It is that time of the year again. Everywhere you look, you see red, green and white banners flying. Sparkling advertisements, showcasing special prices on nearly anything you can think of. Gifts galore! From clothing that is on sale to computers and electronic devices. Toys, watches, kitchen appliances. If you can think of something that can be sold, odds are you will pay a “special price” for it. Because it is the festive holiday season again. Crazy, isn’t it!? Another year has passed and it feels like I sat down with my family for Christmas dinner just last week, even though it is nearly twelve months ago. Time flies when you’re having fun, right!? But the festive season is not always just fun and games. Mostly, we end up getting no rest over December, even though that is what the holidays are meant for…
We party a lot, we eat too much, drink too much and sleep too little. But why wouldn’t we, it’s not like we see our friends and family all that much and when we do get these few precious days at the end of the year, we must use them to optimum effect! So how does anyone expect us to find rest over the festive season? How can people expect us to sleep or to relax when we have so much catching up to do?
Believe me, I know that it is difficult to rest when the family is around and your sister’s four kids are all over you. But somehow we still need to make time to rest. Our bodies and our minds need that rest, so that we can be rejuvenated and revived for next year. Keep reading as we explore a couple of easy ways to rest and relax this festive season.
Unfortunately this is almost always the first one on the list. We all love coffee (or most of us, anyway)! And if you don’t love coffee, you might like a glass of Coca-cola or a Redbull. These drinks are all great – they taste amazing and they energize the body. But unfortunately science has shown time and again that caffeine and sleep does not go well together. So if you like your coffee or your coke,have it in the morning. Try to avoid drinking caffeinated drinks for at least five hours before you go to bed, but eight hours would be better. I must admit that I am a sucker for a good cup of coffee. Sometimes I just can’t say no to a good cuppa Joe after dinner, even though I know it might rob me of some crucial rest time. Try to be less like me.
But what does caffeine do?
Why would you ask me something like that? I just told you, it keeps you awake! What more do you want to know? I’m just joking!
When we take in caffeine, it goes to our heads (quite literally) – it occupies the adenosine receptors in our brain. Now I know your next question will be, “what is adenosine”? So before you ask, let me explain: Adenosine is the substance, or chemical compound if you will, that makes us sleepy. Once adenosine occupies their receptors, brain activity starts to slow down. Blood vessels in the brain will start dilating and nerve response will slow down. This makes us feel drowsy and enables us to enter sleep without much trouble. But now, if we have caffeine sitting on our adenosine receptors, the compound has nowhere to go and so it can’t perform it’s function. This in turn leaves us feeling awake and alert, even when we should be feeling sleepy.
Obviously, going to bed in a state like this is not helpful at all. Especially not at the end of the year, when we are all tired and in need of rejuvenating rest. So I’ll say it again, just as a reminder. Do not drink coffee or any caffeinated drink for at least five hours before you hit the sack.
Another tough one for this time of year, I know. But I never said it would be easy. All of us are in party mode, school’s out in everything but name. It is almost time for businesses to close down for Christmas, or some businesses at least. Year end functions are happening all around us. And let’s not sugarcoat it, at some of these parties the booze just flows a bit too freely. Apart from the fact that it inhibits your decision making and mechanical capabilities, it also robs you of restful sleep. (P.s. Do not drink and drive! It is extremely selfish and can lead to injuring not only yourself, but your passengers and others outside of your motor vehicle).
Why less alcohol? Doesn’t it help you to fall asleep? I’m confused…
Yes, alcohol does make you drowsy. And yes, after a night cap sleep may come a lot faster for many people. So in this sense, it is completely different to caffeine. But it has other problems. Ones that only start later at night. The obvious problem with drinking alcohol is it dehydrates you and makes you want to go to the toilet. So if you take a night cap and fall asleep quickly, chances are you will wake up sometime in the night with a need to go… Falling asleep after you went to the restroom might be a tad more difficult than the first time you fell asleep. Especially if the alcohol has worked out of your bloodstream. No extra help to fall asleep this time.
Have you ever noticed having vivid dreams after drinking a bit too much or a bit too close to lights out? Want to know why? Of coarse you do! At first, the sedative effect of alcohol helps you to fall asleep. It also keeps the body in a state of deep sleep, restraining it from entering REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is the part of sleep where we dream the most. Some of you might think that this is a good thing – the fact that alcohol suppresses that part and forces you to endure deep sleep for longer. I mean, it is during deep sleep that we experience the most restorative sleep, is it not?
