Self Care: Sleep Matters

Mother sleeping

 

You keep your family functional through your strength, your health, your happiness and mood, and your focus. The one most important thing you can do to take care of yourself, the one thing that all other self care builds on, is getting enough sleep. Putting on your own oxygen mask first starts with sleep.

It’s so simple!

Sort of. Tough for a young mother but simple in theory.

You probably remember when it was easy to stay up all night and keep going the next day. That was before you had responsibilities for others, children to care for, and a long list of tasks you just have to get done every day. If you go without sleep now, you don’t feel your best the next day. A study of doctors showed that, when fatigued, their performance was comparable to having 3-4 cocktails.

Lack of sleep leaves you impaired with slower reaction times. This does not help your family. Beyond the immediate effects of impaired judgment, lack of sleep triggers health effects: lower immunity, metabolism changes (weight gain), and even more serious disease. This is just the beginning.

Abusing your body by doing without sleep will have a long-term impact. I write from experience. I know getting enough sleep is a very difficult thing for the mother of a young child, but it has both short- and long-term impact on your own health and on everyone around you. Right now you are bridging from your youth to your middle age, and the choices you make for your health make a difference for your present and your future.

Sleep does matter. You must take care of yourself.

Your Sleep Routine

Create routines that protect your sleep. In order to help your baby sleep with love and compassion, you need routines that signal to everyone that it is time to wind down and let go for the day. If you have figured this out for your baby, you already have an idea how developing a routine works. Your routines involve more than just you, of course. Especially if you are co-sleeping, you need to create routines that work for your entire family.

Start with what is working. When have you found that you slept really well recently? What did you do the day before or the evening before that great night’s sleep? How did you wake up? Can you replicate that?

Tweak your routine over time, but don’t assume it will all work out on its own. You need to protect your sleep time. If you can’t handle everything in the time your have available, ask for help.

How much sleep do you need? Every person is slightly different, but the general rules apply. Most adults need 8 hours sleep per night.

Self Care Means Love & Compassion for Yourself

Approach your own needs with love and compassion—as you would for your children or spouse. That doesn’t mean lining up excuses and accepting every one. Loving yourself means understanding your deeper needs and focusing there rather than on the superficial. Loving yourself means not prioritizing your needs below those of everyone else.

Finding a way to meet the needs of all family members can be difficult. You will undoubtedly come up short, but that doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying.

Understand that taking care of yourself matters. Getting enough sleep matters.

Sleep well.

For more details on the effects of lack of sleep, read “Sleep for Health.”

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Natural Prevention for Cold and Flu

Mother and ill daughter

During a time of stress and disruption of usual, healthy eating habits, we see a lot of colds and flu. We allow our immunity to drop just a bit, and we give bacteria and viruses a way into our system.

The steps you can take to boost immunity in your family are very simple. Maybe not as simple as taking a pill labelled “Prevents colds and flu,” but you know that wouldn’t really work anyway.

Build and maintain health for your whole family through basic habits. You just need to understand what your body needs and provide that. You are more likely to get sick when you are bending your basic rules of healthy living.

Sleep. Your first and most important step to improved health is getting enough sleep. It really is that simple. Read more about sleeping for health.

Nutrition. What you eat matters. Eating whole, unprocessed foods in the right balance gives your body what it needs to function well and fight off seasonal invaders. Which foods? Read more about how to boost your immunity with foods.

Physical Activity. Your physical activity is a factor in your ability to fight off infection. You know you need to be active, but how active for how long? Read more about guidelines for physical activity for adults and children.

Manage Stress. All of us have stress, even very young children. Your choice is in how you manage the stress. We wrote about how you can avoid the immune-suppression of stress through the mind-body connection.

Have Fun. Does it seem odd to include fun in prevention of illness? Laughter does help. In part, it helps you manage stress, but your happiness is a bigger part of the fabric of health you are weaving. Read more about how to help your family stay healthy.

Quick List for Cold & Flu Prevention

Beyond the solutions above for general health, you can give your immunity a boost during these months when bacteria and viruses are being passed around so much.

Raw Garlic. Don’t just add garlic to your cooking (though do that for the taste); eat garlic raw. Chop up or crush 1-2 cloves and either drink in warm water or add to food just before you are ready to eat it. An antiviral compound in raw garlic, allicin, blocks infections.

Apple Cider Vinegar. Drink a tablespoon of organic, apple cider vinegar in water to create an alkaline environment in your body, an environment where bacteria and viruses have a more difficult time surviving.

Vitamin D. Canada’s Food Guide has recognized that vitamin D is the only nutrient for which adults over 50 cannot rely on diet alone to receive their recommended daily dose. We sell Ddrops because of their therapeutic benefits.

Ddrops vitamin D supplement

Warm Drinks. In my family, we start with a base of chicken broth, ginger tea, or some other basic tea. We add honey, lemon, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and other spices to create what we call immuni-tea. The warm liquid and the ingredients both help boost immunity. My mother’s version was always hot water with lemon juice and a teaspoon of honey. Create your own version as an easy way to take in some of the basic cold and flu fighting foods.

