So What About Sleep?

Sleep is an essential part of our bodily function but largely the details of the process remain a mystery to science. What we do know is that sleep is necessary for rejuvenation and repair at cellular level and curiously sleep is where we ‘solidify and consolidate our memories’. The brain having time to process all the information it has absorbed throughout our day, while tissues are repairing, hormones are synthesizing and the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system come into play. Thank goodness the body has this time to concentrate fully on all these mammoth tasks at hand without the interruption of the thousands of exciting stimuli we are exposed to every day!

 

The hormone Melatonin is produced in your brain by the pineal gland and it is responsible for our drop in activity and want for rest. Typically around 9pm melatonin levels rise in the body and we feel less alert. During the daytime those levels of melatonin in the body are only just traceable. Melatonin is necessary for sleep. [1]

 

There has been talk by the UK sleep expert Dr Chris Idzikowski of ‘Junk Sleep’ an expression used to detail sleep that is preluded by the use of entertainment gadgets such as smartphones, televisions and tablets. The use of such devices in the bedroom, before sleep is scientifically proven to interfere with not only the production of Melatonin and in turn our bodies body clock. The result is simply poor quality of sleep. Television is less likely to have such an effect but is still considered by experts a poor prelude to our bedtime. The statistics? Well taken from research conducted by The Sleep Council from a sample of 5004 participants 39% of those who watch television in bed sleep very poorly most nights, as do 16% of those who check their emails before going to sleep.[2]

So what is a better alternative? The most popular pre-sleep activity for this sample group is book reading with 41% of people reporting this as their nightly routine. Of nightly routine, if we have trouble sleeping one of the best ways in which we can get on course is to adhere to a regular bedtime. The Sleep council have examined bedtimes and found that the most popular time to go to bed is between 10pm-11pm. Women tend to go to bed earlier than men, couples on average tend to go to bed earlier than singles and income levels also impact on bedtime; those who earn less than £15,000 a year are likely to hit the hey after midnight along with those who are unemployed.

The relationship between earnings and sleep is an interesting one, The Sleep Council found that those on higher incomes report better sleep; “with more than a third (34%) of those earning £65,000-£75,000 sleep very well, while 10% of those earning less than £15,000 sleep very poorly. In addition, 8% of those who don’t work sleep very poorly most nights”[3]

Could this be linked to stress? Well that is what seems obvious as the factors that tend to keep us awake at night include: stress and worry, partners in the bed, illness and children. [4]

“With Britain in the grip of serious economic downturn, it is little wonder than many of us are too anxious to sleep. Government cuts and widespread redundancies have affected many families and almost half of Britons now say that stress or worry keeps them awake at night (47%)”[5]

I will leave you with a link to The Sleep Council’s Research as there is great deal of interesting information to be read and the reading of this report has been the basis of my article. If you are one of those who suffer with poor sleep there is in fact many things that you can do in order to help get a good night’s rest. Interestingly our sleeping environment is often overlooked with only 1 in 10 people believing room temperature could have an impact on sleep quality and a mere 8% believing that clearing clutter could also be a valuable consideration.[6]

What The Sleep Council haven’t explored but the International Journal of Neuroscience did explore is that massage has a positive impact on sleep and serotonin levels (serotonin being intrinsic to the production of melatonin). [7]

In addition The National Institute of Health has also advised that massage can ‘reduce fatigue and improve sleep’.[8]

Good quality sleep is crucial to our wellbeing. Our energy levels govern our mood, our ability to make decisions and even how salubrious these decisions are. Poor sleep and poor energy levels may in fact encourage poor diet 5 and reduce our reaction times. Can you improve your quality of sleep? Do you feel that you sleep enough? What do you do before bed and what are your first thoughts when you wake up in the morning? These are all important considerations for not just a healthy body, but also a healthy mind. A dear friend of mine ensures that every night and every morning, without fail they give thanks and gratitude for what the day has given to them and asks for guidance throughout their day; to stay safe, to choose the best path and so enjoy their self and be kindest to others around them. How do you start your day?

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning some facts on sleep and taken from this a moment to consider some of your patterns and lifestyle habits. I am always biased, but if you haven’t had a massage or in fact not treated your mind and body to some well deserved relaxation perhaps it is time to make a change. 

Finally a really important point that I didn’t pick out from The Great British Bedtime Report is that those who exercise report better levels of sleep than those who don’t. So keep moving everybody! Exercise is undeniably great for our overall health but so too is sleep! Remember to look after your body as it is constantly working to look after you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

[1] Available at: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/melatonin-and-sleep (Accessed 28.04.18)

[2] The Sleep Council (2013) The Great British Bedtime Report. Available at: https://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/The-Great-British-Bedtime-Report.pdf (Accessed 28.04.2018)

[3] The Great British Sleep Report p8

[4] The Great British Sleep Report p 12

[5] The Great British Sleep Report p 12

[6] The Great British Sleep Report p 25 & 26

[7] 3. Cutler N; Insomnia, Serotonin and Massage; Institute for Integrative Healthcare; August 19, 2005; www.integrativehealthcare.org/mt/archives/2005/08/insomnia_seroto.html

[8] Krible.K: Massage Therapy for a better Night’s Sleep; May 23, 2014 in Sleep Review Magazine; Available at: http://www.sleepreviewmag.com/2014/05/massage-therapy-sleep/ (Accessed on 28.04.18)

Health in our Hands

Health and wellness is estimated to be a $3 trillion dollar market and growing (excuse the use of American statistics) and the UK is rated as 9 out of the world’s top 10 growing markets. 
 
