Learn more about the positive effects of sleep for health, fitness and weight loss.

How To Prioritize Sleep

Did you know? Humans are the only mammals that don’t prioritize sleep above all else. This is the time when your body and brain rest and reboot, and healthy sleep is crucial for long-term health and vitality — it’s as important as nutrition and fitness, but is usually the first thing that falls off our priority list

Kirk predicts that within ten years, most North American workplaces will offer employees a dedicated place to sleep or nap during the work days — Companies like Google, Zappos and PricewaterhouseCoopers already offer their employees nap opportunities, whether in dedicated spaces are movable “nap pods.” Employers are getting more and more serious about optimizing work environments to get the most of their workforce, with good reason: the U.S. loses $411 billion per year due to lost productivity from sleep deprivation. Taking a nap sometime between noon and 4 p.m. lowers cortisol and improves focus — smart leaders understand that by creating an opportunity to nap, they’ll get more out of their employees than a 3 p.m. coffee could ever offer.

So, where do you start? Advice on what to change can be overwhelming: no TV at night, no devices in the bedroom, no more the one serving of alcohol, keep your room at 60 degrees Fahrenheit — it can feel impossible to implement all of that at once. Our easy, three-step process below will get you on a path to sustainable sleep health.

Step One: Evening Journal
Before you try to change anything, first you should observe your evening ritual. Journaling is beneficial for all sorts of reasons — in this instance, it will help you identify patterns you may not know you have. Every night for a week, jot down how you spent your evening: what time you arrived home from school, work, or errands, how you spent your evening, how long it took to cook and clean up dinner, and your evening leisure activities. Did you have a glass of wine or a beer? A big meal late in the evening? For one week, do nothing but log and reflect.

Step Two: Identify Lowest Hanging Fruit
The next step is to analyze the results of your sleep log. Do you spend more time watching Netflix than you’d have guessed? Is dinner an ordeal that takes 90 minutes when all is said and done? Identify which factors contribute to getting in bed later and write a solution for each. For example:

  • “Dinner takes more than an hour every night — each Sunday, I’ll prepare and freeze two dinners for myself and my family in order to cut down on labor time.”
  • “Me and my husband’s two favorite shows are both on Tuesday evenings — in order to cut down on screen time, we’ll record one of those shows each week and watch it the next day.”
  • “My job is stressful, and I usually have 2-3 glasses of wine per night to unwind. I’ll download a meditation app, and for 3 nights per week I’ll meditate for 10 minutes instead of going for the Pinot.”

Step Three: Choose No More Than Two Evening Activities to Change + Adjust
One pitfall of habit formation is that people try to do too much too fast — which results in failure, feeling shame for that failure, and abandonment of the entire goal. Keep your habit formation goals simple, and make sure it’s something you know that you can commit to. We recommend choosing no more than two of the items are on your list to implement. If you can successfully change those actions, then great! Add another two on. However, to start, only choose two — two that you are 100% confident you can accomplish. Keep the journal you started in Step One, noticing how the 1-2 changes your making affects your mood, energy and appetite levels.

These three manageable steps to prioritize sleep help you make reasonable, long-lasting change. For most of us, the stress of our jobs, families, and lives can contribute to short and shallow sleep — but by being mindful about your evening activities, you can gradually make a big impact on your sleep health. If you’re looking for

Sleep is one of Mountain Trek’s core pillars of health. Need a whole body reset? Come join us this fall for gorgeous fall trekking, digital detox, and healthy, deep sleep. Click here to see rates and dates.

Bedtime Yoga

Bedtime Yoga

One of the reasons we have difficulty sleeping at night is because we are over stimulated. Our brains are wired to process all incoming information from our five senses to predict the appropriate state for our body’s systems. "Should I be ready? Or should I rest?" These two autonomic nervous system states are called the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest).

Staring at screens and/or hearing loud noises automatically puts us into a state of readiness. This is why it's so important to shut off our digital devices at least 30 minutes before bed and to follow the other "insomnia busters" we've detailed in previous posts. Another way to calm your mind and prepare your body for sleep is to use such tools as relaxation breathing or restorative yoga to promote our parasympathetic system, the state we need to obtain in order to sleep deeply.

For this instructive video, we enlisted the help of Mountain Trek's yoga teacher and fitness instructor Katya Hayes, who's been teaching yoga for 15 years. When not at Mountain Trek, Katya practices at her own studio and she studies yoga, Buddhism, Iyengar, Ashtanga and Vinyasa.

 

Here are the four poses Katya recommends to do in order to prepare your body and mind for a perfect night's sleep.

