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Alex Allan Nutrition
By Alex Allan on 11/09/23 | Lifestyle Tips

How to regain your sense of calm

Palpitations, a dry mouth, sweating, insomnia are just some of the unmistakable signs of anxiety. Everyone has experienced these symptoms at some point in their life. Who hasn't felt stage fright before a presentation, hyperventilated before an exam or spent a sleepless night before their dental appointment? 

Under normal circumstances, you get through the situation in question unscathed, and life goes on. However, it is very different for people who suffer from anxiety disorders. Patients with this condition experience virtually no relief or respite because their anxiety is unrelated to a specific situation or event and is – objectively – unfounded. There is no single challenge to get through and move on. Their anxiety goes on constantly, from one situation to the next, and the next, and the next ... 

Although anxiety disorders were common even before the Coronavirus pandemic, the stress of lockdowns and worry about our own health and that of loved ones, our jobs and our financial security has sent numbers surging. A team of researchers at the University of Manchester are currently looking into this. Although the work is still ongoing, they predict that mental health problems will continue to be affected by the pandemic for years to come.[1]

So, where does nutrition come into it? At first glance, it may seem preposterous to say that diet influences how we feel; but think about it: In the cold, hard light of science, feelings are chemistry! Of course, in the first instance, it is our environment, our experiences, and to an extent, our personality that makes us feel the way we feel. But our feelings of fear, anger, overwhelm or love and confidence trigger the release of hormones in our body, which is where chemistry kicks in. We need the happy hormone serotonin and the pleasure hormone dopamine to feel good, the sleep hormone melatonin to sleep, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol for our get-up-and-go and to fight or flee when we’re under threat. Hormones work in unison with each other. Some hormones suppress others; some trigger the release of others. But for these feedback mechanisms to work, for our body to even be able to manufacture the chemicals that we need, we must supply the raw materials they are made of. 

Those raw materials are fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients – nutrients. What’s more, even our friendly gut bacteria contribute to how we feel by extracting more nutrients from our food for us, manufacturing some, such as short-chain fatty acids, from scratch and even providing some ready-made serotonin! So, if you think of feelings that way, what we eat is bound to have a massive impact on how we feel and how we cope with the challenges life throws at us. 

Don't get me wrong; I’m not saying that diet will cure an anxiety disorder. However, if we try and fuel our body with poor quality food that does not provide the building blocks of the hormones and catalysts our brain chemistry requires, we’ll have a much harder time overcoming mental health issues. 

So, what are these nutrients our body needs, particularly when we are anxious? 

Magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ – which hints at just how crucial this mineral is for supporting balanced mood, relaxation, and deep sleep. One reason why magnesium helps us cope with anxiety might be that it plays a role in nerve transmission.[2]The mineral is not even hard to find. There’s some in most foods, particularly in green leafy vegetables – think broccoli, spinach, kale, and watercress – but also in grains, such as brown rice, buckwheat and quinoa, nuts and seeds, or fish and seafood. Despite this, deficiency is common, which may have something to do with our penchant for convenience and junk foods that are just not as nutritious as real food. 

A 2019 study found that the amino acid L-theanine might help manage anxiety and support a balanced stress response. L-theanine is found in green tea.[3] It increases the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, which has calming, anti-anxiety effects. The amino acid also raises dopamine and the creation of alpha waves in the brain. This is because l-theanine can cross the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that protects our brain from unwanted and harmful substances. The high intake of green tea by Buddhist monks may contribute to their famously calm demeanour and intense focus during meditation. If you want to give green tea a try, be sure to choose an organic one to reduce your exposure to pesticides and other toxins, which have been found to disrupt the brain’s stress circuitry.[4]

The authors of a 2020 research review agree that the role of nutrition in the management of mental health disorders is underestimated.[5] They reviewed the existing research into omega-3 fats in connection with anxiety and found that this type of fat is critical for brain health and has been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms. As vegan diets are becoming more popular, it is important to note that omega-3 fats from plant sources, such as flaxseed oil or walnut oil, does not cover our daily requirements, let alone achieve therapeutic levels. The omega-3s these foods contain are inferior to the ones we need: EPA and DHA. Although the body can make those long-chain fatty acids can from plant-source omega-3 (alpha-linoleic acid or ALA), the conversion is sluggish and easily disrupted. Only about 5 per cent get converted. If you are vegan, do not like fish, or are allergic to it, your diet alone will cover your needs. I recommend finding a good-quality supplement with omega-3 from marine sources (i. e., algae), which is the only vegan source of DHA. 