This indicates that something is happening in the global consciousness; there’s an understanding that our health is valuable and worth investing in.  
 
Many market interests in health and wellbeing lean toward looking ‘good’ – slim, swishing sleek hair, glossy nails and the like. The narrow margins that depict body image from the mainstream media offer to us a monosyllabic and uninteresting model designed to help us buy. No one made money from telling people that they are perfect as they are.


However, there is a point to be made here – glossy hair and good nails will come with good nutrition and perhaps that is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than endless bottles of products, and who doesn’t want to feel and look good?  
 
We don’t all aspire to the same ideal when it comes to the aesthetic of the body, but where we do all find ourselves united is a wish for good health.  I recently watched a TED talk that illustrated our commonalities as humans when we escape divisions of class, age, ethnicity and gender. What we really all want is good health, friendship and prosperity.
 
So the time is ripe, with billions of us investing in our heath and well-being; I believe like many others that our health is in our own hands. 
 
Of course I do not suggest that where there’s illness there’s blame. I mean that we have the choice to decide how we nourish our bodies and our minds to maintain our health without becoming obsessive of course and always remembering life is to be enjoyed.
 
A recent visit to Thailand introduced me to many devote Buddhists and Taoists whose relationship to the natural world and cycles of the body inspired me greatly. Everything in life was to be understood by balance and harmony, which makes sense when we know scientifically that the body is continually in motion to find homeostasis.
 
Our massage teacher taught us that the body and the mind need to be balanced and in sweet communication with one another because the danger that comes from internal conflict both emotional and physical is illness. Why?
 
Where there’s stress there is poor health because of overworked immune systems and bodies in fight mode and this is why we get ill! 
 
It can and has been argued that we’re addicted to our ‘doing’ lifestyles and that the commodification of time is having negative consequences for us all.  We sleep on average less hours than we used to; a staggering 47% of Britons say that stress keeps them awake at night and The Sleep Council’s research tells us that only 21% of 45-54 year olds report that they sleep well. 
 
Sleep is when we rejuvenate and replenish our bodies. Good sleep is essential for good health!
 
Do we know how to relax? Do we even give ourselves permission to relax? For too many people relaxing is sitting down in front of the television. 
 
When we look at the effect on the brain this really isn’t relaxing at all.  In fact it a stimulation that only increases our metabolic production of the steroid cortisol, high levels of which can increase anxiety and depression and have other negative metabolic effects.  Not to say don’t enjoy a good box set or game show, just to say this isn’t really ‘switching off’.
 
All of this research is available, but are we paying attention?  I write this to urge everyone to listen and think; we are all different humans with different needs, desires and passions but we all need rest and good health. 
 
Do you take time to make kind decisions for your body? Do you exercise? Have you got a high quantity of processed foods in your diet? Do you make time to cook? Do you ever practise stillness?
 
You might not be able to go out and get a massage, but if you can have you ever? If you can’t ask a friend or partner who might just be able to squeeze your shoulders. Do you give and receive hugs? In the lexicon of meditation and the yogic tradition you will hear the words ‘inner smile’. Can you love yourself and your body and offer to yourself happiness.

 

Can you gift yourself free time, a hobby, a moment to breath or space?

The Meaning of Wellness

First let us look at the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of wellness - ' The state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.' and a healthcare system focused on wellness, not sickness’. Next a definition of health: 'The state of being free from illness or injury' and 'A person's mental or physical condition.'

So often we simplify our understanding of health and define it by its antithesis, to be ill. So, if we aren't 'ill' that makes us 'well'. I recently read an article that looks beyond this idea  and broadens the approach we can take towards our 'well-being', hopefully helping us to consider the choices we make and why we make them:

'Wellness is not about whether a person has a disease. It is about the internal experiences of their bodies and the ability to make constructive choices, based on their abilities to enjoy life and be well.

Wellness is that state of concern in which you are relatively invincible, nothing can ruin your day, you feel alive, vital and confident and experience a high state of well-being.' *

Understanding wellness in this perspective can open up questions about our daily lives; do we make decisions that best suit us, or are the kindest options for us? Do we choose the paths of least resistance because ease is preferable to challenge? Where is the balance in our lives? Are we satisfied by the choices that we make and do we feel assured that these choices best contribute to our individual and also the well-being of others? Hopefully, we mostly feel great, satisfied and content; grateful to ourselves for making this our regular experience.