Legs up the wall

Legs up the wall pose

Begin by sitting on the floor or the bed with one hip against the wall. Swing both of your legs up the wall as you lay down on your back; your body should form a 90-degree angle with the wall. For increased benefits, slide a firm pillow or yoga bolster beneath your hips. Relax and belly breathe for several minutes.

Supported forward twist

Supported Forward Twist

Sit on the floor and have a firm pillow or bolster nearby. Bend both knees and swing your feet to the left side of your body. Place the bolster to the outside of your right hip extending away from you. Lengthen your spine and twist to the right. Lay your torso along the bolster, resting on one cheek. Breath into the sides of your body for 10 deep breaths. Repeat rotating the opposite way.

Supported child's pose

Supported Child's Pose

Get onto all fours. Sit back on your heels, separating your knees so that they're about shoulder width apart. Place a firm pillow or bolster between your legs extending away from you. Fold forward from the hips, lengthening the belly along the bolster. Rest deeply as you breath into the back of your bbody for one minute.

Reclined butterfly pose

Supported-Forward-Twist

Sit on the ground or the bed with several firm pillows or a bolster propped up behind you. Bring the soles of your feet together, allowing the knees to fall outwards. Support the knees if you like with pillows. Lay back on the pillows so that you are at a 45-degree angle. Place a folded towel beneath your neck for support. Place an eye bag over your eyes if you'd like and belly breath for several minutes.

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4 Tips: How to Sleep On Airplanes

Tips for sleeping on an airplane

Many of our guests at Mountain Trek travel for work and spend a lot of time in hotels, at airports and on airplanes. Recently we had a few people complain to our sleep specialist Simon about the cross-continental flights they've endured and how they simply can't sleep on the planes. Simon spends a lot of his time at the lodge talking about the importance of sleep and with his help we did an article that shared "7 Tips To Help You Sleep Better." That story concentrated on your own bedroom though and so, for this piece, we asked Simon to share with us some tips to help those who travel a lot about how to sleep on planes.

Sleeping on a flight has its challenges, but there are a few best practices that can help you get some rest between runways. First, don’t force sleep if its the middle of the day and you aren’t changing timezones as it will disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it harder to sleep that night. If you are on a night flight or are travelling through timezones here are some hints to get some shut-eye:

Get a good seat

Choose a window seat on your preferred side to sleep. If you book early and can choose the best option using this: helpful tool.

Don’t drink

Although booze is a muscle relaxant and depressant, it disrupts our rapid eye movement sleep and lowers the quality of our rest. Try a herbal tea instead.

Eye pillows and ear plugs

Come equipped with your own supply. Specialty ear plugs and a good eye pillow will block out the too most difficult environmental interruptions; light and noise.

Get Comfy 

The best position for your body, from a spinal perspective, is to have the seat reclined as there is less direct loading on the lumbar. Next bring something to pad the lumbar curve (like the extra sweater in your carry-on) and a neck pillow as it will total collapsing of the neck. Lastly, stow your carry-on above you to give your legs room to stretch out and avoid cramping.

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Why You Should Sleep Naked

simon-sleep-tips

What do bedclothes, pets, and your ex all have in common? They should all be kept away from your mattress!

The two main reasons for why you should sleep naked are to reduce elevated body heat and to minimize the toss and turn. We want to sleep slightly cooler, keeping our environment around 18C/65F. Our body’s temperature naturally fluctuates during our sleep cycles, and allowing this process will promote a quality sleep.

Bedclothes can hold the heat, disrupting this temperature variation and making sleep onset more difficult. Further, sleeping with bedclothes or pets can interrupt our sleep. Every time we toss and turn our sleep quality goes down.

For most of us, sleep involves at least some regular movement. Although we may be oblivious, when we readjust or roll over the chance of getting caught up in bedclothes is much higher than if we are naked. This lowers comfort, and in turn, the quality of our rest.

Beyond improving sleep, disrobing before bed can help with these health benefits as well: 

  • Look Younger: Ensuring our bedroom temperature hovers around 18°C (65°F) while we sleep allows our anti-aging hormones — melatonin and the growth hormone — to function properly. These hormones work better at lower temperatures and allow our cells to regenerate, which results in better-looking hair and skin.
  • Lose Weight: A good night’s sleep is an excellent way to fight stress, which is one of the reasons we gain belly fat. If we don’t get a good night’s sleep, we can wake up with high cortisol levels that can trigger our appetite for comfort foods and lead to overeating.
  • Protect Your Private Parts: Bacteria thrive in moist, warm environments. By ensuring more ventilation down there while sleeping naked, the probability of infection is reduced. And for men, sleeping naked increases fertility by keeping that area at cooler temperatures.
  • Enjoy Better Sex: You are naked after all. Sleeping in the nude with your partner increases skin-on-skin contact and helps stimulate the release of the “love” hormone oxytocin.

