sleep health

Five Bedtime Habits For a Long and Happy Life

Across Fitter Food we’re often talking about daily habits that support your health goals, including batch cooking, walking and exercise, it might surprise you to know how you end your day is also really significant. Overnight we build lean body mass and repair, in fact our immune system really works it’s magic whilst we sleep. There are a number of steps you can easily implement alongside putting on your favourite Pj’s that will support a good night’s sleep and allow your body to complete it’s task list of essential chores. Check em out:

1. Brush and Floss Your Teeth

Matt Whitmore PumpedDespite being told this since you were a kid it turns out this is actually more significant than perhaps you initially realised.  If bacteria are able to colonise and cause infection of the soft tissues and bones, this not only causes the need for invasive surgery like root canal or the removal of teeth, there are also key links between gum disease and type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimers disease. One of the mechanisms is thought to be the chronic inflammatory response initiated by the infection in the gums but it’s also considered to be two-way interaction as addressing the risk factors for chronic diseases like smoking, alcohol consumption and balancing blood sugar levels decreases the progress of tooth decay, gum disease and supports the healing and improvement of dental health.

The problem, as I highlighted to Matt recently, is that we often brush our teeth at the two times in the day we’re most tired and therefore perhaps don’t do a decent enough job. I always recommend using an electric toothbrush to clients as it will often do a better job and many have timers to make sure you brush for a decent period of time. Also brushing your teeth around an hour after dinner can help prevent late night snacking (see point 3) and you’re not quite half asleep yet so will be more thorough. I also recommend flossing 3-4 times a week and using a good quality natural mouthwash and toothpaste. We use brands like Nature’s Answer, Jason Powersmile, Green People and Kingfisher. Many folks now make their own with charcoal, coconut oil and bicarbonate of soda, there’s a recipe here if you fancy having a go.

As well as the obvious avoidance of excessive amounts of sugary liquids and foods looking after your vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K2, calcium and magnesium intake is also important for dental health.

2. Turn Down the Lights

IMG_1451When it comes to securing a good night’s sleep the light environment and choice of stimulus prior to heading to bed has an impact on the ease and quality of your sleep. Light exposure influences the production of your sleep hormone melatonin and calming neurotransmitters like GABA. Together these help us to switch off, wind down and fall asleep, they receive cues from our environment. Light in particular influences the process, the less artificial light we’re exposed too the more melatonin levels will increase, this is why it’s helpful to get off your phone, laptop, tablet and avoid watching TV too late, many of these things are also causing a degree of stimulation to the mind preventing us from fully relaxing and turning off our chattering minds.

We have salt lamps and candles in the evening and blue light blocking glasses as we live in a brightly lit block and have to let the dog out late at night. Equally to keep your melatonin secretion in a healthy cycle try and expose yourself to daylight as soon as you can in the morning, you may wish to try using a light box in winter.

3. Stop Eating

Matt eating chocolateWe’ve discouraged late night eating for years to anyone with a fat loss goal to help them balance their blood sugar levels overnight and get a better night’s sleep. Another reason is the food choices people make late in the evening are unlikely to be celery sticks and humous, it’s often just mindless snacking on processed foods simply out of habit rather than need. However, I was really pleased to hear similar recommendations are now being made for the prevention of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimers. Many doctors are emphasising the importance of a 12 hour fast overnight which is easily done if you stop eating a couple of hours before you go to bed and wait a while for breakfast. Fasting overnight has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect as the immune system is able to get to work taking care of infections and repairing damage. It creates a healthy cycle too as the fasting and good quality sleep improve sensitivity to the hormone insulin a key step in reversing and lowering your risk of each of these diseases.

4. Have a “Cug” and A Kiss

photo 1-3That’s not a typo btw I call them cuddles but Matt prefers the more manly ‘hug’ so we compromise on a daily “cug.” There are so many wonderful studies coming out about how the human body benefits from physical contact and friendly company, dogs are included here too which is why we recommend getting one to keep you accountable. Hugs and cuddles genuinely help to improve your mood, encourages the release of hormones like oxytocin (known as the cuddle hormone) but interestingly your immune system really benefits too. Firstly, when you’re in good company you feel safe and your body actively lowers pro-inflammatory mechanisms but also the contact allows you to transfer and expose yourself to different types of bacteria that like to reside with in your mouth, gut, skin, nose and toes. The more snuggling you do with your loved ones it appears the more diverse and healthy the balance of bacteria across your body becomes. It’s estimated a 10 second kiss transfers around 80 million bacteria so don’t forget to make it part of your night time routine, never be too busy for a kiss and a cug.

5. Read A Book

IMG_9709Slowly becoming a forgotten past time as we prefer to thumb scroll and watch videos, with so many options to entertain ourselves we’re slowly losing the ability to focus on one thing and all starting to suffer from some form of attention spread disorder. I make a concerted effort to read ideally something not work related if possible before bed, it’s still the most wonderful way to detach from your daily stresses and appreciate the art of storytelling by hanging out in someone else’s imagination.

Many studies support the fact reading offers us health benefits too by training functions and areas of the brain not used when we’re operating technical gadgets. In a study carried out by Emory University, MRI scans showed on subjects showed how reading stories reconfigures brain networks for a few days. Researcher Dr. Gregory Berns concluded that stories stay with us and have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains.

Furthermore, research conducted by the University of Sussex concluded that just six minutes of reading was enough to observe a reduction in heart rate and muscle tension in stressed individuals.  They estimated reading could reduce stress levels by up to 68% followed by listening to music 61%, drinking coffee 54% (decaf at night of course!) and a walk 42%.

Keeping a good book on my bedside table helps keep me accountable 🙂