Stress

Home / Posts tagged "Stress"
How to tackle indigestion and heartburn

How to tackle indigestion and heartburn

Struggling with indigestion and heartburn?

Indigestion is a common problem that’s often viewed as a niggle and something to put up with rather than complain about or put the effort in to treat. We have all experienced indigestion at some point and there are many reasons why it occurs but if you feel this type of discomfort regularly after eating then it can become a real hindrance on day-to-day life and your overall feeling of wellness.  Even though numerous reasons for indigestion exist, there are many simple changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle to avoid it.

What is indigestion and heartburn?

Although they share the same type of triggers, they’re not the same as indigestion is the condition of which heartburn is a symptom. Indigestion is characterised by a feeling of discomfort in the upper abdomen, which occurs after you’ve eaten, causing symptoms such as bloating, excess wind, belching and nausea.

Heartburn is characterised by a burning sensation in your chest and throat as excess stomach acid makes its way up the oesophagus, which is also referred to as ‘reflux’.  If heartburn occurs regularly throughout the week then you may be diagnosed with a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.

Who is more at risk of indigestion and heartburn?

Anyone can experience indigestion and most of us have encountered it during the festive season as we overindulge in rich food and a few too many glasses of vino.  Common diet and lifestyle factors that encourage indigestion include:

  • Overeating
  • Eating too quickly
  • Medication – aspirin, antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
  • Stress
  • Eating ‘on-the-go’
  • Smoking
  • Excess alcohol
  • Excess coffee
  • Health conditions – cholecystitis (inflammation in the gall bladder), gastritis (inflammation in the stomach), stomach ulcers
  • Spicy foods

Heartburn shares a similar set of triggers but is particularly common in people carrying too much weight or pregnant women, where the pressure put upon the abdomen forces fluids back up the oesophagus.

Bloating is a symptom of indigestion, but it’s important not to confuse heartburn with bloating.  Common treatments for bloating include herbs and spices such as mint, fennel seed and caraway seed.  These are often used in teas to help with bloating after eating as they relax the valve that connects the stomach and oesophagus.  This effect helps to release excess gas but if the issue is heartburn then it will make matters worse as fluids find their way up the oesophagus more easily.

Losing weight will help with heartburn and by following a healthy diet you can help to ease indigestion.  Addressing other diet and lifestyle factors will help to combat indigestion, which in turn will also help to reduce the risk of heartburn.

Start by changing the way you eat

Eating habits can be just as important as the food and drink you include in your diet when it comes to tackling indigestion.   Start by making changes to the way you eat.

  • Serve smaller portions of food in a single sitting and eat little and often if this helps.
  • Avoid eating large meals immediately before you go to bed as lying down will only make digestion more difficult as well as encouraging heartburn.
  • Don’t rush your food as this can encourage more air to enter the stomach and encourage bloating.
  • Chew your food slowly to allow the enzymes that aid digestion to be stimulated.
  • Avoid eating ‘on-the-hoof’.
  • Make the time to sit down with your meal and focus on the job in hand. Distractions and stress can cause indigestion; eat at the table rather than in front of your computer whilst you’re frantically trying to meet a deadline.
  • Try not to skip meals or go for long periods of time without eating as this can encourage bloating, especially if you suddenly eat a large meal.

Now look at what you’re eating and drinking

If changing the way you eat has made little difference, then take a look at the food and drink in your diet.  You can keep a diary for a few days to track your diet and jotting down how you felt after eating will help you identify culprit food and drinks.  I get that this takes quite a bit of motivation and to be honest, in the context of your overall diet and eating habits, it may be that a certain food affects your digestion one day but not the next.

What you may identify is the effect of a potential food intolerance. Lactose (found in dairy foods) and gluten (found in grains such as wheat) are common food intolerances that can cause bloating and other symptoms of indigestion.  A very stressful lifestyle can also encourage the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which causes digestive upset.  If you suspect either of these things to be causing the issue, then you can seek the advice of a dietitian.

