Relaxation, Restorative Sleep, and Natural Rhythms
Now, as you are beginning to read this chapter, take a survey of your body. Can you drop your shoulders? If you can, you are holding more tension in your muscles than you should be. Is your brow furrowed in concentration? clenching your jaw, or grinding your teeth? Are you perched on the edge of your chair? Your posture and the way you hold yourself indicate the degree of tension you are experiencing, but they can also actually elicit a stress response; tense muscles send a message to your brain that stimulates the cerebral cortex, which then arouses the HPA axis, your hor- monal alarm system, and the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for your protection and survival. Whether you are tense because you are stressed or stressed because you are tense, taking a moment to loosen up your body will make a big difference.
When you are stressed, your body can assume an aggressive or defensive posture. The way you stand—pitched forward or back, chest out or shoulders slumped—often reflects your appraisal of a situation or your view of your place in the world. Just as muscle tension can be a sign of psychological stress, holding tense postures can create stress. Gripping, clenching, and tightening your muscles prepares you to escape or to attack but can cause fatigue and pain, as well. Muscle tension and immobility can stress your joints and reduce your blood flow, contributing to decreased energy and feelings of fatigue and strain. Tension headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and a bad back often de- velop as a result of how you hold yourself. If you have tense muscles, you are also more likely to worry and to stay upset longer.
RELAXATION GOALS :
Herbert Benson studies a general physiological process that can be set off by many different sorts of relaxation. More-recent approaches to relaxation focus more specifically on physical parts of the body as well as on a number of more defined psychological states. Jonathan C. Smith, a clinical psychologist and director of the Roosevelt University Stress Institute, believes that relaxation creates more than physical stress relief and has shown that stress manage- ment does far more than simply reduce your heart rate: the experience of relax- ation affects your perception and experience of the world.
NATURAL RHYTHMS AND RESTORATIVE SLEEP
Learning how to relax has a powerful effect on our patients, and the results are even more dramatic when they have improved their health with restorative sleep and have synchronized their bodies to natural rhythms. Stress disturbs the rhythm of your body. This is because your body’s natural daily rhythm, called “circadian rhythm,” is largely synchronized by the stress hormone cor- tisol. Stress disrupts your cortisol production in different ways for each of the four stress types. If you are a HyperS or a HyperP, your inherent rhythm of cor- tisol production is maintained, but you have strong surges within those cycles that result in high levels of cortisol. If you are a HypoS or a HypoP, however, your natural rhythm of cortisol production is lost and your cortisol levels are lower, so that when you experience stress you are still able to produce a small burst of cortisol, but your brain and body overreact. Restful sleep, proper nutri- tion, regular exercise, and the daily practice of restoration techniques will read- just your inner clock and help to restore your body to balance.
There are five well-defined phases of sleep. A good night’s sleep has about five cycles of these phases and requires approximately eight hours to complete the process.
Stage 1: This is a drowsy state that lasts for five or ten minutes. Your eyes move slowly under your eyelids, and your muscle activity slows down, but you are easily awakened. You might experience sudden muscle contrac- tions, jerky movements that resemble the startle reaction we make when we are surprised.
Stage 2: During this stage of light sleep of about twenty minutes, your eye movements stop, your heart rate slows, and your body temperature de- creases. Your brain waves slow except for an occasional burst of rapid waves called “sleep spindles.”
Stage 3: With this thirty-to-forty-minute stage of deep sleep, blood flow to the brain decreases and is redirected to your muscles, allowing restoration of your cells. Immune functions decrease during deep sleep. Theta and delta waves, which are slow brain waves, synchronize at this phase, and the number of sleep spindles lessens. Restorative sleep begins with this stage.