When talking about anxiety and nutrition, we must not neglect the role of the microbiota, the friendly bacteria in our gut. The majority of available research studies in 2019 showed that it is beneficial to give our gut bacteria some TLC. Interestingly, “non-probiotic interventions were more effective than the probiotic” ones.[6]

That suggests that just popping a probiotic capsule may not be enough – and that’s no surprise, really. Don't get me wrong; probiotics are beneficial; there is no doubt about that. However, their contents – live bacteria, e. g. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species – are not going to settle in the gut. They are only travelling through, and while doing so, they help create a bacteria-friendly climate and temporarily crowd out undesirable microbes. But really, they are only lending a helping hand to our own, indigenous bacteria. Those are the ones that are at home there, and those are the ones that can protect our gut, feed our brain, improve our mood, and keep us healthy. 

You can look after your friendly bacteria by giving them real food, especially fibre-rich plant foods, including vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, pulses, whole grains, herbs, and spices. Variety is key here. While probiotics – especially in the form of fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt, kefir and kombucha – are great, prebiotics – fibre – are even better. We still need to learn much more about all the different microbes living in our guts, but what we do know is that the more different species we have, the healthier we are. How do we cultivate a variety of species? By keeping our diets interesting! Different microbes have different preferences. By varying what we eat, we are creating a desirable place for them to live. 

To keep everyone happy, it is also essential to avoid what harms the microbiota. Alcohol acts like a weedkiller on your internal garden. Food additives reduce a protective type of antibody called secretory immunoglobulin A (or sIgA, for short), and emulsifiers are particularly damaging for the gut. Sugar promotes yeast overgrowth, which can overwhelm the beneficial bacteria and make it difficult for them to adhere to the gut wall. 

Of course, although hugely important, diet is not everything. Lifestyle factors, too, play a crucial role in mental health. It will come as no surprise that it is worth reducing stress as much possible if you suffer from anxiety. Interestingly, stress also damages the microbiota and interferes with the conversion of omega-3 fatty acids – among many other things, so just getting on top of stress will do you a whole lot of good. 

I know that that is easier said than done, but there is a shedload of information on stress management on the internet, ranging from relaxation techniques, such as meditation or breathing exercises, to self-care and me-time tips.

So, as you can see, you don’t have to take anxiety attacks lying down. There is a lot that you can do to avoid them or to aid your recovery.  And if you’d like to talk further about this, why not book a free 30 minute health review with me here? 



[2] Kirkland AE, Sarlo GL, Holton KF (2018): The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients. 2018 Jun 6;10(6):730. 

[3] Lopes Sakamoto F, Metzker Pereira Ribeiro R, Amador Bueno A, Oliveira Santos H (2019): Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia. Pharmacol Res. 2019 Sep;147:104395.

[4] Caudle MW (2016): This can't be stressed enough: The contribution of select environmental toxicants to disruption of the stress circuitry and response. Physiol Behav. 2016 Nov 1;166:65-75.

[5] Polokowski AR, Shakil H, Carmichael CL, et al (2020): Omega-3 fatty acids and anxiety: A systematic review of the possible mechanisms at play. Nutr Neurosci. 2020 Jul;23(7):494-504.

[6] Yang B, Wei J, Ju P, Chen J (2019): Effects of regulating intestinal microbiota on anxiety symptoms: A systematic review. Gen Psychiatr. 2019 May 17;32(2):e100056.


By Alex Allan on 07/09/23 | Lifestyle Tips

My Top 5 Tips for Building Healthy Habits

People frequently think about ‘being healthy’, without paying much detail to the specific actions that they are taking (or not) to take care of themselves. 

Would you describe yourself as a healthy person?

You might say ‘I go to the gym’ but how many times have you been in the last month?

You might think you get enough fruit and veg into your diet each day, but how many portions a day did you average over the last few weeks? 

Did you ever think about the extent to which you are tired, whether your hormones are balance, the amount of water you drink, and so on?

In our hectic lives, we often overlook our wellbeing because dealing with it can be complicated and time-consuming. You owe it to yourself to stop putting up with the symptoms of ill health. Some of the symptoms you experience will need a longer and more specific plan to get meaningful results. Other little niggles can improve just by making some small but effective changes. 

