Over the last couple of decades, our family ethics and habits have undergone a sea change. Thanks to technology which has helped us transition from an active lifestyle to a passive one, an intensively-mobile lifestyle to a sedentary one, a hard lifestyle to a convenient one. I mean literally thanks to tech! Having said that, a couple of decades back, when our parents were our age, they sat together at the dining table at a stipulated time to have dinner , which probably was one of the healthiest lifestyle habits one could have (though there still are a lot of people who still follow this, and kudos to them!) However, with the advent of portable, flat-screen televisions backed by a surge in crazy level entertainment stuff to watch, our TVs have now shifted from dining rooms to our bedrooms, compromising on the super 'sitting-together' habit, and replaced it with watching-TV-and-eating-food habit. A good habit has been knocked off by a bad habit, all thanks to our disposition to make life more convenient. We have all become susceptible to this tech-change, including me. Not that I am against tech but couple this with some other bad habits, and voila! a whole plethora of health problems arise.
One of the pillars on which the foundation of our health rests is getting enough rest and sleep, allowing the body to do a host of functions, that the body is supposed to do, essential for health and vitality. We all are aware of the benefits of exercise but are oblivious to the importance of sleep and rest. We are all so caught up in our daily rigmarole, that we have forgotten the importance of poise in our life, and that's precisely what I'd like to bring out from this blog post.
Our mobility causes the muscle fibers to undergo microscopic wear and tear. Moreover, if you do gym, or jog or dance, or even go for that causal stroll in your society's garden, that exerts even more demand on those fibers, than your usual daily rush. In short, whatever form of exercise or activity you pursue i.e. running, swimming, the trending cult-fit, aerobics, pilates, Zumba, dance, yoga, golf, sports, bodybuilding et al in all these activities your muscle fibers (and yes, I mean muscle) go through wear and tear. This happens irrespective of your age and irrespective of what you do. But it isn't that these muscles are lost. The old microscopic fibers get replaced with new ones. This happens when you rest and when you eat. This constitutes the basic process of recovery. Or in layman's terms , this is your body's way to adapt. It is this power of adaptation or recovery that causes a bodybuilder to keep pushing his weightlifting limit. It is this power of recovery that causes runners to run ever greater distances. It is this ability of your body that records are set and records are broken.
But because of the shift in our habits and activities, this function gets hampered. Even though we only try to catch up on our sleep when we are done with absolutely everything in our daily life that needs to be possibly done, there are some essential tenets that you need to keep in mind when it comes to getting good sleep. Below I bring out a few vital ones, to help you understand the importance of it in the domain of a healthy lifestyle.
Tenet #1 - Avoid late-night TV
Ever heard of the biological clock? If no, then ever experienced the jet-lag while you travel cross country, especially from East to West or vice-versa? Or ever heard someone say "aah.. my body-clock has altered!" As much as you may think of it to be just a phrase or a form of expression, it in fact has a lot of biological truth attached to it.
Enter the suprachiasmatic nucleus! or SCN. This is a small structure that sits inside the hypothalamus of the brain and closely communicates with the optic nerves and other brain parts of the brain, like the pineal gland. Your eyes tell whether it is day or night, triggering the SCN to tell the pineal gland to secrete the desired hormones. Going late into the night or staying up late has exactly the same effect as the 'jet lag' caused due to time difference resulting in an alteration of the biological clock. Once it is night, the SCN triggers the pineal gland to secrete a sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin. But if you plan to stay up late and gorge on a Netflix series or a Prime flick late till the wee hours of the morning, this melatonin-secretion process gets halted, instead, stress-hormones like catecholamines get released. This is your body's response to fight-or-flight mode, adding the obvious unknown unfelt stress to your body, hampering the fat metabolism process.
Bye-bye fat loss, and hi, weight gain!
Tenet #2 - No alcohol at night
Becoming a more convenience-driven society and with the number of double-income households seeing an exponential surge (economically for the right reasons), we have seen an obvious increase in eating out and a decrease in cooking at home. Naturally due to work stress, odd timings at the office, boss leaving late and holding back his entire team, last-minute meetings, late-night submission deadlines et al, it certainly is hell for humans to then find the time for the task of eating a nice home-cooked meal. That becomes the last priority but that's okay. However, this has lured us towards eating all sorts of crap at odd night hours and if we eat out, why not take a drink? Alcohol at night, though it helps you pass out thinking that it triggers a good sleep, instead it actually prevents you from falling into, what is known as deep restorative sleep. The deep restorative sleep, or the natural sleep that, you experience, waking up fresh the next day, is the sleep in which the body's repair and restoration functions happen, and that is what we must aim at.