Stage 4: This deep stage also lasts thirty to forty minutes, and it is very difficult to awaken from. You are groggy and disoriented if aroused from this or the preceding stage. Your brain gives off delta waves, the slowest brain waves. Your breathing and heart rate are at their lowest levels in the cycle. This is the most restorative stage of sleep
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO YOU NEED? AND CAN YOU MAKE UP FOR LOST SLEEP?
he amount of sleep you require is regulated by a brain mechanism called the “sleep thermostat.” The homeostatic process works by increasing your ten- dency to fall asleep in direct proportion to the increasing size of your sleep debt. The size of your sleep debt determines how strong your urge to fall asleep becomes.
Adults, in general, need seven to eight hours of sleep to be healthy, al- though some can get by with five hours and others require ten. Women in their first three months of pregnancy need more than a solid eight hours. It is not true that older people need less sleep: although you sleep more lightly for shorter periods as you age, you still require the same seven or eight hours. Ex- actly how much sleep you need depends on your age, genetics, and what you do when you are awake. If you stand on your feet all day, do hard physical labor, or are training for a triathlon, you will probably need more sleep than someone who sits at a desk eight hours a day
HOW TO GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
There are many factors in modern life that can interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Caffeine, diet pills, and decongestants can stimulate parts of your brain that cause insomnia, and many antidepressants suppress REM sleep. Smoking can also cause you to sleep lightly with reduced REM-stage sleep; people who smoke tend to wake up three or four hours after falling asleep because they experience nicotine withdrawal. Alcohol can help you fall into a light sleep from which you are easily awakened, but it interferes with REM and deeper sleep. Studies have shown that middle age and menopause make you more susceptible to sleep disturbances, particularly since your sensitivity to stimulating substances like caffeine is intensified. Long-term use of sleeping pills produces no clear-cut health benefits and may shorten your life span. Sleeping pills may work for a short-term problem, but they should be avoided as a long-term solution.
Here is a list of helpful tips for changing your lifestyle that will help you sleep better. They are useful to all four stress types:
• Do not smoke, especially near bedtime or if you wake up in the night.
• Avoid alcohol and heavy meals before sleep.
• Get regular exercise, but not within a few hours of bedtime.
• Employ stress-management techniques in the course of your day.
• Do not nap during the day if naps make sleeping at night more difficult.
• Go to bed and wake up the same time every day, including weekends, even if you don’t get enough sleep. Observing a schedule will train your body to sleep at night.
• Make certain your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool. If you cannot control the noise, use a fan, earplugs, or a white-noise machine.
• If you have to sleep during the day, use an eye mask and hang blackout shades on the windows.
• Have a bedtime routine and do the same thing every night before going to sleep. You might read, take a bubble bath, or have a glass of warm milk. Milk contains tryptophan, which stimulates the production of sero- tonin, which in turn plays a role in inducing sleep. A cup of chamomile tea is also helpful before bed. It increases the release of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which calms you. Your mind will connect these activities with sleep, and observing the routine will eventually make you sleepy.
• Use the bedroom only for sleeping or having sex. Avoid intense conver- sation, watching TV, or talking on the phone in bed.
• Do not lie in bed worrying about things. Set aside another time—perhaps after dinner—to think about what you can do about what is worrying you. Writing your concerns and potential solutions in your Stress Journal can be helpful.
• If you remain awake after trying to sleep for thirty minutes, get up and go to another room. Sit quietly for approximately twenty minutes before going back to bed. Do this for as long as it takes you to fall asleep.
AEROBIC V. ANAEROBIC EXERCISE
Aerobic exercise, meaning “with oxygen,” involves rhythmic, sustained move- ment of low to moderate intensity for more than fifteen minutes. The idea is to get your heart pumping. In the next pages, we will show you how to calculate your heart rate and your maximum heart rate for exercise with goals for your type. Walking, using an elliptical machine, biking, swimming, and running all create a demand on the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen into the blood- stream. Aerobic movement derives energy from glucose and fatty acids, or stored fat from foods. Aerobic training stimulates the growth of capillaries, or small blood vessels, in your muscles that allow oxygen to be delivered more efficiently and lactic acid to be removed. If your aim is to burn fat, workouts that are long, slow, and cover distances are the most effective.
