With so much going on in our hectic lives, is it wise to ‘waste’ time every day… sleeping? With so much anxiety, fear, loneliness and everything going on inside and around us, it can be hard to focus on a bedtime routine and improving our sleep. Let’s discover why quality is just as important as quantity for a sound and restorative sleep.
What is Sleep Quality?
- You spend a minimum of 85% of your bedtime asleep
- It takes you 30 minutes or less to fall asleep
- You don’t wake up more than once a night
- You don’t stay awake longer than 20 minutes when you do wake up in the middle of the night
- You feel rested when you wake up
Importance of Sleep Quality
Sleep can impact all areas of your life. For instance, after a poor night’s sleep, you may find yourself in a mental fog. This can lead to poor decision making, memory problems, and slower reaction times. This in turn makes you more prone to injuries and accidents, not to mention, poor performance for any task.
You’ll also find it harder to regulate negative emotions and stay calm under pressure.
Poor sleep quality also increases your risk for heart disease, depression, various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ulcers, and obesity.
Sleep Quality and Immunity
Do you want to boost your immunity? Improving your sleep quality is the right prescription!
Good sleep quality improves how well your T cells fight off infections. T cells are immune cells that fight pathogens in your body such as virus-infected cells and tumor cells. In order for your T cells to fight these pathogens and abnormal cells, they need to be in direct contact with them. Sticky molecules called integrins promote this contact; think of them as the glue that your T cells need to stick to pathogens and cells.
Cortisol, a key stress hormone, decreases the stickiness of these integrins. When you sleep well, your stress hormones fall, making the integrins stickier and T cells more effective, increasing your immunity.
There are 5 natural ways to improve sleep quality:
Exercise During the Day
Aerobic and cardio exercise are important for many aspects of health, including sleep quality. A study found that in patients with chronic insomnia, engaging in moderate aerobic exercise reduced the time it took to fall asleep by 55% and the total amount of nighttime wakefulness by 30%.
And you don’t need much aerobic exercise to sleep well. In fact, just 10 minutes of cardio exercise can dramatically improve your sleep quality. So, go for a walk or whatever gets your heart pumping.
Avoid Caffeine in the Evening
In order to sleep better, you want to watch your caffeinated beverage consumption. That’s because caffeine blocks the sleep-activating chemicals in your brain. This makes it harder for you to both fall and stay asleep. Furthermore, caffeine decreases your REM sleep, the part of your sleep cycle where you have the most restorative sleep.
And it takes time for caffeine to clear from your system. That’s because its half-life is 6 hours. So, it takes a full 24 hours to clear from your system completely. Ideally, you want to have your last cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage at least 6 hours before going to bed as studies show that consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bed decreases sleep quality.
Avoid Blue Light at Night
Blue light has a big impact on your sleep quality. That is because blue light decreases the production of melatonin, your sleep hormone, making it harder for you to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, a lot of our modern devices emit blue light. These include television, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. Using these devices 2 hours before going to bed affects your sleep quality in several ways. It makes it harder to fall asleep and reduces the rejuvenating REM sleep phase, making you feeling less rested even after sufficient hours of sleep.
How can you limit your blue light exposure in the evening? I you can’t avoid watching your favorite show, sit as far away as possible from the TV and don’t try to sleep right away after turning it off, do some chores, read a book, take a walk or meditate…as possible to avoid the blue light emissions.
Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment
Your sleep environment plays a big role in how well you sleep. Too hot or too cold a sleep environment can affect your sleep quality. Ideally, you want your room to be at a temperature between 65 to 70°F. Find the right pajamas to find the right body temperature while sleeping. If your feet get cold, wear some socks.
Make sure that you have a comfortable mattress and pillow so that you’re not tossing and turning in the middle of the night. Additionally, you want your room to be quiet. If you live in an area where you have night-time traffic or loud neighbours, this can be easier said than done. In that case, you may want to invest in a good pair of ear plugs or use a white noise machine, even a fan can do the job.
Watch out for the humidity of your bedroom, particularly if you live in an arid environment. Dryness can cause headaches and sinus congestion, which may interfere with your sleep quality.
