The link between physical and mental health is becoming increasingly well understood and widely accepted. It makes sense to view ourselves holistically, taking a joined-up approach to our mental and physical wellbeing. There are nutritional psychiatrists sharing their knowledge about the impact of food on our mood, recommending foods including vegetables, blueberries, nuts and seeds, legumes, fish, whole grains, herbs and spices and dark chocolate to ease anxiety, while it’s suggested that not eating enough protein at every meal can lead to anxiety, depression, hunger and fatigue.
A founding principle of health is of course sleep. Sleep is critical as we age because so much happens and needs to happen when we rest. Our immune system is hard at work at night, recharging, repairing and clearing away damaged DNA and cells. The glymphatic system (our brain’s immune system) does the same thing, plus it helps get rid of neurotoxic waste such as amyloid-beta plaques that gunk up our brain and cause inflammation. It’s so important to establish a bedtime routine for yourself just as your parents did for you as a child.
There’s a 3,2,1 approach you can take – no food 3 hours before bed, no work 2 hours before bed and no technology an hour before bed. A hot shower/bath, chamomile tea and reading (a book not on a device) can all help ease you into relaxation ahead of sleep. It’s also shown that we benefit from a regular bedtime going to bed at the same time and rising at the same time really supports our wellbeing.
Researchers from Harvard University followed more than 2,000 adults for six years, and focused on their regular sleep time. A regular sleep time was defined as falling asleep within the same 30-minute window on average. For example, if you fell asleep at 11:00 p.m. one night and 11:27 p.m. the next night, you were still within the parameters of your regular sleep time. But straying far from your regular sleep schedule, the researchers found, wasn’t great for your health. Participants with the most irregular sleep schedule, where there was a 90-minute gap on average between their regular sleep times over the course of a week, doubled their risk of cardiovascular disease within the next five years.
Now that we are enjoying longer days it’s important to spend some time outside in the sunshine. Sunlight increases the production of serotonin in the body. This is important because serotonin is needed to produce melatonin. When you get access to sunlight in the morning, you’re actually assisting your body in producing this sleep hormone. Just 15 minutes of sun exposure each day is all that is needed, this along with a regular bedtime hour can have a dramatic effect.
There is of course the impact of poor sleep on our cognitive function. The existing research strongly supports the notion that poor sleep detracts from effective thinking. Without quality sleep, people are more likely to make errors, fail to take in new information, suffer deficits in memory, or have impaired decision-making. As a result, poor sleep can harm intellectual performance, academic achievement, creative pursuits, and productivity at work.
It can be hard to create new habits for ourselves, to reset when we are busy with our day-to-day lives. No surprise that the Springtime presents a natural opportunity for us to plan changes. But realistically perhaps the time is never right, the circumstances will never be just perfect to take time-out perhaps we just need to decide and commit to upgrading our self-care, today.