According to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), the global wellness economy is currently valued at $4.5 trillion with wellness expenditure totalling up to more than half as large as total global health expenditure at $7.8 trillion.
From circadian lighting to circadian diets to apps that utilise timed light doses to crush jet lag, the focus has shifted from sleep to true circadian health. With an avalanche of sleep solutions and a newly sleep-obsessed culture, why do we continue to remain in a sleepless epidemic with around 1 in 3 of us sleeping badly and 1 in 10 having regular insomnia?
Sleep and its impacts on daily peak performance
Research has shown how people are chronobiologically hardwired with genes that make us either night owls or early birds so early risers’ daily peak performance occurs early during the day while the night owls tend to occur later. In an always-on culture, adopting regimes where you would disconnect from devices or TV and dim lights before bed – banishing iPads or phones from the room are simple measures to take to trick your mind that it is bed time. In addition to that, a simple switch in home lighting – from using bright light with short wavelength, blue-light bulb to a dimmer, warmer, longer wavelength bulb with red, yellow, and orange colour spectrums boost melatonin. In fact, technology-enabled equipment such as an app-based home lighting creates flexibility that allows one to set different light schedules for different rooms, switching rooms to a natural setting based on astronomical time and location.
As a recent article in the Atlantic explains, temperature plays a critical role in supporting sleep: we need to be able to lose heat to sleep so being too hot or too cold interferes with this process. Studies have shown that people with sleep disorders sleep longer—and are more alert in the morning—in 16 celsius rather than 24 celsius rooms, and people who sleep in hot environments have elevated stress hormones in the morning. As such, medical experts agree we should sleep in environments somewhere between 10 and 15 celsius rooms.
Diet and its effectiveness on weight loss
For decades, diets have been all about the type of cuisine we consume (from Mediterranean, to Keto diet, etc) but science has revealed that when we eat has profound metabolic and weight loss consequences – this new evidence has been reflected in the rise of intermittent fasting (IF) which typically restricts eating and drinking to an 8-10-hour window a day. Studies have revealed that this form of fasting is very effective for weight loss. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. As the entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat. This metabolic switch from glucose-based to ketone-based energy also increases stress resistance, longevity and a decreased incidence of diseases including cancer and obesity. A new Salk Institute study shows the implications for the diabetes and obesity epidemic: people with metabolic syndrome who limited food and beverage consumption to a 10-hour window for three months saw big improvements in body composition and cholesterol levels.
How then does matching the timing of eating with our circadian rhythms (with light and dark) impact health? More studies suggest that we should be embracing and adopting the terminology of a circadian diet. While intermittent fasting can have people take their first bite (an important cue that impacts other clocks in our organs) way after the light of morning, a body of evidence shows that calories are metabolised better in the morning than evening so synchronising meal times with our circadian rhythms lead to significantly more weight loss and reduce insulin resistance than if you ate the same food without a schedule, concluding that a larger breakfast, a medium-sized lunch, and small dinner drive optimal results.
Home & Environment
In this newly enlightened age, neuroscientists, doctors, and architects are all working hard on nailing the science of circadian rhythm-supporting light – what intensity and colour, at what time, for how long, and for whom because circadian systems differ from person to person – by age, where you live, etc. So for instance, when kids hit puberty, they have their circadian and sleep cycles pushed about two hours later than a typical adult, and while human evolution began near the equator, where daylight hours are consistent, most of us live with ever-shortening and lengthening days, becoming more extreme as we head up or down the poles.
As our home is supposed to be a refuge from the world, where one can relax and recharge, decluttering can help one to feel lighter and more positive. For example, if a stack of unopened mail is a constant reminder of things that one needs to do, starting to tackle that pile is one way to keep the area clutter-free in the future so taking small steps and making changes one at a time is a good way to start a new habit. Research also shows that even short contact with nature is beneficial to our well-being so as little as 3-5 minutes of contact with nature has been linked to reduced stress, reduced anger and a boost in positive feelings. Some of the same effects are seen if we have views to nature or can bring nature into the living space through plants or fresh flowers, aquariums and even fireplaces.
Yoga and its effects of stress on the body
Studies have shown that practicing yoga postures reduce pain for people with conditions such as cancer, auto-immune diseases, hypertension, arthritis, and chronic pain. It improves body alignment resulting in better posture, relieving back, neck, joint, and muscle problems. Additionally, taking slower, deeper breaths improve lung function, triggering our body’s relaxation response and increase the amount of oxygen available to our body – allowing us to increase vitality and strength from head to toe as we enhance our mobility. As with anything, continuous and consistent practicing of yoga allows us to begin to use the correct muscles, and over time, our ligaments, tendons, and muscles lengthen, increasing elasticity, make more poses possible. As our flexibility in the body lends to greater openness in the mind, we gradually become less rigid, less opinionated and more adaptable to ‘go with the flow’. Afterall, improving our posture and stamina allow us to focus better and with a deep sense of inner calm and clarity, that only brings us closer to our inner peace.