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Four Things You Don’t Know About Sleep- And why we need it

A good night’s sleep is the cornerstone of long-term health, performance and resilience in many ways. The lack of it not only makes you less effective, but can quite literally be deadly. For all that, we live in a culture that practically glorifies sleeplessness, from corporate boardrooms to nightclubs. In many corporate cultures, sleep is seen as a weakness, a luxury of people who don’t have enough to do. What we don’t realise is that this is not only counterproductive to the organisation’s interests, but physically dangerous. And we certainly don’t pay attention to sleep as a phenomenon or try to optimise it the way we do with other aspects of our health.

1. Long hours by the numbers

Transport Canada estimates that 20% of fatal collisions are caused by driver fatigue, and more than 15% of drivers have at some point fallen asleep behind the wheel. The US statistics are similar, with a fifth of all accidents attributed to drowsiness, leading to around 8,000 deaths per year. New Jersey has a vehicular homicide law that includes driving after 24 hours awake in its definition of recklessness.

But it’s not just driving that suffers- it’s any activity requiring concentration, motor skills and judgment. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that hospital interns who had been on shift for 24 hours were 61% more likely to accidentally stab themselves with a needle or scalpel.

According to research by Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, after four or five days on four hours’ sleep per night, you build up the same cognitive impairment as if you had been awake for 24 hours straight, which is equivalent to legal definitions of drunkenness. Within ten days, the level of impairment reaches the equivalent of 48 hours awake.

With less than 6-8 hours of sleep per day, judgment, motor skills, emotional control, memory, focus and problem-solving ability are sharply diminished, leading to accidents, rash decisions, poor leadership and degrading quality of work.

 

2. Why our civilisation sleeps less than it used to

Historians like Roger Ekirch and Craig Koslofsky have investigated sleep in historical context, and discovered that our ancestors had a rather different relationship to sleep. Without electric light and given the poor light quality and relative expense of candles, very few people tried to extend their working or active hours through artificial light. Night was the universal time of rest.

It was only in the seventeenth century that street lighting began to appear in major cities, making it fashionable for the upper classes to be out and about at night and beginning the culture of modern night-life.

3. Two sleeps

But the biggest change was the pattern of sleep. Up until the 17th Century, it was considered quite normal for everyone to sleep for a few hours, then wake up for a few hours, and then go back to sleep. There are many references in period sources to “first sleep” and “second sleep.” Specific activities were even set aside for that waking period. People might stay in bed, read, write, have sex, say special prayers set aside for this period or even go and visit neighbours. Rather than using candles to extend the daylight, they used them for a brief period in the middle of the night.

This began to change among the upper classes with the introduction of street lighting, as later evenings became the custom and people started trying to eliminate that intermediate waking period in compensation.

The real blow to a good night’s sleep came during the Industrial Revolution, with its unnaturally long hours and hideous work ethic. Productivity became the ultimate virtue which the upper and middle classes expected of the working class, and so sleep was reduced to the minimum possible. Parents were even advised to punish their children for taking a “second sleep” after they woke up the first time.

Into this atmosphere eventually came electric lighting, and that was the end of anyone talking or thinking about two sleeps. Of course, it’s still our natural pattern, no matter how we try to deny it, and so most of us still wake during the night if we aren’t overtired to begin with. By trying to do away with it, we are eliminating our body’s natural period of relaxed consciousness, which was very important for dealing with stress, and inviting chronic insomnia.

4. Competing Drives

There are different drives to sleep and wakefulness in the body that we need to be conscious of to deal with effectively. The homeostatic drive to sleep is one of them. This drive builds up as long as we’re awake, and can suddenly plunge us into sleep. There is literally a sleep switch in the brain, several thousand neurons that can all light up to send us into the land of nod- if we’re tired enough, quite involuntarily.

There is another neural mechanism working against the homeostatic drive for sleep. This circadian pacemaker sends us its strongest sleep impulse just before we habitually wake up, and its strongest drive for waking just before we usually go to bed. Why we’re set up this way is anyone’s guess, but it may have been an early mechanism to help us maximise our sleep at night and our activity during the day- long before we had jobs to go to or even cows to milk.

During the day, the homeostatic drive builds up constantly. We usually start feeling it right after noon, and between that and blood sugar drop after lunchtime carbs, this is where caffeine, which blocks those neurotransmitters, comes in handy. In warm climates, it was often customary to take advantage of this midday drowsiness to catch a siesta, skipping the hottest part of the day. It’s only toward evening that the circadian system begins to help us stay awake. Eventually, the homeostatic drive is supposed to overwhelm the circadian impulse, and we fall asleep. The homeostatic drive is soon exhausted, however, and this is probably where we naturally end our first sleep while we wait for the circadian system to send out another sleep impulse.

