Saturday, November 26, 2011

Foundations - The Three S's

 Sleep, Stress, Sunshine

Continuing with the foundations of a solid Primal lifestyle we come to the three S's.  Unlike the first two foundations of Food and Exercise, I think there is less controversy about the nuts and bolts of how to optimize our levels of sleep, stress and sunshine.  However, like the first two foundations, each person will have to find what works best for them and their situation.  Notice a theme here?

Plenty of Sun today in Aspen
Most people recognize how important these three things are in their lives.  Getting plenty of sleep, reducing your stress and optimizing sunshine are, well, foundations of good health.  The tricky part is finding the time and putting forth the effort to make them happen.  Here are some of the way's I go about it:

Sleep.  Ah, one of my favorite things!  I love sleep.  And I'm good at it.  We should all get plenty of sleep and wake up only when we're good and rested.  We should go to bed by 10 and sleep in a pitch black room.  We should turn off our electrical devices early, leaving us plenty of time to unwind and think about the day that happened and plan for the day ahead.  And then there is reality.

I think the idea of sleeping in a very dark room is sound advice.  If you can make it happen, do it.  Below is a pic of my homemade setup that I've rigged to shut out most of the light.  With the ring method I came up with it's not much work to put them up every night, but real black out shades/blinds would be easier.  I also usually wear an eye mask to bed (I use a spandex cycling headband as I don't like the thickness of real eye masks) and I think this is the real secret.  We want to minimize the light on our retina's, as well as on the rest of our body, to start melatonin production and enter the sleep cycle.   Since I actually sleep under my covers, most of my body doesn't get exposed to light even if I didn't use window shading.   So while total darkness is ideal, a good eye mask goes a long way ... and it's perfect for when you travel.

Nice look huh?
But real easy to do

I also wear earplugs when I sleep.  I started this a few years back when I had some noisy neighbors.  The neighbors are gone, but I've enjoyed the quiet so much that I won't give up the plugs.  I don't consider these essential, and for most people they're not practical, but silence is truly golden.

As a result of wearing earplugs I discovered what I believe to be the second most important thing for sleep, after the eye mask.  A vibrating alarm watch.  I'll never set an electronic alarm again.  Waking up to the piercing sound of one of those things just gets you up on the wrong side of the bed.  Vibrating alarm watches are very effective, relatively cheap, and not surprisingly, made with deaf people in mind.

Stress.  Having a type B personality, my internal stress levels are generally pretty low.  On top of that, I don't have a stressful job and I'm single.   At a restaurant I once worked at, in the middle of a crazy shift, the owner/executive Chef pulled me aside and said 'if we could just bottle your temperament and spread it around'.  Stress is not a problem for me personally. 

I suppose the previous article that I wrote What Matters? is relevant here.  Take a step back when you're feeling stressed and put things in perspective.  I know ... that's not exactly ground breaking stuff.  Try this instead ... throughout the day, and especially when you go to bed, consciously relax your facial muscles.  Really relax them.  I'm not going to theorize as to why this seems to work so well, but it's so simple and effective that you should at least give it a whirl.

Yoga. Tai Chi. Puzzles. Meditation.  Popping your boss across the smacker with a left hook.  These are other things you can try if your stress level is out of control.  I'm not saying that someone who is Type A should strive to become a Type B person, they should just try to reduce their overall stress.  Being stressed out all of the time will sabotage all of the other positive lifestyle changes you make on your journey to becoming healthier.   Remember, this Primal/Paleo thing isn't a diet or exercise plan, rather, it's a template for better living all the way around.  Getting your stress levels under control is big part of that.

  With all of the current Sun-phobia out there, optimizing Sun time is probably a little more controversial than the first two S's.  However, I think it's becoming apparent from current research just how important having good levels of vitamin D is for our health.  And absolutely the best way to get vitamin D is by exposing your skin to the Sun.  Don't burn yourself, but also don't err on the complete other side and never get any Sun at all.  It's all about balance. 

How much is too much?  How much is enough?  Lots of variables will determine what you need.  The way to know for sure is to have your Vitamin D levels checked.  Then adjust your outside time accordingly and perhaps supplement in the winter. 

I also recommend against using sunscreen in most cases.  Your skin is the largest organ of your body and absorbs whatever you slather onto it.  Sunscreens usually have a nasty list of ingredients you don't exactly want to be soaking up on a regular basis.  Now having said that, using sunscreen is better than getting a burn.  But if you find yourself needing to use it too often, consider changing your habits. 

The Sun is pretty intense up here in the Rocky Mountains.  In the Summer I wear a very breathable long sleeve shirt when I'm out walking and take it off only for a short time to soak in the rays.  I slowly increase the time I go shirtless throughout the season.  And usually in October sometime, I start taking Vitamin D supplements. 

Sleep, Stress, and Sunshine.  It's all about optimizing.

No comments: