Category: Wellness

Sleep: The Foundation of Life

2019 is ramping up to be the “year of healthy” for many people. With modern science, a plethora of information at our fingertips, and a better understanding for the need to take care of ourselves people are buying up the latest gadgets, apps, and anything else they can get their hands on. But, the foundation of a healthy, happy lifestyle might be a lot easier than any of us expected: begin with sleep. Sleep is the baseline for a lot of aspects we want to improve on including our personal life, professional life, and our bodies. As the world becomes more connected and our lives more hectic, we are at a height of sleep deprivation as a society globally and it only seems like it’s going to get worse.

So, why is sleep so important?

Weight loss

Sleep plays an important role in weight loss. First, proper sleep gives the energy needed during the day to be active. Often when people feel sluggish or tired they are less likely to work out or keep their routines. Insufficient sleep can also disrupt hormone production. In this case, specifically ghrelin and leptin which are both related to appetite. Simply put, ghrelin is linked to the feeling of hunger while leptin makes us feel satiated and poor sleep increases ghrelin levels while lowering leptin. This can be where midnight munchies kick in—staying up late can lead us to eating more and later than we normally would. It’s not too hard to see how those hormone level changes along with lack of exercise could inhibit weight loss goals, so save the snacks and get those 8 hours of sleep in.

The Brain

For the brain, sleep does a number of things. A person’s memory and processing may improve with proper sleep and it gives the brain a chance to clean itself. Reaction time, cognitive abilities, and mood are seriously affected by sleep deprivation. A person’s ability to handle stress diminishes without sleep and are at risk for increased likelihood of anxiety and depression. Traffic incidents increase around daylight savings time when drivers lose an hour of sleep so their alertness, reaction, and overall cognitive functions are impaired.

The Body

Sleep doesn’t just affect us mentally but also physically. After a really good workout, despite how energetic a person might have been during it, the body gets sore. Exercise creates micro-tears that lead to the forming of more muscle which leads to our soreness sometimes days after. While there’s a few ways to help with that delayed onset muscle soreness—stretching, ice baths, epsom salts, etc—sleep helps with that healing process. For any injury or sickness, rest is extremely important in the body’s recovery process. There’s a number of things going on for the body while you sleep but growth hormones and prolactin, an anti-inflammatory, is released during deep sleep. Research has also shown that a person’s sensitivity to pain and sleep have an inverse relationship, meaning the less sleep a person gets the more pain they may experience.

The Organs

This is a separate topic from the body because the organs deserve their own spotlight. Sleep’s reach and effect on all parts of a person is astounding. Insufficient sleep is associated with poor cholesterol and blood pressure levels thus increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease. Like bad accidents during daylight savings times, heart attacks and strokes increase during that time as well. Some research shows multi-organ injury through successive sleep deprivation, which is a common problem in society and may explain chronic disease increases. Cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, is regulated by the adrenal gland which can be disrupted by inadequate sleep. Cortisol controls a number of things in the body so when there’s too much of it problems can arise such as headaches, memory issues, trouble sleeping, weight gain, anxiety, depression, heart disease, and blood sugar issues. There’s also some research that suggests poor quality sleep could lead to an increased risk of certain cancers. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and may suppress tumor growth.

Skin and Hair

Beauty sleep isn’t just a saying. A restful night does wonders for the face and hair. Bags under the eyes is one of the more obvious signs of poor sleep but wrinkles and a dull complexion are also key indications. Collagen is produced while sleeping which can prevent wrinkles and even just 5 hours of sleep can make skin drier making fine lines more noticeable. Blood flow is increased during a long slumber giving a glowing complexion and stronger, fuller hair. Cortisol, the stress hormone mentioned earlier, can cause hair to fall out! A full night sleep is crucial for healthy skin, hair, and nails.

This only scratches the surface of the benefits of restful sleep and the pitfalls of sleep deprivation. It is critically important to everyone’s health to do their best to get enough sleep. It can be difficult in this ever-busy and connected world, and there’s no replacement for a full night of sleep, but a nap can offer some benefits as well. It’s also important to remember, there is no such thing as “catching up on sleep”; once it’s lost, it’s gone. Set a bedtime and get in those ZZZs.

We wish you all a good night’s sleep!

A Heart Healthy Diet

fruit, watermelon heart cutoutFebruary is American Heart Month. The heart is the pump that keeps the body going. It has physical and emotional meanings for us so it’s important to take care of it. There’s also reason to believe that preventing heart disease may help with preventing dementia. A great way to take care of the heart is to be conscious of what we’re eating. These are some tips for a heart-healthy diet.

Fiber. It’s not the most glamorous aspect of nutrition but it’s extremely important for everyone. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to make sure you’re getting enough daily. Not only does it help keep you regular but it also helps lower your LDL – the bad cholesterol. For adult women aim for about 28g and adult men should get about 34g of fiber. These amounts can vary with age.

Fats. Not all fats are created equal. There are three types: saturated, unsaturated (mono- and poly-), and trans fatty acids. Opt for unsaturated fats like canola, peanut, and olive. These types of fats are less likely to clog your arteries compared to butter and lard. Omega-3 fatty acids, notably found in fish, are thought to help in several ways like clearing plaque in arteries and lowering blood pressure. Avoid trans fats as best you can. These have been shown to have negative effects on the body especially in terms of cardiovascular health. It is not found much in natural food, presenting mostly in processed foods, which, many dieticians can agree aren’t very good for you anyway.

