In a society that favours immediate results; instant improvement and, quite frankly, mainstream medicine, it’s hard to swim against the current. If you can take a pill that substitutes the natural sleep hormone your body produces under the correct environment, then why would you want or even need to take a step back and understand why your body isn’t producing the hormone in the first place and what you can do to fix this? The truth is, there are many reasons why the latter should become more of the status quo and less of the niche.
Behaviour change is a powerful tool when it comes to our health. Sure, shifting our habits to curb smoking or to drink less is well known, but what about other habits — those day-to-day routines that are so subtle yet monumental for our health that we may not notice them at all? Take light for example. Unlike the well-known villains of our modern lifestyles (tobacco, alcohol and lack of sleep come to mind), our lack of exposure to the right type of light intensity and at the correct time of the day is something few of us consider a lifestyle habit with negative impacts on our health. But in fact, a whole wealth of research is now piling up which proves that wrong exposure to light can cause serious illnesses on the long-term and damage to our sleep-wake cycle on the short-term.
There are layers for our myriad conditions that lay dormant below the symptoms, and what conventional medicine is inclined to always do is to treat the tip of the iceberg without asking questions regarding what lays beneath. Could sleep deprivation (or inability to produce sufficient enough melatonin) be a result of stress; of lifestyle choices, and perhaps a routine of light intake?
Functional medicine, a branch of medical practice which is gaining traction this year and set to take bigger root in 2019, is based on the notion that the symptom is merely the visible aspect of each condition and that unless we start to understand that, we’ll always just be addressing the tip of each issue rather than the root.
According to functional medicine, if you cannot sleep, or are not producing enough Melatonin, your struggles with sleep are but the sprout peaking above the ground. Underground, functional medicine would look at your routine, your psychological state, your habits beyond diet and exercise and try to determine a holistic approach to treatment that goes beyond the immediate relief — the ‘how to fix you right now’. And it is within this type of approach that behaviour change as a treatment tool lives. Because if part of the root issue to a problem is related to a certain habit, then it is up to us to change that habit for the better.
The question of ‘if behaviour change is for me’ should be swapped with how do I begin to compliment my well-being routine with behaviour change — because ultimately it is for everyone. Behaviour change is often times simple to implement, and merely requires is an understanding of the wrong habit and what it takes to change it.
When it comes to the disruption of your sleep, a shift of light habits has been suggested to go a long way. From exposing yourself to high-intensity light in the hours after you wake up to avoiding this very same light before bedtime. So next time you consider taking pill form hand-to-mouth solutions, try thinking about addressing the issue at the root and seeing how your routine could be shifted — even in the slightest way — to create a palpable impact on your well-being.