Follow a Bedtime Routine
While participating in high-energy activities just before bedtime decreases sleep quality, the opposite is true. Having a daily relaxing bedtime routine increases your sleep quality by signalling to your body that it’s time to sleep.
One of the best things you can do as part of your bedtime routine is meditate. In a 6-week study in which insomnia participants practiced mindfulness-based meditation, such as mindful framing, participants halved the amount of time it took them to fall asleep. In addition, at the end of the study, 60% of the participants no longer had insomnia.
You can also relax by having a warm bath, deep breathing, listening to some relaxing music, or a combination thereof. I avoid stressful activities such as watching news or engaging in difficult conversations. For my body, I don’t take any food or alcohol several hours before going to bed and have an Ayurvedic self-massage mixing myself body butter and ashwagandha fluid.
Once I’m in bed, I start clearing my mind, focusing on my 5 senses: how my skin touches the cotton of the sheets and my pyjamas, the sounds of white noise, the residual smell and taste and I watch the lights and forms appearing when I close my eyelids.
Let’s learn how to leverage our sleep as a powerful way to decompress and reduce our anxiety every night. By improving the quality of your sleep, you’ll be better equipped to handle life’s stressors with a source of unlimited energy and resilience.
Do you believe that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” If not, you should. Life knocks you down again and again. We lose loved ones, lose jobs, get our hearts broken, and our hopes get dashed. How can you overcome life’s challenges? By developing resilience.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to maintain your emotional balance and physical wellbeing when dealing with stressful life circumstances. In other words, it is your ability to get back up when you’ve been knocked down.
Why Being Resilient?
Being resilient may seem like a nice trait to have, but not a must-have; however, did you know that being resilient could not only improve your health, but save your life as well?
In a study looking at patients with chronic pain, those who were resilient to the impact of chronic pain were 25% less likely to die within 10 years than those who were not resilient. Resilience boosts your immunity and this increased immunity has even been shown to lead to less mortality in bone marrow transplant patients.
Besides this, resilience can help you in your day to day life. For instance, if you are more resilient, you are less likely to miss work because of illness. You are also less likely to engage in risky behaviours such as drinking too much alcohol, smoking, and using drugs.
Being resilient even helps you age better and have an increased sense of wellbeing. Now, we all have to get older, but who doesn’t want to age better and thrive in old age.? Focus on your “healthspan,” how many years your are healthy, instead of your lifespan.
The good news about resilience is that it is not a static personality or character trait. You can learn it. Learn more about the 5 infallible practices to become resilient.
How do you reframe what happens to you? Quite simply, by relabeling your present situation or changing the way you think about any challenge. Ask yourself: “Is the glass half full or half empty?” The situation or circumstance is static. However, the way you view and interpret it is dynamic. You can reframe your perspectives at any time point. And you should.
Start by reframing stressful situations or unexplained anxiety. Instead of thinking about negative effects in your life, think of it as improving the quality of your life by providing you opportunities to learn and improve. Research shows that those who do this have better physical and emotional wellbeing than those who don’t.
So, instead of seeing stress and anxiety as overwhelming, think of it as a valuable lesson in life. Here are 3 simple ways to change your mindset when confronting stress and anxiety.
First, find the “why.” For instance, if you took a job that is now causing you stress, think about why you took the job in the first place. Say, you took your job just for the money. Maybe you realize that another lower-paying job could beef up your resume and would have been a better choice. By focusing on the why, you take a high-level perspective and become resilient by resisting immediate gratification.
Second, focus on the “how.” How will this stressor help you grow? Perhaps, this lower-paying job will teach you skills that you can use to become an entrepreneur, be your own boss and live life on your own terms. By imagining a brighter future, you can build your resilience.
Lastly, move from a subjective to an objective view of the stressor to “change your perspective.” Once you know the why and how, focus on identifying the opportunities posed by the stressful situation. You are now transforming your frame of mind and will feel an improvement of your mental and emotional state.
