I have written several times on this blog that I can’t make sense of all the diverse and often contradictory information out there about health. I am a great believer in the scientific method, but it has to be admitted that it isn’t good for everything you would like to know. A good example is ‘healthy’ food and beneficial exercise. What do these terms even mean? Eating a salad is supposed to be healthy, but if you ate nothing but salad it would kill you. Exercise is generally regarded as a good thing. But you can definitely overdo it. If I were to set out to run a marathon this morning I would probably end up in hospital. Okay if I got into shape so I could run a marathon, I would probably be healthier than I am now by most measures. But even that wouldn’t necessarily mean that the actual running of the marathon was a necessary part of the process. The first person who ever ran a marathon, just after the battle of Marathon, famously died shortly afterwards.
The only way to really evaluate health advice in my opinion is to give it a try and see how it works for you. This isn’t the way to prove something beyond any doubt, but it is the only way to work out what does you any good.
So when I wrote a blog post about the benefits of sleeping well for the skin a couple of weeks back I tried to be fairly objective. Of all the things that are supposed to be beneficial to our health sleep is the one that is least contentious. Almost nobody disapproves of sleep and most of us have personal experience of how bad we feel when we don’t get enough sleep.
But how about the specific claim that good sleep improves your skin tone? Well as it happens I have been sleeping rather badly for the last week. I fell off the wagon of my diet over Easter. There are many temptations above and beyond the normal at this season. Who can resist hot cross buns? And with family visits on top of some other things my routine has been rather disrupted. I have basically been eating too much, not exercising and not sleeping well.
So I looked carefully at my skin, and indeed it did seem to be a bit less well toned than usual. It didn’t have quite its normal colour, and it was itching rather badly. So last night I got to bead early, had a really good night’s sleep and this morning I assessed my skin, It was looking much better. The big thing I look for is a sort of reddish hue. I fancy it might indicate that blood is flowing a bit more freely – though that is probably just my imagination.
The interesting thing here is that this is such a quick effect. I have noticed that in the week since Easter I have had less energy and less ability to concentrate on things. I have been watching television for entertainment rather than reading for example, and I have got rather less done than usual. More quantitatively, I have been doing my regular morning run rather more slowly than usual and my weight is up. I don’t expect I will be able to turn around most of those things particularly quickly, but it is really encouraging that the appearance of my skin can be sorted out more or less overnight.
So what helps me to sleep well?
The paradoxical one is getting up fairly early. Nothing stops me getting off to sleep at night as badly as a lie in earlier in the day. I think what happens is when I get up late I just don’t much done so I don’t get tired.
Eating things like sweets and crisps also seem to keep me awake at night. The mechanism isn’t obvious but I guess it is something to do with insulin levels. Caffeine rich drinks, which includes tea, are rarely a good idea in the evening either.
Drinking alcohol is another thing that contrary to what you might expect, keeps me awake in bed. Again, I am not sure why.
Watching television or computer screens late at night seem to guarantee an even later night. I just can’t seem to switch off from them in the way I can from reading a book. Even reading a book is not as good at curing insomnia as listening to an audiobook.
And finally, the biggest thing that keeps me awake at night is worrying about things. I can worry about just anything. It can be my future, my family’s future or the future of mankind in general. Just about anything can trigger off anxiety. At the moment I am worried that nobody will read this post. I am also worried that they won’t like it if they do read it. If I choose not to press the publish button, I will be worried that I am not releasing enough material. I can even worry about worrying too much and worry that my worrying is keeping me from sleeping.
I haven’t come up with a perfect countermeasure to this yet, but remembering previous things I have worried about that never happened helps a bit.
We are all different of course, but I have a feeling that sleep is something that has benefits for all of us, and if any of these observations help you improve your sleep then I am very happy.