BY SLEEPING SOUNDLY, we can unleash our health and live a world-class life. When we eat better and increase our physical activity, we can improve our sleep even more and strengthen our bodies and minds, enhance our mental and physical health, and reach our potential. To help you on your way, here are the keys to sleeping soundly.
KEY #1: SAVE YOUR CAFFEINE FOR THE MORNING
Caffeine is one of the most powerful known stimulants. It can improve mental and physical performance, which makes it perfect for getting you going in the morning and getting you fired up for important tasks during the day. That is the exact opposite of what you need to be doing in the evenings if you want to sleep well. Caffeine stays in your system for about 6 hours, maybe longer. A good rule to follow if you want to sleep well is to skip the caffeine for 8 hours before you want to fall asleep. So if that’s 10 p.m., no more caffeine after 2 p.m.
KEY #2: DEFEND YOUR LAST HOUR
This means calming down in the hours leading up to when you want to fall asleep. It all comes down to changing your hormone levels so that your body and brain can repair and regenerate instead of breaking down. When you are in a stressed state, your body secretes the hormone cortisol, which increases blood pressure, among other things—such as releasing sugars from the liver into the blood. Cortisol is especially helpful when you are faced with a stressful situation—like meeting a deadline or saving your family from a sabre-toothed tiger—but it inhibits the adaptive processes of your body.
KEY #3: KEEP YOUR SLEEP CAVE DARK
Make sure to rid the bedroom of any electronic screens. Televisions, tablets, mobile phones—all compromise your ability to fall asleep. You might need to cut out the late-night talk shows or YouTube clips and pick up a good book instead. I realize this can be a huge change for you, but having a massive light that flashes at you at 240 frames per second is a surefire way to make sure you don’t fall asleep.
KEY #4: BE COOL
At night, keep your bedroom cool—at about 19 degrees Celsius. Keeping the room cool should help you stay asleep during the night. If you find yourself waking up because you’re too cold or too hot, adjust the room temperature and the blankets until you find the right combination to keep you cool and comfortable all night.
KEY #5: SLEEP 7 TO 8 HOURS EACH NIGHT
Even though adults need to sleep soundly for 7 to 8 hours each night, evidence indicates that sleeping on a regular schedule is even more important than the total amount of sleep time. Studies show that when athletes’ bedtime is shifted around but the total number of hours they sleep remains the same, there is a measurable decrease in athletic performance. Sticking to a consistent routine is key.
THE POTENTIAL FOR improving our lives by moving more is huge. Simply standing up changes the way our bodies use energy and circulates blood; it also changes how we think. Exercise can improve concentration, learning, focus, and memory and can even prevent and treat mental illnesses. But taking advantage of this will require a paradigm shift. We need to incorporate movement into our daily lives.
KEY #1: BUILD YOUR FITNESS
Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and hiking will build up the cardiorespiratory system (heart, lungs, blood, blood vessels) and the aerobic energy pathway inside the muscles. All these activities and other similar forms of light-intensity exercise, such as yoga and gardening, will help you develop cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance. These activities enhance the transport system the body uses to get oxygen from the environment to the muscle cells, where it is used to create energy. When you put stress on your muscles, heart, and lungs by pushing them through activities like walking, jogging, running, swimming, or cycling for periods that are longer than they are used to, you stimulate adaptation and make your energy systems more efficient.
KEY #2: BUILD YOUR STRENGTH
WHEN YOU DO strength training, you are engaging different energy systems and muscle fibres than you are when doing aerobic training. Strength exercise is more intense and requires us to create more force with our muscles than we need to when doing light- to moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Just think of the difference between hiking in the woods and carrying heavy bags of groceries. One (hiking) requires a little bit of energy over a long time, and the other (carrying) requires a lot of force over a short period. Both types of fitness are critical for health and performance.
KEY #3: BUILD YOUR SPEED
ONCE YOU HAVE been training for a reasonable amount of time and have established your basic fitness level, speed training will be a powerful way to improve both your overall fitness and specific fitness in your type 2 muscle fibres and the anaerobic system inside your muscles. With this training, you develop your endurance capacity (aerobic energy system and type 1 muscle fibres) and your strength capacity (anaerobic energy systems and type 2 muscle fibres). When you do that, you teach your body how to process metabolic waste more efficiently, which improves your overall fitness and increases your ability to recover on the fly.
KEY #4: BUILD YOUR MOBILITY
Done properly, stretching can help you decrease muscle tension; reduce pain; and improve your range of motion, performance, and health. The second most important thing to know is that the word stretching refers to many types of exercises that do many different things to the body. We just need to understand what to do, how to do it, and when. The ongoing debate in the scientific and athletic communities about how to approach mobility work is sometimes taken as a sign that there are no significant benefits to increased flexibility. That just isn’t true. The truth is that mobility is a complicated topic, but understanding and applying the science of movement through range-of-motion exercises and proper warm-up techniques is essential if you are to improve your health and performance.
KEY #5: MOVE IN NATURE
IF YOU ARE increasing your exercise and activity, great! More physical activity will benefit your muscles, blood, heart, and lungs—pretty much everything in your body. Doing your activity outside is even better. Exercising in nature has benefits that go above and beyond the benefits gained by exercising indoors. Research has shown improvements in mental well-being, self-esteem, and even depression.
EATING SMARTER CAN help you in all aspects of your life. The solution lies in building a lifestyle that helps you be healthy, happy, and at your best. Start with a foundation built on healthy foods. Eat the right food at the right time, and you can set the stage for better health and performance. If you add good sleep and exercise to the mix, you can amplify your health and potential. Here are the keys to eating smarter.
