Three Paths to Happiness: Sunshine, Sleep, & Serotonin
Written by: Meg Sharp, Director of Personal Training, Cambridge Group of Clubs
Happier, fulfilled, satisfied, optimistic…? However you define “great wellbeing” I bet we all could use an extra boost of “feel good” hormones these days.
For John Denver, a little sunshine on his shoulders makes him happy.
As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, it’s tougher to get that sunshine high. So, it’s great news that simply getting a Vitamin D boost – from sunshine or a bottle – is an integral part of what makes us feel so good.
Getting enough restorative sleep is another simple way to feel markedly better. (Reader please note: I said “simple” not “easy”). Sleep deprivation is associated with poor thinking, attention span, low energy, and increased stress, anxiety, and irritability and in some cases has been shown to be a major contributing factor to postpartum depression.
(Read a little more about increasing your non-REM sleep in this article we published in September!)
And the third Happiness Ingredient: Serotonin. Used to transmit messages between nerve cells, serotonin is considered key to contributing to a person’s well-being and happiness.
Recently, scientists are finding more and more evidence linking these three “pathways to happiness” together:
Findings on serotonin and sleep have historically conflicted, as some studies show that it promotes sleep while others demonstrate that serotonin-producing neurons are most active during wakefulness. It turns out, if you look a little more closely, these two seemingly conflicting actions in fact support each other. An effective build-up of serotonin during a person’s day contributes to the onset of sleepiness and also increases time spent in restorative sleep cycles.
Increases in restorative sleep specifically is associated with better energy, improved sports performance, memory, and overall mood.
Serotonin also plays a key role in sleep because the body uses it to synthesize melatonin – which plays a vital role in regulating our body’s biological clock.
Vitamin D deficiency – similar to serotonin deficiency – is also associated with poor quantity and quality of sleep: So fewer total hours and fewer hours in restful, restorative states. There is compelling evidence to suggest that the best time to supplement is in the morning with your breakfast, as Vitamin D may suppress melatonin levels and it’s a fat-soluble vitamin.
Finally, we’re now uncovering more and more evidence to support the importance of adequate Vitamin D to support optimal serotonin levels.
If it feels like I’m writing in a circle, I suppose I am. The point is, the three pathways cross: Vitamin D, Sleep, and Serotonin. Enough of each substance in and of itself it vital: Adequate sleep, appropriate vitamin D supplementation, and healthy levels of serotonin. They each support the positive activity and impact of each other, leading to a better rested, happier you.
"I would equate it to two Red Bulls and vodka, three ibuprofen, plus a $50 winning Lotto ticket in your pocket." – Triathlete Scott Dunlap when asked to sum up his running high.
Today's Live Workout
Happy Monday! Penny’s workout is here to brighten your lunchtime!
TOTAL BODY CONDITIONING WITH PENNY
Join Penny today for her Total Body Conditioning workout! Challenge your cardio and strengthen your muscles from head to toe with this incredibly effective no-nonsense bodyweight training.
No equipment needed today.
Join Penny at 12:00pm (30 minutes) from your own living room.
Click here to join the workout.
Meeting ID: 864 5295 2847
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If you have questions about our virtual live workouts, please reach out to Lauren.
Today's Trainer Moves
First thing on Monday mornings, sometimes you’re just not up for an intense workout. Join Susan for this restorative yoga session which is perfect for runners, cyclists, those who enjoy a long walk, and anyone who’s feeling a bit fatigued after the weekend.
You may want to have your yoga blocks (or large books) nearby to assist in some of the poses.
Today's Naturopathic Wisdom
Simple Yet Highly Effective Ways to Support Your Immune System
Supporting immune function is foundational in overall health; when the immune system is functioning optimally, each system in the body will be supported. Strong immunity lends itself to the prevention of cold + flu and chronic diseases like cancer, as well as cellular repair which leads to graceful aging and longevity.
Naturopathic medicine offers many highly effective ways to support the immune system. Here are my top naturopathic tips to boost immunity.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that optimizes immunity. Because vitamin D is synthesized by the skin when it is exposed to sunlight unprotected, as Canadians our blood levels of this vitamin start to decline in mid-September as a result of less sun exposure. Generally, 1000IUs of an emulsified vitamin D in supplemental form is sufficient to maintain levels when supplementation starts in September. If not, there is a chance you may be deficient. I recommend having your blood levels checked annually by your naturopath or medical doctor to determine your vitamin D levels, and how much supplemental support you require to achieve adequacy.
- Vegetables: I suggest 8-12 servings of vegetables daily (4-6 cups) to ensure you are taking in a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support immune health. Eat organic where possible. Variety is key - the more colours you eat, the more nutrients you will receive. Opt for cooked vegetables (roasted, steamed, sauteed, in soups) as we head into the colder weather to optimize digestion.
- Sleep: When we rest is when we heal. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. When you are feeling under the weather or burnt out, always opt for closer to 9 hours until you feel restored. Remember, sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity. If sleep is an issue for you, see your naturopath who can determine the root cause for the sleep disturbance and assist you in rebalancing your system through supplementation and lifestyle medicine so that you are able to sleep restfully.
- Avoid sugar: Studies show that when you consume sugar, your immune function declines for up to 50% in the several hours following consumption. Avoid all processed sugars, syrups, sweeteners, and alcohol, and instead eat naturally sweet, whole foods daily - pomegranates, apples, sweet potato, carrots, squash, and other seasonally available produce to provide your body with the nutrients it needs so that you are not craving other processed sweets.
- Minerals: Minerals are incredibly important fuel for the immune system. Dietary minerals are available primarily through vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and high-quality shellfish or animal products. Consider adding three raw brazil nuts and a handful of raw pumpkin seeds to your diet daily, along with one cup of steamed or sauteed spinach and/or kale daily to increase your mineral intake. Supplementation of individual minerals like zinc, selenium, or magnesium may be considered but always consult a licensed naturopathic doctor to ensure you are choosing the correct minerals, their correct form, the right dosages, and combinations. Minerals are very complex and must be taken in the proper ratios; if we over-supplement with one, we may inadvertently cause a deficiency in the other if we are not careful.
- De-Stress: This is easier said than done, but is of the utmost importance. Stress reduction looks different for each person, but implementing stress management practices daily is a must. When we are in a calm state, the nervous system allows the immune system to function optimally. One tool I recommend is breathwork; this is incredibly effective at calming the nervous system and exercising lung function. Start with three minutes first thing upon waking; set a timer and, either sitting up or lying in bed with the eyes closed, take long deep breaths in for four counts, hold for four, and exhale for four. Continue for the duration of your timer. You can repeat this any time during the day or again before bed.
The immune system overall can be very well supported with the proper diet and lifestyle techniques. Although there are a variety of immune boosting products on the market, be weary: not all supplements are created equal and ultimately, no supplement or product can make up for a poor diet and lifestyle. Always consult with your naturopathic doctor or medical physician before beginning any new supplements or making drastic changes to diet and lifestyle.
Dr. Melissa Cugliari
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