Day Crafting Today / The synergy of self-care, how sleep, nutrition, exercise and rest work together.

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The synergy of self-care, how sleep, nutrition, exercise and rest work together

Under the heading of maintenance (how we look after ourselves in a day) generally*, our four most important actions are sleep, nutrition, exercise, and rest. What I’ve been writing about this week, after exploring those four elements individually, is how they interrelate. I’ve been adding detail to an arrow network diagram that shows how they affect each other – and subsequent topics such as energy, productivity, stress, immunity, and subjective well-being. It is perhaps no surprise that sleep has the most connections on the diagram.

For example, poor sleep can lower our emotional self-regulation and disrupt the production of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that give us signals about our appetite and food choices. We can more easily desire high-calorie, high-fat foods and we struggle to know when we’re full. Poor sleep can also lead to changes in metabolism, including decreased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.

Exploring how the arrows point the other way, nutrition can affect sleep – caffeine (coffee, tea, dark chocolate) being an obvious culprit. Less well-known, I think, is that our immune function doesn’t regenerate itself as well during sleep if there is alcohol in our system. Alcohol can also disrupt the natural sleep cycle, leading to decreased REM sleep and an increase in wakefulness during the night. Some research shows that sleep can be improved while we’re digesting certain nutrients. Carbohydrates can increase the level of tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor to the sleep hormone, melatonin. And protein-rich foods (in moderation) can help to increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and feelings of well-being. Chamomile tea is also known to promote relaxation for many people.

Back to the bigger picture, add in exercise and rest and explore all of the interconnections between the four and the subsequent topics that spin out from them. This is obviously a whole-system approach which, if you’re already wired up this way, you may find easy but if you’re busy and living complex days, requires a bit of design-thinking to begin to improve. At the heart of this is a maintenance blueprint that follows your individual body clock (here’s a workbook on that) and a routine, set time for things like meals and sleep timings.

The point I’m exploring – and this may be fairly advanced Day Crafting for some people or blandly obvious to others – is that crafting good maintenance habits in a day is a combination of all four of these actions. And, to find out what’s wrong with our maintenance (if we notice, for example, our energy is low) we might find the problem in a connection between these actions rather than the action itself. For example, eating the right meal at the wrong time may affect sleep negatively (a big meal too late) – this is a body-clock problem, not a sleep or nutrition problem.

A couple of personal reflections.
I think the benefits of spinning this flywheel up to speed for me are huge and it’s not difficult to do. It starts with a little bit of design thinking and some minor changes. This is one of those little effort = big benefits that crop up a lot in Day Crafting. The other observation is that if you’re anything like me you can get caught out by the lagging measures. If you’ve lost out on sleep and rest you know about it quickly (sleep is a lead measure) but aspects of exercise and nutrition are lagging, longer term measures and I personally find it easy to neglect nutrition. That’s my personal challenge. What’s yours?

*I emphasise general actions because, depending on individual circumstance, taking care of an illness, or working on a mental health or inner life issue might be a priority.

The Practice


  • How can you design a daily routine that prioritises all four elements of self-care?
  • How can you maximise their interrelationships?
  • Do you struggle with one of these self-care elements and how can you use the others (and Day Crafting) to strengthen it?
  • How does your day, energy, productivity fall apart if you let one of these slide?
  • Which do you find most easy to overlook?

Written by Bruce Stanley on Fri, March 31, 2023

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