I love the summer but find that with the lighter mornings I wake up much earlier. Lack of sleep is something we have all experienced at one time or another so this got me thinking about what might be keeping us awake.
I should say before I start, that this is a huge topic and I could have expanded on many of the aspects covered. My hope is that if anything here interests you, you can explore it further.
When you think about it sleeping is a strange thing, we get into our pyjamas and spend six or seven hours unconscious before waking up to a new day. Researchers are not entirely sure why we sleep but they do know it is vital to our survival. Amongst other activities, during sleep cycles we transfer memories from short-term to long-term, learn to associate words and it is a time of peak growth hormone, when cell reproduction and repair is carried out. What we all know from experience is that if we have had a good night’s sleep we feel great and if we have had a poor night’s sleep we feel awful.
Lack of sleep impairs our ability to regulate our emotions and we lose our neutrality. Cue drama! So babies and young children apart, what might be preventing us from sleeping well? Some things to consider;
Comfort– It may sound obvious but is your bed comfortable?!
Temperature– A cool well-ventilated room is ideal. Sleep occurs when the core temperature of the body is dropping and when temperature change and heat loss is at its maximum. This is why our body cooling down after having a warm bath can make us feel sleepy.
Light– Melatonin is a hormone made by our pineal gland. When it is dark after sunset, usually around 9pm, the pineal gland begins to actively produce melatonin. This is released into our blood and as the melatonin level rises we begin to feel less alert and more sleepy. Melatonin levels in the blood stay elevated for around 12 hours and then fall back to daytime levels, which are very low by 9am. Bright light inhibits the release of melatonin so even after 9pm being in a brightly lit room may be enough to prevent the release of melatonin. This is also true of the light that comes from phones, laptops and electronic reading devices.
Physical exercise– Research has shown that exercise improves the quality of sleep. We appear to enjoy a more sound and restful sleep after taking moderate aerobic exercise during the day. The amount and type of exercise will vary depending on our age and level of fitness but as a rough guide 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise should be enough to make a difference. Vigorous exercise during the evening may be too stimulating for some people and even prevent sleep, so it is really a question of trial and error and listening to your body to see what works best for you.
Blood sugar– If our blood sugar drops too low, we may wake up during the night. The cells in our body require sugar to function properly and when this falls too low feelings of restlessness and anxiousness will result. Obviously it is not a good idea to eat a heavy meal too soon before sleeping but snacks that keep blood sugar levels steady can be helpful. Food types with a low glycaemic index such as oatmeal and whole grains will help maintain steady blood sugar. Ideally a daily diet containing complex carbohydrates will keep blood sugar levels even throughout the day and into the night.
Hormones– For females the balance of hormones oestrogen and progesterone influence sleep. It appears that a drop in progesterone or an abrupt change in the balance between the two hormones can cause sleeplessness. This is true for women of all ages. As hormonal balance fluctuates on a daily basis this may pass but if not we may choose to influence what is happening by using synthetic hormones or natural alternatives.
The Mind– Our beautiful busy, busy minds; both a blessing and curse! If we are worried or anxious we will find it difficult to sleep. What is occupying our thoughts may be serious or trivial but either way our preoccupation with them is preventing us from sleeping. So how can we find ways to switch off that constant chatter that is keeping us awake?
Reading– This is pure escapism. It helps us switch off, takes us to another place and keeps our mind busy by giving it a job to do. You might like to know that studies have shown that brain activity during sleep is better regulated after reading a book compared with a screen. Just passing on the information!
Visualisation– Harnessing the power of your imagination. This is a proven technique that is now used in sports psychology to train athletes and sportsmen to improve their performance. It works because our brains show the same activity whether we are visualising lying in our hammock on the beach or actually physically there. As our bodies respond to our brain activity, imagining yourself in the happy place of your choice will help your body relax.