A great many people really want to improve an aspect of their health, like losing weight, clearing up their skin, reducing troublesome digestive symptoms. And, while they might have the knowledge of what to do, they don’t consistently do it.

Worse still, they actually sabotage their own progress. If you see something of yourself here, read on…

Have you ever heard that little voice in your head that tells you that you deserve a treat? I mean, you’ve just hiked five miles! Surely, it’s okay to celebrate with a cup of tea and a slice of ‘Death by Chocolate’?

Have you ever spent January virtually living in the gym, only to find yourself slumped on the sofa, clutching the remote, come February?

Maybe you said: “Enough is enough”, dived headfirst into Magic Cleaning, but have been navigating around that pile of clothing in the middle of your bedroom ever since that fateful day?

Let’s take a closer look at the top five reasons why it is that we know exactly what to do but are just not doing it – and, of course, the fixes you can use to get what it is that you want with more flow, ease and consistency.

  1. It wasn’t your idea

Did your doctor tell you that you need to lose weight to get your blood pressure down? Did your boss send you on a management course, so you can lead a team and advance your career? Did your kids advise you to go vegan to save the planet?

That’s excellent advice and following it would be to your advantage, but weight loss, studying or going vegan doesn’t always come easy. Unless you decide that that is what you want, it’ll be tough to get yourself motivated and sustain momentum.

The fix: Making it your idea

Not everything other people think would be good for us really is. If, for example, your partner recommends cosmetic surgery because that would make him love you more, that is not a goal you will consider (I hope).

However, if your doctor is concerned about your blood pressure and advises you to lose weight, it’s a different matter.

Of course, it makes complete sense, and you have a go but falter after just two weeks because weight loss can be really hard sometimes. Health should be motivation enough to hang in there, but let’s face it, for many people, it just isn’t.

But what if you could come up with a reason for weight loss that inspires YOU?

Sit down with a pen and paper and list all the advantages of losing weight that you can think of. Then take another look at your list and see whether you can see anything there that would motivate you MORE than optimum blood pressure.

  1. It doesn’t tally with your values

Everyone has a personal value system, which developed over the course of their lives and depends on their experiences, our circumstances, and their family’s values.

While one person may attach great importance to material wealth and money, other may not consider it important at all. If you are not entirely behind the ‘cause’, you may struggle to keep going.

The fix: Get clear about your values

Examples of values are family, loyalty, honesty, compassion, health, freedom etc. Let’s take a look at that in a little more depth.

  • Identify your top 8-10 values. 
  • Prioritise: Compare one with another - select which is most important until you've reduced them to your top 5.
  • How will your goal work with your values?

  1. The goal is too lofty

Having aspirations is a wonderful thing. We should all strive to better ourselves and realise our dreams. However, you need to keep our feet on the ground. If you set yourself the goal to learn how to play the saxophone with the aim of joining a jazz band, touring New York clubs and by next year, you may be overstretching yourself a bit – and that can be the exact opposite of empowering.

Although you may be a great talent, it is doubtful that you’d meet that goal, and realising that at some stage may put you off playing the saxophone altogether. Which would be a shame.

The fix: Set SMART goals

Research shows you are 80% more likely to achieve your goals if you:

  • Make them SMARTER.
  • Write them down.
  • Make a contract to achieve them.

What are SMARTER goals?

SPECIFIC - “Lose weight” or “get fit” is not specific. “Lose a stone” or “Run 5k” is.

MEASURABLE – weight, waist circumference, minutes run, number of steps …


REALISTIC – see #4

TIME-BOUND – A goal (or intermediate goals) should have a deadline

EXCITING - find a motivation that works for you, see #1


  1. The goal is too big

Say you’d like to run the London Marathon next year to get healthy and raise money for your favourite charity at the same time. Excellent idea! Oh, you don’t currently run and never have? Ah …

In that case, your goal may be a little too big. While running a marathon one day is absolutely within your capabilities, next year may be too soon. Signing up and committing may cause you to feel overwhelmed and give up.

The fix: Break it down to baby steps

The thought of running a marathon, sewing a ballgown or giving a 90-minute lecture in front of an academic audiences a little daunting – unless you’re already a runner, seamstress or public speaker.