Diet strategies

There are plenty of diet strategies that you can follow, which have been shown to help with indigestion and heartburn.

  • Try to follow a low-fat diet as high-fat (rich) foods such as full fat dairy, fatty cuts of meat or rich puddings and sauces can take longer to digest and leave the stomach, causing more stomach acid to be produced and increasing the risk of heartburn.
  • Make you meals from a good balance of starchy foods, vegetables and lean protein (protein helps to stimulate the gall bladder to produce more bile that aids digestion).
  • Include oily fish in your diet each week as they contain omega 3 fatty acids that may help to tackle inflammation in the gut wall, which contributes to indigestion.
  • Try to avoid raw vegetables initially to see if this helps with indigestion as they can be difficult to digest.
  • Beans, pulses and lentils are very high in fibre and can cause bloating, especially if you’re not used to eating. Introduce these foods into your diet slowly and make sure you drink plenty of water to allow the fibre to swell and do its job.
  • You may want to try and cut back on ‘windy’ vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts to help with bloating associated with indigestion.
  • Other foods that have been shown to trigger heartburn specifically include citrus fruits, spicy foods and caffeinated drinks, which can all increase the production of stomach acid.

Don’t underestimate the effects of stress

Stress has become a common side-effect of our modern way of living and the ripple effect on health has been shown to reach many areas of health.  Stress not only impacts on mental health but encourages inflammation in the body, which is now understood to be a key risk factor for many diseases.  Stress is also a key factor in the development of irritable bowel syndrome (1).

It may seem obvious that trying to eat when you’re highly stressed is likely to cause digestive complaints and studies have shown that people with GERD report stress as something that exacerbates the condition (2,3). However, whether the effect of stress is due to excess stomach acid is up for debate as many scientists are of the opinion that GERD makes people more sensitive to smaller amounts of acid in the oesophagus (4,5).

Stress can also lead to erratic eating patterns that may cause indigestion.  Diet and lifestyle choices can also be affected by stress and choosing unhealthy foods, gaining weight, smoking and drinking excessively can all lead to indigestion. Sleep is also affected by stress and can lead to low mood and a lack of motivation to follow a healthy diet.

Try to address your stress by practicing breathing or relaxation techniques such as meditation.  There are many apps available that can help you to do this.

Can you still drink alcohol?

Alcohol is known to contribute to indigestion, especially heartburn, but it does affect people differently and you may not necessarily need to give up your favourite tipple completely.  Start by cutting alcohol out completely to see how you feel then introduce it back in slowly as you may find your heartburn is not affected by the odd glass of vino.  Avoid mixing your booze with fizzy drinks as this can encourage bloating and don’t drink too close to bedtime as lying flat can encourage reflux.

There are so many different reasons why you may suffer with indigestion and heartburn.  As a ‘one-off’, indigestion may be anticipated as a result of over-indulgence, but if it persists then there are plenty of ways you can tackle the issue by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle.

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202343/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19961344
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25832928
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8420248
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18206149

 

Are you a sleep hijacker?

Are you a sleep hijacker?

What is sleep?

Sleep is defined as, “A condition of body and mind which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended”.  Modern times are defined by a fast paced and more stressed society, addicted to social media and a level of communication that commands a 24/7 availability. The side-effects of this environment are that many of us find it more difficult to relax, diet has been jeopardized and we have even come up with the phrase ‘FOMO’, which is the fear of missing out.

The cumulative effects of this shift in society has had a huge impact on our ability to relax and sleep, which is also compounded by many other factors traditionally thought of as getting in the way of our time spent in slumber.

The sleep cycle

During sleep your heart rate drops, body temperature falls and complex changes occur in the brain. The first stage of sleep is non-rapid eye movement, which occurs in three stages that become progressively deeper. Stage one and two are light sleep from which we can easily be roused from. The third stage is deeper and we are less likely to be roused from but may feel disorientated if woken. Stage four is known as rapid eye movement sleep, which is the point that dreaming occurs. Each cycle lasts around 90 minutes and all four are needed to wake up feeling rested.