Progressive muscle relaxation or body scan– A slow and thorough journey around your body starting from the feet, tensing then relaxing all the muscles one by one. This helps reduce muscle tension. A certain amount of muscle tone is normal but excess muscle tension creates a feeling of alertness. Our bodies interpret the tension in our muscles to mean there is a threat nearby and we need to be vigilant, so our system is not allowed to relax enough to drop into sleep mode while the threat is present. Doing a body scan helps our muscles, body and mind relax which is much more conducive to falling asleep.
Breathing– Breathing, like muscle tension, is inextricably linked to our nervous system. By consciously affecting our breath we can affect how our bodies feel and calm an activated nervous system. There are many types of breathing exercises, Pranayama or breath control used in Hatha yoga is one form. There are many pranayama breathing ‘exercises’ that can be practised depending on your requirements. In this case one to quieten the mind and relax the body would be suitable. Hatha yoga itself is very effective for calming the nervous system and helping promote sleep. It works on both physical and mental levels, by balancing body chemistry, releasing muscle tension and bringing the attention of the mind to our breath and body sensation.
Mindfulness meditation– The benefits of practicing this form of meditation regularly is that we start to notice when our minds begin to wander and are then able to choose to change our train of thought. As one needs to be alert to meditate it is not recommended you do it in bed but if you suffer from insomnia it may be something to try rather than doing the ironing!
CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy– This works in a similar way, bringing an awareness of our thoughts and how helpful or otherwise they might be. Once we are aware of what we are thinking about we are able to ask the question, ‘how does this thought serve me?’ and act appropriately. Both Mindfulness and CBT need to be practiced regularly for us to enjoy the benefits but both are very effective.
It should be possible, even when under moderate stress, to find ways to drop into a more relaxed state and get some sleep. However sometimes the stress is too great or we are just not able to 'switch off'. This requires a rounded approach taking into consideration all aspects of our life style. If this is the case complementary therapies like massage, reflexology and craniosacral therapy are valuable resources to draw on to help us relax and in our quest for a good night’s sleep.
Packed full of useful information, in this guest blog Laura Douglas Nutritional Therapist and Health and Wellness coach kindly shares her knowledge on how to nourish your skin from the inside - of course the rest of you will benefit from this too!
Most people don’t give a second’s thought to their skin – unless they’re scowling at the wrinkles or wobbly bits in the mirror. It’s already doing a fabulous job keeping your insides in, protecting you from infection and radiation, and keeping you warm. There’s also a huge amount you can do to keep your skin looking healthy and fresh and – I’m happy to tell you – stave off the wrinkles without buying that expensive anti-ageing cream. Read on to find out how.
Ditch the bad guys
Alcohol, caffeine, food additives like flavourings and colourings, salt, sugar, and tobacco are full of cell-damaging free radicals, which play havoc with your skin. Ideally, cut them out altogether but certainly reduce them as much as you can.
Essential fats found in fish, avocados, nuts and seeds keep cell membranes soft and smooth – they’re nature’s perfect skin plumpers. Just in case the word ‘fat’ sends a red flag up for you, I want to reassure you that scientists have finally admittedall ‘fat is bad for you and makes you fat’ propaganda was flawed. Eating the right fat is not only not bad, it is really, truly GOOD for your health.
Eat back the clock
Stock up on antioxidant-rich fruit and veg. These arecrucial for your entire body – not just your skin. They reduce the speed of skin aging and degeneration. Eat them raw or lightly steamed as cooking for long periods destroys enzymes, minerals and vitamins and can create skin-damaging free radicals. A couple of simple exercises are these: make a concerted effort to add at least one extra portion of veg every night this week to your evening meal. You should also aim to ‘eat a rainbow’ over the course of the week – that means picking as many different colours of fruit and veg as you can.
As a very general rule, each different colour group contains a different set of plant chemicals. Scientists now know that bringing a variety of different antioxidants into your diet has a synergistic effect, which means the combined result is more powerful than the individual parts.