KEY #1: HYDRATE
There is not a single cell in your body that does not rely on water. Water helps transport the carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that your cells need to make energy. When your body works, functions, or moves, it does so because water helped transport the necessary fuel or energy-building components. Reflect on the word carbohydrate for a moment. Do you see the word hydrate in it? That’s not a coincidence. Carbohydrates are basically hydrates of carbon. Carbon. Hydrogen. Oxygen.
KEY #2: EAT MOSTLY PLANTS
The primary benefit of eating a diet based mostly on plants is an increase in your intake of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. These have antioxidant properties that help keep you healthy. Antioxidants are substances that prevent the oxidation of important biomolecules, such as fatty acids, DNA, or proteins, by a reactive oxygen species.
Excessive oxidation of molecules in the body can affect their structure and function. Think of how metal begins to rust when it is exposed to oxygen in the air. Or how the flesh of an apple turns brown after it is cut open. The scientific term for this process is oxidative stress. Antioxidants slow and minimize this process in our bodies.
KEY #3: CONSUME MORE NUTRIENTS, FEWER CALORIES
Leafy greens. Swiss chard, kale, mustard/collard greens, spinach, dandelion, seaweed. These have by far the highest antioxidant density per calorie. Greens are also packed with calcium, iodine, and iron, which are excellent for bone strength, thyroid health, and energy.
Small fatty fish. Sardines, perch, tilapia, salmon, herring, anchovies. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish help with circulation, concentration, and pain relief. Fish is also a source of protein and calcium. To avoid heavy metals, avoid large fish like tuna, swordfish, and shark.
Legumes. Lentils, chickpeas, and black/kidney/navy/cannellini beans. Legumes are the least expensive protein source and are packed with fibre and B vitamins.
KEY #4: EAT ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS
EATING A LARGE quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables can help optimize your anti-inflammatory and antioxidant status, thanks to their high concentration of various flavonoid polyphenols. Polyphenols, which include flavonoids and tannins, can also help regulate oxidative stress. Flavonoids are the most studied group for brain health.
Good fruit and vegetable choices include apples, pears, citrus fruits, red grapes, green leafy vegetables, and onions, which appear to be important for immune-system and overall health. Cruciferous vegetables, which are high in organosulfur compounds—especially broccoli but also cauliflower, bok choy, and cabbage—also have inflammation-reducing properties.
KEY #5: EAT HEALTHY FATS
PROCESSED FOODS TEND to contain trans fats such as hydrogenated vegetable oils. You should avoid trans or partially hydrogenated fats as much as possible. Trans fats are found in many baked goods, snacks such as chips and prepackaged popcorn, and fried foods.
The key to understanding the healthy-fat concept is to learn about two essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6, called essential because they are the only two types of fat that our bodies can’t make on their own. Since these fatty acids are essential to our good health, we need to consume them.
BY THINKING CLEARLY, you will be able to function at a higher level in everything you do. The challenge is that because it’s the brain and the mind you’re working with, you have to practise and be consistent. The research shows that if you can do just that, you will end up changing the structure of your brain, and ultimately it will be easier to concentrate, problem-solve, live in the moment, and reach your potential. Here are the keys to thinking clearly.
KEY #1: USE STRESS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
It’s really hard to live a high-performance life when high stress is a daily reality. Chronic stress damages your body, threatens your mental health, puts strain on relationships, and takes the joy out of life. Why is it so bad? Because you have no time to recover from unrelenting stress. Short bursts of stress (called acute stress) are essential for helping us perform at a higher level. But elevated stress over long periods (chronic stress) can make us sick.
The good news is that anyone can learn techniques that can counter the damage of the stress response. Make sure that each day you take some time to break the stress cycle and activate your parasympathetic system to rest, recover, and regenerate. Doing this not only helps you perform better in the moment but also recharges your body and brain to stay healthy over the long term.
KEY #2: GET IN A STATE OF FLOW
A STATE OF flow is a magical zone where you can perform at your absolute best, yet you’re in control and the performance almost seems easy. Have you ever been completely focused and absorbed in a task, and then an hour later, you emerge from “the flow” and realize you have just done some of the best thinking you’ve ever done? Or a day when you were working or studying and understood everything easily—and the words you wrote just flowed out smoothly onto the page? Or gone for a run and settled into a smooth rhythm in which your mind quieted down and you flowed through the steps, when running became easy and you were able to perform at a level you never knew you were capable of until that moment?
The key to this skill is to make the shift from feel, think, act to act, think, feel when you are under pressure or feeling stressed. So the next time you’re anxious, nervous, or tense, try to shift your body positioning to one of confidence, and note the difference that creates in terms of your thoughts and emotions.
KEY #3: BE MINDFUL
MINDFULNESS, OR KEEPING your awareness in the here and now, is important for mental health and elite performance. The key is to stay in the moment in the face of distraction, no matter how great it may be.
KEY #4: CULTIVATE MORE ENERGY, LESS TENSION
The biggest threat to your being in the zone is that something will happen that increases your stress or anxiety. That will force you from the nice, relaxed high-energy, high-performance state you were in to a state where tension creeps in, and as a result, your performance decreases, your effort increases, and your health suffers. Once again, we can look to world-class performers for both inspiration and concrete examples of how to handle pressure and stress to get back in the performance zone.
KEY #5: FOCUS RELENTLESSLY
When we focus on what’s important in the face of distractions and pressures, we can achieve incredible things. Baseball pitchers ignore the crowd and focus on delivering the pitch. Skiers focus on technique when they’re about to perform. Musicians get into the music they are playing and forget about the crowd. Actors become the characters they are playing, and the cameras become just objects in the environment. Agents of change like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa focus on their beliefs in the face of extreme difficulties, which enables them to act in alignment with their dreams—ultimately changing the world.