Sleep is controlled mostly by your circadian rhythm, which is your in-built body clock and a 24-hour cycle that regulates both biological and physiological processes. It anticipates environmental changes allowing the body to adapt and is largely influenced by light. When you are in sync you will naturally wake at the same time every day, which explains those weird moments when you wake just before the alarm goes off. After being awake for around 15 hours the pressure to sleep becomes greater as tiredness set in and with the onset of darkness the circadian rhythm drops to the lowest levels to help maintain sleep.

There is evidence to show that it can be perfectly natural to sleep for around four hours then wake and fall asleep again for a few more hours putting question to the perception that you need 8 hours uninterrupted sleep to wake up feeling refreshed. Problems may occur of you wake after four hours and fail to fall back to sleep, which is the case for people suffering with insomnia. Anxiety related to the inability to fall back to sleep can only further lead to sleep deprivation so rather than lie in bed staring at the ceiling it may be better to get up, make a warming drink and sit quietly in the dimmest of light, maybe reading or writing down ideas, stresses or problems to help clear the mind and get you ready to fall back to sleep.

Society of non-sleepers

We are a society that typically does not get enough sleep. The idea of rest and sleep is sometimes viewed as unimportant as people seek appraisal and worth by burning the candles at both ends to appear capable and carve out the time required to achieve their goals. Admitting to feeling tired is sometimes viewed as a sign of weakness but in the long-term, strength and endurance come from the ability to switch off and allow yourself to recoup, which will ultimately help you to achieve both short and long-term goals, whilst retaining your good health.

How much sleep do Brits actually get?

A recent survey commissioned by Healthspan UK showed that 43% of Brits are tired because they can’t sleep. Our lack of sleep is evidenced by further research. According to research carried out by the Royal Society for Public Health, Britons are under-sleeping by an hour every night, which equates to a whole night’s sleep over the course of the week. The optimum number of hours’ sleep is thought to be just under eight, whilst the survey of 2000 adults found the average time we spend asleep is less than seven hours.

Further research by The Sleep Council found that 74% of Brits sleep less than 7 hours per night, whilst 12% say they get less than 5 hours nightly. This survey also showed that for 61% of Brits, between 5-7 hours is considered the norm with 30% getting poor sleep most nights. The top reasons for a poor night’s sleep appear to be stress and worry (around 50%), partner disturbance such as snoring (25%) and noise (20%) with more than one in ten blaming their sleep depravity on an uncomfortable bed.

The health benefits and downsides of sleep

Whilst asleep, your brain processes information, muscles and joints recovery from constant use during the day, production of growth hormone is increased and protein is replenished in all parts of the body. Poor sleep impacts on mood, concentration and alertness and the effects of long-term sleep deprivation have been linked to several serious health conditions including heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Research shows that a lack of sleep may also be a major risk factor for obesity alongside physical activity and overeating. Research carried out by the university of Leeds showed that people who lack sleep or have poor quality sleep were more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI) and an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese. Not getting enough sleep is thought to create imbalances in the hormones that regulate appetite and how the body breaks down and utilizes nutrients for energy. These hormones include leptin (appetite regulation), ghrelin (appetite stimulant) and insulin (blood sugar regulation). The impact of these hormones on appetite and the fact that being overweight can result in low energy and lessen the motivation for physical activity may have the potential to lay the foundations for obesity.

Are you hijacking a good night’s sleep?

There are clearly many reasons why people can’t get a good night’s sleep and for many of us we just carry on regardless, waking up complaining of being tired and failing to tackle the issue head on hoping it’s just a passing phase. The reality is that we are just burying our head in the sand and as with any other health conditions, things are not likely to improve until you find a way to break the cycle.

Understanding the many things we do that unwittingly hijack a good night’s sleep is key to getting to the root of the problem and unlocking the path to a blissful, regenerative slumber. Instead of getting on with day to day life with a slightly ‘hungover’ feeling, addressing the issues head on is the best approach.

