An unexpected benefit from my recent trip to Africa was the jet lag I experienced once I got home. Jet lag, a benefit? Yup. Here's how I see it. I usually go to bed between midnight and one a.m. But, suddenly, post-trip, I found myself crawling into bed, completely wiped around 10:00 or 10:30 p.m. I was glad because I found myself in a new rhythm, a la Benjamin "early-to-bed-early-to-rise" Franklin. It felt good. I was also pleased because I had been reminded that sleep-deprivation can be the biggest health mistake many of us make. It's detrimental to our well-being to get insufficient sleep, but even the most avowed foodies and health conscious people often don't take sleep very seriously. Most of us think nothing of burning the midnight oil. On the contrary, we see overwork and little rest as a badge of productivity and efficiency, a point of pride. We couldn't be more mistaken. Overlooking the importance of sleep is a huge health blindspot.
A recent interview with Sandra Van Gilder, a physical therapist and trainer from California, woke me up (so to speak) to the importance of sleep. As a young woman, Sandra had suffered with back pain, sciatica, swollen knees, and more. As a busy young mom, she struggled with vestibular migraines. These conditions gave her a fresh perspective on how to approach wellness and inform her work today. She talked at length with me about sleep and movement.
- how modifying your lifestyle can help you avoid sickness (e.g. more hydration, less caffeine, improved nutrition, more sleep)
- how lifestyle changes can also help you manage stress and avoid migraines
- how morning grogginess and brain fog can be evidence that you are not getting enough sleep
- how to prepare for a good night's sleep (including gentle stretching, epsom salt baths, reducing artificial light before bed and more)
- the benefits of melatonin: a major antioxidant that protects against cancer
- why you crave carbohydrates when you're sleep-deprived
- how sufficient sleep helps with portion control
- how to avoid having to refuel yourself every hour, when you're exhausted
- how getting outside helps your body get in touch with your circadian rhythm
- the role of healthy fats in relation to your overall health (and sleep patterns)
- why the usual recommendations of rest following an injury can lead to aggravation (emotional and physical)
- why variety of movement is critical
- the importance of knowing your physical goals
- how a whole body approach helps your body function properly
- novel ways to treat low back pain
I'm feeling more refreshed and rested these days. I like it! I hope the jet lag pattern sticks. For Sandra's part, since she has changed her sleep patterns, her migraines disappeared. And though she once had joint pain and back issues that made it difficult to even run around the track a single time, she is now in terrific shape and has even run a half marathon, pain-free!
Sandra is as busy as you and I are, and yet she has made some amazing strides, not only in her own health, but for others' health, as well. Listen to our episode #26 of Wise Traditions here: The myths and truths of sleep and exercise. Or visit her Move Method website (where she offers a free video series).