your effort and thanks for making my life a bit easier.
There have been studies that have shown that acting happy can actually make you happy. Smiling has the same effect on your brain whether you want to smile or not. So, you can try a little bit of ‘fake it before you make it’ to help you start.
How to be grateful
There are so many strategies that you can implement to help you show gratitude. Keep it simple and find what works for you. This shouldn’t be a hard or laborious task, so if you’re finding it difficult, start small and make it easier on yourself.
Gratitude is more than just being optimistic or looking on the bright side. It is looking at what you have worked hard for, what you have achieved, how much you have in your life. Even if you first think there is nothing, when you start to look a little deeper there is usually much more than you expect. It is easy to get caught up in the negatives, what you don’t have and what you can’t do, that it can be tricky to appreciate what you can do. Be thankful for what is in your life right now, even if it is a bit challenging, and look forward to everything coming your way in the future. Try it out, if nothing else your brain will thank you for it!
Our brain is incredible. It orchestrates our every movement, thought and deed, and through the spinal cord reaches every part of our body. So what can we do to look after our brain and keep it performing at its peak?
Why look after our brain?
Our brain is central to everything we do, it is the master controller of our bodies. There is also the issue of cognitive decline as we age, with diagnoses of dementia, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, very common in our aging population. While the jury is still out on what causes these syndromes, it makes sense to do as much as you can to look after your brain from a young age. When our brain is functioning well, it is easy for us to work, and play, at our best.
One of the most hyped ways to stave off cognitive decline is brain training apps. These puzzle apps are designed to keep your problem solving skills in use, and, in theory, keep your brain more active than it would otherwise be. However, studies into these apps have found no specific increase in brain power with these apps, in fact, smartphone use is being linked with increased inattention and shorter attention spans. So while these apps may be fun, don’t expect any big results from playing the puzzles regularly.
Variety is the spice of your brain
Whatever you do regularly is what you will be good at. If you do crosswords all the time you will find them easy but would be very challenged by a Sudoku. To keep your brain functioning at it’s best, you can challenge it in different ways. There are lots of different kinds of puzzles that can help your mental gymnastics, for some inspiration, have a look at our Facebook page this month (June 2019). But there are lots of other ways to challenge your brain. Trying a new game or sport or a new exercise. Challenging your balance or fine motor skills. Meeting new people or reading a new book. Change is the key. There will be some activities you enjoy more than others, but you never know, you could find your new passion while trying something new and different!
Nourish your brain
Like everything in your body, your brain relies on what you put in your mouth to eat. Making the effort to eat nourishing wholefoods will pay big dividends where brain health is concerned. You wouldn’t put hot chips in a car engine and expect it to run efficiently would you? Your brain and body are no different. Healthy fats like avocado, fish and nuts are beneficial for your body to make hormones that help your brain function.
Sleep it off
Sleep is also vital for brain function. We all know how hard it is to focus and concentrate after a poor nights sleep. When we sleep, our brain has a change to ‘clean’ itself and flush out any waste after our big day of thinking. It is crucial to get a good nights sleep, and you can optimise your sleep by have good ‘sleep hygiene’. A few examples of this are: Going to bed at a regular time, minimising light and screen exposure in your bedroom, allowing yourself to wind down before bed.
One surprising thing that kept coming up was the importance of social connection for brain health. When we get out and socialise, it stimulates our brain like almost nothing else. Having other people to talk to and feeling part of a community were big predictors of cognitive function into older age. So get out and meet your friends for coffee, or go for a walk together, your brain needs you to!
Physical activity and exercise are crucial to brain health and preventing cognitive decline. The more active you are, the more input your brain receives, dusting out those cobwebs and keeping everything functioning at it’s best.
Learning new things is one of the best ways to ‘train your brain’! Make it challenging, change it up, and keep it fun! It doesn’t matter if it is a mental or physical skill, just keep learning.
So, the best way to train your brain? Exercise, sleep, good food and social connection. And learning new things- have a look at our Facebook page for puzzles every day this month!
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At Ballarat and District Chiropractic we know you want to be empowered when it comes your health so we want to help you by sharing all our knowledge about Chiropractic.