What do a hot bath and a brisk walk have in common?

A hot bath and a brisk walk both help you sleep better. 

Click here to listen to my conversation on ABC radio about how to get a better night’s sleep and how to increase vitamin C from your fruit and veg. 

You can also read a transcript of our conversation below.

Cathy: I’ve long believed that a warm bath before going to bed helps me fall asleep and I get a more refreshing rest. A big new study has now confirmed my experience and the researchers have even come up with exact numbers regarding temperature and timing. Dr Helena can you give us the prescription for the perfect pre-bed bath?

Helena: Your bath water needs to be pretty hot — a temperature of 40 to 43ºC works best for improving the overall quality of your sleep. Additionally, in order to shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep — usually by an average of 10 minutes — you should take your bath 90 minutes before going to bed.

The science behind these findings involves the body’s natural temperature variations. Our body temperature follows a daily rhythm. When your temperature is on the rise, you’re most likely to feel alert and awake. When your body temperature is falling, you’re likely to feel drowsy. Hence dropping your body temperature cues the onset of sleep. It may seem counter-intuitive to take a bath because soaking in warm water initially raises your temperature. But think about what happens when you get out of the tub — that’s when you start to cool down. As you dry yourself and the water on your skin evaporates, it sets the stage for sleep.

Cathy: Does that mean if I need to jolt myself out of an afternoon slump I should do something to elevate my body temperature like go for a quick run? 

Helena: Yes that’s a great idea. Also if you feel drowsy in the morning, do some star jumps or dance to a song on the radio and you’ll quickly feel more alert. It’s more effective than a cup of coffee.

Cathy: While we’re on the subject of exercise, I believe we need to focus on fitness not fatness. Is it healthier to be overweight and exercising or slim but sedentary?

Helena: Being fit is more important than being slim. In other words, you’re better off carrying excess body fat but nonetheless exercising on a regular basis, than being slim and not exercising. Exercise strengthens our immune system and reduces our risk of cancer, diabetes, depression and dementia. Being slim doesn’t get you off the hook when it comes to exercise. Burning calories is the least important reason to exercise. Even just half an hour of brisk walking improves mood and self esteem. It also helps you sleep better. 

Cathy: Vitamin C is a fragile vitamin. It is destroyed by both heat and oxygen. So how can we get more vitamin C from our fruit and vegetables?

Helena: Don’t cut up your fruit and vegetables until you’re ready to eat or cook them. As soon as you cut into fruit and vegetables they start to lose vitamin C. As long as the skin is intact, the vitamin C is protected from air. As for cooking, how much vitamin C is lost depends on the vegetable and the way it’s cooked. Boiling is the worst thing you can do because the vitamin C leaks out into the water (it’s a water soluble vitamin). As a general rule, use the lowest temperature for the shortest amount of time with the smallest amount of water. Lightly steaming is usually the best way to go. Another trick is to add foods that are rich in vitamin C to casseroles so the vitamin C escapes into the sauce.

Cathy: Is it true that Australia’s Kakadu plum has the highest vitamin C of any food?

Helena: Yes. One Kakadu plum provides five times our daily required dose of vitamin C. If your local green grocer doesn’t stock them, you can eat a cup of strawberries instead — that’s almost one day’s dose of vitamin C. Or a kiwi fruit or orange — they each provide about 75% of our required daily dose. You can get the other 25% from your dinner vegetables like broccoli, Brussels, capsicum and kale, and from the herbs thyme and parsley.

Please forward this Health-e-Byte to anyone who struggles to get to sleep and over-boils their vegetables. 

Health-e-Byte: To hot for comfort!

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