If you don’t manage to fight off cold or flu, you have natural choices to treat the symptoms. We love elderberry syrup, so we carry Sambucol black elderberry extract.

Sambucol for kids

 

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Boost Immunity with Foods

Elderberry juice boosts immunity

You may have heard that this is a particularly tough flu season. Simple actions like choosing healthy foods can boost the immunity of yourself and your family to give all of you the best chance of fighting off flu and colds.


Your Immune System

Your immune system defends your body against disease by ridding your body of foreign invaders. Your immune system is not a constant, though. Your actions can boost or inhibit your immunity. If your body is already struggling because you are tired, for example, you will have more difficulty fighting off a cold.

The simplest way to boost your immunity this winter is to understand which foods provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function well.


Basic Immunity-building Pantry

Foods help your immune system through the vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients that help the system function. The most important immunity building vitamins are: Beta carotene (increases number of cells fighting infection), Vitamin C (increases white blood cells and antibodies), and Vitamin E (increases B-cells that destroy bacteria). Immunity building minerals are zinc (helps white blood cells reproduce quickly) and selenium (increases fighting cells). Don’t run out and buy a supplement pill, though. You can get all of these vitamins and minerals in food.

Stock your pantry with colorful fruits and vegetables. Carrots and sweet potatoes have beta carotene. Citrus has vitamin C. Blueberries, cranberries, pomegranate seeds, cherries, and other dark blue, purple, and red fruits are high in antioxidants, which reduce inflammation. Elderberries are particularly good for helping you fight colds and flu as an antiviral an antioxidant. Mushrooms have selenium and many other minerals an vitamins. Garlic is a great flu fighter with antioxidants and other immune-building properties.

Choose a variety of proteins. Beans, nuts, fish, and lean meats can all contribute toward your immune-boosting diet. Almonds provide vitamin E. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Sunflower seeds have selenium, as do many nuts, whole grains, and seeds.

Add herbs and spices to your foods. Medicinal herbs, like echinacea, goldenseal, and astragalus, are all immune boosters that fight viruses or increase the efficiency of white blood cells. You don’t want to add these to your foods, though. Culinary spices, like cayenne, oregano, and ginger, are also bacteria fighters. Use them fresh if you can, but use them in any form. Even black pepper can give you a little immune boost.


Every Day Foods

The range of immunity building foods is broad. It wouldn’t make any sense for me to tell you that only 5 or 10 or 50 of them are best for you because there is enough variety for you to choose your favorites. Still, I am going to suggest a few foods that will help you build immunity every day.

Smoothies. Start your morning with smoothies. Add dark fruits and vegetables, almond milk or yoghurt as a base, a few ice cubes to make it cool and reduce the intensity. That’s it! Just choose a colorful collection every morning.

Soup. With lunch, have a cup of soup every day. Chicken or vegetable broth both make a good base, but make sure you add garlic, perhaps ginger, lots of herbs and spices, and a few colorful vegetables.

Salad. With dinner every night, have leafy greens. Spinach and romaine lettuce are both very nutritious. Choose your dressing carefully. Better yet, make your own from olive oil, vinegar, and herbs. Each of these gives you a little boost. Maybe sometimes you have cooked kale with cider vinegar instead, but make sure you eat leafy greens every day.

Whole Grains. If you are going to eat cereal or bread, make them rich and nutty. The variety of grains, nuts, and seeds will help you over time.

Doesn’t that seem simple? It is. Boosting your immunity really isn’t difficult to understand or to do. These choices are easy to make every day, and the benefits build over time.


Keep in Mind

Avoid processed ingredients like white sugar and bleached wheat flour. Just avoiding those two will help you avoid many processed foods that have been drained of most nutritional value.

Get enough sleep. Yes, that isn’t a food, but rest is important enough to the healthy functioning of your immune system that you can undermine all of the good work you do with nutritious food by not getting enough sleep. Sleep for your health.

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What the Mind-Body Connection Means for Your Health

Mother teaching baby yoga

When looking at the whole picture of your health, what you think and how you feel does matter. You already know that nutrition, physical activity, and sleep are important factors. Also consider that stress can suppress immune function.


Mind-Body Science

What scientists call the biopsychosocial model (BPS) of health is the scientific way to refer to what is popularly known as the mind-body connection. That the physical, psychological, and social factors all contribute to health is clear. Some think this idea doesn’t go far enough, that interconnections of mind and body can’t sensibly be separated. Others quibble about whether it fits the definition of a scientific model. In the meantime, studies accumulate to give us evidence of how the connection works.