Intermediate goals – aka ‘baby steps’– can help. They, too, should be SMARTER (see above), and then they’ll help you approach the big goal step by step. For example, you could:

  • Get a training plan and start running every day
  • Run 5k
  • Run 10k
  • Run a half-marathon
  • Run a marathon

Similarly, try sewing a sofa cushion (skirt, dress, trousers, baby grow, ballgown) or seek opportunities to speak in front of a friendly audience for 1 minute (5 minutes, 15 minutes and so on - there are workshops, clubs and networking groups that allow you to practice).

  1. You give up too soon

Giving up too soon is one of the most common reasons you might not achieve the goals you have set yourself. Of course, it makes no sense to strive for a goal that is doomed to failure. You’re not going to jive like a pro at your company’s Christmas ball if your first dance lesson is tomorrow.

But you CAN learn how to jive, even to competition level, just not overnight. Some things take time, and even things that look easy – say, meditation – take practice. Sadly, many of us lose sight of the goal at the slightest resistance or even when success does not materialise at the expected time.

The fix: Accountability

There are very few people who just decide that they want to do something and then go off and do it. Most of us need some sort of accountability to keep us going, especially if achieving the goal may take some time, and long-term commitment is required.

Some people make a public announcement, e.g. post on social media that they are going to quit smoking or training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Others tell a friend or find a buddy.

American writer Gretchen Rubin likes to tell the story where two gym buddies exchanged a trainer after every gym session. That way, they knew that their friend wouldn’t be able to train without them and felt obliged to show up every time. Genius!

A great way to create accountability for yourself is by working with a coach. Your coach will support you week by week and gently hold you accountable for actions so that you achieve what you want and more.

Does this resonate with you? Every day in clinic I help my clients to think clearly as to how they can achieve their health goals. As well as using nutrition and lifestyle evidence to design a plan, I help them define what they really want to achieve – and how they can get there. Plus, I give them accountability along the way. Would you like to know more? Why not book in a free 30 minute health review by clicking here. I'd love to help you.

By Alex Allan on 26/07/23 | Lifestyle Tips

Top Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

Here are my top tips for getting a better night’s sleep. See what you can put into action. 

Get plenty of natural light

Getting outdoors during the day – whatever the time of year - can help regulate the circadian rhythm. Spending time outside or near a window can help, as can using a light therapy box during the winter months. Getting out for a morning walk is a great way to start the day and wake your body up on every level imaginable.

Exercise every day

Try to take some kind of exercise every day. There is evidence that regular exercise improves restful sleep. This includes stretching and aerobic exercise. A brisk walk ticks both boxes.

Watch your caffeine

Caffeine has a very long half-life, and it can take 6-8 hours for half the caffeine in your cuppa to leave your body. Consider that any caffeine after 2pm (if you go to bed at 10pm) will have a deleterious effect on the quality of your sleep – even if you cannot feel it.

Similarly, a few alcoholic drinks and eating late at night can also make it harder to get a good quality sleep.

Dim lights in the evening

At the other end of the day, you want to be encouraging your body to make more of the night-time hormones, which means reducing the amount of bright light. If you have dimmer switches, use those. Or use side lights instead of the main overhead lights. These subtle lighting changes can make a difference.

Avoid screens before bed

You learnt earlier that blue light from electronic devices can interfere with the circadian rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep. Think about what else you could do to avoid using things like smartphones, tablets, and computers for at least an hour or so before bedtime. Consider real books or a Kindle (which has a different type of light to a tablet).

Take time to wind down

Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine can help signal to the body that it is time to sleep. This is exactly what we do with babies, and there’s no reason why you cannot adopt some of this for yourself: warm bath, read a book, lights out. You might find it helpful to practise relaxation techniques like yoga or try some guided meditation.

Don’t engage in stimulating activities

… like playing a competitive game, watching an edge-of-the seat film, or having an important conversation with a loved one. Even watching the news can be triggering.

Keep the bedroom dark, quiet, and cool

Creating a comfortable sleep environment helps promote better sleep. This includes keeping the bedroom dark, quiet, and cool, and using comfortable bedding and pillows. Use your bed only for sleep and sex. This may help you completely switch off. Since the sleep hormone melatonin likes it dark, if you don’t live in the middle of nowhere and you don’t have blackout blinds, a generously sized silk eye mask is a good option to create a dark environment.

