Key Definitions for Managing Stress
Oxidative stress is when free radicals, by-products from carbohydrate and fat energy production, are excessively produced. If you’ve watched a green banana ripen or sliced an apple and moments later witnessed it turn brown, then you’ve seen oxidative stress. The same process that occurs in our bodies.
Some oxidative stress actually keeps us healthy. Too much is like accumulating “rust” from the inside out. We can’t prevent all of the oxidative stress in our lives, but by adopting better behaviors, we minimize the over-production of free radicals that impact on our health.
Cut our skin and the area becomes red, swollen, and sensitive to the touch. This is our immune system at work protecting us from infection and promoting a healing response. This local immune reaction is a good thing.
Smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet, high stress, and other behavioral factors also promote an immune response. The difference in these circumstances is that the response is less obvious and more widespread throughout the body. Diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease appear to be associated with this low-grade, widespread inflammation. There may also be a connection between this type of inflammation and chronic aches and pains that make movement and exercise difficult.
Sleep is the foundation of health and stress management
If you could only have one strategy to fight the effects of oxidative stress and systemic inflammation, better sleep ranks number one. Even short-term sleep deprivation increases immune system activity that may promote body-wide inflammation. It also shifts us toward “flight or fight” making stress levels increase and reducing our ability to control inflammation. Stress hormones, like cortisol, increase fatigue and the burning of sugar for energy which, in turn, increases more oxidative stress.
While some conditions may affect our ability to sleep well, sleep quality is strongly affected by our behaviors. By following some basic principles, you’ll sleep better, move better, and get healthier.
Basic Principles of Better Sleep:
Be religious in your adherence to your sleep hygiene.
Sleeping well cannot be done once in a while and reap its benefits. Commit yourself to following these guidelines every night. Consistency is the key.
Sleep only as much as you need
More is not necessarily always better. It is possible to oversleep and make the rest of day a battle of fatigue and sleepiness. Get up at the same time of day and go to bed at the same time of night every night including weekends. [Check out How to determine your perfect amount of sleep at the end of this blog]
Associate bed with sleep and not being awake
There’s only two reasons for being in bed; sleep and sex. Avoid reading, surfing the internet, or watching TV while in bed. Do all that before you’re ready to go to sleep.
Avoid intensive exercise before bed
Exercise stimulates your “flight or fight” system and may make it harder to fall asleep or sleep deeply. Give yourself about two to four hours to calm down before planning to go to sleep after a hard workout.
Avoid stimulants like nicotine and caffeine before bed
This is obvious, but any form of tobacco or caffeine may cause stimulation and prevent falling asleep quickly. Cut off your stimulant intake by early afternoon to avoid interrupting your sleep hygiene plan. If you’re still a smoker, it’s probably time to quit.
Avoid worries before bed
Take a few moments before bed to write down a “brain dump” to get repetitive thoughts, concerns, and to-dos out of your head to avoid ruminating thoughts while trying to fall asleep.
If you can’t fall asleep in 30 minutes get up
Staying in bed when you can’t sleep not only creates the association with being awake in bed but leads to frustration and greater difficulty falling asleep. Get up and read, meditate, or just practice some progressive relaxation. When you begin to feel sleepy, head back to bed.
Create a good sleep environment
Keep your room slightly cool (60-68 degrees Fahrenheit appears to be best) and as dark as you can get it. Keep your hands and feet warm. Some people like total silence and some prefer some “white noise” to promote sleep. I personally just use an oscillating fan to block out any random sounds in the night.
Avoid alcohol before bed
Drinking before bed may make you fall asleep faster, but you’ll sacrifice essential REM sleep (
Get regular sunlight exposure
Sunlight helps keep your circadian rhythm, your internal biological clock, on track for a normal 24-hour cycle promoting optimal metabolism and better sleep. Aim for 20-30 minutes of sunlight as early in the morning as possible.
Avoid blue light before bed
Natural sunlight and most forms of artificial light including computer screens and cell phones contain blue light. The blue light portion of the visible light spectrum is believed to influence your circadian rhythm and let you know that it’s daytime. Once it gets dark, the lack of light lets the brain know that it’s time to get ready to sleep. If you spend time in front of small screens, watch TV, or spend time in a well-lighted room, you may prevent the natural hormonal release that can help you fall asleep faster. If you must work on your computer before bed, consider installing an app called f.lux that will filter out the blue light from your computer screen as the sun sets. If you are an Apple user, the night shift setting works similarly to f.lux.
How to determine your perfect amount of sleep
Enforce an absolute wake time. Do not change it no matter what regardless of the day of the week including weekends.
Don’t go to bed until your feel tired.
Eventually you’ll get sleepier earlier.
Do not nap during the day.
Over a period of days, you’ll establish your optimal bed time.
You may find that you battle some sleepiness during the day initially, but it will be worth it when you finally establish your perfect amount of sleep.
*References available in All Gain, No Pain