For more healthy sleeping tips, please watch the video below:

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7 Tips to Help You Sleep Better

Sleep. It’s Not Just a Guilty PleasureEdit Entry

There are few things that feel better than getting a good night’s sleep. And few things worse than lying in bed with insomnia when we have an early meeting the next day. In fact, as we get older, getting deep, restful sleeps begins to take priority over a night out of socializing.

There’s a good reason for this. Not the passive state many people once considered it to be, sleep is now known to be a highly active process during which the day’s events are processed and energy is restored.

Sleep is an integral factor in living a well-balanced, healthy life full of vitality. Most studies show that the average human needs between 7 and 9 hours. And science is increasingly showing us that sleep deprivation and poor sleeping habits affect both our body’s AND our brain’s ability to function properly. You want to function at peak capacity? You want your memory to serve you? You want your sex life to be full of vitality? Then sleep better! Below is a list of common sleep problems and ways to fix them and sleep better. At Mountain Trek we call these tips "Insomnia Busters" and they're part of the lecture on sleep we offer during our week-long health and fitness programs.

Common Sleep Problems

Snoring: Weight is usually the main cause of snoring so shedding excess fat around the neck will stop extra pressure being put on the airways.

Sleep Apnea: Apnea is caused by the same muscles that cause snoring. It occurs when the muscles of the soft palate at the base of the tongue and the uvula (the small fleshy piece of tissue hanging back of the throat) relax, partially blocking the opening of the airway. However, sleep apnea is more dangerous than snoring in that it alters normal breathing patterns.

Insomnia: A prolonged and usually abnormal inability to obtain adequate, uninterrupted sleep. Symptoms may include having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up too early in the morning, feeling unrefreshed. The consequences are unpleasant, leaving sufferers feeling exhausted, irritable and unable to concentrate on simple tasks.

Restless Leg Syndrome: a tingling, itching sensation and unexplained aches and pains in the lower limbs.

A recent study in the journal Sleep shows that one night of sleep deprivation is associated with signs of brain tissue loss.

In addition, a brain imaging study from the University of California, Berkeley, showed that a night of sleep deprivation affected the brain’s decision-making and reward areas, and also led to study participants craving higher-calorie foods. Writing in the journal Science, University of Rochester scientist Maiken Nedergaard describes how during sleep, cerebral spinal fluid is pumped around the brain, flushing out waste products like a biological dishwasher. She believes that this cleaning process is more active during sleep because it takes too much energy to pump fluid around the brain when we’re awake.

Natural Ways To Sleep Better

Develop a routine: Regularly go to bed early (9 or 10 pm) and get up 8 hours later (even on weekends). This helps set your internal sleep-wake clock and reduces the amount of tossing and turning required to fall asleep. It also helps counteract the affects of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Exercise: Doing some form of aerobic exercise 3 to 5 times a week will improve your sleep. But make sure you do your exercise several hours before bedtime so you’re not revved up.

Change your diet: Cut out food and drinks that contain caffeine—such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate—by late afternoon. Make dinner your lightest meal and finish it a few hours before bedtime. Skip spicy or heavy foods, which can keep you awake with heartburn or indigestion. Eat magnesium-rich foods like fish, nuts, seeds and leafy greens.

Cut out the nightcaps: Alcohol disrupts the pattern of sleep and brainwaves that help you feel refreshed in the morning.

Turn down the heat: A temperate room gets you a better sleep than a tropical one, we recommend keeping the room tempature at 65°F or 18°C. Striking a balance between the thermostat, your blanket, and your sleeping attire will reduce your core body temperature and help you drift off to sleep.

Make your bed a No-Work-Zone: Your bed is for sleep and sex—not work, food, or TV. If you wake up during the night, skip turning on your computer or TV and do something soothing like meditating or reading until you feel sleepy again.

Cut out the gadgetry: Turn off your TV, computer, phone, iPad, and video game at least an hour before bedtime. Light from these devices stimulates the brain, making it harder to wind down for sleep. You can also download the free software F.lux to your various devices and it makes the colour of your computer's display adapt to the time of day: warm at night and like sunlight during the day. Here's an excerpt from Mountain Trek guide Simon Shave's lecture about sleep health at our BC Lodge.