Ditch that smartphone alarm clock

Consider getting a traditional alarm clock so your smartphone can stay out of the bedroom – this will also help remove temptations to check messages and/or social media. Better still, work out how much sleep you need by going to bed 15 minutes earlier until you find that you wake up naturally before your alarm. That’s your personal sleep requirement.

Stick to a consistent sleep schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate the circadian rhythm. This means avoiding staying up late on weekends or sleeping in too much on days off.

And if you’re continuing to have issues with your sleep, why don’t you get in touch for a free health review? We can look at what might be underlying and see if we can get you sleeping better.

By Alex Allan on 24/07/23 | Lifestyle Tips

Sleep Well for Better Health

Sleep really is a gamechanger for your health and for your emotional wellbeing but even so, scientists are only just starting to begin to understand the biological role. I know that you know that everything looks better when you are well rested. It’s an essential function for everyone and lack of it can wreak havoc with all kinds of functions in the body, from your lived experience every day, to weight gain, lowered immunity, and increased risk for metabolic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

As far as we can tell, the purpose of sleep is for the body and mind to rest and repair, and that process in humans takes between seven and nine hours, which is where the idea comes from that everyone should get eight hours sleep a night. Perhaps you do, in which case I salute you, but many people don’t, and there are always consequences. Your mood, creativity and tolerance are lower than they would otherwise be, and your motivation to eat well goes out of the window.

There will be times when sleep gets a little patchy. However, if you regularly get less than seven hours a night (and it really doesn’t matter what you have convinced yourself you can get by on), I invite you to really look at the impact it might be having on your life.

Sleep has a terrible PR and can often feel like just another thing to add to your to-do list but – for one week – I invite you to really prioritise your sleep and throw everything you have at getting more of it. Then step back and see how you feel. Throughout this guide, I’ll be answering some questions I’m often asked about sleep, reminding you why sleep really matters and giving you some tips to help make sleep your health focus so you have the best chance of a restful night.

What happens when you sleep?

When you sleep, a series of physiological changes take place that allow your body to fully get into a state of rest so that it can repair and prepare for the next day. There are elements that scientists even now don’t understand but – through studying what happens when people don’t get enough – we know that sleep is an essential process. Research shows this time spent resting fulfils a vital function that keeps you healthy. Aside from other actions, sleep removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake, so small wonder getting your fill makes you feel more alive!

There are two main types of sleep: REM sleep and non-REM sleep, the latter having three different stages you’ll cycle through each night.

Stage N1 (non-REM) is a very light kind of sleep between being awake and asleep. Your heartbeat, breathing and eye movements slow, and your muscles relax although you might get the occasional twitch.

Stage N2 (non-REM) sleep sees your body go a little deeper into sleep. Your heartrate and breathing are slow, muscles relax even more, and brainwave activity slows. This is the most common sleep stage to be in.

Stage N3 (non-REM) is the deepest level of sleep and the most restorative. It’s the most difficult to wake from and, for some people, even loud noises do not rouse them. It’s here that the body repairs and repairs, builds bone and muscle and the immune system is strengthened. It is also the stage in which sleepwalking, night terrors, and bedwetting happens.

You’ll cycle through all these several times a night. The exact make-up will change from person to person and even from day to day. You’ll know this if you have a Fitbit or a smartphone app that measures your sleep cycles. Some days you’ll spend longer in those deep and restorative sleep cycles than others.

REM sleep is interesting because the brain is very active - brainwaves are very much like those that occur when you are awake. This is when your dreams happen, and it’s not usually considered a restful phase.

A complete sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes, and you’ll typically go through four to five cycles each night. The normal pattern is N1, N2, N3, N2, REM.

Why am I not sleeping?

There are a multitude of reasons, but here are some of the main ones that I see with my clients:


Too much stress is one of the most common reasons my clients struggle to sleep. It doesn’t have to be ‘big’ stuff like divorce, bereavement or a house move. It could equally be the relentlessness of daily life – like work issues, family or relationship worries or even traffic jams. Regardless of the source, stress triggers the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in the central nervous system and puts you in fight or flight mode; essentially, a sense of high alert. Prolonged stress means more stimulation of this HPA axis and, potentially, higher levels of stress hormones at night. If you’ve ever felt tired but wired (exhausted physically but your mind is whirring), this is it. Until you can dial down those stress hormones, you’ll have little chance of nodding off.


