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.
Imagine no more misplacing your car keys or forgetting names, missing appointments. Imagine being able to be present, mindful of the moment while confident that anything you want to memorize is easily retrievable and safe, backed up in your synaptic cloud. Imagine having an indestructible hard drive inside your brain. Discover and develop your ‘Memory Palace’ right now!
Memory and the Hippocampus
The hippocampus, located inside the middle section of the brain, plays a crucial role in helping us learn and remember things. It is involved in two types of memory: declarative memories and spatial relationship memories.
Declarative memories are memories related to facts and events. For example, when you are trying to memorize lines in a play.
Spatial relationship memories are memories related to routes or pathways, connecting ideas. For example, when you are trying to learn a new route through the city.
The hippocampus is also where your short term memories are transformed into long-term memories, mostly when an emotional tag is attached to them, which are then stored somewhere else in the brain, the limbic system.
Recent research suggests that the hippocampus may do more than help us remember things. It may also help us see, touch and hear. It is truly a remarkable brain circuitry.
Disorders of the Hippocampus
The hippocampus is quite sensitive, susceptible to neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, depression and stress. In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain that is affected. In the early stages of the disease, patients suffer short term memory loss, and may find it hard to follow directions. Meanwhile, upwards of 50 percent of patients with epilepsy show damage in the hippocampus.
In severe depression, the hippocampus can shrink to 80% of its original volume. For those with chronic stress, cortisol affects the level at which neurons are added or eliminated, thus reducing the size of the hippocampus. This effect can be reversed by controlling stress.
The Memory Palace
A memory palace is a visualization technique based on creating a mind map based on different spaces or rooms in an imaginary building. It may include walkways to connect memories, plans and ideas. This methodology leverages a familiar environment, such as your home or town, to connect declarative and spatial memories. To ensure memorization you visualize specific locations that you always recall in the same order. Try it out!
And to keep your memory palace in mint condition, let’s make sure your mental capacity and intellectual abilities are in top shape with these 5 building blocks:
We all know that exercise is good for the body, but did you know that it is good for the mind as well? The saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks doesn’t work for humans. Getting older doesn’t mean that your brain will deteriorate.
Regular aerobic exercise can lower the cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration that may occur as we age. In fact, aerobic exercise is the most effective way to improve your memory as you age. In healthy adults, aerobic exercise improves not only memory, but attention span and the speed at which information is processed as well. And in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease, exercise can definitely improve memory.
Why is this so? Animal studies show that when you exercise, the hippocampus grows new neurons, so-called neuroplasticity is taking place. Aerobic exercise also improves blood flow to the hippocampus, thereby improving memory.
Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases your heart rate and delivers more oxygen through your body, including the brain. You don’t have to go the gym and go on a treadmill or the elliptical, just pick an activity you like and move your body, such as a brisk walk.
Have you noticed that when you don’t get enough sleep you are more forgetful? You may also find that when you don’t get enough sleep, it is harder to learn new things at the office, or at school. And for good reason. We need sleep in order to consolidate memories. Therefore, getting a good 7 to 8 hours of sleep is essential to solidifying new memories, as well as storing long term memory.
You know that practice drives mastery, right? Well, resting may be just as important as practice when it comes to learning. According to research, the breaks that you take while learning is where the true memorization takes place. In fact, your brain needs a break about every 90 minutes to reach peak efficiency. So, listen to your body and let your brain reset at regular intervals. In a study with participants doing a typing test, those who took a regular 10-second rest got faster as time went on. And brain scans showed that the brain was not just relaxing, it was actually processing what had just been done, and forming memories of it, so that it could perform even better.
Research has shown that those who regularly engage in the practice of mindfulness meditation have less age-related brain degeneration, better brain function, and show improvements in memory, particularly long-term memory and working memory.
This is because mindfulness meditation appears to increase your brain’s ability to form new neural connections, which in turn improves your memory.
Want to learn a visualization-based mindfulness practice? Try mindful framing, in which you become more mindful by visualizing different types of memory palaces, controlling your anxiety triggers, leveraging your 5 senses and imagining and connecting with Natural landscapes, Emotional relationships and caring for your Organism, the NEO Chi lifestyle.
You know the saying that “You are what you eat?” Well, it applies just as well to your body as to your brain. We all know that increased sugar intake can lead to obesity. But did you know that it may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well?
The Framingham Heart Study found that consuming too many sugar laden drinks, including so-called healthy drinks like fruit juice was associated with a lower brain volume, an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
So, it is imperative to reduce your consumption of sugary beverages. Eliminate sodas. Not only are they sugary, they are devoid of any nutrition. Try diluting your juice with water if you are so inclined to drinking juice, or better yet, swap the fruit juice for fresh fruit instead, or just add slices of fruit into your water.
Reducing your caloric intake is a great way to lose or maintain your weight. Reducing your calorie intake may also improve your memory. A study found that elderly female participants who reduced their caloric intake by 30%, were able to improve their verbal memory scores.