IGF or Insulin Growth Factor is a hormone that gets secreted when we are in a deep restorative sleep. This hormone is responsible for repair and nutrient absorption in the body while in sleep. As I mentioned earlier, nighttime causes your SCN to trigger the pineal gland to secrete melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone but alcohol interferes in that process too. Not only that it also interferes with the secretion of serotonin and tryptophan, hormones that give you the 'peace and happy' feeling.
If you are planning to lead a healthy life and pursuing some form of exercise, alcohol adversely interferes with your stamina and endurance. If you are a swimmer, alcohol will mess with your stamina, and you will surely find yourself stuck midway in the pool, gasping for breath. If you are a tennis player, your endurance will go for a toss, forget about playing a full set then.
Tenet #3 - Skip the sweets or caffeine at night
Traditionally in households, if you have observed, after a nice sumptuous dinner, you will find one saying "Let us have something sweet, please?" or "What's for dessert?" Eating sweets, desserts or any stimulant like tea or coffee or that coffee liqueur at night has a direct impact on disturbed sleep by lowering the levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA - responsible for reducing adrenaline and increasing serotonin and dopamine. This reduction in peace and calm-inducing hormones, obviously has the anti-effect of an increase in agitation levels, hampering recovery, deep sleep leading even to anxiety or depression.
Tenet #4 - Sorry, but there is no sleep compensation
An umpteen number of times I have heard people say "Damn this week I have been really busy, I'll be sleeping on the weekend only" but let me break it to you that there is no such thing as sleep compensation. You cannot compensate for lost sleep and hence its lost benefits. Your sleep should be natural and regular. If you are able to sleep as soon as you get to bed, you have that power so use it wisely.
Tenet #5 - A timely sleep is the best form of sleep
See how complicated the functioning of our body is, right with all these hormones and their inter-connectivity with what we do and don't do? Staying up late into the night, or avoiding sleeping timely activates our hunger hormones or ghrelin too. Leptin hormone production is hampered which gives us an 'okay we are full!" signal and that satiated feeling, but when we are hungry ghrelin is secreted causing our brain to trigger us to take action to eat something. Going late into the night has just that effect and you reach out to grabbing a bite late into the night. Obviously, if you stay up late you will feel hungry. Hence all this leads to conditions of chronic incessant eating and obesity.
Some points to sleep on!
In this fast age, it's become ever more imperative to not underestimate the plethora of benefits a good timely sleep can have on you. Just, to name a few, good sleep helps in:
Regulation and improvement in metabolism,
Regulation in the working of hormones efficiently,
Glowing skin, lustrous hair (Ladies, please re-read this!)
Lean Body Weight,
Regulating fat metabolism and fat loss,
Improving immunity levels
Protection against various lifestyle disorders like anxiety, depression, obesity, and the likes.
Anti-aging (believe it or not, yeah!)
Identification of sleep patterns and re-adjusting the lifestyle is an ongoing process which one needs to be at… constantly. An interesting way to deal, and become more mindful of our habits is to play a game of 12-questions with yourself as below. If this is a bad habit that you are dealing with, maybe it's time you would need to think through all of them and express yourself to yourself.
What time do I usually sleep? Is it late and can I sleep early?
What time do I usually wake up?
How many hours of sleep on average do I get?
How do I feel during the day?
How are my energy levels?
How do I usually feel when I wake up?
Am I looking for a coffee or a chai 'kick' throughout the day?
What do I usually do when I stay up late? Am I doing something productive or wasting time watching too much TV?
Can I make my nocturnal activities time-bound? (like one-hour of watching TV and off! It's not like you do not know when that cool flick will be aired again on Star Movies next when you are sitting in the age of Netflix. You can start from where you had left!)
How do I feel during the night hours, post-dinner, while I am engaged in doing some meaningless activity late into the night?
Do I keep flipping channels mindlessly, coz I am unable to decide what to watch, and as a result land up wasting way too much time?
Do I feel regret if I sleep late at night the next day?
To conclude if you intend to look good, feel good, stay healthy, feel energetic, be more focused in life, then sleep right and sleep tight.
None. Oh! actually only one - that's my dog Simba. He's a Frenchie and it's his birthday today :) You can follow him, if you like, on insta here.