People who are resilient realize that situations which may feel overwhelming right now, may not impact them much in the long run. One way to maintain a long-term perspective is to visualize yourself as just a tiny element in the universe, realizing how unimportant you really are.
The stoic Aurelius did this by reflecting on how vast the universe was, and thought about infinite time in his meditations. By doing this, he was able to put his life into perspective. When you don’t take yourself so seriously, your present worries pale in comparison, and you don’t feel like your mess-ups are the end of the world. This helps you power on.
Mindfulness has been shown to increase resilience. When you are under stress, the first thing you need is to calm your mind. When you are under stress, your mind can go haywire. The skeletons of the past and the ghosts of the future start to take over your thinking patterns. Circular and repetitive thoughts overwhelm your mind and interfere with clear judgement when you most need it.
Practicing mindfulness meditation or mindful framing lowers this rumination process. And the good news is that the more you practice, the more your brain circuitry changes. This is called neuroplasticity, anatomically imprinting your resilience into your brain to handle future stressful events.
And you don’t have to engage in a long-winded 60-minute practice every day. Just 10 minutes dedicated regularly to your favorite practice can reap benefits. Just do it.
In today’s pursuit of happiness, we are told to ignore or minimize negative emotions. It’s easy to distract our mind with all kinds of tricks like excessive eating or drinking. However, those who are resilient have learnt that having negative emotions is okay. So, they don’t suppress them or run away from them. Instead they embrace negative emotions as teachable moments.
This is how to handle negative emotions. Start by acknowledging your emotional state. Second, attach a label to the emotion, even if it is an unflattering emotion, for instance envy. Lastly, establish a positive framework around that emotion. For instance, if you are envious about someone else, the envy may reflect a sense of inferiority about yourself. Your life is telling you that you are missing something. If this is the case, make plans to get ahead and feel confident. Be specific. Take action.
No man or woman is an island. We all need people to hold us up when we are facing stressful situations. The more deep and meaningful relationships you have at work and home, the more resilient you will be. Don’t have a good support network now? Look around you, be truly empathetic. Build or reinforce relationships with your family, at work and your social network. Volunteer, take evening classes, join community and/or faith groups. By aligning yourself with others, you will have a tribe that you can rely on to bolster your strength for those difficult times.
We all face tough situations. Whether we rise from the ashes, or burn with the embers, depends on how resilient we are. Build those muscles of resilience so that you are better able to handle what life throws your way.
Did you know that adrenaline, an essential booster of mental and body energy, can also trigger the ‘fight and flight’ response, causing stress and potentially getting you in trouble?
When you’re about to give a presentation, your throat is suddenly parched, and your heart begins to pound … that’s adrenaline kicking in.
When you have a deadline fast approaching and your feel sweaty palms, your feel a knot in your throat and can’t think clearly … that’s adrenaline rushing through your vessels.
What is adrenaline?
Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced in your adrenal glands; those found on top of your kidneys. It is produced when you face a situation that requires an immediate increase of energy: a tiger threatening your life. Epinephrine is also a medication that emergency doctors inject to patients with a sudden life-threatening allergic reaction, also called anaphylaxis, or a when the heart stops beating. It immediately opens up airways in the lung and narrows blood vessels, normalizing breathing and heart rhythm.
Adrenaline and the stress response
When you face emotional, physical, or mental stress, adrenaline is released. In a healthy person, adrenaline expands your oxygen intake to your muscles. This happens because blood is squeezed from the skin and internal organs and rerouted to major muscles, preparing the body to flee a danger or fight it. Adrenaline increases the production of glucose in the liver while reducing insulin release by the pancreas, leading to improved muscle function, you feel stronger.
Your nervous system is able to decrease pain, increasing your ability to keep fighting despite injuries. Simultaneously, an adrenaline rush heightens your sensory perception, letting you enjoy every second of sky diving or watching a horror movie.
Impact of increased adrenaline
Craving for an adrenaline rush may lead to misusing prescription medications, drugs or seeking ‘hyperventilating’ activities. Your mind and body may ‘enjoy’ stressful situations, even confrontation or dangerous activities.
