With the Lunar New Year passed not too long ago, we shared some tips on how to keep fit during the festive period and as we continue into the next quarter of 2021, we wonder what does wellness look like this year. As such, we looked to Sophia Goh, Founder of Sofia Wellness Clinic, to find out more about this year’s wellness trends, what tips she has to better manage stress, and insights on the connection between stress and one’s overall health.
Sophia Goh, Director of Sophia Wellness Clinic
Q: Could you share what do you think wellness looks like this year? What are some wellness trends you foresee this year and how would Singaporeans achieve their wellness goals?
S: The pandemic has amplified the importance of mental health, with individuals across the world experiencing the psychological impact and effect from it. For the first time, many are experiencing anxiety, sadness, despair, helplessness and trying to cope. We see many Singaporeans turning to yoga and meditation for their mental wellness and stress management.
The above is also supported by Fitbit’s global data in 2020, which revealed how Fitbit users in Singapore and across APAC took up new stress-relieving activities to help manage our new normal due to the pandemic. Some of the key findings include:
- There was a major shift and focus on mental wellness and stress management while staying indoors – where activities such as meditation, yoga and Pilates saw spikes in uptake.
- Meditation alone emerged as the go-to activity amongst Fitbit users in Singapore, with an increase in uptake by 6,128%.
Q: What would you recommend to try or use to achieve holistic wellness? How can we incorporate that into our daily lives and everyday habits?
I would recommend us not to more, but to do less. While new wellness trends may seem exciting to try out, ultimately what is most important for achieving wellness is to consistently go back to the activities and lifestyle habits that work for you.
Q: With us spending more time on our devices, be it for work for personal reasons, how can we achieve digital mental wellness?
Our devices can be good for and bring benefits to our mental well-being too. For example, using it to access mindfulness apps. The important thing for us to do is to set a healthy relationship with our devices. The key question is: are we in control of our devices, or are they in control of us?
I would highly recommend using the Chrome extension StayFocusd which allows you to restrict and block your access to websites of your selection and this will help to minimise distractions when we are working from home.
Another recommendation is to use mindfulness tracks to unwind – such as the mindfulness content on Fitbit premium within the Fitbit app. My current favourites are the audio tracks “A Fresh Start” to set my intentions for the day, and “Breathe, Relax and Drift off to Sleep” to help me wind down before bedtime.
Q: What is your personal experience with using a health smartwatch or fitness tracker?
Before we talk about the use of a health smartwatch or fitness tracker, it is important that we make the right choice depending on the device and service ecosystem available beyond the device.
I’ve been using a Fitbit for over 5 years now, since I first received one as a Christmas gift. I am now using a Fitbit Charge 4 and have been using Fitbit devices since they pioneered sleep tracking on wrists. Personally, I find a Fitbit tracker very useful as its sensors and technology tracks my health metrics and provides me with personalised feedback on the app, making it easier for me to stay on track with my own health and wellness goals. For example, using its step tracking feature and its Daily Step Goal prompts me to walk more while its sleep reminders tell me when it is time for bed.
Fitbit also tracks your heart rate, which is also especially useful as it measures my Active Zone Minutes to see how intensive my workout has been.
I really like Fitbit’s Smart Wake feature too, which finds the best time to wake me before my set alarm time, based on the sleep stage that I am in. The idea here is to be gently awoken during light sleep instead of deep sleep, so that you are more likely to wake up feeling refreshed.
Combining this with simple yet detailed analysis of my sleep with a Sleep Score allows me to easily reference it to make small changes that can help me improve my sleep patterns. One of the major causes for poor sleep is attributed to having our phones next to us. My Fitbit allows me to keep my phone away while still being able to track, wake up refreshed or even set an alarm without having the need to use my phone, allowing me to start my day with a few quiet moments. Technology is great, but it should complement and be an enabler for better living and not a distraction.
Q: What would you recommend for those who struggle with insomnia?
For those suffering from insomnia, it is important to maintain good sleep hygiene and a regular sleep routine. Here are some of my tips for good sleep hygiene:
- Daily Routine: We should follow the same sleep schedule to maintain our circadian rhythms. We should also include exercise into our routines.
- Bedtime Routine: Refrain from checking the news or your social media, but instead, focus your time on your bedtime ritual which can help you to sleep better. You should avoid any vigorous exercise 3 hours before bedtime as well.
- Falling Asleep: You should go to bed only when you are feeling sleepy. You should not watch the clock while trying to fall asleep. You should also get out of bed if you are unable to fall asleep after 20 minutes.
- Food: Avoid caffeine and alcohol at least 4-6 hours before you head to bed, as these may reduce your REM sleep.
- Environment: Our environment is key to getting quality rest. To optimise our bedroom sleep, we should ensure a cool temperature and blackout curtains to block light from entering, as light rays can disrupt our sleep-wake patterns and impede us from deep sleep. Wearing a sleep eye mask can also be helpful for blocking out light.
When we follow any recommendations for good sleep hygiene, we should do so consistently over a period of 2 to 4 weeks, even if we see minimal effects on the onset.
Q: What are some important sleep care routines that most of us take for granted?
Getting a goodnight’s sleep begins early in the day. Getting sunlight exposure early in the morning, preferably an hour after sunrise, will help to reset our circadian rhythms, which is our internal 24-hour body clock that controls our wakefulness and sleepiness.
This consistency of setting our circadian rhythms right create an anchor for our sleep patterns and thus, allows us to have prolonged and consistent quality sleep.
Q: Do you have any tips to share for better stress management, and therefore, better sleep?
Modern lifestyles are fast-aced and can be typically stressful. Stress is a physiological response that is activated within our bodies. Even thought we may have dealt with the stressors (i.e. the source of our stress, such as work pressures), we would still need to deal with the stress that is being held physiologically in our bodies to prevent the effects of chronic stress such as hypertension, depression, anxiety etc.
Exercise is one of the best ways that we can relieve our stress, and I would recommend spending at least 20 minutes on exercising everyday. It is also important to follow with some breathing exercises. I end my exercise with 2-minute guided breathing on my Fitbit. You can also do it with deep breaths for 2-5 minutes.
Q: What impact does our stress and sleep have on our overall health? What is the importance of staying healthy mentally?
Research has shown that our sleep duration and quality of sleep has a large effect on our moods and the way our mind regulates them. Whenever I have a client presenting with depression or anxiety, the first thing I would ask them would be about their sleep habits.
On the other hand, whenever we feel stressed, our body’s stress response is activated. Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on our body as our heart, nervous system and digestive system goes into overdrive constantly. This chronic stress on our body can lead to an increased risk of various physical and emotional health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety disorders.
Q: How do you think using devices such as Fitbit can help us facilitate better sleep?
Personalised data from such devices enable us to cater our general recommendations for health and wellness to be more tailored for the individual. For example, I can get a better understanding of my sleep the night before through Fitbit’s Sleep Score and reference it to make the right changes for better sleep patterns.
For example, while we are aware that an adult needs an average of 7-9 hours of sleep, how do we know if we need 7 or 9 hours of sleep? The data tracked from my Fitbit consistently shows that I have a lower-than-average duration of REM sleep for women in my age group. Given that REM sleep typically occurs in the later stages of sleep, this showed that I have been waking up too early before getting sufficient REM sleep, and thus would probably need closer to 8-9 hours of sleep every night.
I also found out through my sleep data that the duration of my deep sleep decreases if I do not meditate before going to sleep, which is an indication that meditation before my bedtime helps me achieve better quality sleep.
Images: Sophia Wellness Clinic, Fitbit (through Sophia Goh) and Envato