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Insomnia Busters – How To Sleep Better

Insomnia busters for better sleep

There are few things that feel better than getting a good night’s sleep. And few things worse than lying in bed with insomnia. At the Mountain Trek Health & Fitness retreat we spend time talking about the importance of sleep for every aspect of our lives – how it affects our belly fat to how it impacts our metabolism. In the copy and videos below, program director Kirkland Shave offers a small sampling of our “Insomnia Busters” lecture, which gives you tips for sleeping better.

As we get older, getting deep, restful sleeps begins to take priority over a night out of socializing and there’s a good reason for this. Not the passive state many people once considered it to be, sleep is now known to be a highly active process during which the day’s events are processed and energy is restored.

Sleep is an integral factor in living a well-balanced, healthy life full of vitality. Most studies show that the average human needs between 7 and 9 hours. And science is increasingly showing us that sleep deprivation and poor sleeping habits affect both our body’s AND our brain’s ability to function properly. You want to function at peak capacity? You want your memory to serve you? You want to lose belly fat? You want your sex life to be full of vitality? Then sleep better! Here are three videos that describe exactly how to sleep better.

How to Sleep Better Around Electronics

In this video Kirkland discusses electronics and their impact on us, especially right before bedtime. It’s only been in the past 30 years we’ve been using personal computers, cellphones and other devices with displays that feature the white-blue colour spectrum. This light is similar to the daytime sky and by staring at them, our cortisol remains high. When the sun sets the colour spectrum changes to red/orange and our melatonin is prepared for release but by staring at our devices, our brains and our bodies are not ready for sleep.

How To Sleep Better Through Diet

Our diet is also related to Insomnia Busters. So often we see advertisements claiming that how to lose belly fat is simple because you can lose weight while you sleep. If that were truly the case, then we’d all just be sleeping and shedding off pounds. But we’re not. If we want to counteract weight gain and lose belly fat, then we want to examine what our diets are right before bed. If we are eating late at night, we’re keeping our bodies in the process of digestion and not letting our stomach, liver, pancreas and all the other digestive organs rest, which they need at the beginning of the night. So try to cut back on your food intake and try not to snack in the evenings because unless you’re going to be active, you’re just going to store that food anyway. And that is definitely not how to lose belly fat.

Another thing that affects our sleep is alcohol. As much as it’s delicious with a meal, it can impact our bodies negatively if consumed on its own and before bed. Firstly, alcohol is a muscle relaxant so it causes many people to snore. Secondly, the liver converts alcohol into acetate, which is a form of vinegar, and that process will disrupt our sleep about 2-3 hours in. Also, many people may not know this but all alcohol has calories (even the hard stuff) so, the more you consume, the more belly fat you have, unless you’re working out right before bed to counteract the weight gain.

Finally, let’s talk about caffeine. For about a third of the population, caffeine is a cortisol stimulant. (Cortisol is the hormone that awakens us.) We don’t want to increase cortisol in the evening because it will override the sleep beckoning hormone melatonin.

The last section of this “Insomnia Buster” mini-lecture discusses stress. To help with insomnia we have to do something about managing stress. Relentless stress day after day causes our hormone Cortisol to stay elevated and Cortisol will always override our sleep hormone – Melatonin. Some of our stress is a result of organizational thinking. Trying to remember what’s on your plate the next day – picking up the kids, getting to the board meeting on time, dinner party with the in-laws. All that’s orbiting around in your brain before bed and you’re not going to allow the unconscious part of your brain to drop until you deal with it. So get out your day timer or your phone and plug those things into your calendar and then your unconscious brain can let go of all those things orbiting around.

The other form of stressful thought is concern about our own self or others – it’s more of an emotional form of thinking. These too need to be released from the unconscious part of the brain through typing or writing in a journal. It may sound silly but the act allows our unconscious brain to let go of its vigilance and then cortisol will drop. You can empty your mind and allow Melatonin to seduce you into sleep.

For more about Insomnia Busters, read our “7 Tips to Help You Sleep Better” article. And to book a stay at Mountain Trek and enjoy deep, restful sleeps at our luxurious lodge, call 1-800-661-5161.

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Letting the Body Heal

Listen to your body's cues for health.

Listen to your body’s cues for health.

By Jennifer Keirstead, Holistic Nutritionist

Listening for Clues to Health

The body’s ability to heal itself has always amazed me. I suffered from asthma my entire childhood and now I’ve been puffer-free for over 15 years. I attribute my healing to listening to my body’s cues. These are the little, hidden messages your body gives you; its way of communicating. My asthma was a clue, a sign of my body’s obvious distress but I just wasn’t listening.

I had never linked my need for steroid puffers to my food choices.

We all have our own unique needs. Some of the most common barriers to healing I see in my practice are food related, or stress induced, while inadequate sleep, food allergies and toxic overload can be contributing factors as well.

