We all know what the big health no-nos are: smoking (obv), baking in the sun, eating loads of junk food… But what about all the little not-so-great things you do every day that could be just as bad?
STAYING UP LATE TO WATCH TV
We’ve all been there: it’s getting late, but you’re still sprawled on the couch, flicking through channels because you don’t feel like getting up, tidying the kitchen and washing your face. Before you know it, it’s the dead of night and you’re still hanging in there, just to see who the killer is on a 1994 rerun of Law and Order (one of those where Chris Noth is still sexy and brooding). Or it’s 2am on a Wednesday but your Game of Thrones marathon is going strong, because the last one ended on a cliffhanger and you have to watch ‘just one more’. You are not alone.
‘People steal time from sleep just to have time to relax,’ says James Findley, PhD, clinical director of the behavioural sleep medicine programme at the University of Pennsylvania. Besides being bleary-eyed and sluggish the next day, lack of sleep can also affect your coordination and decisionmaking abilities, as well as your short- and long-term memory. Just one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the next day, weaken your immune system and affect your mood, circulation and food choices. It also magnifies the effects of alcohol consumption and ups your chances of being involved in an accident.
A Harvard Medical School study estimated that sleeping less than five hours a night increases the risk of death by about 15%. Depriving your body of sleep over a sustained period of time can also cause weight gain, heart disease, depression and diabetes. And according to Anton Fourie, clinical technologist at the Milnerton Sleep Lab, about 40% of South Africans aren’t getting enough sleep.
First off, set a bedtime – like back when you were a kid. Look at what time you need to get up and work back from there to ensure you get at least seven hours of sleep. Then, set an alarm for an hour before your designated bedtime and use that hour to implement a nighttime routine to signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. Have a warm shower, change into your PJs, dim the lights and do something restful like reading a book, listening to music or applying a face mask.
BAD HABIT 2
We all need a good vent sometimes, right? Well, maybe not. ‘We tell ourselves we need to get it off our chest, but each time we do, we get upset all over again,’ says Guy Winch, PhD and author of The Squeaky Wheel. ‘We end up 10 to 12 times more aggravated.’ That’s not the only drawback: all that bitching and moaning causes permanent changes to the wiring of your brain.
‘Whenever you have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical across the cleft to another synapse, building a bridge over which an electric signal can cross, carrying along its charge the relevant information you’re thinking about,’ explains author Steven Parton. ‘Every time this charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross... The brain is rewiring its circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and spark together, in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger.’
Complaining can also affect your health in general. ‘When your brain is firing off these synapses of anger, you’re weakening your immune system, raising your blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, and a plethora of other negative ailments,’ says Parton.
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