Feeling Exhausted:DR Frank Lipman Advises
Friday, May 8th, 2009
Deborah Agulnik of the Guardian (05 05 09) explains that frazzled New Yorkers are flocking to holistic doctor Frank Lipman to help them relax, sleep and banish perpetual tiredness.
According to the holistic doctor who claims that we are in the grip of an exhaustion epidemic that is spreading through the developed world. He has coined the term “spent” to describe it.
Spent, he says, is a result of “the way we live our lives today - it’s our bodies saying, ‘Enough, we can’t do it any more.’ Everyone who comes to me is exhausted. They often don’t complain of exhaustion; they may come with back pain, headaches, insomnia, or no sex drive but, when you delve into their histories, they’re all exhausted.”
It’s a phenomenon he describes in his self-help book, Spent? End Exhaustion & Feel Great Again. With endorsements from Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Bacon and Donna Karan (the latter hosted the book’s launch party earlier this year), and a thriving clinic in New York, Lipman may come across as the latest celebrity guru aiming to tap in to the frazzled-professionals market. But his medical background working in some of the most deprived hospitals in South Africa means that, if nothing else, he has a wider perspective of what he’s doing. “I don’t pander to the celebrities,” he says. “Maybe because I’m not American, I don’t care about that.”
Notwithstanding, a good nights sleep in key to lipman’s approach. Thus he prescribes a daily “electronic sundown” - all computers, mobile phones and TVs should be turned off by 10pm to allow for the “transition into sleep”. Keep your bedroom cool and totally dark - “like a cave,” he says - with LED alarm clocks covered up or even disposed of, blackout blinds installed or eye-masks donned. This should, he says, help keep night-time melatonin production going. He also advises not turning the bathroom light on if you go to the toilet in the middle of the night, otherwise your body will be fooled into thinking it’s morning again and turn off the melatonin tap.
With reference to Dr Lipman, the hormone melatonin, plays a key role in “inducing sleep and regulating our body’s circadian rhythms” - our internal body clocks. There are, he says, “more than 100 rhythms, each influencing an aspect of body function including temperature, hormone levels, heart rate, blood pressure, even pain threshold.”
Significantly, he likens the circadian cycle to Greenwich Mean Time: “Our body clocks are set precisely to these natural rhythms.” Modern life, he says, is fatally disruptive; late nights, processed food, and sedentary living all contribute to a kind of lifestyle jet lag. But crucially, he says, “when prompted correctly, our genetic clocks can reset themselves.” He thinks, for example, we should strive to return to a seasonally-oriented lifestyle, sleeping longer in the winter and shorter in the summer. Natural light is also vital. “I encourage all my patients, even in winter, to get outside. The light will help you sleep and definitely helps your body.”
Just as vital as sleep cycles, Lipman says, is diet. According to our inner “food clock”, breakfast and lunch should be our largest meals as human metabolism peaks around the middle of the day. At dusk, however, our metabolism slows down, so dinners should be light. He also advises cutting out the usual suspects - sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods - which disrupt the body’s natural processes.
Exercise is important too, although, says Lipman, this should be restorative rather than exhausting - he doesn’t think we are built to run marathons or spend hours on treadmills.
Dr Lipman advocates moderation, focusing on yoga and simple programmes designed to retrain our bodies to rest and recover, such as half an hour of alternating a minute’s brisk walking with three minutes of relaxed walking.
But what can be done about the greatest of all drains on our energy - work? Lipman believes that much of the stress we feel at work is due to the way our minds operate. “We get caught up in, ‘I should have done this, what am I going to do, did I do a good job?’ It’s extremely wearing. Anything that gets you out of that headspace is going to help.” He recommends taking “breathing breaks” (five minutes of eyes-closed meditation) throughout the working day to calm the mind. Try doing it in the toilet if there’s nowhere else, he says. Other suggestions include getting out of the office for a walk, making time to chat to colleagues, and listening to music. This may all sound obvious but, it seems, many of us need to be reminded that these simple actions can help.
“The easiest way I find for people to chill out is to put on some soft, relaxing music. I’m a big believer in reggae with 60 beats per minute [a tempo which, like meditation, can put us into the relaxed but aware "alpha state"], but it could be any music you enjoy.” Music is so important to Lipman that he has even produced a CD to accompany his book. He likes to quote Bob Marley: “The thing about music is that, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
But Lipman believes the greatest influence on his patients’ wellbeing comes from what he calls “intangibles”: community, friends, family, love, meaning.
“People are so isolated in our culture - we’ve got more and more removed from that sense of community. The diet and exercise stuff is relatively easy; it’s the other stuff that’s hard. How do you tell someone to get meaning in their life? Or to create a community?”
In his view, getting involved in helping a good cause, or community project you believe in, is the best healthway to treat Spent. The benefits of community involvement are, he says, a self-perpetuating process. “When people learn to give or start volunteering and caring for others, they in turn learn how to really care for themselves as well.”