Stress is inevitable. Everyone will face stress. Our bodies respond through hormones. Ideally, we process the stress and return to our state of normal. When the stress is chronic, however, our bodies suffer and can’t repair as easily or quickly. Stress can lead to and other digestive issues, headaches, high blood pressure, and even stroke. Stress can prolong healing, delay immune response, and impair learning. Simply, stress aggravates disease. Chronic stress has multiple negative effects on your health.

Particularly interesting is scientific investigation of how stress effects the immune system. We produce cortisol in response to stress, which is good for the short term fight-or-flight response. When the stress continues and the cortisol continues, it interferes with a cell’s production of the protein telomerase, which slows down the cell’s ticking clock. You cells wear down more quickly under stress.


The Key to Health Is in Your Response

The life of a parent is stressful. So, what do you do to keep stress under control and keep yourself and your family members healthy?

Build resilience. Resilience isn’t necessarily inborn. You can learn to be resilient. You can learn to meet stress and work through it. You can develop habits of stress release. Your habits might be as simple as relaxation and massage. You could schedule a class for yoga or tai chi and not let other obligations interfere with that schedule. After a traumatic event, sometimes we need clinical help to build that resilience. Therapy or support groups can help us. Art, dance, and music therapy can also help. Try a range of activities and adopt whatever mind-body exercises help you manage the stress in your life.

I’ve been doing yoga since the beginning of the year, and I do notice the effect. My favorite part of the yoga sessions is the relaxation with focus on the breath. For me, conscious breathing and stretching helps me to lower my stress levels and increase my alertness.

Remember, too, that children feel stress, and the reasons might not be obvious to you. Talk to your children about how they feel to help them learn to articulate what is going on with them. Help them develop tools to deal with their inevitable stress. Yoga, for example, can reduce the stress children face and increase their focus. My children also like guided imagery relaxation. They have learned to use this imagery for themselves if they can’t sleep or if they just need some time alone. The tools might seem very simple, but that is probably all most children will need.

Whatever method you use to meet and get through stress is not so important as recognizing and acting when you need to use your tools to return mind and body to your norm. Nutrition, sleep, activity, and calm all contribute to your family’s health. Health has a web of factors, including the mind-body connection.

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Sleep for Health

Family in bed

If you knew that there was one thing you could do for your health that would improve your memory, suppress your appetite, keep you alert, leave you happier, reduce your likelihood of hypertension and stress, and improve your immune function, wouldn’t you do it? Of course you would. So, get a full night’s sleep. Your body and mind need that time for renewal. The strong connection between sleep and health has become more clear as more studies look at specific links between sleep duration and disease.

It’s hard. Parents have a difficult time getting enough sleep, especially parents of very young babies. Hard though it may be, you need to take care of yourself and teach your children to take care of themselves. Chronic sleep loss has a clear, negative effect on your short-term function and medium-term health as well as on your longevity. The consequences are too great not to give yourself this one


Sleep Helps

  • Learning and memory – We retain information (memories and learned tasks) better when we experience memory consolidation as we dream.
  • Metabolism and weight – Sleep loss changes the way our bodies process carbohydrates and alters appetite through hormone levels. Lack of sleep leaves you hungry.
  • Safety – Tired people make mistakes. The results can be as bad as or worse than intoxication.
  • Mood - Lack of sleep leaves us stressed and irritable. Lower serotonin levels can also leave us at risk for depression.
  • Heart Health – In the extreme, sleep issues can lead to hypertension and irregular heartbeat.
  • Disease – Lack of sleep can weaken your immune system. Increased stress leads to inflammation, which leaves you at greater risk for disease and causes deterioration. Sleep is time for your cells to repair damage of the day.

“Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body,” said Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago. “We have nothing in our biology that allows us to adapt to this behavior.” “Scientists Finding Out What Losing Sleep Does to a Body,” Washington Post, October 9, 2005.


How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Fifty-eight percent of Canadians say they are often tired, but 18% of Canadians sleep less than 5 hours a day, which is leaving them chronically tired. Twenty-five percent of adults in the U.S. don’t sleep enough half of the time. Sure, a few people are getting enough sleep, but many of us are not—and the problem doesn’t stop with adults.

A new study on naps for toddlers shows that young children who don’t get enough sleep are not only more easily frustrated, which you undoubtedly already knew, but their lack of sleep “may shape their developing emotional brains and put them at risk for lifelong, mood-related problems.” If that doesn’t scare you, consider what happens as your children grow older. Drowsy young drivers are involved in tens of thousands of traffic accidents every year.

Help your whole family get enough sleep.

Newborn babies need 16 or more hours a day.
Preschoolers need about 12 hours a day.
Teens need about 9 hours a day.
Adults need 8 hours a day.
Pregnant women may need several more hours than usual.


How to Stay Asleep

For the good of yourself and your family, create a sleep-friendly household.

  • Follow a bedtime ritual.
  • Don’t drink so much before bed that you have to use the toilet during the night.
  • Stay active during the day.
  • Dump the stress.

It isn’t just nice to get enough sleep. Your life expectancy depends on it. Go to bed!


Resources

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