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

Menopause could be a report card

shutterstock_258522395One of the myths about menopause is that symptoms are related to a deficiency of hormones, either estrogen or progesterone. Yet if that was the case why wouldn’t all women get these symptoms ? My favourite assessment of menopause is that its a “report card” on the last 10 years. That’s great if you have been doing all the right things but it can be problematic if you live in a big city, work full time with kids or have dealt with a  lot of stress.

Generally in practice the consistent triggers for menopausal havoc are adrenal fatigue, toxicity, dysbiosis (gut dysfunction), hormonal imbalance, excess weight and inflammation. In the more difficult cases it can be a combination of these factors and that’s why its important to ensure you review all these areas in your initial case taking and think about which areas you need to prioritise.

So how do you decide what’s contributing to your symptoms ?

  1. Adrenal Fatigue – also known as I am a full time carer, full time worker and full time nanny/housekeeper (also known as Mum) or combination of some or all of the above. Stress initially raises adrenaline to prepare us for fight or flight. Longer term it results in elevated cortisol which may result in fluid retention and weight gain.
  2. Dysbiosis or gut dysfunction – if your gut isn’t working properly its hard to digest the nutrients you need and also support your liver to detoxify effectively. This will result in hormone imbalance particularly through peri-menopause when the liver is already working harder to detoxify hormones. Signs of gut dysfunction could include flatulence, bloating or reflux. Treatment will often involve identifying and removing food intolerances whilst supporting digestive function to reduce reactivity.
  3. Toxicity – two big areas areas are Heavy Metals or Endocrine Disruptors which can be a little tricky to determine but think lots of plastics or old fillings (usually amalgams contain mercury and silver). Switch over to glass or BPA free plastic as much as possible to reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors. Also look at your cosmetics and skin care products to ensure you are minimising your exposure to chemicals and reducing the burden on the liver. One problem with toxicity is that it makes it harder to lose weight as the body will push these toxins into fat and will resist releasing it to protect you.
  4. Inflammation can be due to carrying excess body fat but can also be due to chronic injuries which trigger constant inflammation in the body. Anti-inflammatory supplements such as fish oil and tumeric can be helpful but exercise has an important role to play here in reducing inflammation as well. Just make sure its not aggravating an existing injury and consider whether you may need more support such as in acqua aerobics in the pool for example which can take pressure off joints.
  5. Hormonal Imbalance for some women hormones will be imbalanced because of some of the reasons listed above however there are some good herbal and homeopathic options available which can help. The most widely used herbal medicine is probably Vitex or Agnes Castus which can assist women with menopausal symptoms. Usually with herbal medicine and certainly with homeopathic medicines it is preferable to prescribe based on the client’s specific symptoms. In the last few months I have found clients have had relief from symptoms with Glonoine, Sepia and Sulphur homeopathically, its never one size fits all . A 2008 study of 438 women with hot flushes showed a significant improvement in symptoms for 90% of women in the trial (1).

Christine Pope is a Naturopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or online at the website

 

 

(1) Treating Hot Flushes in Menopausal Women – an observational study accessed at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18194760

Is it time to recharge the batteries?

Taking a week out in the sun in Winter is an ideal way to recharge the batteries. This year I went to Fiji for a week with the family and it made such a difference to have a mid year break. The question is how do you keep the batteries charged when you get back?

Think about incorporating some of the relaxing rituals from your holiday into your life on your return or use it as a chance to start eating better. Some useful options to consider could be:

  1. Daily walks – one thing you tend to do as a tourist is walk, often quite a lot more than you would normally. So once you have started why not keep it up. Walking along the beach is always relaxing and incorporating a weekly beach or bayside walk is ideal. The great thing about walking is you don’t need a lot of equipment and you can always walk to a coffee bar for a convenient top up.
  2. Being in nature – barefoot on the beach or on your back lawn. Walking the Corso in Manly is a great way to pick up your mood. Spending some time in nature each day really helps us stay grounded.
  3. Massage or other bodywork – incorporate this into your weekly or monthly schedule to help maintain your self and calm your cortisol. The village adjoining the resort in Fiji offered a one hour massage for about $30 Australian. Easier to afford at this price but with health funds rebating up to $30 for a treatment it could be a good way to add some self care on a regular basis. My clinic at St Ives has three excellent massage therapists offering lymphatic, craniosacral or remedial massage.
  4. Add greens to your diet. Again something simple and relatively easy to incorporate that will give you long term benefits. My breakfast in Fiji included sautéed okra and spinach, both locally grown so they were really tasty. Try adding spinach to your breakfast omelette or a salad at lunch.
  5. Eat seasonally it’s often cheaper and the food is usually in peak condition. The imperfect pick section in Harris Farm is usually a good indicator of what’s fresh , seasonal and well priced. At the moment lots of root vegetables and cauliflower as well as citrus and apples and pears.
  6. Hydrate ! If you can’t find someone to open a coconut for you at least drain the water bottle by lunch. We loved being able to enjoy the coconut water from a freshly opened coconut and then ate the young flesh from inside. Good hydration and good fats!