Keep a sleep diary

It may seem like quite a bit of effort given the many other things we have to get on with in our day-to-day lives but keeping track of your pattern of sleep and the factors that may be keeping you awake by using a sleep diary is a useful tool to identify the reasons and patterns of behaviour and lifestyle that could be getting in the way. The British Sleep Council have produced a morning and evening sleep diary that is worth completing for at least one week to help you to do this. Once written down it is surprising how even the simplest and most obvious of reasons for a lack of sleep are easily overlooked.

Eight sleep hijacks that could be keeping you awake

These are some of the main factors that may need to be addressed. You can use these topics to create your own personal sleep ritual, which can be a useful way to re-set your body clock and promote sleep.

Worry and stress

We have all been kept awake by the many factors that cause worry and stress in our lives. Money problems, relationship issues and work stresses can have you sitting up all night as your brain whizzes in a cycle though different situations and scenarios to come up with solutions.

A useful habit to get into is to download your thoughts at the end of the day. Keep a pen and paper next to your bed and before you go to sleep, write down your thought and worries, create a to-do list for the following day or jot down solutions and ideas that relate to work. If you get up during night, rather than twiddling your thumbs spinning ideas around your head then get up, make a warming drink and sit quietly in dim light and jot down your thoughts to get them out of your head.

For some people that can’t sleep, even the slightest worries can have a major impact such as whether you have locked all the windows and doors or whether you have turned off the oven or switched off the hob. In this case, developing a personal sleep ritual can help. Work through the same pattern of checking before you go to bed. Lock the front door, check the windows are locked and that the cooker is switched off. It doesn’t take much for the smallest of worries to escalate in your mind when you’re finding it difficult to nod off.

Diet and eating patterns

What and when you eat can have a major impact on your ability to sleep. Eating too late or indulging in a rich or spicy meal can keep you awake. These foods take a long while to digest and the after effects of indigestion and heartburn are not going to set you up well for a good quality sleep.

The amino acid tryptophan has been linked to inducing a soporific state that may help you to relax before you sleep. Tryptophan is required to make melatonin in the brain, which is the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle. Foods rich in this amino acid include poultry, tofu and dairy foods but you need to team them with low to medium glyaemic carbohydrates (rice, potatoes, pasta and bread) for maximum effect, which puts some truth to the old wife’s tale of milk with honey. Aim to eat your evening meal earlier (up to 4 hours before bed) as the effects of digestion can push your body’s core temperature upwards, which may disrupt sleep.

Some nutrients specifically have been associated with sleep and relaxation. There is a research to suggest that both calcium and magnesium may be linked to poor sleep. Magnesium found in green vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and wholegrains is involved in muscle relaxation and low intakes have been shown to make it harder to stay asleep. Calcium found in dairy foods, soy, beans and green vegetables, helps the brain to use tryptophan to make melatonin and low levels have also been shown to make it more difficult to nod off.

Vitamin B6 may be useful too. Oily fish are a rich source of this vitamin that is also required by the body to make melatonin. Most people get enough vitamin B6 but the effects of stress can deplete the body of this nutrient and disrupt sleep.

Alcohol and caffeine

Tea, coffee and energy drinks contain caffeine that helps to stimulate the nervous system and make you more alert, which is great if you need a pick-me-up (although energy drinks should be avoided given their high sugar content). Dosing up on caffeine during the day can affect your ability to sleep later on in the evening. Try limiting your intake of caffeine to the morning and switch to decaffeinated options such as herbal teas (chamomile and valerian are considered to help with relaxation).

Alcohol is a double-edged sword when it comes to sleep. Whilst a little may help to induce slumber, even in small amounts it can cause fragmented sleep patterns. Alcohol has been shown to exacerbate insomnia and impairs the restorative part of sleep called rapid eye movement. Alcohol also inhibits your anti-diuretic hormone that tells the kidneys how much water to conserve and can have you getting up through the night to use the bathroom.