Keep skin cells plump and full or your skin will look shrivelled and dehydrated – a long cry from that radiant glow you’re going for. Cells also need water to rebuild and to remove the build up of waste products (toxins). It’s a very simple (and free) step that most people don’t prioritise and yet the results can be striking. Aim for at least 2-3 litres a day depending on weather conditions and your level of exercise. You’ll soon see the benefit for yourskin.
Helpful nutrients for skin health
Vitamin C for collagen production. Foods to include: blackcurrants, red peppers, kale, collard leaves, broccoli, kiwis, oranges, courgettes, cauliflower and spinach, citrus fruit.
Vitamins A, C, E and selenium are antioxidants that limit the damage done to collagen and elastin fibres by free radicals. Foods to include (aside from the vitamin C foods, above, and the vitamin A foods, below): sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, swiss chard, papaya, mustard greens, asparagus, peppers, Brazil nuts, fresh tuna, some meats including pork, beef, turkey and chicken, cottage cheese, eggs, brown rice, oats, mushrooms.
Vitamin A helps control the rate of keratin. A lack of vitamin A can result in dry, rough skin. Foods to include: sweet potato, carrots, butternut squash, spinach, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, romaine lettuce.
Vitamin D- skin cells produce a chemical that is converted into vitamin D in sunlight. It’s important for many functions in the body, including immunity, blood sugar balance and bone health. It’s hard to get enough vitamin D from food alone, but do try to include more sardines, salmon, tuna, swordfish, eggs, orange juice and fortified cereals – and don’t forget a daily dose of getting out into the sun!
Zinc for the production of skin cells. A lack of zinc can result in poor skin healing, eczema and rashes. Foods to include: venison, fish, ginger root, lamb, lean beef, turkey, green vegetables, oats, nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, yoghurt, scallops.
Essential fats for making cell membranes. A lack of essential fats causes cells to dry out too quickly, resulting in dry skin. Foods to include: oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, herring), flaxseed, walnuts, soya beans, tofu.
Watch what you put on your body, too
The skin is the largest organ in the body with a surface area about the size of a double bed. It soaks everything up you put on it, and what soaks in ends up in your blood stream. So if your shampoo and conditioner or shower gel (all of which wash over you as you shower), or your bodylotions or creams contain nasty chemicals like parabens or sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate, you are feeding yourself synthetic oestrogens that can wreak havoc with your hormones. Check labels for ingredients – often they may be marked as paraben-free.
Learn how to deal with problem skin
A targeted nutrition plan can work wonders for skin problems like acne, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis and so on. This kind of personalised nutrition is often poorly understood and isn’t really talked about in the media. It doesn’t work to just add to your diet a single ‘superfood’. A bespoke health and nutrition plan takes into account all of your skin and health concerns, which can make a huge difference. If you would like more advice on your skin, or any other health condition, please get in touch. I’d love to help.
Registered Nutritional Therapist & Health Coach
True You Nutrition
Aslihan from Yoga Crow has kindly written a guest blog about the breath. She has shared her knowledge about something we take very much for granted and given guidance for a five minute simple breathing technique, which can be used anytime and anywhere if you need help to calm your mind and body this festive season.
Our breath is our life’s teacher and the greatest healer. The breath’s qualities constantly change according to events in our daily life. When we walk, when we talk, when we sleep or rest, when we exercise, when we get excited or when we feel under stress. As everything in our body is linked, our breath also responds to any emotional, mental or physical change by changing its depth, rate and path.
The average respiration rate for an adult is twelve to seventeen breaths per minute.
A healthy adult after a good rest and in a very relaxed body might take as few as four to ten breaths per minute and breathe primarily into the lower lungs (belly breathing).
A faster breathing rate without any physical activity might be an indicator of high stress levels when the breath is mostly shallow and into the upper body.
These types of changes in the depth, rate and path of our breathing also influence many systems in our body on many levels such as physical tension, oxygen intake in the blood, our immune system, the functioning of the brain and internal organs, heart rate, sleeping habits, clarity of the mind, stability of our emotions, our focus, decision making abilities and many more.