• Decreased body fat
• Lower resting heart rate
• Lower blood pressure
• Decreased LDL cholesterol
• Increased HDL cholesterol
• Increased life expectancy
• Some improvement in bone density
• Decreased stress The health benefits of aerobic exercise include.
HOW TO CALCULATE YOUR MAXIMUM HEART RATE
The general formula for calculating your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. At a moderate level, you will be exercising at 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.
HOW TO MEASURE YOUR HEART RATE
Turn one of your hands palm up and place the index and middle fingers of your other hand on your wrist below the base of your thumb or on the side of your neck. Refer to a watch or a clock with a second hand. When you feel your pulse, count the number of pulses in ten seconds. Multiply that number by six to get your heart rate per minute. Or you could count your pulse for six sec- onds and add a zero to the number. Your resting heart rate is taken in the morning before you sit up. The lower your resting heart rate, the better shape you are in. The following table will give you a sense of where you stand on the cardiovascular-fitness scale.
THE BORG RATING PERCEIVED EXERTION SCALE
1. Very easy: You can whistle a tune or sing a song. You are working out at 40 to 50 percent maximum heart rate. HypoPs should start here.
2. Easy: You can carry on a normal conversation. Your heart rate is 50 to 60 percent of maximum. HypoS types should start here. This should be the goal for HyperPs on a crash day.
Light exercise: horseback riding at a walk; light stretching; bowling; golfing with a cart; walking slowly (1–2 mph); archery; billiards; cro- quet; playing the piano; fishing while sitting.
3. Moderate: You can speak short sentences of four to six words. Your heart rate is 60 to 80 percent of maximum. If you are a HyperS type, start your program at this intensity and work up. HypoSs and HypoPs should aim for this level on a regular basis.
Moderate exercise: walking briskly (3–4 mph); pushing a stroller 1.5 miles in thirty minutes; swimming laps; canoeing/kayaking/rowing (2–3.9 mph); cycling (under 10 mph); dancing fast; golfing while carrying clubs; raking leaves; shoveling snow; skiing; leisurely ice skating; sailing; sledding; table tennis; belly dancing; calisthenics; aerobics class; hatha yoga; Pilates; aerobic dancing; working with light weights; power walking; virtual exercise with a video game.
4. Hard: You can get out two or three word fragments. You are working at 80 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. HyperSs should build to this level.
OVERALL EXERCISE TIPS
• To burn the maximum number of calories and fat, exercise on an empty stomach.
• For maximum performance, eat carbohydrates one hour before you exer- cise.
• Drink fluids—plain water is the best unless you are working out at high intensity or in extreme heat. In those circumstances you may require drinks with electrolytes.
• Exercising outside in the sun can improve your mood, especially if you have symptoms of depression.
• Exercising in bright light with an emphasis on duration rather than inten- sity will improve sleep, regardless of your fitness level.
• Running shoes are not forever. Depending on how hard you run, how long you jog, and how far you walk, they do wear out and give you less support, which can lead to stress injuries. Unless you are training for a marathon, a good running shoe should last six to eight months.
• Don’t let travel interfere with your routine. Always pack your gym clothes, even on business trips. Many hotels have fitness centers or have arrange- ments with local gyms. If all else fails, you can take a long walk or jog in a local park.
HOW TO DO DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
• Lie flat on your back on a mat or towel on the floor. Make sure your head is well supported.
• Place a book on your belly.
• Inhale counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and watch the book rise.
• Exhale counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and watch the book fall.
• Sit comfortably in a straight-back chair with your feet on the floor.
• Put your right hand on your abdomen; your hand should be pushed out by your belly as you inhale and fall as you exhale.
• Count on the inhalation and exhalation, if you like.
Meditation is one of the most popular restoration techniques because you can learn it quickly and incorporate it easily into your daily life. The practice of meditation is a structured, effective way to use your mind to relax your body. By withdrawing your senses from life’s demands and what is distracting or troubling you, you gain control over your attention.