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.
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.
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.
Have you ever seen yourself as a leader, the boss of your life? Wouldn’t be great to coast stress-free through your personal, family and work responsibilities and goals?
Those who lead successfully their life and businesses rarely display stress despite everyday challenges and overwhelming agendas.
To become a truly effective leader with the right mindset, learn and practice how to control your time, actions and spaces.
Focus on one thing at a time
How can you efficiently concentrate on something when your phone is vibrating, and your e-mails are stockpiling?
The key is time blocking. To time block, you section your day into segments of activities. For instance, just between 8-9 am and 4-5 pm you might answer e-mails (then leave them untouched for the rest of the day).
This simple approach will substantially increase your available time for focused work without continually shifting gears, keeping you and your goals on track. Tomorrow will come, and the remaining messages will be answered.
Some benefits of time blocking include:
- Increased focus on tasks
- Balanced workload
- Task prioritization
- Bolstered sense of accomplishment
Work at your peak energy hours
Many people nowadays are able to have flexible work hours. If freedom of time is your case, it’s worth noting whether you are more productive in the morning, afternoon or evening.
Some people thrive when they dig in first thing upon rising. However, some may prefer to enjoy a workout, relaxed coffee, and breakfast with their family before answering calls and handle requests.
Be mindful of your life’s overall values and when you accomplish at your best.
Create and maintain boundaries
When you head home at the end of a long workday, it can be all too easy to stay in overdrive. Instead of indulging in a movie with your kids and being in the moment, you might be tempted to start worrying and acting on your to-do list.
See yourself as a leader who needs to get things done but with the ability to define when, where and with whom to accomplish them. Create boundaries for yourself and others, not just for focused work but also for well-deserved downtime. Often, if someone knows that you are not available after a specific time of day, respect for your boundaries will be formed.
When the space and time of everyone are acknowledged, teamwork and creativity improve. Some problems require solo work, while other tasks can only be achieved through cooperation and convergence of the minds. Let’s be surprised when closing and opening these gates of creativity.
Avoid wasting time
We want to please others, to help others, to work in teams, but we waste precious time without a well-defined purpose when meeting with someone to accomplish a task.
Have you ever sat through a meeting while you know that you would be more productive if you could get back to your desk?
Meetings are the prime example of a time-wasting activity. Meetings are helpful when there is a powerfully clear agenda with an eagle-eye focus on targets. But in reality, meetings can often pull people off track with conflicting agendas, either behind the scenes or in the open.
If you do have a meeting, do your best to keep it short and sweet. In essence, you want to get in, express crucial points, get feedback and decide next steps.
Say ‘no’ often
“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” Warren Buffet
See yourself as a leader, a natural born achiever. But control your desire to be everywhere and everything to everyone because it will not help you attain quality leadership.
Remember, it’s okay to opt out. American hedge fund manager, James Altucher, gave this golden piece of advice, “If something is not a ‘Hell Yeah!’ then it’s a no.”
Give yourself permission to prioritize and stick to only that which will serve you best. Keep in mind, you can only give and be productive if your energy is not depleted.
Only if you are in control of your life you will be able to avoid unnecessary stress. A highly effective leader values time, defines boundaries and acts when the iron’s hot. Keep your mind sharp and focused but find time to go home and discover the smoothness and refreshing feeling of a cool iron.