Sound, Movement, and Nutrition: How Lifestyle Impacts Sleep

When imagining the lifestyle of a New Yorker, connecting with nature and days full of zen don’t come to mind. Equinox Hotels takes on this challenge to incorporate ancient practices into the routine of busy lives filling the big city today, targeting the need for better quality sleep.

Equinox Hotel New York, located on Manhattan’s West Side, is only one of the luxury fitness chain’s locations in the United States and around the world. They have established their place in the luxury market of fitness and wellness and offer an array of activities that align with their mission, which is “for people to maximize the potential within themselves,” as stated on their website.

Always aware of what’s new in the wellness industry, Equinox Hotel New York held a Global Sleep Symposium to educate attendees on the many factors impacting sleep. The symposium took place over two days and three events. Here I will be reporting on the Sound and Movement Journey, the breakfast discussion that followed, and the important takeaways that anyone trying to optimize their sleep should know.

Tom Middleton, a world class sound composer and expert in the science of sleep, started off the morning of activities with the influence of sound. He held a discussion, asking attendees about their sleep habits. Almost everyone knows that people should be getting around eight hours of sleep per night but what’s less well known is the importance of the quality of that sleep and the ways in which it can be heightened.

When discussing sleeping positions, Middleton recommended side sleeping as the preferred method to support the natural curvature of the spine as opposed to sleeping on the stomach. Side sleeping also enables a clearer airway for those who snore or have sleep apnea, which sleeping on the back can make worse. Middleton emphasized the power of creating the most natural sleep experience. He referenced cave men and suggested trying to emulate these early forms of sleep in the bedroom, prioritizing the space for sleep only. Middleton offered very practical and inexpensive ways to achieve this “bedroom sanctuary,” as he calls it.

He suggests introducing Himalayan salt lamps because of their dim light that resembles that of a campfire. He also spoke on the natural air purifying properties that some house plants bring into a space and recommended getting a spider plant to keep in the room. At this point, everyone was mentally making their shopping lists and design plans.
This all sounds fun and doable but the real difficulty many people have is the stress from the day and the one ahead following them into bed. Middleton made sure to provide tools as a solution for this as well.

Before going to bed, he suggests keeping all electronics far away. This seemed pretty impossible to me. After he finished explaining how the radiation from devices like your phone can affect the quality of your sleep and can act as a tool to keep you up throughout the night, I was already mentally locating other outlets across my room to place my phone.

A solution he gave to calming the mind before bed is to simply have a notebook kept on the nightstand. This notebook can act as a tool for writing down to-do lists, setting your goals for the following day, and recapping the day you’ve just had to, quite literally, put it to bed.

Now for the best part: sound. Middleton let us in on the power of sounds and why so many people go to sleep to them. Unless you’re camping, many people don’t have nature’s natural rhythms at full access inside their bedroom.

These sounds respect the circadian rhythm that our bodies naturally follow every day. Our sleep and wake cycle should follow the rising and setting of the sun, and sounds such as critters at night and birds chirping in the morning remind the body when it is time for bed and when it is time to wake up. Falling asleep to the wind, rain, and ocean are even more examples of the fascinating ways we revisit nature through technology.

Middleton spoke about brown noise, or brownian noise, and pink noise, or ambient noise, being some of his preferred sounds and spoke about the studies on these sounds in relation to improved sleep. These sounds are known to help people focus and get rid of the distraction of internal dialogue.

Middleton led the group on a journey through peaceful sounds as we laid back with our eyes covered and listened to the music.

Following this activity, certified Health Qigong instructor Shirley Chock led the group through a Tai Chi exercise where we focused on body alignment and letting go of stress by emulating animal forms such as the Bear, the Tiger, the Deer, and the Crane. Chock taught the class while Middleton played sounds to uplift the experience. Afterwards, Chock further educated the class on a brief history of Tai Chi and the benefits it has for reducing pain in the body by staying actively aligned and balanced when performing it.

The Sound and Movement Journey was followed by a discussion on gut health from Cynthia Thurlow, nurse practitioner and nutrition expert, while enjoying breakfast on the Electric Lemon terrace at the hotel. Thurlow walked us through her passion of educating and helping people navigate their nutritional needs as well as achieving their health and weight goals, mostly catering to women over the age of 35.

Known for her intermittent fasting and women’s health expertise, Thurlow shared an abundance of information on the best ways people can improve and take care of their gut, resulting in an improvement in overall well-being and directly affecting the way our whole body and brain operate.

Thurlow expanded the previous conversation on sound and movement affecting our sleep and tied it into nutrition by teaching about its relevance to the body’s circadian rhythm. She spoke about how we should eat when the sun is out and stop when the sun is down. This is because once the morning sun hits our eyes, cortisol is produced and our body’s natural melatonin is suppressed, telling the body that it is time to eat, until the following night. She paused to eye everyone and see who was wearing sunglasses, emphasizing the importance of the sun to our eyes, in the morning (and in small amounts, the esthetician in me must add). This is a point that Middleton addressed briefly when asked about a wake up routine. Eating when the sun is down and there are high levels of melatonin in the body causes blood sugar to spike and confuses the body, which can cause poor sleep, weight gain, and an array of other repercussions. This is especially true for consuming carbohydrates.

Thurlow talked about the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables due to the polyphenols they contain and how they are strong antioxidants that protect the body by neutralizing free radicals, those cell-damaging atoms. Thurlow recommends avoiding ultra processed foods, especially ones containing seed oils and other additives that are known to stimulate appetite.

Incorporating fermented foods into the diet is something Thurlow recommends to improve gut health and suggests it over taking probiotic supplements, saying that it is a more effective method of getting good bacteria into the gut.
Thurlow recommends aiming for 30 grams of protein in every meal matched with an equal amount of carbohydrates as a general rule.

With all of this great information on what we can do to improve our gut, Thurlow made sure to warn about what can destroy it, giving a personal shoutout to the dangers of taking antibiotics when they can otherwise be avoided. Antibiotics are known to kill bacteria, the good and the bad, and can be detrimental to gut health. An example that Thurlow gave was specific to autoimmune diseases and their ability to manifest into other ones when good bacteria is killed in the body by antibiotics. This can be the result of something called leaky gut, when bacteria and toxins in the gut leak into the bloodstream. She advised people to be aware of these risks.

Thurlow then led an interactive discussion that furthered the conversation. I felt increased gratitude for the chia pudding in front of me, one of the many choices the hotel provided for breakfast, especially after Thurlow gave her approval.

With a morning of expert-led activities and educational conversations, my productivity was at an all time high. These takeaways stood out to me as practical-yet-transformative ways to get a quality night’s sleep and to feel your best throughout the day. Now it’s time to put them to the test.