Natural healing, natural wellness

Rest & Sleep

Quality Sleep – Give It Priority

I slept for nine hours last night. And the night before that as well. What a relief. I’ve been unable to sleep at night ever since working on a graveyard shift (11 p.m. to 6 a.m.) project for almost three weeks more than a week ago. That project really messed up my system. I had to work at night and I was lucky to sleep for a couple of hours during the day, due to other ongong daytime commitments. I was absolutely exhausted during the project.

When the project finally ended over a week ago, I eagerly looked forward to sleeping normally again. Quality, uninterrupted sleep at night, in a dark room without distracting light or sound, encourages the body to naturally produce melatonin, a powerful antioxidant. This period of blissful sleep, which follows the body’s natural circadian clock rhythm, is the best time for the body to rest, repair and rejuvenate. When we deprive ourselves of this natural sleep pattern, our immune systems become depressed and we are more likely to fall ill and age faster.

To my aggravation, I found myself having difficulty returning to sleeping at night. Despite being utterly exhausted, sleep eluded me. I tossed and turned every night. Nothing would get me to fall asleep. I was a total wreck during the day, and just couldn’t get anything done. I’ve completely neglected this blog for weeks now, and even simple tasks like walking my dog have been very trying.

Then two nights ago I slept almost uninterrupted for almost nine hours, at night, when it was peaceful and dark. I did it again last night. So I’m finally able to write this blog post, at long last. And I’m back to enjoying my walks with Ginger.

In May 2009, Professor Paolo Sassone-Corsi and his team from the University of California, Irvine, reported that women working the night shift are four times more vulnerable to breast cancer because of a disruption in their internal physiology – or circadian clocks. Disrupting these clocks can also lead to other kinds of illnesses. We need to listen to our internal clocks!

Sleep – it’s one of the most powerful secrets behind natural healing and wellness. Make it your priority to get sufficient quality sleep every night.

Pet Therapy

Billy’s lying in one of his favorite spots – on the cushion by the window, overlooking the river. When I went up to him to stroke him, he bit down lightly on my hand. I wasn’t annoyed, I just laughed. Billy’s a funny cat – when he’s in a bad mood, he bites. When he’s happy, he also bites. It’s rarely painful, it’s just enough to let him express his individualism.

This feline is such a character. He likes to knead his paws on my tummy (ouch!) and he loves to get under the covers with me. When I take out the ironing board, he leaps on it before I can start ironing because, for some reason, he thinks it’s a place for massage and I’m his personal masseuse. So I have to massage him before he’ll get off, leaving fine kitty fur all over the board.

Billy also enjoys ambushing Ginger, my sweet-natured doggy who found him when he was barely a month old. You should see him lying in wait, flicking his tail and wriggling his posterior as he gets ready to pounce on poor unsuspecting Ginger. Ginger puts up with Billy. She thinks that he’s always trying to steal her food, which is really hilarious as she’s 10 times bigger than Billy is, and her kibble is more than Billy can manage. She probably thinks that way because she’s stolen Billy’s food many times. Those two furballs are a riot and they provide me with endless hours of amusement, companionship and love.

Keeping a pet is good for your health. Their therapeutic powers range from helping to keep the blood pressure in check (unless they poop on the carpet, of course), providing comfort during depression and improving physical fitness levels. Pets, even cranky ones like Billy, are natural mood enhancers. They always look up to you – except maybe for cats who can be snotty – and make you feel good.

Generally, spending time with your pets will reduce your levels of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. Serotonin levels (a chemical associated with well-being) rise. Too much stress is harmful while rest is healing. It’s elementary.

Having a dog who needs to be walked twice a day forces you to get some exercise, a good thing for urban-living sedentary types. If your pooch is anything like Ginger, who has a mind of her own and is constantly in a tug-of-war with me, you’ll also benefit from weight bearing activity which strengthens your muscles and bones. Walking your dog is a healthy and inexpensive way of preventing osteoporosis.

For some great true stories about cats and dogs who helped their guardians through breast cancer treatment, check out:

The true story of kitty-cat Luke and her guardian Karen who had Stage III triple negative breast cancer
AND
The true story of Great Dane Kenya and her guardian “lifegoeson” who had Stage IV breast cancer

If you don’t have a pet, why not adopt one from the animal shelter? You’ll be saving more than just the animal’s life – you could be saving YOURS as well.

Let’s Go Forest Bathing

I’ve always been a nature gal. Childhood days were spent playing in the garden, climbing trees or combing the beach, picking seashells. When I grew up and bought my first home, it had a little garden with a very productive fruit tree. All kinds of birds and butterflies would come to visit. I loved my garden, and spent hours there. I live in an apartment now, with sweeping views of the river and forest. Cool, fresh breezes always blow, and I enjoy taking walks by the river and nearby fields.

Recently, in a series of studies, scientists found that when people leave their concrete surroundings to spend a few hours in a more natural environment – forests, parks and places with plenty of trees – they experience increased immune system function.

Several factors play a part. One is stress reduction. The other appears to be airborne chemicals called phytoncides which plants emit to protect themselves against rotting and insects. A study found an increase in white blood cells, which lasted a week, in women exposed to phytoncides in forest air. A 2007 study showed that men who took two-hour walks in a forest over two days had a 50% spike in levels of white blood cells.

A study published in January this year included data on 280 healthy people in Japan. On one day, some people walked through the city for a few hours while another group of people walked through the forest. On the second day, they traded places. Scientists found that being among plants produced “lower concentration of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure”.

Various studies have shown that visiting parks and forests seem to raise levels of white blood cells, which help to fight infection. Interestingly, in Japan which has one of the world’s highest life expectancy, its people enjoy visiting nature parks for its therapeutic effects. This practice is called “Shinrin-yoku”, which means forest bathing.

Think about it, people who live in rural areas and walk everywhere are known to have lower incidences of diseases like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Ultimately, the best way to stay healthy and well is to have a strong immune system which functions properly. Medicine can only do so much. Time for me to go forest bathing.