The good news is the rate and depth of breathing can be modified in a deliberate and intentional way as we learn the principles and techniques of conscious breathing.
Increasing awareness of the breath and regular breathing exercises are the simplest antidote to finding vitality and well-being as well as to return the body systems back to their natural or more restful state when needed.
Breathing exercises for centering and grounding are the most powerful to enhance our inner resilience and mental flexibility. They often calm our mind and body when we need more empowerment especially around this time of the year.
Below is a five minute basic and easy breathing technique, which you can use anytime and anywhere when you need the guidance of your breath in this festive season.
This is a great exercise that you can practice at home, at work, on the go or in nature, whenever you need the feeling of being grounded and centered in mind and body.
This is also a very beneficial breathing practice when it’s practiced on a regular basis every day to stimulate your Parasympathetic Nervous System, to help you with letting go of mental stressors, to enhance positive thinking and create ease in the physical body.
Grounding & Centering Breath
Set your alarm for five minutes and start by finding your most comfortable pose either in seated or lying down position.
If you prefer to sit on the floor, ensure that your back is nice and long throughout the practice for more space in your lungs. Your back may be fully supported by the wall or with some cushions.
Adjust your hips higher than your knee levels, so use as many supports as you need under your sit bones.
If you prefer to sit on a chair, adjust your legs with a 90-degree angle at knee level, feet flat, parallel and hip distance apart on the floor. You can use cushions under the hips if the chair is low or under the feet if they don’t reach down to earth.
Your back is also fully supported when needed to maintain a nice and long spine.
If you choose to lay down on the floor, have your feet a little wider apart than your hip level, knees bent and drop them in together for a support. Use a folded blanket or a cushion to support the back of the head and neck down to the top of your shoulders. Ensure that your chin level is lower than your forehead. You can close your eyes or gaze softly down. Relax your body and begin to breath in and out through your nostrils naturally.
Stage 1 (one minute)
Observe the pace, depth and path of your breath without changing or analysing anything. Let your thoughts come and go, with no attachment to any of them. Gently welcome your thoughts and come back to your breath each time when you find yourself distracted. This is perfectly normal and with regular practice you will improve the time of holding your attention on your breath.
Stage 2 (one minute)
Gently shift your attention to your upper abdomen, your belly. You can rest your palms on your upper abdomen just above your navel and below your breastbone, or simply release and relax them on your lap or thighs without interlocking the fingers. Keep holding your attention on the belly area. Remember, wherever your attention goes, your breath follows. Naturally send the breath to the bottom of your lungs by lengthening your in-breath deeply and exhale fully. Repeat this a few more times.
Stage 3 (one minute)
With the next inhalation take the breath in deeply down to the belly through the nostrils and send it out fully through the mouth with a “whooosh!” sound. Repeat this a few more times. Remember it is not about the volume of the breath but the pace of the breath. Keep your breathing soft, gentle and steady. Come back to your natural breathing anytime when you feel light-headed and start again as instructed when you feel normal again.
Stage 4 (one minute)
If you feel comfortable you can keep going on with the stage 3 for another minute breathing in and out through the nose or you can advance your breathing by counting with a 2:3:4 or 4:7:8 ratio through the nose again. Take the breath in down to the belly by counting to 2 or 4, hold it for 3 to 7 and breath out fully by counting to 4 or 8; and repeat it for a few more rounds with full focus on your breath. You can listen to the ticking sound of a clock to count your breaths or use a metronome application on your phone or tablet if you need an aid to count your breath.
Stage 5 (one minute)
Release the above stages gently and come back to the natural rhythm of your normal breath. Give yourself some time here to observe and to breathe naturally. Then release the practice. Gently open your eyes. Stretch your body, smile and return to your next daily activity!
Breathe well, flow well, connect well!
With infinite Love and Gratitude!
Aslihan, the Crow
How can Craniosacral Therapy help you?
