Six ways to increase your energy

One of the most common reasons for people to see a naturopath is that they are really tired and lack energy. If you are feeling like this at the moment its important to understand why your energy is low but there are also several things you can introduce which may help improve your energy levels on a permanent basis.

The area of the body that produces energy is a component of each cell called a mitochondria, think of them like little factories. As we get older the number of mitochondria in the body can reduce, typically we see a halving of the levels between 20-40 and then again by the time we reach 70. These mitochondria can also be damaged by a range of environmental factors which means they don’t work as effectively and produce less energy.

There are a number of “hacks” which can improve both the number of these little factories and also the quality. Most people are aware of the benefits of regular exercise however they may not be aware that muscle cells will build more mitochondria as a result and they will operate more effectively. However often when people are really fatigued they are not in a position to exercise so these are my top six strategies for improving cellular energy. There are other strategies however this list focuses on those with minimal costs.

  1. Thirty minutes of daylight as close to waking as possible. This is an invaluable reset for your body’s circadian rhythms and helps you produce a reasonable amount of melatonin. Melatonin is important to generate sleep but turns out it also helps with cell repair and can improve energy. Literally one week of eating my breakfast outside followed by a short walk saw a significant improvement in my energy levels.
  2. Mild stressors for the body such as cold can improve energy quality. Its really important with this strategy to start with a very modest amount and slowly increase. A cold swim in a mountain stream might be the goal but start by having a minute or two of your shower with cold water. If you are very temperature sensitive start with it on your arms and legs and then gradually move to the trunk.
  3. Eat in a 11-12 hour window. Allow the bodies waste systems to function effectively by giving them a reasonable window to operate with. This is particularly important if you suffer from brain fog as a result of tiredness. This is really fairly straightforward and may just see you have breakfast at 8am and dinner at 7pm.
  4. Reduce your exposure to blue light from computers and devices. This could involve using blue light blocking glasses however a lower cost solution is as simple as switching off all devices at least one hour before your bedtime. Blue light blocks the production of melatonin and results in more difficulty in getting to sleep. Low melatonin will also reduce the ability of the mitochondria to repair themselves and result in a worsening of fatigue.
  5. Sleep in complete darkness using blockout curtains and turning off all lights and devices. Good quality sleep is essential for energy as cell repair happens during our deep REM cycles. Typically if you aim for 7-8 hours of sleep you will have between 3-5 REM cycles. Each cycle tends to be longer with the first being about 90 minutes. For more information on improving your sleep quality read my blogs on Can you build up sleep Pressure and Six Sleep Myths Debunked
  6. Reduce inflammation in your diet as much as possible. Chronic inflammation reduces your ability to produce energy in your cells. The first step could be avoiding any known allergens or intolerances and the second to try and ensure that you are having at least three cups of vegetables a day. For more information on reducing inflammation my blog on Post Viral Fatigue has some useful resources. More generally to understand which vegetables are most useful for your health What are the best vegetables for feeding your gut ?

There are also a range of strategies to improve energy using tailored diet plans and supplements however these need to be prepared in consultation with a practitioner to ensure that underlying triggers are identified and addressed.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. You can make appointments on 02 8084 0081 on online at Elemental Health .

Can you build up sleep pressure?

Good quality sleep means that we can build up enough pressure to induce sleep. It is part of the equation with your circadian rhythm. If you are finding it difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep it may be that you haven’t build up enough sleep pressure.

What stops you building pressure to sleep? The major areas that you can influence are chronic pain, blue light, and stress. Age and genetics also play a part but these factors are less influenceable.

Chronic Pain affects your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can also increase the risk that you develop a chronic pain condition. There are a number of natural medicine options in pain management however it will depend on what medications you are taking. Generally these conditions will be helped by regular gentle movement. Supplements which can be helpful include high strength fish oils, curcumin and PEA.

It can also be helpful to manage chronic pain with regular bodywork such as osteopathy or massage. If you are very sensitive it can be worthwhile to look at gentle treatments such as craniosacral therapy or lymphatic massage.