Christine Pope is an experienced naturopath based at Elemental Health St Ives. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or online at the Elemental website .

8 strategies for stressed parents

shutterstock_19655527As a working parent with two children I know how stressful the juggle can be with work, finances, activities and parenting not to mention finding time with your partner. How do you make it a bit easier on yourself ? Steve Biddulph recommends making a 5% change so I have made a few suggestions on some good starting points.

Childcare is a cost of working – get the best you can afford

For many parents the cost of childcare for a young child makes them wonder why they are returning to work (Its for your sanity/mortgage payments/contact with other adults). Whilst the ideal may be a full time nanny its just not affordable for everyone, so think about what it may look like. Maybe a combination of long day care, a regular sitter for after work functions or other commitments and hopefully some helpful grandparents. Just remember planning is critical so you aren’t in a constant panic. Finding a regular sitter or two, who is available on short notice, can be a real god send.

Just remember they will only be in long day care for a few years, then you have the joy of navigating lengthy school holidays and after school care. You still need to think about a budget for childcare even when they are at school its just going to be lumpier. School holiday camps such as YMCA and Crusader Camps can be a good way to occupy a week but the costs will add up.

Trade off $$$ for annual leave

The other option can be to trade for additional leave to cover some of the school holidays, many employers are now offering this option or you may be able to negotiate an extra week or two in lieu of a pay rise. Given the ratio of 12 weeks school holidays to four weeks paid leave this can be really helpful.

Outsource as much as possible

Cooking , cleaning , shopping, washing and ironing – what ever you don’t enjoy doing think about outsourcing. Personally I think a cleaner is essential for any working parent. After a full day at work coming home and starting to clean is just exhausting. It also reduces the volume of arguments about cleaning on the home front which is another plus.

shutterstock_51065257Reduce scheduled activities

So many parents are shuttling kids from activity to activity after school with no downtime. Why? Do they really need to speak Mandarin, be coached in maths, play two sports and the piano? Schedule play dates with their friends and help them build social skills. Or just limit to a couple of things they really want to do – whether its football and drama or dance and tennis. Better still many schools offer activities as part of the after school program so make it easier by having them at the same venue and fill any gaps with after school care.

Involve kids in food preparation

The best time to have a chat with your kids about what’s happening is when they are a little distracted. Getting kids to peel carrots or chop up a few vegetables can be a good time for them to tell you about their day or chat when something is worrying them. Often they will also try new foods when they have been involved in the preparation. My kids went to a Montessori kindergarden and used knives from Age 3. Frankly I found it terrifying initially but they did develop skills quite quickly.

Tear up those parenting books (and blogs)

The first year I was home with young children, another colleague and I agreed that the parenting books were driving us insane and making us feel inadequate. So we agreed to just rip out the chapters that irritated us. There wasn’t much left. Its a bit like that with social media now, the pressure to rear these perfect children who always behave in public and have perfect grades.

Ban Homework in Primary School

This one might be a bit controversial but really there isn’t any good evidence to suggest that regular homework at this primary school makes any difference. They have already spent 6-8 hours at school that day so why send parents more work to do that night?

I still have nightmares about my daughter’s worst ever parent teacher interview where I was told by her Grade 4 teacher that she had the most appalling attitude to homework. Now the teacher was asking my daughter to write spelling words up on the board that she already knew and then wanted her to copy them out three times as well. I calmly suggested I would support homework that was useful, but this clearly wasn’t and that she knew by asking my daughter to write the words on the board that she already knew how to spell them.

You can have it all just not all at the same time!

Having kids is a big job. Very few people would try being CEO of 2 businesses at once. In the first couple of years it’s normal to be shell shocked or sleep deprived. So if work demands a 12 hour day then think seriously about a sideways move for a couple of years until you are ready to handle it. One of the hardest things I ever did was ask my boss for a four day week but it completely saved my sanity. Years later he told me he was soooo relieved as he thought I was going to ask for three days!

Christine Pope is a Naturopath, Homeopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health, St Ives. She is available for appointments on 8084 0081 if you need help managing stress!

Why is my skin like this?

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For many years skin problems were one of the more difficult conditions that I saw in clinic. Whether it was tinea, rashes, acne or excema often treatment can be lengthy and involve significant dietary change. Also I find it can often flare up as you are detoxing and this requires careful management.

