Not sleeping well? It may be time to focus on what you’re doing through the day.
Often people I see who are having trouble with sleep, are very focussed on what they are doing before getting in to bed, and carefully controlling the bedroom environment. However, a lot of how we sleep is determined by what we do through the day, and how we approach it. As I prepare to talk on sleep at the Golden Door Health Retreat Elysia as guest speaker this weekend, I reflect on 3 of my favourite aspects of visiting Golden Door, the food, Tai Chi, and taking time out and the impact they can have on sleep.
Food: healthy, freshly prepared food at regular times
I often get asked about food and sleep. Questions like, what foods are best for sleep? Or what diet should I follow to feel less tired during the day? Unfortunately, there is very little research in this area. No specific diets have been shown to be good for sleep, despite a number of claims to the contrary.
Whilst there isn’t much data on what to eat, there is actually a lot of research on when to eat. Irregular and unpredictable meals cause greater weight gain and increase the risk of metabolic problems such as diabetes.
So, in the absence of any good research to guide us what to eat, my advice is to:
1. Ensure a well balanced, healthy diet with freshly prepared food
2. Keep regular meal times each day
3. Pay attention to portion sizes, with similar portion sizes each day
The food at Golden Door Health Retreat Elysia is certainly healthy and freshly prepared and a real highlight of my visits there. Check out their web page for some of their recipes.
Tai Chi: slow, focussed movement
I really enjoy Tai Chi each morning at Golden Door. But does it help with sleep? There’s been 1 research paper specifically on Tai Chi and sleep. It showed that in older adults (over 60) with poor sleep, 3 x 40 minute sessions of Tai Chi per week for 16 weeks, improved sleep quality and sleep duration.
A group from Brazil has compared that study to others done with yoga, progressive muscular relation and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). They found that each of these techniques was helpful for sleep, but that CBT was the most effective. Some of the work we have done with mindfulness meditation and CBT makes me think the best results come from combining these techniques. So for people with insomnia, I generally recommend a combination of CBT together with meditation, yoga or Tai Chi.
Taking time out: make time each day
One of the reasons I like working with the guests at Golden Door, is that they are open and receptive to change. By coming away to a health retreat, they have given themselves permission to step out of their usual role and work on their health and wellness. This is something that we often don’t do, give ourselves permission to take time out, guilt free. Women particularly can feel the expectation to be superwoman, juggling family, personal and work responsibilities. This day-to-day busyness, not taking time out for ourselves, is one of the major contributing factors to sleep problems in a lot of people I see.
One of the concepts that is important is optimising sleep, is giving ourselves permission each day to take time out. Making sure we do something each day that we find nurturing or calming and taking that time, without feeling guilty about it. Rather than feeling like we can’t afford to take that time for ourselves, if we look at the evidence of the effects of poor or insufficient sleep on sleep and health, its clear that we must make that time to maintain optimal health and wellness across our lives.
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