A few weeks ago, we went over a general physiology lesson on what is happening in the body when it experiences stress. This portion of the series will move us forward into applied practices and changes to make in order to support the body through stress.
As we said, one of the biggest issues of stress on the body is the imbalance of cortisol levels
over time. Cortisol is meant to rise in the morning to encourage our bodies to wake, and slowly decrease throughout the day to allow for restful sleep at night. Many of these applied practices help balance cortisol levels, helping the body slowly reject the negative effects of stress.
We have heard it time and time again, that sleep is important. I find it is difficult for people to
make true changes in their sleep patterns for the better, when they don’t really know what to do or why it helps us so much. Approximately 75% of your daily pulses of growth hormone happen during slow wave sleep, that very deep sleep that only occurs when your brain has minimal barriers to producing melatonin. Growth hormone helps control the body’s metabolism, creating energy and other substances that the body needs.
In order to help these processes and listen to our circadian rhythm, start going to bed earlier. It is not a nature designed rhythm for humans to function, even though some people may consider themselves night owls; it may be true that you find more peace late at night, but our body’s truly follow the sun. With this mind, you can also help your body by beginning to expose your eyes to early morning sunlight. This recommendation goes hand-in-hand with the next one, which is beginning to wean your dependence off of sunglasses, to collect as many benefits as possible. When we can expose ourselves to early morning sun, our nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner, and we can enter into sleep more easily at night.
Some things we can do while working toward these larger changes is to limit our blue light
exposure when the sun goes down (when our bodies think we should be preparing for sleep). Blue light, given off by anything from the sun, to our light bulbs and electronics. Getting blue light exposure during the day from the sun can provide beneficial effects in mood and performance. However, our modern day devices create large amounts of blue light with the ability to disrupt our sleep cycles and inhibit melatonin production. Amber-tinted, or blue light blocking glasses have been shown to be effective in limiting our blue light exposure from these devices. I recommend wearing these glasses in the evening at the very least, and potentially working up to wearing them during any extended times spent at a computer, television, or phone. And based on these explanations of blue light, I recommend looking to non-electronic sources of entertainment once the sun goes down; this includes anything like reading, board games, skill-based and soothing activities such as cooking, baking, knitting, drawing, yoga, etc. This can be a large change for most people, and can be made easier by just beginning to not watch tv or look at your phone when preparing for bed. Keep the lights dim in your bedroom, throw on your blue light glasses, and read a chapter of a book. Better yet, turn off all lights entirely and try out red or orange reading lamps, which emit no blue light; candlelight is another great option, and can provide additional relaxation. Your body will begin increasing it’s melatonin production and slowly bring you to restful sleep, balancing your hormones over time.
Next week, we will go over another way to help our body’s combat stress, with some small
practical changes to make it happen!
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