Emma West answers your health questions! Sleep, post-Covid health, and beating the Winter blues!
My Registered Nutritionist and Pre- and Post Natal Exercise specialist, Emma West joins me for another blog post, and this time she answers some of your Winter health questions! We started with some of the sleep issues discussed during my January Parent Wellness session (exclusive to existing coaching clients), and then Emma answered some more general questions from the parents on my coaching mailing list!
If you fancy putting a question to one of my favourite lifestyle and wellness professionals, sign up to my mailing list, and I will let you know when we are doing the next Q&A!
Emma, why is sleep so important to us?
Emma: "Sleep is crucial to our lives, not getting enough affects how we feel, what we eat and our whole being. Some people naturally are great sleepers, whilst others have always struggled or currently have a tiny human or child to look after. Here I am going to discuss what affects our sleep and tips on how to (hopefully!) improve it. Remember that everyone is different, what works for you might not work for someone else. Try different things and see what best suits you.
What affects our sleep?
Emma: "We all have times where we find it harder to get to sleep, when it becomes a problem is if it hasn’t sorted itself out after a month. It is also important to remember that the amount of sleep we need and how we sleep, changes throughout our lifetime."
Will doing exercise help me sleep?
Emma: "Yes! Doing moderate to intense exercise has been shown to improve the quality of sleep and decrease the time it takes to fall asleep. If you are doing more lower impact exercise, do not worry! Doing any exercise will help. Exercise can also help alleviate stress and anxiety, which can also impact sleep.
"What time during the day you exercise is up to you! What works best for you, your body and your schedule. Doing high impact exercise just before sleep might make no difference, whilst for others it might decrease their sleep quality. If this is the case, try yoga, stretching or breathing techniques instead."
What about caffeine and alcohol and sleep?
Emma: "Be mindful of your caffeine intake, and avoid in the later part of the day and evening. If you are feeling tired, try not to always reach for caffeine as this can cause long-term sleep deprivation. Alcohol can make you feel drowsy but can lower our sleep quality. Cutting down, can show an improvement."
What about my food and sleep?
Emma: "Having a balanced diet ensures that you have an adequate intake of all the essential nutrients. Having a diet high in sugar and high glycemic index foods has been shown to affect sleep quality. You are more likely to get post sugar lows of feeling tired as your blood sugar dramatically changes. Ensure your diet is high in fruit, vegetables and complex carbohydrates (think pasta, brown rice) for slow release of glucose- keeping your blood sugar levels steadier and your body happy.
"Try to avoid eating just before bedtime, it is harder for your body to fall asleep if its still digesting. If you need a late evening snack, opt for something lighter. If you haven’t had enough sleep, it's easy to reach for those sugary snacks to keep you going and on the whole, eat more food. Try to avoid them, eat nourishing, balanced meals- which should help stop the cycle continuing."
What about stress and anxiety and sleep?
Emma: "Stress and anxiety can form a vicious cycle with sleep, as one can make the other worse. Worry and fear make it harder for us to switch off, relax and sleep. If you haven’t already, go and visit your GP. Writing down your worries can help and creating a relaxing routine."
Emma's tips to improve sleep:
Keep regular sleeping hours
"Your body likes routine, going to sleep when you are tired and waking up at a similar time with teach your internal body clock your set routine. Avoid napping if possible!
If your sleep is currently being affected by a little one, this is a different kettle of fish- I would recommend naps when they nap! If you want to change your sleep schedule, change it gradually over time.
"Add some exercise to your routine if you haven’t already. Yoga, stretching and breathing techniques are all relaxing and are great to do just before bed.
Look at your sleeping environment
"Is your mattress, pillows or bedding comfortable enough for you to relax? How much light do you get in your bedroom, do you need blackout curtains? These are questions to look at. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature. If you find certain smells relaxing, such as lavender add a pillow spray to your bedroom.
Create a restful routine
"Find things that relax you 1 hour – 30 minutes before bedtime. This could be watching a calming programme, reading, lighting a candle, stretching or taking a warm bath can help. Avoid using your phone or any electronic devices as this can impact- this can also include a television. Write down anything that is worrying you, or that you need to remember
Keep a sleep diary
Keeping a diary can identify lifestyle patterns and triggers that could be impacting your sleep."
Next, Emma answers some of your Winter health questions!
Emma, how to beat the "Winter Blues?
Emma: "Thankfully, we have made it out of January and the evenings are starting to get slightly lighter. T-shirts, barbeques and enjoying the sun are in reaching distance. But we are currently still in winter, where finding motivation can be hard.
"Keeping active can help, as can getting outdoors especially during the middle of the day or when the weather is sunnier. Keeping warm can also help, if we are feeling cold, we are more likely to curl up and not want to move. Using a light box can also be helpful as mimics the sun. As can taking up a new hobby, or doing things that you love. It helps keep your mind occupied and releases happy hormones.
"Make sure you see your friends and family; socialising can help as can talking to people."
Emma, how to find motivation to exercise after having Covid?
Emma: "If you are feeling tired after having he who shall not be named, remember recovery is important and everyday will be different. Start with lower impact exercises with just your bodyweight- think Pilates and things like body weight squats. Only exercise for a short duration and remember to have lots of rest in between exercises and sessions. You could also start off with just doing some stretching, flexibility is a crucial and often overlooked part of exercise.
Don’t be disheartened if your strength or endurance has decreased- these can be increased again and your body will soon pick up the pace again. The most important thing is for you to feel better again."
Emma, how to find the time exercise after having a second child?
Emma: "How to find the time to exercise after growing your family? It can be tricky, especially when the new addition is tiny. If you have a supportive partner, ask them to take the kids whilst you exercise and have some self- care/me time. You should also tag team with a friend, they help with childcare whilst you exercise and vice versa.
Don’t be afraid to get your kids involved, use them as a weight, let them join in with you- they might realise they enjoy exercising or will get bored and do something else. It is also great for your children to see you exercise and the importance of it in your routine.
Both of these happen during my sessions regularly, with the women still achieving their results.
Play games with your children, dance with them, get them to count the number of repetitions you do or clap your hands at the top of a crunch. See if there is time in their routines for you to exercise if you aren’t too keen on getting them involved.
It might feel overwhelming but it can work, give it time."
Thank you so much Emma, such great tips and ideas, and such a lovely perspective on health and wellness generally! And as always, good to hear it straight from a professional!
Emma is based around Loughton, Essex, and offers pre and post-natal sessions tailored specifically to your needs. If you are looking for personal training sessions she will also bring the gym to you! Sessions take place in the comfort of your own home.
Visit Emma's website for more information or to get in touch, and read her advice on pelvic floor exercises, CMPA in babies, weaning, pre- and post-natal exercise, and pre- and post-natal nutrition right here on my blog!
Check out my other posts for more info and advice on screen time, dinner times, fussy eaters, buying pre-loved children's clothing, decluttering before your new baby, and more about health, nutrition, holidays, babymoons, and all things parenting!
Get in touch for more information on any of the topics mentioned here or elsewhere on my site, I would love to hear from you!