When you have high levels of adrenaline, you’ll feel agitated and irritable. Over time, high levels of adrenaline can lead to insomnia, anxiety, weight gain, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Thus, it’s crucial to ensure that your adrenaline levels are under control.
At some point the mind may be use stress and anxiety to keep adrenaline rushing into your bloodstream. on the other hand, a mind full of worry and thoughts will have a hard time falling asleep, this would drive an increase of adrenaline leading to insomnia.
You can control your adrenaline levels by focusing on stress management. Here are 4 simple ways to naturally control your adrenaline levels.
Know thy self
Sometimes, we’re stressed out because we don’t know our limits, we lack long-term self-confidence and look for a quick fix, an adrenaline rush. For instance, being a yes-person, unable to say no to others. When you have a stressful job, and you’re taking care of an ailing parent at home, but someone comes along and asks if you can coach your daughter’s soccer team. Instead of saying no, you go ahead and say yes. This may help you feel good momentarily but adds unnecessary stress to your already full plate.
To learn about your limits, practice self-reflection and you progressively will feel being more self-assertive. Also, engage in role-playing, practice being a naysayer, which will give you the confidence and experience to be able to say no assertively, yet gracefully.
Be truly social
Having social support helps lower your stress levels. When you have a solid social network system, you don’t feel alone, and you have people with whom you can unburden your stressors.
In today’s world, we are lonelier than ever despite being more connected digitally. It just may be that we need more face-to-face interactions.
There are a number of ways to develop good social support. For instance, get out and volunteer. By volunteering, you not only help others, you also get to meet other people with similar values as yourself. Another way you can develop good social engagements is by getting involved with your community association. joining a gym or religious organization. By being less isolated, you’ll not only feel less stressed, but happier as well.
Go for a walk
To reduce your risk of adrenaline addiction, it’s important to balance stimulating with relaxing activities. After a stressful situation, move towards an unchallenging, systematic, routine task to allow adrenaline blood levels to drop. Going for a walk around the block and focusing on the environment is a well-established recipe to decompress.
When you’re facing a looming deadline at work, or a challenging relationship with your loved ones, the last thing you want to do is to move, exercise, challenge your body. Yet, it’s extremely beneficial.
When you make time to exercise, you give your mind a break from the stressor. As a result, you come back rejuvenated and ready to tackle the stressor head on, or even have a completely different perspective on the stressor. Also, when you exercise, you release endorphins, the feel-good hormones.
Get enough sleep
Have you noticed how much smoother your day goes by when you get enough sleep? When you get enough sleep, you’re more relaxed and are better able to handle stress.
Getting enough sleep will let your mind and body normalize adrenaline and several other hormones and neurotransmitters. One way you can ensure you’re getting enough sleep is by practicing good sleep hygiene habits. For instance, make your bedroom a technology-free zone. Instead of scrolling through social media at night, read a good book.
Another good practice to ensure you’re getting enough sleep is to let go of the day’s worries. You can do so by focusing on your senses to distract your mind while in bed, practicing sensorial mindfulness or mindful framing.
Life has its fair share of challenges and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by them. By practising stress management techniques, you can not only lower your reliance on short-term adrenaline rushes, but lower your tendency to be overwhelmed by life’s challenges as well.
Can you imagine truly enjoying your life, getting through work with a smile on your face even in the midst of uncertainty and stress? Can you imagine sharing love, compassion and gratitude instead of craving for validation, competing endlessly and despairing for unfulfilled expectations?
It can be done, but there is an essential premise, your ability to control excessive release of the hormone cortisol into your body. When you’re in a traffic jam, your jaws are clenched, your shoulders are tense, and you’re just about to scream… your body is releasing cortisol uncontrollably, impacting negatively your mental and emotional reactions while deteriorating your physical wellbeing.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, located above your kidneys. Cortisol is considered the “stress hormone” because our bodies release it when we’re facing physical, mental or emotional stress.
However, cortisol does much more than reacting to stress. Cortisol is an essential hormone that, among many other vital functions, balances our blood sugar and blood pressure, helps us form memories, decreases inflammation and regulates our metabolism.