Mattress and bedding

The findings from the Sleep Council Survey showed that 26% of Brits sleep in an uncomfortable bed and that 27% of people questioned have a mattress that is more than seven years old. Mattresses age can deteriorate by as much as 70% within ten years of use so past seven years you should consider replacing especially if you find it uncomfortable. It’s important to try your mattress before buying as the right level of comfort is down to individual preference.

Changing your bedding regularly is a must to help with sleep as nothing is more relaxing than sinking into freshly laundered bed linen. Certain fibres such as silk provide a breathable barrier between you and the surrounding temperature, which can help you to keep cool and whilst silk bedding is somewhat of a luxury, a single pillowcase may be a useful aid to help you to sleep.

Bedroom environment

Your bedroom should be considered to be a ‘sleep oasis’, reserved purely for slumber, whist being inviting, relaxing and welcoming. Your bedroom should be dark once the lights are switched off because the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin is very light-sensitive and may not be optimally produced if it is not so. Check for ‘light leaks’ and take action by fixing curtains or installing black out blinds, turning off anything that emits and LED light such as phones and clocks and make sure that if your door is open during the night then all other lights around the house are switched off.

Maintaining the right temperature can also help with sleep as a room that is too hot may prevent your core temperature from going down, which is essential for switching on the sleep mechanism within the body. Your body temperature falls to its lowest level around 3-4 hours after falling asleep so keeping your bedroom temperature cool may help keep you asleep. A warm bedroom can also dehydrate you and this may have you waking up to get a glass of water.

A cluttered bedroom can be an energy drainer. Psychologically, you know it’s there even if you choose to ignore it and it can leave you questioning why you haven’t dealt with it. Clearing clutter means organization and can help you to achieve peace of mind, which helps with restful sleep.

Blue light

Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to an area in the brain called the hypothalamus, where a special centre called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) initiates signals to other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or wide awake.

We live in a technological world but the type of light that is emitted from phones, TV’s, computers, tablets and other gadgets called blue light can disrupt your ability to sleep. Research has shown that light from these sources for up to two hours before bed can significantly suppress the production of melatonin causing sleep disturbances. A study from the Lighting Research Centre in New York showed that two hours of exposure to this light before sleeping caused a 22% suppression in melatonin production.

Digital devices can also stimulate the brain and add to worry and stress as you receive and read emails, texts or social media relating to work or personal issues. Try initiating a digital detox as part of your sleep ritual, tuning out and switching off communications at least two hours before bed.

Chilling out

There are many ways to relax before bed that include stretching, guided imagery and breathing, which can be done with the help of meditation apps designed to help you to sleep. Breathing exercises are the simplest way to induce relaxation and centre the mind. Close your eyes and become aware of your breathing as you feel the air enter and leave your nose and mouth. Visualize the flow of air as it passes through your mouth, airways, down into your belly, and back out again. Survey your body for any tension, and as you exhale, feel the tension leave that part of your body. Visualize your breath reaching your forehead, your neck, your shoulders, your arms… and then releasing the tension as you exhale. If your mind wanders to another worry or thought, let it go and gently redirect your attention back to your breath.

Research has shown that bathing or showering before bed can help you to drift off but you need to time it right. You don’t want to raise your body temperature to close to bedtime as temperature has a key role to play in regulating the circadian rhythm. The cooling down of body temperature is a signal to the body that we should be ready to sleep so interrupting this process by raising your body temperature too close to bedtime can be counterintuitive. Showering or bathing early in the evening gives your body time to cool and off and can help to trigger sleep. Try and time you shower or bath so you’re out about an hour and a half before you hit the sack as by then your body will be cool, dry and ready for sleep. Adding magnesium salts to your bath may also help as this mineral is absorbed through the skin and relaxes the muscles.

Experts consider sleep to be just as important to your health as diet and exercise. Getting the right amount and sufficient quality is necessary for the body to regenerate and repair itself and not getting enough could have serious health consequences in the long term. If you do have difficulty sleeping then it shouldn’t be ignored and identifying the factors that may be keeping you awake can help you to create your own personal sleep ritual and establish a good level of sleep hygiene that will get you back on track to a restorative and restful slumber.