Skin is the largest organ of the body and performs an important role in detoxification, so if you are eating badly it will show up on the skin. Even when you improve your eating patterns it may take 4-6 weeks to show changes as it takes time to work through your system, to reduce inflammation and ultimately to heal.

So what you say, I have a really good diet but I still have skin problems ? Well fabulous that you have sorted out diet but ideally this comes down to identifying the underlying triggers for your skin issues. Usually I find it comes down to one of the following ;

  1. “My excema is always bad when I am stressed ” In this case stress hormones are hijacking your system and simply addressing the skin isn’t going to be enough. Often the strategy here is to use lifestyle interventions to manage the stress – yoga, meditation, reframing exercises as well as using appropriate supplements to support the adrenals and manage the skin. People who are stressed are usually more acidic so alkalising nutrients such as lots of vegetables work well or supplements with magnesium and potassium.shutterstock_553662235
  2. My skin it so itchy but I really don’t know why? It doesn’t seem to matter what I eat or what products I use on it! Two big areas here – one in exposure to foods or external triggers which are incompatible with your system. In this case I usually look at the Bio Compatability Hair Test to identify potential triggers and determine what is causing the reaction for that person.
  3. The skin problems only seem to happen at a certain time of year ??? Yes it could be a particular stressor (like a big family Christmas) but in this case its important to be an environmental detective. Even in dry winters its possible that the house has underlying damp and mould and this can create havoc for people who are sensitive. However it could also be a seasonal intolerance to a particular plant – apparently although wattle gets blamed for a lot of hayfever its not usually the suspect as the particles are too big. Apparently grass and dust are more common allergens. If mould is the underlying issue its important that it be treated appropriately and there are specialists in its detection and removal.
  4. My tinea flares up whenever I drink a lot! This is often related to an underlying candida overgrowth which feeds off sugar – alcohol is literally liquid sugar in many cases. Apart from sticking to spirits with lime and soda and not lemonade or coke (which is not very good naturopathic advice but it does help) its important to treat the underlying fungal picture. Foods which are good sources of anti-fungal compounds include coconut oil and garlic, however I usually find a combination of approriate herbs and essential oils is faster at cleaning up the tinea.Coconut oil and fresh coconut
  5. Not only do I have rashes constantly but I am also really anxious or down. This can be related to an excess of copper in relation to zinc which reduces your ability to break down histamine and mount an appropriate immune response. In my first consultation I always include my inhouse minerals analysis tool – Oligoscan – and this can detect these imbalances. The other option is hair tissue minerals analysis which does take a little time.img_0543
  6. My baby is completely breast fed and yet he still has excema? Well unfortunately this means Mum is probably consuming something that doesn’t agree with her system and bubs is reacting.  It probably started with a colicky whiny baby and has now progressed. If this is the case its essential for Mum to eliminate any foods she reacts to and monitoring the impact this has on bubs. Usually within 2-4 weeks you can expect good resolution if you know what your triggers are. Occassionally it may be the baby care products that could be causing a reaction but its much more common that it’s Mum’s diet. Its always a bit tough since a new breastfeeding mother has a large appetite and probably not a lot of energy for lots of cooking as well as all the other chores she now gets to enjoy, however longer term it makes for a much happier baby and Mum!

The first suggestion I would make is to ideally keep a food diary for a week and track your reactions to what you are eating. Record not only what you are eating and drinking but also whether you feel tired or energised afterwards. Keep note of what is happening with your stomach as well particularly if you have urgency or constipation after a particular meal or are suffering bloating or reflux. Note how your mood is impacted by what is happening as well. Over a week you should start to see patterns emerging that will help you detect which foods are a problem for you.

If that doesn’t shine any clarity on it for you take your food diary to a naturopath or nutritionist and ask them for help. My clinic is at St Ives in Sydney and you can make appointments on 8084 0081.

 

One in four men do no housework 

shutterstock_632228624Sadly this statistic from the census didn’t surprise me. I see a constant stream of women who are stressed from working two full time roles as employee and mum/housekeeper. It isn’t just the housework – the shopping  – driving the kids around – making lunches – making dinners – but also the  constant burden of thinking about everything that needs to happen that many find exhausting.

Personally it’s taken me a long time to get my household to a fairer balance and so I can’t pretend that I have the answers. But i do think this is an important topic and maybe some of my useful techniques can help yet another exhausted mother/housewife/carer from hitting the wall!