Having too much cortisol leads to weight gain, mostly abdominal obesity aka “love handles”, diabetes, heart disease, a weakened immune system, and mental and neurological dysfunction, such as irritability, depression, anxiety and forgetfulness.
Cortisol, Stress and Relaxation Response
When you’re under stress your body goes into “freeze, flight or fight” mode. It does so by releasing excessive amounts of cortisol. This sudden hormone release increases blood sugar so that you have the energy to run from stressors (e.g. a tiger) while shutting down non-essential functions, such as the immune system.
Problems develop when your body is in continuous stress mode, a hallmark of modern life. Over the long term, over-activation of the stress response decreases the overall mental, emotional and physical health.
On the other hand, being able to induce a relaxation response will reduce the cortisol release and stabilize blood levels over short and long periods of time.
Here are 4 simple ways to naturally lower your cortisol levels and achieve sustainable relaxation:
In today’s busy world, we often put sleep on the back burner. We have so many errands to do, so many to-do-lists to cross off. And modern technology definitely doesn’t help. We’re glued to our tablets and computers, and our cell phones are always on… just in case.
But sleep is extremely important. Not only does your body rejuvenate itself, but it also completes major housekeeping duties while you’re asleep.
So, how can you make sure you’re getting enough sleep? Well, for one, you can start by creating the right environment in your bedroom and developing solid going-to- and staying-in-bed routines. Instead of snacking and drinking, have a soothing tea. Instead of crashing into the couch to watch TV, take a walk with your loved ones. Instead of browsing news and social media, read a nice book. You will be surprised at how fast you doze off!
A number of foods have been shown to lower cortisol levels. One example is dark chocolate, rich in flavonols, shown to drive many health benefits. In fact, dark chocolate has even more flavonols than well-known super fruits such as acai berries and blueberries.
Why is this important? Flavonols have been shown to inhibit 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, an enzyme that converts inactive cortisol to its active form.
Look for magnesium-rich foods, avocados, nuts, legumes, bananas and consider taking supplements. In fact, magnesium decreases cortisol levels by supressing the release of cortisol.
On the other hand, processed foods, trans fats, alcohol, food additives are considered pro-inflammatory partly due to the excessive release of cortisol.
Do you ruminate on the past and worry too much about the future? Well, the regular practice of mindful framing, mindfulness meditation or even prayer can help you induce the relaxation response.
When you focus on the present moment, either through observation, visualization, concentration, reciting a prayer or mantra, your mind is repealing negative, repeating and circular thoughts. Your mind becomes non-judgemental, living no room for an automatic stress response.
A mindfulness practice not only helps you mentally but can help you physically by decreasing your cortisol levels. A study conducted on medical students found that cortisol levels dropped almost 20% after a 4 day mindfulness meditation program.
Think you’re too busy for a mindfulness practice? Just take a walk in the park, observe the trees and listen how the birds sing. The good news is that you can easily incorporate these practices into your daily activities, even while washing the dishes or just having a short break!
Socialize and Laugh
You’ve heard people say that laughter is the best medicine, and they’re sure right. Laughter decreases your cortisol levels. And it doesn’t even have to be real laughter to work! Even simulated or “fake” laughter helps.
A study done on community members found that participants’ cortisol levels decreased significantly after a series of laughter yoga sessions. Laughter yoga is a mind-body exercise that teaches you to laugh. The premise is to literally “fake it until you mean it.”
So, go ahead and start laughing. Watch some comedies, play with your loved ones, or even do some laughter yoga. Your body and mind will thank you.
Life is too short to be tense, agitated and stressed out. By naturally lowering your cortisol levels, you improve both the longevity and quality of your life and those around you. Take control of your life, teach your mind and your body how to relax. Start today!
We may not even realize it, but dopamine rules the roost when it comes to our sense of wellbeing. How is one neurotransmitter so crucial to the feeling of joy?
When you first wake up in the morning, and you smell that fresh pot of coffee brewing, you probably feel excitement. This anticipation is dopamine.