I’ve often seen clients with blood sugar imbalances created by consuming too much sugar, starchy carbs and refined foods, with poor sleep. They might find it easy to get to sleep initially but wake in the early hours. If you’re riding a blood sugar rollercoaster, your glucose levels can drop too low at night (a hypo) and, if you’re in a light sleep cycle, this can easily wake you up – even in those who do not have diabetes.


Declining oestrogen in the transition to menopause can cause a wealth of hormonal issues, including night sweats and hot flushes, both of which are detrimental to a good night’s sleep. Oestrogen also helps promote deep sleep, while progesterone (another retreating hormone at this stage of life) has a calming and sleep-inducing effect. When their levels fluctuate, it can disrupt the normal sleep-wake cycle and lead to sleep disturbances. Add to that, hormonal fluctuations can also affect mood and increase stress levels. Anxiety, irritability, and mood swings are common symptoms during perimenopause. These emotional changes can make it challenging to relax and fall asleep, leading to an increased likelihood of insomnia or disrupted sleep.


Sleep apnoea is a common sleep disorder characterised by repetitive pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. These pauses (or apnoeas) can last for several seconds to minutes and can happen multiple times throughout the night, waking you up from sleep and, therefore, disrupting your normal sleep pattern. They might be so brief you don’t fully remember them, but they can fragment your sleep enough that you wake feeling unrefreshed.


As you get older, there is a natural shift in the ‘sleep architecture’. That means a change in the pattern of the different sleep stages discussed earlier. Typically, older adults would experience a decrease in N3 deep sleep and a higher prevalence of lighter sleep stages. These changes can make sleep feel less restorative and more fragmented. Age is often associated with an increased risk of medical conditions that can also affect sleep – like arthritis, respiratory disorders, and neurological conditions that can cause pain, discomfort, or breathing difficulties that interfere with sleep. Older adults would commonly take more prescription drugs, some of which have sleep disturbance as a side effect, such as alpha or beta blockers for prostate problems and high blood pressure, ACE inhibitors used for blood pressure and heart problems, some antidepressants, and corticosteroids for inflammation.

Work with nature

Have you heard of the circadian rhythm? The circadian rhythm is a finely tuned, natural biological process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in humans. It is often referred to as the body's internal clock, as it controls the timing of various physiological processes, including sleep, hormone production, and metabolism.

If you want to improve sleep, you need to understand the role that the circadian rhythm plays.  Blue light is the most important factor in regulating the circadian rhythm. For millennia, these rhythms followed the natural daily light pattern, from sunrise in the morning to sunset in the evening. But, thanks to the invention of artificial light, electronics and our modern always-on society, this natural pattern has been disrupted.

Blue light has the greatest impact on the circadian rhythm. You need the right amount of it at just the right time to keep in balance.

You want more of it in the morning, when you’re bright and ready to start the day, and less of it in the evening so your body can increase levels of melatonin, the hormone that facilitates a good night’s sleep.

Most of your blue light exposure comes from the sun, which makes getting an early morning work in first thing an excellent idea. At the other end of the day, you can see why staring at blue light-emitting screens like TVs, computer screens and smart phones is a terrible idea. Too much blue light can, therefore, confuse that internal body clock. This is why that late-night YouTube or Facebook habit might not be such a great thing for your wellbeing.

You're probably now thinking, that's OK because you have the warm-light function on your phone, but scientists believe that it’s not just the blue light that is a problem with devices like these. Phones and tablets are excitatory for other reasons, too. Screentime activates dopamine, one of the ‘awake’ hormones that leaves you eager to find out ‘what’s coming next?’. That’s why your planned 10 minutes on social media leads you down the rabbit hole.

Make sleep really matter

Sleep is free and you could choose to get more sleep (in theory) at any time you like, and this is why people typically don’t make this a priority. The same goes for other free and health enhancing activities like drinking more water. If you are someone who struggles to sleep enough or wakes up feeling unrefreshed, I invite you to make sleep a REAL priority this week. Throw everything at it for a whole week - make it your number one job – and then see how you feel.

Most of the tips you will read in the next blog you will almost certainly read or heard before and for good reason. They’re established facts. The trouble is that it can feel mighty difficult to do them consistently. So, once again, do every single last one you can for a week and experience what life could be like for you.

Choose a week without much going on; just the regular stuff rather than a week filled with social engagements or a busy work week. Let’s call it the ‘sleep experiment’. Put it in your diary as though it were an important engagement. Getting into good habits (people often refer to this as ‘establishing good sleep hygiene’) is the of the very best gifts you can give yourself.