In addition, certain foods rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, or omega-3s, such as seeds, nuts, fish and green leafy vegetables, will improve your memory.
A lot of people have problems with their memory because they don’t actually make the effort to memorize. Indeed, memory is all about visualization, using your mind’s eye to imagine. If you create an image to represent an idea, a person or a task and place it somewhere in your memory palace, the greater the probability that you will recall that information.
Are you trying to remember the name of someone that you just met? Try visualization and association, if you just met a lady named Bee and she told you about her job as a chef, just imagine a bee flying around in the kitchen of your memory palace.
Are you trying to memorize a shopping list? Try linking, to remember to buy soap and sugar, imagine a cloud of soapy foam with floating sugar cubes pouring from the store entrance.
Life is full of distractions and we rely more and more on gadgets that make our life easier. However, we should devote time and attention to maintain our minds fit and ready. A healthy body needs a healthy mind.
Have you ever felt a magnetic pull to be out in the woods or simply stroll in a park nearby? Why is enjoying nature so important when you need vacation or just look for relaxation?
This the law of attraction to nature!
Let’s explore the major benefits of embedding yourself in nature, observing, being mindful of your surroundings… not just sitting while scrolling through inert bits and pieces! Research shows that connecting with nature can significantly boost your mental and physical health, even reduce your blood pressure up to 10%. It’s like a natural pill to boost your wellbeing!
Are your energy levels low? Well, it’s probably time for a nature break! According to a study, spending time in nature makes people feel invigorated, independently of the physical activity or social interactions.
How much time should you spend in nature to improve your energy levels? The magic number is 20 minutes, enough to significantly boost your energy levels. Improving your energy levels not only allows to you do the things you want to do, it also makes you less likely to get sick.
So, the next time you’re feeling sluggish, don’t instinctively grab a cup of coffee. Instead, go outdoors, just walk around, admire plants and trees or… sit on a bench and smell the roses!
Stress is a part of our everyday life, affecting our mental and physical health as well. It can make you engage in activities that increase your risk of heart disease such as smoking, eating too much or not engaging in regular physical activity.
Again, just 20 minutes a day connecting with nature can lower your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and lower physical signs of stress such as muscle tension, blood pressure and heart rate. Just sitting in natural environment, not even hiking or walking, will enable you to reap these benefits.
Why is connecting with nature helpful in reducing stress? According to the stress reduction theory, being in a natural environment helps us recover from stress. This is because peaceful natural settings led to favorable living conditions that improved the chances of survival. As a result, we innately respond seek contact with nature.
A recent study found that walking in urban parks can elevate your spirit to the same levels you might feel on Christmas eve. Research also shows that your risk for mood disorders, such as depression is lowered when you regularly spend time connecting with nature.
Why is that? If you are aware and present in a natural environment, you have less tendency to ruminate over the past or worry about the future, a common feature of depression and anxiety. Nature has a way of filling you with a sense of awe, feeling that you “are in the presence of something bigger than yourself.” This in turn makes your worries and cares pale in comparison.
What’s more, even seeing nature with your mind’s eye has these effects. Practicing mindful framing, which includes visualization of trees and natural landscapes, will have a positive effect on your mood and reduce your anxiety.
Improved cognitive performance
Do you find your attention waning after a couple of hours focused on a task? Well, that’s completely normal. In order to perform cognitive tasks including analyzing, planning and organizing information, we need to pay attention. When we are tired, or after significant and prolonged mental activity, our attention starts to wander and our cognitive performance decreases.
Being in nature allows our minds to rest and reset, thus restoring our attention. Just a couple seconds or minutes is enough. We don’t even have to be outdoors to have a more focused mind. Just looking outside a window, mindfully looking at tree branches, the color of its leaves, or listening and gazing at the birds will do the trick.
Improved sleep quality
After a poor night’s sleep, you may notice that you have trouble concentrating. You may also feel irritable. These may be temporary inconveniences at best. If you experience poor sleep on a regular basis; however, you are at increased risk of developing a number of medical conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and mood disorders. You are also more prone to die earlier. In fact, if you sleep 5 hours or less a night, your risk of dying from all causes increases by 15%.
Research shows that spending more time in nature can improve your sleep quality, particularly if you are over the age of 65. This effect is driven by resetting your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural clock, to a more natural sleep cycle. In today’s world, our circadian rhythm can be behind on average 2 hours, and this can wreak havoc on the quality of your sleep.
And you don’t have to necessarily spend time outside to reap the benefits of connecting with nature. Even just sleeping in a room with smells from essential oils, nature sounds, or a window showing a natural landscape can improve sleep quality.
Bringing all together
Try to find at least 2 hours per week to reap the mental and physical health benefits of nature. Ideally you should target an average of 20 minutes outdoors per day, truly being mindful or learning how to visualize nature while indoors.