Craniosacral Therapy can work well for people suffering from stress, but it is also very much used for a range of acute and chronic physical issues.
Modern day stresses and hectic lifestyles mean that we burn ourselves out quickly and our emotional and physical health become compromised.
We may be triggered into a fight or flight stress response more often than we think. Parts of our bodies contract as we adopt defensive postures, our breathing gets quicker, and our digestive systems shut down. Our immune systems also become compromised and we struggle to think clearly when in 'survival mode'. CST can help us shift into a more relaxed state of being where we can start to function more optimally on every level.
Craniosacral Therapy is suitable for all ages, and it can be used for specific conditions or equally as a maintenance treatment to help keep the system oriented towards health.
What is Craniosacral Therapy and how did it emerge?
Craniosacral Therapy has its roots in the work of William Garner Sutherland, who in the early 1900s, observed the cranial bones had a very subtle motion and that the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes our brains and nervous systems has its own pulse, and is essential to maintaining our health. John Upledger went on to develop techniques for working with these pulses and coined the term ‘craniosacral system’.
Modern Craniosacral Therapists work with releasing stored tension, stresses and traumas from the client’s system as a whole.
What happens during a session?
During a treatment, a case history is taken and the therapist will usually treat you on a massage table or chair fully clothed. Gentle hand-holds are carried out on the body, and sensations such as heat, cold, tingling or gentle movements may be felt by the client as the body responds to the therapist's touch.
All therapists work differently, but they use a variety of light-touch handholds on the body and the skull. They may pick up tension, restrictions or distortions in the client's physical and emotional systems, all of which may be indicative of ill health or a lack of well-being. These restrictions are gently helped to release, allowing the body to find its way back to wholeness, balance and its potential for full health.
A course of treatments may be needed depending on the condition being sought relief for. Many people also choose to have regular sessions for maintenance or to avoid getting to the point of feeling overwhelmed and stressed in the first place.
Who is Craniosacral Therapy for?
Different people make use of Craniosacral Therapy in different ways.
Craniosacral Therapy is suitable for all ages from babies to the elderly due to its gentle nature and profound effects.
It’s used by all sorts of people: celebrities, lawyers, actors, bankers, NHS staff, athletes, children, babies and the elderly all enjoy the effects of Craniosacral Therapy.
What makes Craniosacral Therapy special?
Craniosacral Therapy is often referred to as the crème de la crème of therapies as it works on every level: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, and can enable the client to access very deep parts of themselves. It can be intuitive work and clients will often leave the session feeling ‘heard’ in ways it can be hard to achieve with other therapies.
What research is there about Craniosacral Therapy?
In association with Meningitis Now, the CSTA is conducting a study into the impact of Craniosacral Therapy as a complementary therapy for those experiencing the distressing after-effects of viral meningitis. Common after-effects of viral meningitis include exhaustion, headaches, memory loss, anxiety, depression and dizziness/ balance problems. As antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, treatment is limited to symptom relief.
Recent studies, along with research by Meningitis Now, suggest that Craniosacral Therapy could be beneficial to many people suffering the after-effects; research outcomes will be published in due course.
The CSTA have also collaborated with the University of Warwick to create a research tool that will be of public health interest.
Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown of the University of Warwick says: "It has been a pleasure to work with the CSTA to further our understanding of the ways in which CST benefits health and wellbeing, and to develop the Warwick Holistic Health Questionnaire (WHHQ). This scale will enable robust studies of the effectiveness of CST and other complementary and alternative approaches because it captures key outcomes other scales of health and wellbeing do not cover."
This is a very exciting time for Craniosacral therapists to have a tool to use to measure the effectiveness of CST with their patients. Lulu Ferrand, CSTA Chair, states: “complementary therapies have become a popular choice for people to use to enhance their wellbeing. It was therefore appropriate for the CSTA to invest in research to create a holistic wellbeing tool that will help to evaluate the benefits of CST.”