And if you’re continuing to have issues with your sleep, why don’t you get in touch for a free health review? We can look at what might be underlying and see if we can get you sleeping better.

By Alex Allan on 24/05/23 | Lifestyle Tips


Feeling grateful is more than a nice feeling. The more you feel grateful, the luckier you feel and the happier you are. You’re less stressed and your outlook, more positive. And healthier, too.  Who would not want that? Let me explain how gratitude works and how you can tap into it.

First, let’s be clear what gratitude is. It comes from the Latin word gratus, which means "thankful, pleasing." Gratitude is a complex emotion that involves a combination of cognitive, emotional, and behavioural processes. At its core, it involves recognising and acknowledging the good things in your life and feeling a sense of appreciation and thankfulness for them.

“The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness; a warm feeling of goodwill towards a benefactor.” OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY

“What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it. Opportunities, relationships, even money flowed my way when I learned to be grateful no matter what happened in my life.” OPRAH WINFREY

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” ECKHART TOLLE

Here’s proof it works:

There is growing evidence that practicing gratitude can have a positive impact on physical health. Here are just a few handfuls of way.

  • Better Sleep. A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that individuals who wrote down things they were grateful for before bed reported better sleep quality and felt more refreshed in the morning.
  • Improved heart health. In a study published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice, researchers found that gratitude was associated with better heart health. The study found that people who expressed gratitude had lower levels of inflammation and improved heart rate variability, which is a marker of better cardiac health.
  • Reduced pain. In a study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, researchers found that practicing gratitude helped reduce chronic pain. Those who kept a daily gratitude journal reported lower levels of pain and were more likely to engage in healthy habits like exercise and stretching, which further benefited their health.
  • Improved sleep. The Journal of Psychosomatic Research found people slept better and deeper when they practised gratitude – so count your blessings and not sheep!
  • Better relationships. When you practise gratitude, you are a better person to be around, and this has an impact on how others relate to you. 
  • Lower blood pressure. In a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, researchers found people who practiced gratitude had lower blood pressure levels than those who did not. The study found those who expressed gratitude had lower levels of stress and anxiety, which are known to contribute to high blood pressure.
  • Lowers HbA1c (a blood sugar marker). If you’re a woman, being grateful can also lower your HbA1c markers, which is one indicator of diabetes. Specifically, studies show being grateful to God, but we can take a guess it doesn’t really matter what you are grateful for. The same reduction was not noted in men, but it has also been seen in adolescent type 1 diabetics.
  • Helps you reframe situations. Want to reframe negative experiences in a more positive light? By focusing on things you're thankful for, you can shift your perspective and find a sense of meaning or purpose in difficult situations.
  • Gratitude generates positive emotions like joy, contentment, and happiness.These emotions can have a range of benefits, including improved mood, increased resilience, and reduced stress.
  • Improves social connections. Gratitude strengthens social connections and builds positive relationships with others. When you give love and appreciation, you’re more likely to receive it back.

So, now you know that gratitude is a good thing, I know you’ll want to try it for yourself. Here’s how. 

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Set aside a few minutes each day to write down three things you're grateful for. This could be anything from the people in your life to the simple pleasures of daily life. By focusing on the good things in your life, you can start to build a more positive outlook. 
  • Express gratitude to others. Take the time to thank the people in your life who have made a positive impact on you. This could be a friend who has been there for you during a tough time, a co-worker who helped you out on a project, or a family member who has supported you in some way. By expressing your gratitude, you can strengthen your relationships and build a sense of connection with others.
  • Practice mindfulness. Gratitude and mindfulness go hand in hand. Take a few minutes each day to simply focus on the present moment and appreciate the world around you. This could be as simple as taking a walk outside and noticing the beauty of nature or savouring a cup of tea and enjoying the taste and aroma. 
  • Create a gratitude jar. Get a jar or container and write down things you're grateful for on small pieces of paper. Whenever you're feeling down or need a reminder of the good things in your life, you can reach into the jar and read through the notes.
  • Start a gratitude challenge with friends or family. Invite others to join you in practicing gratitude. You can set a goal of writing down three things you're grateful for each day for a certain period of time, and then come together to share your experiences and reflections.
  • Practicing gratitude is a habit that takes time and effort to cultivate but the benefits are enormous. Start small and be consistent, and over time you may find that it becomes easier to focus on the positive things in your life.