I write this without an intention of offering answers, everyone of us will have a different set of requirements, my intention is to encourage everyone to value their bodies and minds and feel to well. You deserve to feel great most of the time, and be confident in the knowledge that it is down to the choices that you make!

Remember to give yourself space to reason and evaluate. A massage might be something that sustains personal wellness acting as a gift to the body and mind. 

Massage relaxes the central nervous system and as a result can change the hormones released in your body. Studies show that after a massage the levels of dopamine and serotonin present in the body increase, while cortisol levels decrease.*1 Our bodies operate on feedback loops and they seek experiences and products that give us releases of dopamine and serotonin but unfortunately the mind isn't always aware of the side effects. So where that sugary snack, or cigarette might reward us with that same chemical change, our body then has to work hard to detoxify. If only our minds were able to see the bigger picture! Maybe don't wait until you feel unwell to seek out remedies. Take the choice to look after yourself daily and make healthy choices. I promise you will feel good! 

Be kind. Be aware. Be well, treat yourself to the good things in life and be responsible for your own well-being. What does it mean to you? 

* Author unknown

*1 Field T1, Hernandez-Reif M, Diego M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C.'Cortisol Decreased and Serotonin and dopamine Increase Following Massage Therapy' International Journal of Neuroscience  2005 Oct;115(10):1397-413.

The Skin You're In.

When you think about your skin, what thoughts come to mind?

Do you think about its functions, its practical purposes? Do you consider your skin as an organ? I wonder, do you think about it at all?

Too often we think about blemishes, or spots, imperfections and perhaps wishe that we had a tan. Sometimes we think about the elasticity of our skin and wish it wasn’t marked or wrinkled. We are too often led into thought processes about our skin’s dysfunctions and impurities.  That’s because we usually hear about the skin from companies who make products for it, and they tend to want to help us improve it, and so we buy their products and enjoy them, and so we should, because who doesn’t want to feel fantastic and glow all over, not to mention feel silky smooth! 

However…

I’d like to tell you about your skin and all the brilliant functions it performs for your body in the hope to give your skin some credit and recognition it deserves from the perspective of a massage therapists and a body appreciator! 

We often don’t think about the skin as an organ, but it is actually the largest one of the body contributing to around 20% of our overall weight. 

What does it do then? Apart from break out in spots, or look sallow, or go saggy? Firstly, our skin is our outer most casing, so that makes it the first line of defence and response for the body; glands in our skin create natural moisturiser that protects against bacteria. Not only that but also the ph balance (the acidity) of our skin also determines the ability of bacteria to survive on it.

The billions of nerve endings nestled within allow our brains to discern hot from cold, thick from thin and rough from smooth. So, it teaches us, or allows us discern a huge amount of useful information about our surrounding environment. 

Our skin creates water resistance and it is responsible for regulating our bodies’ temperatures and its metabolism of water and salt. Think about goose bumps - did you know that technically each hair follicle has a tiny muscle that lies beneath the skin’s surface and it is responsible for lifting up the hairs on your skin to help trap in heat.

Finally, lets not forget the all important Vitamin D. Essential for our bodies – it has been a hot topic in the news of late, discussions to put into milk because we are so deficient in it. Well when the sun does shine and you are outside, it’s your skin that absorbs the sun and so starts the process of creating vitamin D.

Relax, rejuevnate & revive

Massage is a time to relax and release stress.  A time to rest.

A time to rejuvenate ­– and awake feeling treated and fresh.  Our bodies have to bear a lot of emotional and physical weight that massage can help melt away.

An opportunity to revive. We usually think about reviving the body and mind out of a state of unconsciousness.  Massage often takes us into semi-conscious tranquillity. Afterwards we find ourselves eased back to full consciousness, our senses revived and refocussed.

This place of stillness and quiet exists through massage. Our bodies possess a powerful central computer –­ the Central Nervous System.  It processes billions of signals twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year!

 

Massage engages the parasympathetic nervous system, or ‘resting system’. This is the 'mode' in which we operate during relaxed states. The effects?  The heart rate decelerates, digestive processes operate effectively as the circulation to internal organs is increased, blood pressure is lowered and breathing slows, allowing for improved absorption of oxygen. The body is given the opportunity to revive and restore itself. New cells are generated and we rejuvenate. 

Love your body. Take time. Relax. Rejuvenate. Revive. 

 

Compassion & kindness

There can be a lot of pressure at the start of the New Year....

There can be pressure to be resolute. Pressure to be a 'new you' to find 'the best of yourself' and so, we find ourselves imposing rigorous controls and expectations that can lead us to feel disappointment.

Remember to focus on your strengths and consider the things that you wouldn't want to change. Think about your strengths, consider what your friends love about you and why you love you! 

Enjoy your body, be kind and follow actions that have nourishing intentions. 

Happy New Year!