And yes, it is. But even though our bodies heal faster and our cells regenerate at a higher tempo when we are in deep sleep, we still need to go through the natural phases of our sleep cycles. And there is more. After our long bout of deep sleep, when the alcohol has left our systems, our bodies want to catch up on the lost REM sleep time. And that is exactly what it does. This is the time when you will experience those vivid dreams. Your body just keeps on looping through REM sleep phases, which means you sleep lightly and wake up more often.
Therefore you should try to limit your alcohol intake before you go to bed this festive season. And try to get some proper rest, without having to abuse substances to aid you. It really enhances your life so much when you don’t need to rely on detrimental substances to help you sleep. Just thought you ought to know :p
Notice that I said “eat right”. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should eat less. Even though eating right means eating less for a lot of people, for others it might just mean less chocolate or cake and more veggies. Over the festive season eating right is a challenge, but it can be done!
Start off by eating a healthy breakfast. Don’t eat the leftover cake first thing in the morning. I know it is enticing, believe me! There is a whole cupboard full of sweets, chocolates and cakes in our kitchen. But even though it is tempting, I walk past that cupboard to the fruit bowl and grab a fresh fruit to break my fast. Nothing quite like a bowl of freshly sliced papaya and pineapple to start off the day. It helps to get your digestive system on the go and it gives a small burst of energy.
After the fruit bowl (give it an hour or so) eat something a bit more substantial. Maybe a slice of brown toast and an egg, or a bowl of oats. This will give you energy to sustain you throughout the morning. After that do what you feel is best, but please don’t gorge yourself. Eat with restraint and you will rest easy. Even if you want to nap, it comes easier if your stomach is not bulging with food.
More of the Great Outdoors
This might be tough for a lot of people. I know that not everyone likes spending time outside and that a lot of people prefer a binge session with their favourite series in their off time. Others prefer to stay riveted to their Xbox, PlayStation or PC in their free time. Others still prefer to read a good book. And don’t get me wrong, I am all for these things. There is nothing like a well written novel or an inspiring game to eat up the hours. But through all of this we must remember that our bodies need to move.
Blood and Lymph
It is not just an old wives’ tale. Our bodies need to move so that we can get rid of all of the excess rubbish in our systems. It is really quite fascinating how the body transports garbage from the extremities to where it can be processed and excreted. I’m sure all of you are familiar with the blood vessel system in the human body. You know, the system consisting of arteries and veins, a heart, that sort of thing. Now just as the arteries carry oxygen rich blood to the organs throughout the body. Veins take the blood that is depleted in oxygen back to the lungs and heart to get an oxygen refill. But you know that already.
The cool thing is that our bodies have a similar system to deal with waste products in the body. It is called the lymph system. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. But the lymph system does not have a central pump, like the heart is for the blood system. Instead, the lymph system works with muscle movement. When you move your muscles, waste materials is moved through the lymph channels. But if you just sit still all the time, that waste accumulates in your body and slowly poisons the body. Making the immune system less effective and setting yourself up to contract some disease or other.
So get out there, even if it is just to take a stroll around the block or through the park. You don’t need to exercise like a mad man (or an athlete). You just need to move your body around a bit. Wiggle the toes, stretch the legs, get some fresh air. That kind of thing. Of coarse, a bit of aerobic exercise won’t hurt! But that is not for everybody.
This is a very broad and vague concept. But it is one that should be high on your list of priorities. Just breathe in and out for a while. Feel the air fill your lungs. Sit up nice and straight. Breathe in through your nose and let the air expand your chest and stomach. As you breathe out, slowly clench your stomach muscles together until it feels like you have squeezed all of the air out of your body. Drop your shoulders and try not to shrug them up around your neck as you take the next deep breath through your nose. Feel the air fill your lungs, expanding in your chest. Slowly blow out the breath through your mouth, squeezing it out with your stomach.
Now repeat this a couple of times. Don’t you feel better already? If you feel comfortable with this breathing exercise, close your eyes and do it again. Don’t think of anything except of how you breathe in and out. Try to keep your shoulders relaxed next to your sides, not hunched up around your neck. Extend your neck and head upwards, towards the sky. Keeping your shoulders down and your neck straight opens up your torso and allows more air into your lungs. This will in turn allow more oxygen into the bloodstream, which means better performing organs. When your organs do a better job, your body is less stressed. Simple as that.
Ready to Rest Easy?
I hope you enjoyed reading this post and that you found some helpful tips in there somewhere. In the end the big lesson is that, if you take care of your body, it takes care of you. Eat well, don’t overdo things, get some fresh air every day and you will rest like champion this summer holiday!
All of the best with your quest for rest! I’m out.