Chances are good you’re not at peak health right now.
Maybe you’re recovering from the stressful, cookie-infused, exercise-less holiday season, or maybe you even caught something from all the hugging, kissing and handshakes at family gatherings.
Jim Readey, owner of the Yoga Center, shares his tips on how to get better sleep, and Dr. Benjamin Chan, physician and state epidemiologist, has advice on how to avoid getting ill this winter.
Jim Readey, who will host a workshop on getting more sleep at the Concord Co-op in late January called “A Better Night’s Sleep (The Art of Deep Relaxation),” suffered from insomnia for decades. His biggest issue was falling asleep, which could take an hour, sometimes longer. It had enormous impact on his well-being.
“Sleep is one of the most basic needs for our balanced health. We have to have nutrition, exercise, shelter, and we need rest,” he said via phone. “It’s one of the building blocks of health.”
He found things changed when he began yoga about 25 years ago due to the practices involved, like deep breathing.
“If you go to sleep with quick, shallow breaths in a flight-or-fight manner, it will keep your nervous system on edge. If you learn to breathe more slowly, you’re going to enter into sleep more peacefully,” Readey said.
Learning to detach from thoughts using meditation techniques also helped.
“Most of us in our culture have wired our brains to be problem-solving machines,” Readey said. “Our brain is trying to locate the problem or issue and then resolve it. And that’s not a bad thing, but the problem is, we can’t shut it off.”
Other ways to get better sleep at night, he said, include cutting down on sugary foods, caffeine and alcohol just before bedtime. All activate your brain and can cause shallower sleep.
“[Alcohol] might help people fall asleep initially, but they tend to sleep at a shallower level and wake up more easily at night,” Readey said. “It will generally mess up your natural sleep patterns. You might have a short-term gain but it will have some detrimental side effects.”
Your actions throughout the rest of the day can affect your sleep too.
“If you’re not getting physical exercise during the day, the body will have this excess energy at night,” Readey said. “If we exercise on a regular basis, then the body is going to feel more at ease when it comes time to get into bed and go to sleep.”
Did you spend some time on the computer or watching TV just before bed? That can ruin sleep too.
“With TV, your mind is reacting to everything you’re watching on television,” Readey said. “People are in fight-or-flight breathing when we’re on the computer, whether we know it or not.”
If you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, he advised refraining from turning bright lights on if possible.
“As people get older, people start waking up earlier or in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. They have a hard time going back to sleep,” he said. “When you turn on the lights, it gets the brain to think it’s time to get up.”
Get sick less
Naturally, one of the best, easiest ways prevent illness — at least one kind of illness — is to get the flu shot.
“It remains the best way to not get infected from the flu, which tends to be more serious than the common cold, anyway, which is another reason to try to get vaccinated,” Chan said via phone.
The common cold, however, has no vaccination, and it often creeps in during winter months due to more time indoors, which means more contact with people and possibilities for contamination. The best way to avoid these colds is to prevent the spread of germs. Don’t sneeze into your hand — sneeze into your elbow or into a tissue. Wash your hands regularly. If you do get sick, stay at home to get rest and drink plenty of fluids.
“A lot of the [advice] tends to be pretty routine,” Chan said. “There’s not much that’s new or surprising for a lot of people. It tends to be the common-sense approach.”