If you receive a raise at work, your sense of accomplishment will most likely be accompanied by a set of pleasant psychological and physical sensations – that’s dopamine.
When you enjoy your favorite music, laughing with friends, or experience an immense rush of adrenaline while playing a sport, dopamine is kicking in.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends signals between neurons and is a precursor of adrenaline. It plays an important role in a range of brain and body functions that are critical for your success, including motivation, memory, attention, focus, learning, creativity, and mood. When we experience the positive effects of dopamine, we feel well, excited and energized.
However, if we experience low levels of dopamine, we can become fatigued, apathetic and can suffer from addiction. poor memory, disrupted sleep, and even Parkinson’s disease.
What is the link between dopamine and addiction?
In the 1950s, scientists designed an experiment where they placed electrodes along the dopamine pathway in the brain of rats. When the rats entered into a particular corner of their cages, they received an electric shock. The discomfort of the shock therapy led scientists to believe that the rats would avoid entering the area where the shock occurred – but just the opposite happened.
Rather than avoiding the shock, the rats craved the dopamine so severely that they continued going back to experience the shock up to 700 times in one hour.
This compulsive behavior can be seen in people, too. Take substance abuse or gambling for example. Doing anything in excess may not feel good after the fact, but the dopamine rush can be so intense that a person will crave for more.
Quick dopamine fixes are tempting and appear everywhere in our modern world. Some examples for sources of a dopamine rush include caffeine, alcohol, video games, social media addiction, impulsive eating, mindless working or compulsive shopping.
To achieve mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, we should boost our dopamine in healthy and balanced ways that nourish our sense of self-worth and reinforce our connections with others.
Have you ever felt that warm tingling sensation of love and compassion take over when you feel gratitude for someone or something happening in your life?
Being grateful for all of the blessings you have in your life is a simple, inexpensive and practical way to enhance your dopamine levels. It also works to keep your life in perspective when times get tough.
One way to easily maintain a momentum of appreciation is to keep a daily gratitude journal. Remember, when difficult storms arrive, and you have troubles finding things to appreciate, it’s okay to be grateful for simple pleasures like a snuggle with a pet or a smile from a stranger.
Focusing on the present moment and practicing self-reflection offer us enormous amounts of benefits. When we pay attention to the environment, calm our thoughts and center ourselves, we experience a relaxed state-of-mind, so that we can fully relax and recharge.
Not only does the practice of mindful framing and mindfulness help us to let go of stress, but studies have shown the potential to increase the release of dopamine.
It can be tempting to reach for a junkie TV show to distract yourself from daily problems instead of retreating into pondering and reflecting about our ideas and experiences. In the long run, embracing a ritual of self-reflection will increase your dopamine levels in a positive, more profound way.
There’s no need to sign yourself up for a spin class that you are going to dread if spinning isn’t your thing. But finding an outlet to exercise that you genuinely enjoy can increase your dopamine and boost your physical wellbeing.
Whether you take up martial arts, dance or play fetch with your dog, your mind and body will thank you. Dopamine is released when you get your heart pumping.
For an extra rush of healthy dopamine, combine your activity with reaching a goal (such as increasing steadily you daily steps).
Exercise brings many other fantastic side effects into your life. Perhaps you lose a couple of pounds, look healthier and meet new like-minded friends during your activity.
White sugar and fast food can be highly tempting if you desire a surge in energy. But the mood-elevating spike caused by these foods is short-lived and often comes with an energy crash.
Our earth is abundant with fresh fruits, veggies and fiber for us to indulge in daily. And did you know that a healthy gut seems to be directly related to balanced dopamine levels?
Some foods that can support your dopamine levels are apples, bananas, beets, chicken, eggs and cheese. So start your day with a delicious cheesy omelet or fresh fruit salad to elevate your mood early on.
Life is dynamic, a steady source of experiences and ideas, and dopamine mobilizes your brain and body to be motivated, creative and achieve peak performance. Don’t waste this precious elixir by disrupting the fine-tuned alchemy of neurotransmitters and hormones. Be gentle with yourself and let the natural processes in your organism take over without ‘artificial sweeteners.’