In a world where we are swimming in a sea of advice and admonitions, how do you sort through all the information? How do you decide what is relevant to you, and make good use of it?
Seemingly contradictory advice abounds, threatening to confuse the most analytical mind. Should you try the carnivore diet, go vegan, or fast? Should you follow your own daily rhythm and stay productive until the wee hours of the night, or go to sleep when the sun does?
What is often lost in the rush to present a never-ending stream of new, fresh ideas is the fact that there are some unchanging foundational requirements for health. This a basic principle that no new dogma, product, or guru can change.
80 percent of results come from 20 percent of foundational effort
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, states that 20 percent of the effort you put into any endeavor leads to 80 percent of the results, and conversely, that 80 percent of your effort only leads to an additional 20 percent gain. How does this apply to your search for health and well-being? It means that you get most of the benefits from a few simple things. After these fundamental requirements are met, we benefit relatively little from adding the latest exotic bells and whistles. It therefore stands to reason that we should be paying much more attention to the basics, and much less to the siren song of the new, the expensive, the popular or the latest health fad.
So what are these fundamental principles, our 20 % that will give us 80% of the benefit? The four cornerstones of health are sleep, diet, exercise, and the health of your mind.
Let’s start with sleep, and cover diet, exercise and the mind in subsequent posts.
“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.”
― Homer, The Odyssey
Deep sleep is when tissues rebuild and repair themselves. Sleep deprivation therefore impairs your body’s ability to sufficiently regenerate tissue overnight. Accumulating un-repaired tissue damage leads to pain and soreness, and may even over time contribute to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, or simply looking like, well, you know what. As mentioned in a previous post, sleep is also a time when the brain is cleansed from metabolic waste, making sleep not just one of the best tools for rebuilding the body, but also the brain, protecting us from everything from unhappiness to dementia. Artificial light at night, the light pollution that seeps through our curtains while we sleep, has been found to contribute to breast and prostate cancer, obesity and depression.
Sleep is not only a time for your brain to recover from the events of the day, but also for new information (for example, those new exercises you’ve been doing) to be consolidated into long-term memory. And honestly, the very last thing you need when dealing with the demands of your career, your young children or a surreptitiously aging body, is one of the most reliable outcomes of poor sleep quality, the significant negative effect it has on energy and mood. So here, shortlisted for your convenience are the ingredients of good sleep. These are fundamentals that the night owls among us need to adhere to even more strictly than others, as their circadian rhythm more easily is disrupted by artificial light at night.
The ingredients of a good night’s sleep
- Expose your eyes to bright light first thing in the morning and during the day.
- Eat during daytime hours, not late at night.
- Avoid bright, “blue” light after sundown. Instead, use orange light bulbs in your fixtures and wear orange glasses to shield your eyes from the light of the TV or other backlit screens. They even come as clip-ons for your reading glasses!
- Sleep in a completely darkened room. If you can see your hand in front of your face, there is too much light. Blackout curtains are a must!
- Keep the bedroom cool and your sleep schedule somewhat predictable.
- Use a supportive, not ultra-soft mattress. Turn it around periodically to ensure that it remains supportive and keeps your body from sinking into the mattress during the night.
- Use only natural sleep aids, if needed. Good habits, calming herbs, and supplemental glycine (a sweet-tasting amino acid that at a dose of 3-6 grams at bedtime deepens sleep and helps build collagen) are better than pharmaceutical drugs. Sleep researcher Matthew Walker, PhD, at University of California, Berkeley, cautions that drugs do no create true sleep.
If you have been lax with your sleep hygiene, kept late hours or have suffered from insomnia for a while, keep in mind that it does take time for us to change habits and expectations. Make positive choices and give them several weeks to gradually work their magic. Remember, good health is not the result of easy shortcuts but of lifelong, conscious habits.
Now that is something worth sleeping on!