Speaking of processed foods. Here it is again: Reduce the amount of processed foods you consume. Not just for the trans fats but the amounts of salt and sugar can be problematic. Keep an eye on nutrition labels to keep within recommended levels.  When cooking, try using seasonings to flavor foods instead of adding salt. The case for sugar alternatives is long and complicated, so be mindful of how much you consume in general.

Manage portion sizes. How much you eat is just as important as what you’re eating. Excessive calorie intake can lead to weight gain which can lead to stresses on the heart. Actual serving sizes of foods may change depending on diet needs but it’s important to get the appropriate amount of sustenance. It may be a good idea to limit the consumption of red and processed meats while making sure to eat 3.5oz serving of fish twice a week. And be sure to get at least 5 cups of fruit and vegetables daily! Food diaries are popular for those looking to track their nutritional intake and it’s even easier with the growing number of apps available.

Don’t forget to exercise! Diet and exercise go hand in hand for living a heart-healthy lifestyle. Getting the blood pumping has many heart benefits like raising the “good” cholesterol, managing blood sugar, and keeping weight in check. 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise is a good starting point but always talk to your doctor before starting a new workout regime.

Quit smoking. There’s no way around it and you’ve probably seen it everywhere. All the hard work done through diet and exercise could be negated by smoking tobacco. Quitting may be even better than any heart drug on the market and it decreases your chance of dying from heart disease by 33%.

There are no shortcuts to health so it’s important to keep up with a healthy lifestyle. There is never a bad time to start but there may certainly be benefits to sooner rather than later. Let now be the time you take your health and your life in your hands.

Happy heart day!

Hygge: Find Your Coziness

hygge: creating togetherness with others

Think about the last time you were wrapped in a blanket drinking a cup of hot cocoa as a snowstorm rages on outside. Or cuddling on the sofa with a loved one as you watched the latest blockbuster. Or the joy of having a summer-time barbecue with your friends. What do these have in common? How do these things make you feel? The Danish would call these things hygge.

 

Hygge
HEW-gə

Hygge is a concept deeply rooted deep in Danish culture. It’s hard to give it a direct translation but a popular one is ‘cozy’. It’s more about a feeling or atmosphere than anything in particular. To be hygge or hyggelig (hygge-like), it’s about creating comfort and safety. There’s often a togetherness aspect of spending time with family and close friends. Enjoying coffee together, eating a meal and having conversations, playing games, all these things are considered hygge. Hygge is often thought of as candles, cozy sweaters, and fuzzy socks – and it is (per person Denmark uses the most candles compared to any other nation) – but it is so much more and it is what each person makes it to be. Popular hyggelig activities include cooking together and enjoying the meal, making homemade sweets or treats to share with friends, or even watching a movie at someone’s house. Anything that creates togetherness or homeyness. While hygge often centers around creating intimacy with others but it can also be enjoyed alone. Enjoy a book with coffee, sit outside with the sun warming your face, or whip up your favorite comfort food. Whatever lets you feel grounded, connected, comforted, and safe – that is hygge.

hygge: fire, cocoa, and slippersThe Danes have been developing hygge since the 18th century when the word first appeared. It is thought that it may have come from the Norwegian word hugga which means, “to comfort” and where the English word “hug” is derived from. This concept of coziness and self-kindness envelopes their way of life. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that they consistently rank as one of the happiest countries in the world.

What’s important is that hygge isn’t a new set of rules to add to your life. It’s really about giving yourself a break. So to start, put the phone down and slow down for a second. A huge part of hygge is not just being present but appreciating and living in the moment. Enjoy a cup of coffee with friends or a co-worker. Have a slice of cake or that piece of chocolate. Drink tea while reading a book in a comforting corner. A hygge life is about little indulgences that let you escape from the busy day or stress, not bingeing or being gluttonous. Balance.

hygge: pools of light and plants

While indulging in that extra sweet or taking comfort in curling up makes hygge seem like an indoor activity it works outside as well. The Scandinavian countries experience a lot of darkness during the winter months and the weather isn’t always pleasant but that doesn’t stop them from getting outside or exercising. They don’t believe in bad weather, just unsuitable clothes. Partaking in outdoor activities that you enjoy is also hygge, especially if you do it with friends or family. Walk the dog, play games while waiting for the barbecue, enjoy a picnic. At this point I’m sure you’ve noticed the trend, almost anything can be hyggelig and it isn’t confined to a particular definition. You can enjoy it indoors or outdoors and it is all year round.

Meik Wiking, author of The Little Book of Hygge and the CEO at The Happiness Research Institute, sums it all up really well in this VICE Interview:

The art of coziness that is hygge has been gaining popularity in the last few years around the world. In 2016 it was the U.K.’s second most popular word (after Brexit) and that was just the beginning of its momentum. There are Pinterest boards beyond Pinterest boards about hygge and dozens of articles like this one talking about its spectacular ability to help you find happiness. But it’s important to remember that hygge is about how things make you feel not the actual things. It isn’t about spending lots of money to buy a concept of coziness. In fact, spending lots of money isn’t hygge at all. The saying, “home is where the heart is” is related to a similar essence; “coziness is when you feel comforted” could be something to keep in mind as you create your hygge journey.

What makes you happy? How can you incorporate self-kindness into your life? What is cozy to you?

Discover your hygge.