Optimising Personal Effectiveness with Sleep

There is simply no doubt about it- you cannot be effective in any area of your life without adequate sleep. The last few centuries have seen us adopt unnatural sleep patterns, and with the introduction of energy drinks, there are ever more ways for us to screw up the mechanisms that regulate it. It’s easy to rationalise long hours- the project/presentation/exam/business trip comes first. We thereby equate sleeplessness with productivity. But if we keep doing that, if as leaders we allow our subordinates to keep doing that, there is no doubt that the quality and quantity of that production will decline sharply. They will make poor choices, make their peers miserable, and perhaps put others in danger.

To break this vicious cycle of the civilisation that forgot to sleep, we need not only better corporate policies, but an understanding of the way our bodies are set up. We can only cheat our biology for so long before it comes back to bite us.


Brain Resilience: 5 Steps to Healthy Gray-Matter and Avoiding Alzheimer’s

 

We all talk about slowing down as we get older, but Alzheimer’s and other brain-degenerative conditions don’t have to be part of the package.  Far from being part of the natural ageing process, Alzheimer’s, as with every other dementia and memory loss is an acquired condition with definite contributing causes.   Don’t believe it?  Then check out this article after reading this blog post.  Here are some simple approaches you can take to maintain the health of your brain.

 

Free Radicals

 

No, we’re not talking about anarchists.  Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are produced naturally in the metabolic process and that the body uses as part of the immune system.  Your body has mechanisms to neutralize excess free radicals, but when too many of the molecules build up, that system is overwhelmed.  Because of their reactive quality, free radicals tend to destroy cells, including those in the brain and nervous system.

 

Sources of excess free radicals in the modern world include:

–          Radiation from x-rays and microwaves;

–          Toxic metals such as aluminum and cadmium in food preservatives, cosmetics, antiperspirants, aluminum cookware, and even public water supplies and flu vaccines; autopsies on Alzheimer’s patients often reveal abnormally high levels of aluminum;

–          Chlorine and fluoride in drinking water, toothpaste etc.;

–          Cigarette smoke;

–          Hydrogenated oils, such as shortening, deep-fryer oil and non-dairy creamers; these fat molecules have been modified through long-term exposure to heat or chemical process.  They act like a silver bullet going right to your brain and nervous system, where they oxidize much more quickly than ordinary fat molecules, releasing free radicals at a rate that kills or damages the host cell.

 

What can you do besides limiting your exposure?  Antioxidants are nature’s counterbalance to free radicals.  Vitamins C and E, Beta Carotine, D3 and B complex, as well as certain amino acids either act as antioxidants or stimulate antioxidant production.  The herbs ginko and ginseng and the spice turmeric likewise have antioxidant effects, and certain fruits, such as wild blueberries, are high in antioxidant content.  Increasing your vegetable intake also helps.

 

 

The 3-6 Balance

 

Your body needs a certain amount of dietary fat.  Unfortunately, modern diets tend to be weighted toward Omega 6 fatty acids rather than Omega 3, while our bodies are designed for the opposite.  This is of particular concern, because there is evidence that one particular kind of Omega 6 molecule is associated with memory loss and neural degeneration.  Arachidonic acid overstimulates the brain’s nerve cells.  We get Omega 6 from grain-fed factory-farm animal products, but especially from vegetable oil (corn, sunflower, canola and soybean), which is the main source of this imbalance in our diet.  These are present in most processed foods.

 

Conversely, Omega 3 is quite important for brain health.  It can help to break down the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s and reduce brain inflammation.  Dietary sources can be supplemented by krill oil or fish oil capsules, but beware of eating too much fish, as fish in our food chain is often contaminated with mercury.

 

Exercise

 

Exercise plays a major role in regenerating the brain and nervous system.  Less active people are much more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.  By exercising three to four times a week, you can promote cell and tissue repair mechanisms in your body, as well as increasing production of compounds that protect the nervous system.  It increases the flow of blood in your brain and improves the health of your cardiovascular system.

 

Sleep

 

Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to memory, as you know if you’ve ever been a university student.  There is also evidence that a healthy circadian rhythm is critical to the long-term health of your brain.  Working nights over a long period does serious damage to the health of your brain, since it is that regular biochemical cycle that keeps your neural pathways in good working order.

