changing habits Archives - Balm Natural Health

Sleep and the modern day body clock

Posted by | Balm Blog, Body clock, changing habits, Circadian rhythm, Health, hormones, Insomnia, Naturopathy, Sleep | No Comments

In our modern day lifestyles, our body’s desire to stick closely to a set sleep/wake time (our body clock or our circadian rhythm) is often overridden, ignored and generally abused. The fact that shift work has now been classed as a carcinogen is surely proof of the importance of working with rather than against our body clock.

There are actually circadian clocks in every organ of the body and never before have we lived so out of tune with these circadian rhythms.  There is even a term for this. It is called social jet-lag and refers to the misalignment between our biological clock and our work and social schedules. One of the main consequences is poor, broken or inadequate sleep. This then causes fatigue and anxiety and can heighten any other underlying conditions such as allergy, hormone imbalance ad weight gain.

The way to manipulate our body back into a regular rhythm and improve sleep is to provide our body systems with the right cues at the right time to encourage the body into a strong, regular rhythm where all organs are in tune.

One of the biggest cues our body clock responds to is light and dark cues.  Because we now expose ourselves to so much unnatural light late into the evening (lights, television, computers, phones etc) we confuse our body clock and force it backwards. These lights inhibit the production of melatonin which is important for sleep initiation. Many people find themselves laying there wide awake when they first get into bed, but then struggle to wake up when the alarm goes off. These people may believe themselves to be natural night owls when in reality they have just confused their body clocks. The best way to combat this is to keep lights turned down and switch televisions, computers and phones off at least an hour before you want to get to sleep. If that’s not possible, you can get devices or glasses to block the stimulating blue light emitted by these devices.

Another strong cue used by the body to set our internal clock is eating and fasting. It is recommended to keep your eating to a 10-12 hour window during the day. There is a close relationship between the gut microbiome and the circadian clock and so eating late at night will confuse our sleep/wake rhythm. This disruption then contributes further to weight gain meaning that the timing of your calorie intake contributes to obesity beyond the simple fact that you consumed extra calories.

Activity and inactivity are also strong cues for circadian rhythms. If you find you have to drag yourself through your morning, exercising first thing on a regular basis can convince the body that early morning is wake up time. Similarly, exercising late into the evening  disrupts the body’s wind down and can make for a poor sleep followed by a tired, sluggish day.

Keep in mind that your body prefers to be in a strong, regular pattern and you can manipulate this by giving your body awake time cues during the morning and day with sunshine, activity and healthy food.  Then use slow down cues at night with lowered light, less activity and stop eating well before bed time.

Body temperature also follows a circadian rhythm and having a warm bath or shower before bed can also help initiate sleep as the drop in body temperature following the warm shower is another trigger for the body to fall asleep.

Contact me if you’d like a copy of my sleep tips handout.

Changing Bad Habits

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, changing habits, Diet, Health, Naturopathy, Physical stresses, self prescribing, Sugar, Weight Gain, Weight Loss | No Comments

Approximately 45% of what we do each day is habit. All habits were once conscious decisions we made which we continued with until it became an automatic behaviour.

Why are habits so difficult to change?

Habits are strongly influenced by all of our previous life experiences, plus, people generally prefer an immediate reward over more significant, delayed ones. This is known as delayed discounting and was the subject of a cute experiment with children which you’ve probably seen on tv. Children were told they could either have a marshmallow now, or if they waited 15 minutes then they could have 2. Many found that 1 marshmallow too irresistible and were not able to adjust their behaviour in order to wait 15 minutes and alter their outcome.

Willpower

But changing habits also requires a certain amount of willpower. Willpower is like a muscle in that it can fatigue with use. Our willpower is stronger in the morning and once we have used it 3-4 times in a day, it generally starts to decline. How many times have you woken in the morning with the intention of eating well and exercising but then found yourself on the couch that evening with a glass of wine saying, I’ll start tomorrow? This is why it is easier to change a morning habit than one later in the day.

The Cue

There are 3 components to every habit: a cue, the behavior itself and the reward. One key to establishing good habits is to manipulate the cue. For example, if your plan is to go for a run after work on Monday nights, then before you leave the house that morning, lay out your running gear and bottle of water where you will see it as soon as you walk in the door. Then you don’t have to think too much. Just change into the gear, pick up the bottle and off you go. Remove as many distractions, road blocks and reasons to make excuses as possible.

The Reward

If the reward of feeling good after the run isn’t enough to sustain the new behaviour until it becomes a habit, maybe use the reward of a small piece of chocolate straight after the run as incentive to establish the behavior.

Goal-setting and self monitoring

It has been found that one of the most effective behavioural change techniques is the use of goal-setting and self-monitoring. Be accountable to yourself and track or chart your results. Couple that with some short term dedicated willpower and you are in the best position for creating a new habit. See attached my Exercise Diary which you can use or adapt to track your progress in the behaviour you want to change or implement.

Substitution

When it comes to eliminating bad habits, substitute that bad behavior with a better behaviour. For example, if sitting down in front of the tv on a week night is your cue to pour yourself a glass of wine, try substituting the glass of wine for a herbal tea or some other healthy drink. The cue of sitting on the couch at night will eventually no longer be associated with wine. Whats more, I can assure you that when you do allow yourself that glass of wine on the Saturday night, you will enjoy it so much more!

 

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