 If you’d like to take charge of your health, why not get in touch? You can book a free call with me here.

By Alex on 10/03/23 | Lifestyle Tips

How to help your child cope with exam stress

The exam season is just around the corner and, whether it’s SATs, GCSEs, A Levels, or university finals, as parents we want to know we are doing everything we possibly can to help support our children through what could be a stressful period with lots of anxiety.

Don’t assume your young person is OK. There are some worrying statistics.

59% of UK teens say they feel stress about exams (National Citizen Service, 2018)

84% of further education students feel stressed about exams and a quarter say that stress had a significant impact on their mental health (National Union of Students, 2019)

So, what can you do? Having honest and open conversations about how your child feels a great place to start. Simply talking about feelings can make a big difference. Remind them about the support system that is in place – who they can go to apart from you – for help and that they are not alone in this.

To really understand some of the practical steps you can take, it helps to understand biologically what’s happening inside their body. The stress response hasn’t changed much since caveman times and, when we’re faced with a stressful situation, our bodies go into fight or flight mode – stay and fight the sabre-toothed tiger or run. The stress hormones kick in to make it easier to do either of those options. Sugar levels in the blood rise so we have the energy to run, heart rate quickens, palms get sweaty so they can grip better, our focus sharpens – but all functions not essential to the job of running or fighting get put on the back burner. The effect is that sleep is often broken, digestion slows, the immune system is repressed, and appetite vanishes. 

After the stressful event passes, everything should return to normal. But the long, slow approach to exam season, then the exams themselves can mean months of your child feeling in this heightened state. The more they worry, the worse they feel, so the more they worry. It’s a vicious circle.

How can you help?

  1. Encourage a good routine. That might be helping your young person set up a good revision schedule and/or getting up, eating, and sleeping at similar times each day.
  2. Make sure your child or teen or young adult gets enough sleep. Burning the midnight oil can seem a good plan for older children the night before the exam, but it will leave them feeling shattered the next day. If getting to sleep is a problem, look at sleep hygiene in the same way you would take care of your own – no screens an hour before bed, Epsom salts bath, a little light reading before bed.  You might also try calming teas like ‘night-time’ blends featuring chamomile, lavender and valerian. 
  3. Encourage them to take time to rest, doing something they love to do to empty the stress bucket. Similarly, encourage exercise, which can be a great way to lift the spirits and boost energy levels. We’re not talking about intense exercise, which can add extra stress to the body, but moving more generally in a way that feels good.
  4. Keep enough healthy foods in the house so they don’t have to pick at sugar or junk foods, which spike blood sugar levels and ultimately lead to a crash in energy later in the day. 
  5. A diet that balances blood sugar levels is one of the best ways you can help them keep calm and healthy in exam season. Base meals around a good source of protein like poultry, meat, fish, eggs, tofu and other plant-based sources like chickpeas, lentils, and beans. 
  6. Encourage eating plenty of omega 3-rich foods, as these are the building blocks of steroid hormones like the stress hormone cortisol. Find them in walnuts, chia and flaxseeds, and oily fish like salmon, fresh tuna, trout, sardines and mackerel. 
  7. Older children should watch how much caffeine they drink, from colas and coffees to energy drinks. These can interfere with sleep, leaving them scrambling for energy the next day, resulting in eating more sugar and drinking more caffeinated drinks, and a vicious circle gets created. 
  8. On exam day, make sure they have a good breakfast. Porridge or overnight oats with berries, nuts and seeds wins ahead of any cereal for releasing energy slowly and keeping them feeling fuller for longer. Or eggs on wholemeal toast.  
  9. Encourage ‘happy tummy foods’ like probiotic yoghurt and kefir. During periods of stress, you might also consider a probiotic yoghurt to strengthen the gut. 
  10. A healthy gut also relies on a variety of different plant-based foods – all the different good gut bugs like something different for dinner. That means plenty of fruits and veggies, pulses, nuts and seeds. Some children are compliant when it comes to eating their veggies, but others might need more persuasion. Consider hiding extra veggies in their favourites if they aren’t so keen. It’s amazing how easy it is to add peppers, carrots and mushrooms cut up very small into a Bolognese or cottage pie!

And if you’d like to discuss this further, why not book in a call with me here?


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