Most people seem to know that they shouldn’t use devices in bed but don’t necessarily realise that using the devices for up to 3 hours before bed may affect their sleep. How does it do that? At night the body increases its production of melatonin, this helps activate and maintain sleep. The blue light emitted by your device signals the brain that it is still daytime and can delay production of melatonin for 1-3 hours. Ideally stop using your phone or other device at least 1-2 hours before bed. Watching TV from a distance of up to 2 metres and looking away every 20 minutes can be a good way to reduce the impact.

Some non- pharmaceutical options for blue light exposure include wearing anber reading lenses two hours before bed which improved sleep quality after just a week. Getting morning sunlight has also been shown to be helpful in resetting the circadian rhythm. the nutrient lutein and Zeaxanthin assist in filtering blue light. These nutrients are found in green leafy vegetables and egg yolks.

Stress is of course another big area for interrupting sleep. Chronic long term stress elevates cortisol and can result in the pattern of early morning waking (4-5) and difficulty getting back to sleep. Stressors are different for different people but two of the most common concerns at the moment are unrewarding jobs and anxiety about health. Generally being in a job where your efforts are not rewarded can be a source of ongoing stress.

There are a number of stressors which result in a job being perceived as unrewarding and surprisingly its not about dollars for many people. A British study by Micheal Marmot found that cardiovascular risk as a marker for stress was not highest amongst those at the top but actually lower. It actually correlated with the amount of control that people had over their work and working environment. It is essential to build in processes that allow people flexibility in their work and increase their control as well as avoiding micro management. If you are in an environment where your work is subject to rigid control and micro management it can be worthwhile looking at whether changes can be made.

The second area of anxiety for many people is anxiety about health and this can be particularly acute when a “pandemic” is declared. Worse still with the media constantly triggering you with daily corona counting it can be difficult to stay calm. If this is affecting you generally staying off social media and looking at some routines to calm your brain such as meditation can be helpful. There are a couple of useful apps in this regards including Calm and my current favourite Gaia, which has a range of meditations as well as yoga classes. Still its ideal to do this a couple of hours before bed and avoid screen time before bed as recommended.

The other way to reduce your anxiety about health is to ensure all your regular health checks are up to date and there is no physical reason for the anxiety. For some people who may be prediabetic or insulin resistant difficulties with blood sugar can result in problems with sleep. It can be a good idea to not only get a fasting blood glucose test done annually but also consider whether a more comprehensive test like a 2 hour glucose tolerance test may provide more insight. Frequently in clinic the problems are early stage and occurring at the one to two hour mark.

Reducing caffeine intake and incorporating some carminative herbs can also be useful and you could substitute some calming chamomile tea or peppermint tea as an alternative. These teas before bed could assist in improving sleep pressure.

For more information about sleep have a look at 6 Sleep Myths Debunked .

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health St Ives. If you would like more help with identifying the causes of your poor quality sleep and modifying them you can book in for appointments on 02 8084 0081.

Is your house making you sick?

How would you know if your house is making you ill ? Symptoms can be really diverse and include allergies, fatigue, sleep disturbances and less common symptoms like multiple chemical sensitivity and infertility. To really determine whether its related to the environment you need to look at a detailed history.

The acronmyn for the history taking is PHOLD which stands for place, hobbies, occupation, lifestyle, dental, diet and drugs. So lets look at how the first issue ,place, can contribute to making you ill.

Place – your geography and your home. From everyday exposures such as living on a major road and being exposed to high levels of petroleum by products to living near an airport or a coal mine, your geography increases your risks. Both of those locations create a toxic environment in the house and are associated with a higher incidence of asthma for example.

Another common issue is mould particularly in Sydney with its high ambient humidity in Summer. Often you can smell that a house is damp or musty as you walk in. The cause of the mould is often moisture or leaks that have not been treated quickly. Other examples can include old bathrooms where the waterproof membrane has decayed and mould has built up behind the tiles and fittings. In Sydney roof leaks and rising damp often contribute to problems particularly in older houses. Mould spores whether dead or alive can contribute to chronic respiratory problems, like allergies or asthma.

