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Do You Get Sick Often? Here's 4 Keys for Optimal Wellness

By Sean Escaravage
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Congratulations! You've finally gotten into a consistent groove with your lifestyle adaptions:

Consistent meal preparation eliminates the worry of grabbing crappy 'on-the-go' snacks. Keeping your sneakers and gym clothes in clear sight keep you from second guess skipping the gym. You feel and look better, and others are starting to notice too. But right when all seems to be going great...

You Get Sick.

Dammit. That tiny sniffle you thought you could shake just turned into a temperature escalating and body aching kick in the gut. You tried some warm lemon & ginger tea, antibiotics and a night of rest, but it won't get the hint to leave. We have all been there, and no matter how or when it happens, it always sucks (that is, of course, unless you happen to ironically "miss out" on seeing the in-laws for the weekend).

Jamming your body full of unpronouncable over the counter meds won't do the trick. Sure it will maybe make the temperatre drop, but what about the toll it takes on your digestive system and bodies efficiency? There are more than enough lifestyle adjustments that can do the job even better, without taking a toll on dampening your immune system or spending hours in the doctors office.

Today, I'm going to shed light on 1 of my 4 Key Ways for Optimal Wellness!

1. Sleep

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"Yes, lack of sleep can affect your immune system. Studies show that people who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.

During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep."

Eric J. Olson, M.D.

If you want to really combat potential sickness, then you better start closing your eyes, after you read this of course. I'm sure you've heard "You have to get your 8 hours", but for many, that number is a dream, a longshot to commit to. But regardless of simply how long you snooze, there is more than just duration when it comes to really getting the most out of your sweet, sweet slumber.

Know Your Sleep Cycles

For the past 8 months, I've been mildy obsessed with quantifying my sleep, mostly because it has always been an area of concern. The amount of times slept until noon in my highschool and college years can be counted on one hand, and even as a baby I wouldn't go down for naps (sorry mom and dad). So now, rather than just slapping my head into the pillow and setting an alarm that has me pissed off before I even close my eyes, using a sleep cycle calculator is one of the best bang for your buck.

Wait, What are Sleep Cycles?

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There are two kinds of sleep; NREM and REM. NREM, Non-Rapid Eye Movement, has 4 stages and for the sake of saving you an essay of science you probably don't want to hear, I'll leave it at this: Stage 1= lighter sleep, Stage 4= deeper sleep, and your body varies through them based on restlessness and internal body functions. Moving forward, REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, is a sleep phase where random movement of the eyes occur, extreme muscle relaxation, and when we have vivid or lucid dreams. REM should account for 20-25% of each night, or ideally, 90-120 minutes. The first occurrence being 70 minutes after falling asleep, and cycles every 90 minutes thereafter, becoming longer as you are closer to waking up for the day.

A true full night of sleep is completing 5-6 REM sleep cycles. As you can see above, it is the closest state to being fully awake, so the goal is to have your body learn to wake up during that brief period you are experiencing rapid eye movement.

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When we wake up extra tired and groggy, it is usually from hearing an alarm disrupt our sleep cycle in stages 1-4, not in the ideal REM zone. This throwing our circadian rhythm out of whack (a.k.a. waking up on the wrong side of the bed). But by using a sleep calculator to do the REM/NREM math for you, like sleepyti.me, it gives you the ability to;

  • Find the optimal wake up time options are based on when you are going to sleep

  • Or the best times to fall asleep if you have a specific time you need to wake up

On the right is a quick snapshot of when I entered I needed to wake up at 7:30am. I use this virtually every night I have an alam set and it has helped even nights of 4-5 hours of sleep keep me more refreshed than I would imagine!

For those long nights of extracurricular activities, early morning road trips, catching the 5am train into the city, or just to get the most bang for your buck when your snuggled up under the covers, they all can all be helped by this mindful approach to quality sleep. After only a few sessions, I can almost guarantee a difference in how you feel each morning!

Set the Mood...for Sleep that is

There always is one shining bit of light that peeks though the window shades and blasts us in the face with an unexpected natural alarm. And don't forget about those tiny lights from TV's, power strips, cell phone alerts, or even an alarm clock (do we still use those?). Believe it or not, even if you remain asleep, light that is exposed to your skin can disrupt your body's ability to differentiate awake and sleep, known as our circadian rhythm. To get the most out of your sleep, you want your room to be as dark as a cave. The subconscious body can be easily confused, which is why night shift workers have such a hard time adjusting to a traditional work schedule, or how it feels impossible to wake up before the sun rises. Sure, it has a part to do with it's "very early", but more importantly, because our body uses the sensation of light to differentiate rest from alertness.

