A good friend and mentor recently presented a session at our industry conference that had been inspired by his own reality. He's a father of three young kids (ages 2, 3 and 5) and sleep deprivation is a very real battle in their household – just as it is for many parents.
But after feeling swamped by endless suggestions and recommendations that insist he gets a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night to be healthy he decided there must be more to it.
He acknowledged that sleep wasn't an element of his life that he could control – because three little people currently have that role – but surely there were other things he could do which would benefit his body in a way that would contribute to the overall healing that our bodies require daily to be healthy.
Firstly, sleep is crucial. And if we can get more of it we should. There is nothing in the world that will replace the healing and rejuvenating properties that sleep offers us.
A lack of sleep can lead to all sorts of physiological disturbances including heightened stress states, reduced immunity, greater risk of lifestyle type ailments like high blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, decreased cognitive functions, mental/emotional rollercoasters, more inflammation and just an overall reduction in one's quality of life.
Sleep is the time when our bodies are busy repairing and healing from the many stressors we throw at it daily – if we're not sleeping, we're not healing. We therefore need to do all that we can to increase the chances of us achieving adequate levels of sleep.
But what can we do if, like my good friend and mentor John Polley, sufficient and consistent sleep is out of the question? The great news – all sorts! There's an abundance of activities we can create or invite into our day that'll help our bodies undergo the necessary physiological or biochemical reactions to help them heal, be well and be happy – even when sleep is out of the question.
Colourful, nutrient-dense food
Firstly, we know that fuelling our body with adequate amounts of colourful, nutrient-dense food is medicine to our bodies. We also know that movement is medicine, and that by giving our bodies the type of movement they need on any given day is also a fantastic restorative technique. Both nutrition and movement are a given – they're talked about often, and I probably don't need to emphasise the power of either of these elements in being at your healthiest.
So we'll focus instead on the other factors that can be therapeutic, the ones that you may not have previously considered to be all that crucial in trying to be at your best.
* Time in an outdoor environment and immersing yourself in nature. A Wisconsin study was able to demonstrate that the availability of nature in one's life significantly reduced stress, anxiety and depression.
* Spending time with people you value and love. When we connect with loved ones our bodies produce a hormone known as oxytocin – this is the "love" hormone. Hugging, various forms of touch, and sexual activity are all activities that boost our oxytocin release.
* Doing what you love. By investing time in activities that bring us joy and harmony we experience the release of endorphin and this places us into a pleasure state. When we experience pleasure we reduce the sympathetic nervous system response of our body and it gets replaced with a parasympathetic response – and this is our heal and repair system in action.
* Do anything that makes you smile or that evokes laughter. Smiling may happen on our face, but our whole body feels it. And laughter will secrete serotonin and endorphin – two hormones related to our happiness which will calm and restore our bodies.
* Activities that demonstrate some form of self-care. This may be a regular massage, pamper treatment, or cuddling up to your favourite movie (again). Setting aside time to make YOU happy fills your cup in a way that can bring greater recovery to your body.
* Breathing and meditation. I would almost go as far as saying that diaphragmatic breathing is the next best thing to sleep. Just 90 seconds of it can switch our bodies from a state of "fight or flight" to a state of "rest and repair".
* Basking in the sunshine or exposing your bare foot to the natural elements of the earth does wonders for our sense of calm and peace.
* Embarking in movement that nourishes your mind, body and soul, or exposing ourselves to playful activities with our kids helps us to be present, and floods our body with endorphins and serotonin – this leads to greater happiness and therefore less stress – the perfect formula for healing to happen.
* Tapping in to one's sense of gratitude, writing about our wins or positive experiences, and displaying acts of kindness places us into a state of greater happiness. The more happiness we have in our lives, and the more gratitude we experience, the great our physical and psychological health will be, and therefore the more powerful we'll be at recovering.
So if you're not getting the luxury that is a solid night's sleep, open your mind and heart to the plethora of other options we have available to us. And give the gift of healing, rejuvenation and restoration to our magnificent bodies.
■ Corinne Austin is a health coach and movement motivator (firstname.lastname@example.org).