Another increasingly common challenge for people is EMF fields particularly from smart meters for monitoring electrical use. People who are sensitive to these fields may find that they need to move away from the smart meter to improve their sleep. For people who are very sensitive to electro magnetic radiation it is also a good idea to switch off the wi-fi overnight. It will become increasingly more difficult to remove these sources as we switch to 5G so it is a good idea to reduce your exposures wherever possible. This could mean using headphones for the phone or the speaker where possible.

Within the context of the home its also important to consider hobbies which can involve exposure to toxins or chemicals on a regular basis. Artists for example are constantly exposed to a plethora of chemical solvents, photochemicals, and chemical additives. If you are planning to become pregnant it is important to be aware of the dangers that exist when working with various arts & crafts. Hobbies that involve the handling of dyes, pigments, metals, ceramics, glass, and chemical solvents create the potential for toxic exposure.

If you are not sure whether the home environment is contributing to ill health you can get a building biologist to do a review and advise you of concerns. This is a good starting spot and the Australian College of Environmental Studies has a list on its site if you need a referral. If you are unsure as to whether the house is the problem make sure that the next time you holiday away from home you really observe how you are feeling and it may shed some light on the issue. Certainly I know people who have told me they are always better when they are on holidays, however it may be that they are away from their mouldy house !

Constructing a timeline can often help you determine if it is related to the location or if something in the environment triggered the issue originally.

If you need a bit of assistance determining the causes Christine Pope is based at St Ives and available for appointments on 8084 0081.

Six sleep myths debunked

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Sometimes I think we are dealing with an epidemic of insomnia. The number of people that I see who have problems falling asleep or staying asleep is concerning. Recently I was fortunate enough to go to a seminar by a Sleep Physician which looked at all the research on sleep and I was surprised to find that some of my beliefs around sleep had in fact no basis in reality whereas other areas were more critical than I thought. Let’s start with some of the myths that originated from the Puritans.

  1. 16 hours awake, 8 hours asleep. This myth originates from a time of the Puritanical work ethic but is the root belief that we need 8 hours of sleep is derived from this time period.
  2. Sleep before midnight is more valuable – well actually no if you are a night owl trying to get to sleep earlier may result in more stress and less valuable sleep than if you work with your natural time clock. Going to bed at twelve and waking at eight may be a much better fit for you and result in better energy through the day. However if you need to get up early on a regular basis you may need to wind bedtime back to an earlier time to operate effectively.
  3. Waking is not normal. Actually the evidence shows we start with a deeper sleep cycle that gets progressively lighter and we usually experience up to 4 of these a night. For women over fifty it is normal to have the cycle peak and result in waking at least two to four times a night. Being stressed about waking will probably extend the period between cycles.
  4. Screens affect sleep . I have always told people that screens in the bedroom are not a healthy option either for their relationships or their sleep patterns. Turns out that it is partially right. TV screens at a distance are actually much less problematic than devices close up, largely due to the blue light of the devices. This blue light triggers wakefulness and can affect sleep adversely. Also the noises that most phone make even on silent can interrupt sleep.
  5. Eating impacts sleep but primarily if it represents a change in routine. Eating dinner at eight or nine isn’t a problem as long as its your regular option. The body will produce digestive enzymes in accordance with your regular routine. Its only when you change your routine that it may impact your sleep.
  6. Wake up refreshed actually less than 3% of people wake up like that. For most of us it takes two hours to get to 80% of your cognitive ability. Give yourself time to wake up in the morning before kicking into work mode.

For a lot more useful information about sleep check out the website sleephub.com for a variety of podcasts and other resources. Lets hope in future you wake up more like this.

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Hopefully after reviewing these myths and making a few changes you will start to feel as though you are having better quality sleep. If not make an appointment to see me and see how we can work on the causes of poor quality sleep. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or online at the website