Most people suffering with chronic pain and disease are handed a prescription. I believe the self healing approach to illness involves identifying the cause of the pain; emotional or physical. My experience has been that by addressing the cause of the pain at all of the emotional, mental and physical level brings about the most successful long term results. By addressing the underlying causes, rather than chronically masking the symptoms with medications we allow our body to heal itself.

Taking Time to Heal

There are several approaches one can take to heal themselves naturally. One important component is to remember that true healing takes time. I advise an integrated approach because sometimes looking at the big picture can be overwhelming. If we go day-to-day and focus on one thing at time, this tends to be less intimidating.

Life provides us with so many rich lessons, and listening brings wisdom.

Like life itself, our body sends messages to us daily. This feedback conveys valuable information. Listening provides insights and a deeper understanding of ways to improve our own personal health.

Symptoms are gifts, particularly when they guide us to change our diet or lifestyle habits. Drugs and other medications, which suppress symptoms, can convey a false sense of healing. Then, we may not bother to search for reasons, or to ask “why?” While drugs may have a place for some people at certain times, pharmaceutical drugs do come with their own side effects.

Just think how comforting it is to know and trust in the fact that the body is inherently programmed for healing. But, to let the body do this important work, we must allow it time and we must be patient. We do our part by adopting a sense of trust rather than fear, as we provide for ourselves simple healing balms like good food, rest and sleep, fresh air and sunshine, exercise, as well as a sense of gratitude – as well as enough time and space to connect with ourselves.

“The body is a master at self-healing. Its natural blueprint of healing wisdom is far too complex for us completely unravel. And, that is good. It allows us to replace fear with trust. All we need is to appreciate that simple nutritional and lifestyle habits attuned to nature can do much to restore and support the body’s inherent harmony and congruency.” –Carol Kenney, Ph.D in the Science of Natural Health

We can all heal our bodies naturally. The key is to listen to what it needs.

Sleep Tips for Beating the Winter Blues

Nothing could impact our health, mood and vitality more than a good night’s sleep. Without it, we simply can’t function at our best.  Less sleep directly compromises our immune system, lowers our stamina, and allows the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (“SAD”) to sneak up on us.

Sleep better and peacefully

  Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the “drowsiness” hormone melatonin, which is produced by the pineal gland. Melatonin levels are higher in the winter due to decreased sunlight, and without bright morning sunlight it lingers longer in the morning. This makes it difficult to wake up.

Tips for Regulating Melatonin and the Sleep-Wake Cycle

Keeping your batteries replenished through the darker winter months is achieved by keeping your sleep-wake cycle similar to other times of the year.  Here’s how:

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule as much as possible, even on the weekends.
  • Try to get as much natural light as possible in the morning hours before 8am, to help lower melatonin levels.  Sit by the window or go for a morning walk.
  • Use a light box for phototherapy to help balance your circadian rhythm and combat SAD. This full spectrum light can be placed next to your bed and programmed on a timer to get brighter in the mornings, to mimic sunrise. This helps shut off the production of melatonin. However, it’s important to use light boxes according to the natural pattern of summer sunlight, because too much bright light at the wrong times can result in insomnia. So use them to stimulate dawn (6am – 8am) every morning for the duration of the winter.
  • If you take melatonin supplements, do so in consultation with your physician, and take it around 8pm to avoid staying up too late, and sleeping in too late.
  • Keep active with exercise!  Not only does it release endorphins, serotonin and dopamine hormones to lift your mood, but tiring your body with healthy exertion will naturally contribute to a restful sleep, and keep your energy levels higher during the day.

Although melatonin is the hormone that regulates hibernation in animals, we don’t have to spend the winter months drowsy and holed up in our houses. You can maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle through the winter, and get out and enjoy the season!

Sleep and Stress

Woman relaxing in a bubble bathIf insomnia is plaguing your sleep, you are probably one of the 75% suffering from too little, or frequently interupted rest, that is triggered by a current stressor. Most studies show that poor sleepers tend to have higher levels of Cortisol and related stress hormones in their bloodstream. Cortisol affects our sleep depth, continuum and state, and the long term lack, will affect our memory, cellular repair and energy management.

If you are looking for that deep state of rest and recovery found in “slow wave” sleep…do everything you can to reduce mental stimulation before going to bed. In 1910, the average nights sleep was 9 hrs, now it is 7.5 hrs, and dropping.  A 100 years ago, we didn’t have the News on TV, emails, movies, etc. to stimulate us and absorb our pre slumber hours. Allow “morphious” to seduce you away from your stressors by having a warm bath, massage, or meditate before retiring.