Men’s health: Stress and sleep
Unfortunately, we live in an age that values business. Business has come to signal status. Many people wear it like a badge of honour; if we’re time-poor, it means we’re in high demand and thriving. But burning the candle at both ends can leave us depleted and bone-weary. Overtime, tiredness seeps into every corner of life, making it impossibly hard to carry out everyday activities. With that in mind, here’s how to refill the energy tank when it sputters.
Get more sleep
The all-seeing eye of technology, overworking, an ill-equipped sleeping environment, unhealthy bedtime rituals – there are many reasons why quality rest can evade us. But to quote the revered sleep researcher, Allan Rechtschaffen, ‘if sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it’s the biggest mistake the evolutionary process ever made’. A good night’s rest isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. And we all need to start prioritising at least seven to nine hours of it each night.
Strike a healthy work-life balance
Many of us are quick to push everything else aside to satisfy our professional goals, even if it leaves us exhausted. But striving for a healthy work-life balance is nothing to be smirked at. Achieving balance can help mitigate stress, reduce the risk of burnout and lead to a greater sense of wellbeing. Try to implement realistic boundaries on what you’re prepared to do at work and home. Leave work at work – exercise a ‘no work emails’ policy at home. And, finally, understand that it’s okay to prioritise your health and loved ones. Remember, you should work to live, not live to work.
Get up more, sit down less
Modern life has shackled us to our cars, offices, and workstations. And yet, we haven’t evolved to lead largely deskbound lives; we crave movement. Being sedentary can lead to feelings of lethargy and fatigue through failing to oxygenate the body. Physical activity also releases ‘feel-good’ hormones called endorphins that are invigorating. Even short injections of activity can turbocharge energy levels.
Perform a short burst of push ups
Do a set of squats while the kettle boils
Do a set of triceps dips on your office chair
Have a quick kick around with a football
Grab a skipping rope
Run vigorously on the spot for one minute
Even when you’re sitting down, can you fidget more? Tap your feet. Wiggle in your seat. Raise your calves. Jiggle your legs.
An unexpected bill, relationship trouble, a strongly worded email from your boss – stress abounds our modern-day life. The problem is, prolonged stress can leave you overwhelmed, emotionally drained and exhausted. Stress can also pave the way for bad sleep. And bad sleep can pave the way for more stress. Together, stress and sleeplessness intensify each other, creating a negative feedback loop that can leave you spent.
Watch your water intake
Even mild dehydration can lead to fatigue and lethargy. Make a conscious effort to drink more water throughout the day. In a 2014 study, researchers found that upping the water intake of participants who didn’t ordinarily drink enough water had a tremendously positive effect on their energy levels.(22) Head back to page 16 for helpful hacks on hitting your H2O quota.
To ensure a steady supply of fuel in the tank, you may wish to include the following in your diet.
Playing a role in almost 300 biochemical processes, magnesium contributes to energy release and a reduction in tiredness and fatigue. Eat it: tofu.
Like magnesium, iron also contributes to a reduction in tiredness and fatigue. Eat it: minced beef.
Several of the B vitamins, namely riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, folic acid and vitamin B12, contribute to a reduction in tiredness and fatigue. Eat it: lamb’s liver.
The inclusion of the well-known adaptogen, Korean Ginseng, may help to complement busy lives.
The ‘sleep is for wimps’ narrative has won wide acceptance in recent years. And yet, this idea couldn’t be further from the truth. If you regularly short-change yourself of sleep due to irregular working hours, jam-packed social commitments, or twilight Netflix binges, it’s time to listen up. Vital for mood, energy and cognition (the list could go on), sleep is the best (free) performance-enhancing drug available.
Get 20-minutes of morning sunlight
Paradoxically, preparing for sleep should start as soon as you rouse in the morning. Sure, have a shower and fix yourself breakfast, but also make time to salute the sun. Exposure to morning sunlight is an essential component of our evolutionary heritage; it helps calibrate our 24-hour body clock, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm. Put simply, more morning sun means better sleep at night. Why not enjoy your morning coffee in the garden or bask in the rays en route to work? (Oh, and it doesn’t even matter if it’s overcast!)
Think carefully about caffeine
For many of us, the rich and bitter notes
of coffee see us through the morning, washing away bleary-eyes and sleepiness. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make up for the fact that caffeine can rob you of your precious sleep. This widely guzzled substance has a reputation for extending sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), reducing total sleep time, diminishing sleep efficiency and worsening perceived sleep quality. (23)
All drugs (yes, caffeine is indeeda drug) have a half-life – that is, the time it takes for its initial level of impact to reduce by 50 per cent. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours. This means if you brew a coffee at 4pm, the caffeine will still be in your system around bedtime. To support your quest for rest, try to enjoy your caffeine before midday.
Avoid commotion before bed
It should come as no surprise that scary films, discussions about finances, and strongly-worded work emails aren’t the most conducive to quality sleep. Instead of winding you down for sleep, they wind you up. Try to manage any emotional commotion before bed that may get between you and restful sleep.
Keep calm and carry on sleeping
Never discuss stressful or financial matters before bed
Educate your family and friends about your evening routine
Make it a rule not to check work emails 90-minutes before bed
Don’t watch the news, a thriller, or any other commotion-causing programme
Some people find meditation helps them access deeper states of relaxation and send them into restorative slumber
Follow a healthy bedtime routine
Humans thrive on structure and routine. And following the same rituals every night – around 30-90 minutes before bed – will help train your body and mind to unwind for rest. Ultimately, this routine should be relaxing. You may want to soak in a bath, diffuse essential oils in your bedroom, disconnect from technology, or read a book by a soft lamp. Do whatever you need to prepare your body for rest and practice the same activities every night.
Embrace the darkness
If you have ever been camping, chances are you slept well. Why? Well, you were submerged in the natural cycle of sunlight and nightfall. Once the soft embers of the campfire slowly petered out, you were left in total darkness. Darkness triggers the production of our sleep hormone, melatonin, signally that it’s time for rest.
Air conditioning, electric alarm clocks, light pollution from street lamps, blue night-lights, and electronic devices are notorious sleep saboteurs. For a good night’s kip, you need to exercise a zero-tolerance policy against all light sources.
Dream of waking refreshed? You may want to consider the following additions.
Magnesium contributes to normal muscle and psychological function, making it a useful addition to your sleep arsenal. Eat it: avocados.
Valerian root extract is a traditional herbal remedy used for the temporary relief of sleep disturbances and mild anxiety.
Soaking in a relaxing Epsom salt bath may help prepare your body for rest at night. Consider making
it a staple of your evening routine.
Theanine and Lemon Balm
The soothing blend of L-theanine and lemon balm may be a welcomed addition at this time.
Lavender essential oil
For years, lavender has been touted for its calming and restorative effects on the body. To send you into a restful slumber, why not diffuse this mellow and fruity scent in your bedroom?
- Pross N, Demazières A, Girard N, Barnouin R, Metzger D, et al. (2014) Effects of Changes in Water Intake on Mood of High and Low Drinkers. PLOS ONE 9(4): e94754.
- O'Callaghan, F., Muurlink, O., & Reid, N. (2018). Effects of caffeine on sleep quality and daytime functioning. Risk management and healthcare policy, 11, 263–271.