1. Switching back the clocks: The importance of sleep to our health


      This weekend the clocks turn back and British Summertime ends. Whilst we  all look forward to an extra hour in bed on Sunday, it is worth remembering the health benefits of a good night’s sleep.

      Sleep is an essential function for us and is a time when our body cells are able to repair and regenerate. Our wake/sleep cycle is controlled by our own internal body clock called our Circadian Rhythm which, like the earth’s rotation, follows approximately a 24 hour cycle. This Circadian timing  is controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain which behaves like an internal pacemaker, synchronising this cycle throughout all our cells, tissue and organs.

      External cues such as solar light, temperature, exercise and meal times also helps with this synchronisation process and these need to adapt as the seasons and external influences change.

      Circadian Rhythm timing can, however, change from one person to the next, although the average phase lasts for 24.2 hours. We most notice disruption to this process when we fly long distance and travel rapidly through time zones and can experience jet lag, which is a symptom of the body misaligning with the destination time and trying to re-synchronise. People who work shifts or struggle with insomnia can also suffer, and in all situations a range of psychological and emotional problems can emerge, including depression, anxiety, infertility, excessive sleepiness, hormonal disruption and gastro-intestinal diseases. These can also create social problems such as an inability to perform at work and stress in relationships.

      A number of treatments are available aimed at managing these disorders by working at re-synchronising the body’s internal mechanisms, and these include timed light therapy, timed vigorous exercise, and supplementation with melatonin (only available on prescription in the UK). Acupuncture, acupressure and homeopathy have also been suggested as effective alternative therapies but nutrition is also thought to play an important role in the quality and quantity of your sleep.

      Now that winter is closing in and we have longer nights to enjoy, it is worth trying to build more sleep into your routine. Whilst everyone varies, an average an adult needs between 7.5 and 9 hours of quality sleep to perform well during the day, whilst a teenager often needs between 8.5 and 10 hours.

      Some of the main benefits of a decent night’s sleep are:

      • An improved immune system. Much of our repair and regrowth happens whilst we are asleep, so a chronic lack of sleep could contribute to an increase in anything from colds and flu to heart disease, hormonal imbalance and diabetes.
      • Reduced inflammation: During sleep we release lower levels of inflammatory proteins which can help support our heart and immune systems and also be beneficial for any pain and inflammatory issues such as arthritis.
      • Weight loss support: Our metabolism is thought to improve whilst we sleep so use the time to burn off more calories without even trying! Healthy diet and exercise during waking hours are obviously key factors as well!
      • Reduced stress: Blood pressure and cholesterol levels are thought to be lower at night.
      • Improved memory:Harvard study suggests our brain processes information whilst we are asleep so use the time to help consolidate anything you have learned during the day.

       For more information about how to manage your health through diet and    lifestyle changes if you work shifts or struggle with sleep problems, contact us.



      Fighting the germs in the workplace

      A study reported in HR Magazine recently suggested that the average employee now has 7.7 days absence, costing £673 each per annum.. Two thirds of those days occurred across the winter cold and flu season and this can have a major negative impact on any workforce, but small businesses in particular.

      Now that the coughs and sneezes are starting to circulate, what can you do to prepare yourself, your business and your colleagues, and try and avoid becoming part of these statistics?

      Hygiene in the workplace is a key issue with a significant number of germs being spread around office equipment and in places like communal kitchens. The close proximity of workers, and the unavoidable commute to work for many, is also problematic.

      Whilst coming into contact with the germs may be unavoidable, a poor diet is one of the immune system’s greatest enemies, so the best preparation you can have is to build your immunity ready to fight off the germs, and eating the right foods can help significantly. Once the immune system has started to break down, it has to fight harder to fend off the bugs and is more likely to succumb repeatedly over the winter leaving you vulnerable to every germ circulating.

      In an earlier blog I talked about specific nutrients which can help build the immune system naturally. Here are some tips to making small but important changes:

      •  Fill your shopping basket with a wide variety of coloured fruits and vegetables which are rich in Vitamins A, C and E, and phytonutrients which all help your immune system function to optimal effect. Rosehips have a very high concentration of Vitamin C, so look for the rosehip syrup we used to be given in childhood. Start your day with a  mug of hot water and a squeeze of lemon to further boost Vitamin C levels.
      • Mineral-rich foods are also important since zinc, selenium and calcium are vital immune boosters. Zinc in particular works alongside Vitamin C to help increase the white blood cell count to fight the invading germs. Great sources of these minerals are Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds (a handy between-meal snack), whole grains, lentils, chickpeas and green leafy vegetables .
      • Choose foods with anti bacterial and anti inflammatory properties such as onion, garlic, honey, ginger and Cayenne Pepper. Berries are also included amongst these, so enjoy the seasonal cranberries and also look for frozen blueberries which you can de-frost overnight and add to your porridge or muesli in the morning.
      • Prebiotic foods can also help. Much of our immune system is based in our gut and is supported by gut bacteria which behave as ‘nature’s antibiotics’, so ensuring you have a healthy supply of ‘good’ bacteria over bad is important. Prebiotic foods such as chicory, artichokes, bananas, leeks, onions and whole grains help ‘feed’ the good bacteria to keep the balance healthy.
      • Herbs and spices have a multitude of health benefits such as the antimicrobial properties of turmeric, widely used  in Indian cooking.
      • Avoid too many stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and sugar which merely put a strain on your digestive system and liver and make it harder for your body to fight the bugs. Smoking is another key thing to avoid. Each cigarette destroys around 250mg of much needed Vitamin C.
      • Try to get as much rest as possible – a significant amount of our body’s repair and growth takes place whilst we are asleep, so hibernation on those long winter nights can really help build your defences.
      • Get outside and make the most of any sunlight. Vitamin D is now thought to be a major factor in our immune health, and the sun is a one of the richest sources. When sunlight is limited, try to include more fish and eggs in your diet.


      • Keep a supply of lemon, ginger and honey at home. The acid in lemon can help destroy bacteria and heal the respiratory tract, whilst honey and ginger are both antibacterial and anti inflammatory, so a hot honey, ginger  and lemon drink can be very soothing. Cinnamon is also stimulating and warming and can help ease aching muscles, and elderflower can induce perspiration to reduce a fever.  Add fresh elderflower heads to boiling water and stir in honey and a slice of lime.                    
      • Take some Echinacea – a powerful herb which acts as an immune stimulant and natural antibiotic. Trials reported in The Lancet indicated that those taking Echinacea were 35% less likely to get a cold when directly in contact with rhinovirus than those not. It also reduced duration of colds by    1 ½  days, and when supplemented in conjunction with Vitamin C, reduced infection levels by 86%


      The temptation on long cold winter days is to resort to comfort eating, but by combining many of these immune boosting foods you can create tasty and filling family meals which are packed with nutrients and can help you fight the germs.

      Chicken soup traditionally fits the bill here, so experiment with using leftovers from your Sunday roast to best effect, or turn leftover vegetables into soups and broths. Also consider making one pot meals such as Chilli con Carne, vegetable or meat stews and curries which you can freeze and have available as healthy alternatives to shop-bought ready meals or takeaways. Fill them with vegetables, peppers, mushrooms, peppers, garlic, onions and beans for optimum nutritional value. As a side dish try making spice rice adding lime zest, sliced chilli pepper and garlic.

      ….. And don’t forget to start your day with a warming bowl of porridge; add grated cinnamon and a handful of defrosted berries for the perfect winter breakfast.


      If you are interested in improving the immune health of your family or your workplace colleagues, contact me now.