As stated earlier, I have never been a good sleeper. But in order to ask my body and mind to perform and grow on a daily basis, Sleep is #1 before any sort of training, work, writing, or anything that really requires focus. So, some great ways to upgrade your bedroom to help you settle into bed time can be:

  • Sleep Mask / Eye Covering

  • Black Out Curtains on the windows

  • Unplug unnecessary electronics that produce any light

  • Replace your bright bulbs with soft white, low blue light, or dimmable bulbs

Those are a few low cost yet highly efficient ways to help stay asleep when you need to without digging yourself a hole to live in.

What Are You Doing Right Before Bed?

If you have children, most likely it requires you to wrestle them to read, brush their teeth, and have everything set for school the next day before you plop into bed just in time for your favorite show. Well, I hate to break it to you, but that hour of "relaxation" could be killing the quality of the real relaxation throughout the night. Rather than dive into the hundreds of possibilities to change your pre-bed ritual, I am also so aware than doing things you enjoy are super necessary for happiness, like your favorite show or spending time with a spouse. But I will ask all of you to do a simple exercise that will take no more than 2 minutes over the next week:

Each day, Make a bulleted list of what you do within that 60-90 hours before closing your eyes.

I can 99.999% guarantee there are totally unnecessary...like the 25 minutes of Facebook browsing with your head against the pillow. If you contact me individually, I can offer some suggestions on how to make the best situation especially for you, but for now, here are some additions/alterations that can help without restricting you of quality "me" time:

  • Purchase & Wear Blue Light Blocking Glasses when looking at the TV, phone, computer, or with overhead lights on (but definetely decrease time with electronics)

  • Begin guided or free writing in a journal to release stress, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, or gratitude

  • Do some sort of stretching, breathing, or yoga to promote relaxation and stress relief

  • Use essential oils like Orange, Lavender, Lemongrass, and Frankincense (on the skin or a diffuser)

  • Read fiction for 10-15 minutes to ease the mind to endure better REM sleep and dreams

  • Listen to White noise, Ambient Sound, Soundscapes, Binaural Beats: something soothing for the mind for Zzz

And finally on my agenda to cover today, this will take a little bit more effort than just putting the phone down a few minutes earlier, but with the chance to unlock the secret that hinders best possible sleep is...

Your Sleeping Position!

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Yes, believe it or not, this in itself can make a boat load of a difference when it comes to solving your aching back, cranky shoulder, sore neck, restlessness, misaligning posture...the list can keep going, but I think the message has been received!

Some of us toss, turn, lie on our belly, face the wall, cuddle, or with 14 pillows under our neck, but none of those are optimal for sleep quality. According to sleep.org, here is a rundown of best to worst positions to take!

#1 (Best) On Your Back: Only 8 of people sleep on their backs, but is the most beneficial for body alignment. It allows the head, neck and spine to be neutral, reducing unnecessary pressure or strain. Also, the most beneficial to reduce acid reflux and promote digestion. Some downsides? It can intensify sleep apnea and potential snoring.

#2 On Your Side: As long as you remain relatively straight, this is fine for cervical and spinal alignment. Also, since the tongue is not pressed into the rear of your throat, snoring and sleep apnea prevalence can decrease. But by repeatedly lying on your side, it can influence tissue length from constant compression and awkward pressure, especially in the shoulders and hips. Plus, since only one side of your face hits the pillow, it can lead to wrinkles (*gasp*)

#3 In the Fetal Position: The most popular of positions, is the ideal position for pregnancy (especially on the left side). But being too 'balled up' can restrict the exercising the diaphram, or allowing the lungs to expand. It takes the body out of alignment, and is not the ideal position to retain length and relaxation of our muscles/joints.

#4 (Worst) On Your Stomach: This used to be my go-to for so many years. But once I learned some scary effects, I had to switch, and you should too! The spine,neck and head are misaligned, being forced into having a rotated spine for hours and hours (a.k.a. really effing bad). The lower back being overextended without support, and natural bodyweight compressing on our ribs and underlying organs is not ideal for basically every function we expect to run naturally. If that didn't sit too heavily with you, here's an eye opening opinion from a doctor of chirporactic:

“If you sleep 8 hours a night that’s a 1/3 of your day, so you’re spending a 1/3 of your life with your spine completely rotated,” - Dr. Jan Lefkowitz


Well there you have it: Some of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck with sleep. Don't sell yourself short with learning new tips to improve quality of life. Follow back next week when I'll dive into the second key to Optimal Wellness and Avoiding Sickness: How to Keep Active When Plagued with Illness.

Wishing You Great Health and Strength

Coach Sean