Sleep – Nature’s Antioxidant

Happy New Year! This year, I resolve to improve sleep.I’m revisiting this topic because it  has the most profound effect on our health.

Generally any less than 8 hours of sleep is not enough for most people. Research has shown that just 2 hours of sleep deprivation leads to a whole-body inflammatory response that can be identified on blood tests. That means suboptimal sleep may be leading to or affecting pain, heart disease, allergies and many other conditions! In addition, sleep deprivation is known to decrease intellectual functioning, emotions and immune function! Consider also quality of sleep; make sure sleep is uninterrupted and on a regular daily schedule. This year reassess your sleep routine. The small changes  you make to improve sleep will benefit you immediately the next day and for decades in the future!

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3 Health Tips That Will Change Your Life, Number 3

#3 Staying Regular

Is it really that important?    The only way cholesterol leaves the body is via the bowels; if they sit in the bowels long enough, almost all of it can be reabsorbed! In Chinese medicine, regulating bowel function is the main treatment for skin conditions such as acne. High blood pressure, hemorrhoids, fatigue and chemical sensitivity can all be related to slow bowel function. Remember, bowel function (both constipation and diarrhea) may also tell us about our nervous system balance in addition to how well we are digesting and absorbing foods (see post #2 Mindful Eating).

Constipation can be due to more serious causes such as hormonal dysfunction, neurological dysfunction or impaction so make sure these causes are ruled out. Most people on a western diet suffer from mild constipation. Adequate fiber and fluid intake, as well as regular exercise, mindful eating, stress management and acupuncture can help to normalize bowels. When necessary, stool softeners and laxatives may also be used but remember, long term use of laxatives (including herbal laxatives) should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.

Photo courtesy of S. Duprey

3 Health Tips That Will Change Your Life, Number 2

#2 Eating Mindfully

To quote my neurology instructor “the gut is a slave to our nervous system.” The gut is controlled by the (parasympathetic) branch of the nervous system dominant when are body is at rest (during meditation, sleep, in the presence of pleasant company, etc.). During this relaxed state, the nervous system signals the stomach to release more acid and digestive enzymes to ensure foods are digested fully and efficiently. Also the coordinated movement of intestines to allow for nutrient absorption and maintain bowel regularity occurs during this relaxed state.

How’s my digestion?

Bloating, gas, acid reflux, excessive belching, bad breath, abdominal cramping, feeling of food “sitting in the stomach”, constipation, diarrhea, cravings, excessive changes in blood sugar, low energy are all signs of less-than-optimal digestive function.

So how do I improve my digestion?

The key is to get our bodies into that relaxed (parasympathetic) state. Create a pleasant eating environment that is relaxing (eating with family and friends, nice scenery or in a pleasant dining area, relaxing music, etc.). The process of preparing your food (exposure to aroma and visual presentation of food) also helps to stimulate your digestive processes to prepare for digestion. Avoid eating while working, reading, driving, ‘zoning out’ in front of the TV or engaging in any stress and anxiety producing tasks. Keeping your attention on the pleasure of eating will improve digestion greatly. Bitters, digestive enzymes, acupuncture and identifying food intolerances may also be helpful to get efficient digestion, effective nutrient absorption and eliminate unwanted symptoms.

3 Health Tips That Will Change Your Life

People often ask me what my top health tips are; these 3 topics come up frequently as  significant factors in a broad range of conditions from acid reflux and  acne to heart disease and chronic pain. Before turning to medications or surgery, make sure you’ve got these areas optimized!

#1 Quality Sleep

How many hours of sleep do you get? Do you wake rested?

Is sleep that important?

A recent European study showed those who sleep 6 hours or less have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD). Disease risk also increases with poor quality sleep (not waking rested). When both short sleep and poor sleep quality are combined there is even higher risk (65% higher risk for CVD and 85% higher risk for CHD).

How is my sleep?

Fatigue, difficulty with concentration, irritability, poor blood glucose control, changes in mood, decreased stress tolerance, chronic pain, poor memory, weakened immune function resulting in infections are all possible symptoms of inadequate rest.

To improve sleep:

Determine what your sleep obstacles are: Stress, poor blood sugar control, eating large meals before bed, alcohol, caffeine, sleeping pills, insufficient exercise during the day, exercising late in the evening, irregular sleep routine, watching TV late, etc. all prevent us from getting quality sleep.

Keep the bedroom a place of rest (instead of a place to work or study), support a regular sleep routine ideally heading to bed by 10pm. Acupuncture, stress management, nutrition counseling, exercise prescription, screening lab tests and other tools may be used to improve sleep quality, in turn, improving energy level and overall health.

Photo courtesy of J. Chahal

Welcome!

Welcome to my health blog! I’m a medical student wanting to share some of my thoughts on health as I go through my academic and clinical education. To learn more, visit about and education.

Health equals freedom.

More than just a state free from pain and disease, health is the balance of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual allowing us the freedom to live meaningful and purposeful lives.

What is health to you?