Optimum Health - Rule Number 3
Rest And Manage Stress
Rest and stress management are often the forgotten middle children of health. You can eat better and exercise more, but if you don’t rest your body and mind, you’ll never surmount the feelings of fatigue, tiredness, or lack of energy. Why is rest and stress management so important though?
The feeling of being well-rested comes from a good night’s sleep. On average, an adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. Contrary to popular belief, you need the same amount of sleep as you age, not less. I know what you’re thinking, "there's no time to sleep more because of all countless things to do." Getting by on fewer hours of sleep may seem like a good solution, but even minimal sleep loss can take a substantial toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness, and ability to handle stress. Over the long-term, chronic sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health.
Side effects of chronic sleep deprivation:
- Fatigue, lethargy, and lack of motivation
- Moodiness and irritability; increased risk of depression
- Decreased sex drive; relationship problems
- Impaired brain activity; learning, concentration, and memory problems
- Reduced creativity and problem-solving skills; difficulty making decisions
- Inability to cope with stress, difficulty managing emotions
- Premature skin aging
- Weakened immune system; frequent colds and infections; weight gain
- Impaired motor skills and increased risk of accidents; hallucinations and delirium
- Increased risk of serious health problems including stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers
Besides, just because you’re able to operate on six or seven hours of sleep doesn’t mean you wouldn’t feel a lot better and get more done if you spent an extra hour or two in bed. Only about three percent of the population have the genes necessary to get by on six hours of sleep, the rest of us need those extra hours.
While you sleep, a lot of processes are in action to prime your body and mind for the next day. Your brain stays busy, overseeing biological maintenance that keeps you running in top condition, and your body repairs and recovers from physical stresses. If you don’t sleep enough, you won’t be able to work, learn, create, and communicate to your utmost capacity. You can think of sleep like getting a tune-up for your car, without regular maintenance, the car breaks down.
The good news is that you don’t have to choose between health and productivity. By making time to get the sleep you need each night, your energy, efficiency, and overall health will go up. You’ll likely get much more done during the day than if you were sleeping less and working more. The best part about it all, sleep requires no effort! No other activity delivers so many benefits while asking so little.
Are You Sleeping Enough?
The best way to figure out if you’re meeting your sleep needs is to pause and evaluate how you feel as you go about your day. If you’re sleeping enough, you’ll feel energetic and alert all day long, from the second you spring out of bed to the moment you lay down to shut down for the day. If you feel like you need an afternoon pick me up, you struggle to get out of bed, feel the need to sleep in on the weekends, or fall asleep abnormally fast while watching tv or laying in bed, then you may be sleep-deprived.
But it’s not just the quantity of your sleep that determines how rested you are. The quality of your sleep directly affects your mental and physical health, and the quality of your waking life, including your productivity, emotional balance, brain/ heart health, immune system, creativity, vitality, and even your weight. Here are some tips for fixing or addressing any sleep issues.
- Rule out medical causes for your sleep problems. A sleep disturbance may be a symptom of a physical or mental health issue or a side-effect of certain medications.
- Follow a bed routine. Support your biological clock by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends.
- Exercise. Regular exercise can improve the symptoms of many sleep disorders and problems.
- Make mindful food and drink choices. Caffeine, alcohol, and sugary foods can all disrupt your sleep, and avoid heavy meals close to bedtime.
- Improve your sleep environment. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.
- Manage your stress!
Manage Your Stress
Through evolution, the human body was hard-wired to react to stress in ways meant to protect you against threats from predators and dangerous situations. And while there may not be predators around every corner today, that doesn’t mean life is stress-free. Your body now responds to and treats relatively minor hassles as threats, such as taking on a huge workload, a barking dog, paying the bills, or taking care of your family. As a result, you may feel as if you're constantly under attack, but you can't fight back. You may even feel like stress controls your life.
The system by which it all works is specifically designed to help you survive threatening encounters, and is pretty ingenious. Here’s how it works. When you encounter a perceived threat, your brain sets off an alarm system. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system then prompts your adrenal glands, located on your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones. Most notably of which are adrenaline and cortisol, the fight or flight hormones.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain's use of glucose, and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also inhibits functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters the response of the immune system and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. The alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation, and fear.
After the threat passes, hormones are supposed to return to normal because the stress response system is self-limiting. But if stressors are always present, and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. As you can imagine, this is anything but good.
The long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follow can disrupt almost all your body's processes. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems**
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
That’s why it's so important to learn healthy ways to cope with your life stressors.
So How Do You Cope?
- Take care of yourself. Taking care of your body will strengthen your resistance to stress. Eat a healthy and well balanced diet. Avoid excessive consumption of sugars, caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods. Exercise regularly. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good, and it can also serve as a valuable distraction from your daily worries. And be sure to get plenty of sleep!
- Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor. Face-to-face interaction triggers a cascade of hormones that counteracts the body’s defensive “fight-or-flight” response. It’s nature’s natural stress reliever. Keep it mind that the people you talk to don’t have to be able to solve your stress, listening is enough.
- Take a break and make room for “me time.” Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors.
- Just breathe. The fastest way to reduce stress is by taking a deep breath and using your senses—what you see, hear, taste, and touch—or through a soothing movement. By viewing a favorite photo, smelling a specific scent, listening to a favorite piece of music, tasting a piece of gum, or hugging a pet, for example, you can quickly relax and focus yourself. Yoga is another excellent practice to help you live in the moment and refocus your mind.
Remember, the path to optimum health is a multifaceted, comprehensive approach. You have to tackle the problem from multiple angles. Be conscious of what you put into your body. The food you eat has such a massive impact on how you feel and look. Sit less and stand more. Sitting has been linked to an overwhelming amount of health concerns. Do yourself a favor, stand up and move every 30 minutes to an hour. While you’re at it, move more and exercise regularly to achieve optimal physical health. Standing up will be more than enough to curb the negative effects of sitting, however. And finally, rest plenty and learn to recognize and manage your stress.