If you live in a city, it will be tougher to carve out time to connect with nature. Do not give up, here some tips:
- Spend part of your lunch break taking a walk or just sitting by a tree
- Spend part of your weekend strolling in your neighbourhood park
- In summer, take a sandwich and go for a picnic
- When it’s time to go to bed, replace screen time with calming nature sounds or images
- Have some plants and pictures of nature at your home and office
- Be mindful of nature, connect using your 5 senses; sight, smell, sound, taste and touch
- Learn about forest bathing
Explore and connect with nature as a path to discover your true nature!
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!
Can you imagine your life without emotional peaks and valleys? Sounds impossible, right? What’s possible is to increase your emotional control through enduring changes in lifestyle.
When you wake up relaxed and energized from a good night’s sleep, ready to take on the day – that’s serotonin kicking in.
When you feel depressed, overwhelmed by your daily responsibilities and challenges, you may have a deficit of serotonin.
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that carries messages between neurons. It plays an important role in regulating your mood, controlling your appetite, helping your blood clot, helping you concentrate, regulating your body temperature, and ensuring a good night’s sleep. As a result, when we have normal levels of serotonin, we feel emotionally balanced and alert.
On the other hand, if we have low levels of serotonin, we may have trouble remembering things, feel depressed, crave sweet or starchy foods, feel anxious or irritable, have trouble sleeping or have feelings of low self-worth.
What is the link between serotonin and depression?
Researchers have linked low levels of serotonin in the brain with depression. Back in the 1960s, researchers hypothesized that low levels of serotonin in the brain led to depression. However, this hypothesis has now been debunked.
Instead, it appears that several other factors are also involved in depression. These include:
- Having a family history of depression
- Having a hectic lifestyle and having a high level of stress in your life
- Your relationships at home and in the workplace
Nevertheless, if you have low levels of serotonin, you may be at increased risk of depression. This is where SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) may be helpful. SSRIs are medications which increase the uptake of serotonin in your brain.
Too much of a good thing is bad for us though. Serotonin syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur if you take too much of an SSRI or if you take many SSRIs at the same time.
If you are looking to recharge your batteries, and need a little extra boost, here are 4 simple ways to naturally boost your serotonin levels:
Bask in bright light
When you go outside for a stretch or even just to gaze at nature, you may have noticed that you tend to come back recharged and better able to concentrate. This is because our brains produce more serotonin when we spend time in bright sunlight.
Is it cloudy outside? Still head outdoors! Even on a cloudy day, the light intensity is still typically brighter than your typical indoor lighting. Alternatively, invest in a high-intensity luxe lamp that simulates bright sunlight.
Eat a healthy diet
Adding more fruits, vegetables and legumes can contribute to a healthy gut. But did you know that having a healthy gut can also boost your serotonin levels?
More than 90% of our serotonin is produced in our digestive tract. Thus, by eating fiber-rich foods which promote gut health such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes we are naturally boosting our serotonin levels.
Foods that are high in tryptophan can also boost your serotonin levels. This is because tryptophan is converted to serotonin in your brain. What foods tend to be high in tryptophan? Protein containing foods such as nuts, lentils, tofu, chicken, fish and eggs.
However, boosting your serotonin levels is not as simple as incorporating protein-rich foods. This is because tryptophan has to compete with other amino acids, in particular the branched chain amino acids for access to our blood-brain barrier, before it can be converted to serotonin in our brain.
How can one overcome this obstacle? Eat more plant-based proteins such as seeds and nuts. Plant-based proteins contain less branched chain amino acids, hence they are better absorbed through the blood brain barrier.
Engage in regular exercise
It can be hard to get into exercise mode, particularly if you are down in the dumps. Everything seems like a struggle, particularly working up the motivation to break a sweat. When we exercise, both aerobic and strength, the activity of serotonin in the brain is revved up and the levels of tryptophan in our brain rise.
If fitting exercise into your daily routine seems too difficult, begin with baby steps. Commit to just 5 minutes of a vibrant walk a day for one week. Then the next week, increase it to 10 minutes. Before you know it, you will have built up to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, and reap not only increased serotonin levels but numerous health benefits as well.
Be mindful of your thoughts
Just like the saying goes “You are what you eat”, you also become what you think! In a study conducted on healthy participants, those who were told to recall happy memories showed increased serotonin production in their brains. On the other hand, those who were told to recall sad memories showed decreased serotonin production in their brains.
It can be very tempting to ruminate on sad events when we are suffering from depression. But by finding happy things to focus on, we may be able to achieve a happier state of mind.
To think happy thoughts, begin a gratitude journal, practice mindfulness, focus on your strengths rather than your perceived weaknesses, and reminisce about the good times in your life.
Life has its ups and downs. By naturally boosting your serotonin levels, you will be able to experience more “highs” than “lows”. Start right now on the path to feeling happier, more alert, and refreshed every day.