One of my colleagues tells this story about me and whilst I honestly don’t remember this it does sound like me. Many years ago my husband washed all my lingerie with brightly coloured clothes and turned it all pinkish. My response was “don’t worry hon it will cost me about 400 bucks to replace it but you’ll get the hang of it”. 27 years later he still does all the washing and ironing . In fact my son also irons beautifully. They both like ironing whilst watching TV.

Lesson #1: You don’t have to do everything yourself!

It takes 10,000 hours to build competence so don’t expect your partner or kids to do it perfectly in fact let go of the expectation that they will do it your way at all. After all “done” is better than perfect. Also remember that whilst you can do it faster and better than they can now, just think about how much time you are liberating if they cook just dinner one night a week? Over weeks or months how much extra time would you have and this should help you build your resilience to make some changes.

The area that really started getting to me about four years ago was cooking. With a gluten and dairy free household and our preference for organic food most meals are made from scratch and it takes a lot of time. In fact I think I have spent years of my life chopping vegetables. About 4 years ago I taught my husband a few simple dishes such as my Easy Roast Chicken and Turkey mince Lasagne. His rule is that I need to cook it with him twice and then leave him with detailed step by step instructions.

shutterstock_512123965If making a whole meal seems a big stretch then start by suggesting other’s participate in food preparation by asking them to  make a salad or at least chop some vegetables and then build up from there. Meal preparation is a lot faster with a few extra sets of hands.

Lesson #2: Baby Steps

One strategy that I really liked was for the whole family to participate in 20 minutes of home beautification each day. It isn’t a huge amount of time but it’s amazing how four people working for 20 minutes can get so much more done. It’s also surprisingly how after a few weeks thing start naturally being returned to their correct location.

Lesson #3: It’s OK to ask for help

Another strategy is outsourcing. For many women this can feel like failure. Personally I think its amazing to come home from work and find the house has been cleaned by someone else.  Also you create employment – in Africa, for example,  employing help as soon as you can afford it is regarded as an obligation. Often that salary is supporting a whole family. What you pay a cleaner will certainly contribute to the success of a business even though maybe it won’t create a whole wage , so think about the broader community and outsource.

The area that I still haven’t cracked is the teenage attitude of I’ll do it when I get around to it. One weekend I left unwashed dishes on the kitchen bench for 36 hours waiting for that magical moment. Came back home to my husband washing up who said that he knew I would lose it if it wasn’t done (and he was spot on there). Any suggestions for how to manage this one? Please post in the comments section below if you have any hot tips.

Christine Pope is a Naturopath Nutritionist and Homeopath based at Elemental Health St Ives. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or book online at http://www.elementalhealth.net.au .

 

Ultimate stress management tool – Pokemon Go !

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Managing stress isn’t always easy but the latest tool assisting in my arsenal is a surprising one – Pokemon Go! So how does a kids game help manage stress?

First up most adults spend a lot of time on devices, checking emails, social media or the Internet. What we seem to have forgotten is how to use devices for fun. Imagine that instead of checking your emails you are checking which cute little Pokemon you can catch. Yep add a bit of fun to your day instead of more work.

Another area many of us forget when our work piles up is exercise but when you get rewarded for walking by hatching eggs with new Pokemon there is suddenly value in making sure you exercise frequently. Eggs need 2, 5 or even 10 km of walking to hatch and you get rarer Pokemon with higher value eggs. No surprise then that the first week with the game I probably upped my walking by 10 kilometers in the week and now try and walk every day instead of just a few days a week.

Many women are juggling a constant range of pickups and drop-offs. Many days I will have done two trips to the station before I head to my clinic in the morning. It used to get me quite irritable specially at night when I am cooking dinner and got constant interruptions. Now I am like excellent , I can top up on my poke balls at the poke stops at the station ( you use these to catch the Pokemon). So a source of irritation has now become an opportunity. Often reframing stressors can change our reaction.

img_0527Finally a few people when they get stressed withdraw from socialising and their community – well this game positively inspires social interaction. Yesterday I had a lively discussion with an eight year old boy at the park about the difficulty we were both having catching a Bulbasaur at the local poke-stop. Even in my clinic I have found this a great ice breaker with children who usually aren’t that happy to be dragged in to see a natural therapist.

Many of my colleagues commented that with the advent of this game teens are roaming the streets – that’s right instead of playing a game solo in their rooms they are outside interacting with nature and each other!! I am planning a trip to Circular Quay for Pokemon hunting with a group of friends next week. Anyone else want to join us???

Christine Pope is a practicing nutritionist and homeopath based at Elemental Health St Ives. Appointments are available Tuesdays and Wednesdays on 8084 0081 or you can book online at Elemental Health . She is currently at Level 24 on Pokemon and  has just caught a Pikachu in a Xmas hat.