 

 

The Diabetes Connection

 

Diabetes and insulin-resistance have a very high correlation with Alzheimer’s.  Diabetics have up to a 65% higher chance of developing the disease.  As such, the same approaches you’d take to avoid diabetes, such as reducing your sugar and grain intake, are also helpful in promoting brain health.  Going to a diet richer in proteins is one of the first steps recommended to Alzheimer’s patients by natural health experts.

 

 

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Start Your Day RIGHT – “Killer” Morning Routines

“Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.”

 You probably don’t  even think about your morning routine anymore. But this oft-overlooked time of the day presents valuable opportunities to enrich your life! Having a morning routine that renews and relaxes you will not only put you in a better mood, it’ll also help make you more productive throughout the day. Establishing a thoughtful morning routine will consistently bring a sense of control to your life and make it easier to get out of bed! Think of routines as the invisible structure to your life – something that shapes your days in meaningful ways. We all have routines – why not make yours a more fulfilling one? 

Three Morning Habits to Break 

 
1) Pressing the Snooze Button.
Pressing the snooze button on your alarm trades a relaxing morning for a time-crunched dash. It puts you on a cycle of later nights and later mornings, but the sleep you get in the mornings is kept permanently in the lightest sleep stage – a good way to ensure that you start the day tired and irritable. According to Dr. Piers Steel, who you may remember from my review of his book The Procrastination Equation, snooze buttons are no less than “the devil’s device”! He goes on to say that snooze buttons are a “procrastination-enabling technology that lets you easily put off your original goal of waking up, in order to grab a few more minutes of low-quality slumber.” 

2) Cereal for Breakfast. Let’s face it – cereal has little nutritional value. Whether it contains bits of almond or it’s multigrain, it’s usually little more than highly processed filler laden with sodium and excess sugar. While it may give you energy in the morning, it sets you up to crash later. A delicious breakfast made with fresh foods may take a little planning and forethought, but you won’t regret it when you’re eating like a king!  I can attest that the fact that you don’t have to wake up at dawn to have time for a decent breakfast. Appreciate fine breakfast cuisine! You may even recover your ability to take time for small things and find pleasure in the mundane spread to other areas of your life.

3) Checking Your Email. I recommend avoiding the computer altogether in the morning until you get to work. You aren’t at your best, and any response you have to make won’t be very good anyway! It will only bring unnecessary stress. Prioritize – wake up properly now, and save it for when you have the time to read the emails thoroughly. There’s no need to bring the office home!

Three Morning Habits to Make

1) Take Time for Yourself. It’s the early morning, it’s before you’ve gotten tired out from a hard day at work – it’s the perfect hour for “me-time”! Schedule in some wishful thinking in the backyard with a cup of tea – you know you’re really living when you’ve wondered about the meaning of life before lunchtime. Poet William Blake said to “think in the morning, act at noon, and read in the evening and sleep at night.” OR try thinking at a much deeper level, and meditate.

2) Exercise. Exercising earlier in the day has so many additional benefits it’s shocking we don’t all do it! First of all, it jump-starts your metabolism for the day, vastly upping the chances of success for those trying to lose weight. It also establishes a habit – hopefully one you will keep! You’ll find that if you wake up and exercise at the same time every day, your endocrine system and circadian rhythms adjust and make it easier for you. Your body will prepare for exercise, and you might even be able to ditch your alarm clock! Also, some studies have shown that exercise increases mental acuity for four to six hours. If you work out in the morning, you can harness that mental quickness, instead of wasting it sleeping if you exercise in the evening. It doesn’t have to be too intensive – why not start with yoga (there are many online videos, such as the one I posted about recently, which you can do in the comfort of your own home) or a ten-minute walk? One of my best memories is taking a walk after a fresh snowfall in the morning.

3) Set Goals. Pick a goal to accomplish in the day ahead. Do this consistently and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you can accomplish day-to-day. A goal gives you a focus for the day and a sense of achievement when you see it through. Never let a day slip by in which you don’t finish a task you’ve been meaning to get to, do a good deed or face a fear.

BONUS: Make things easier for your groggy self the night before! Pack a lunch if you need to, lay out your clothes, put your gym bag near the door. Do whatever you can to streamline the next morning. The little tasks will also help you wind down in preparation for sleep the night before.

Inspiration!  Hear other people’s morning routines…

“I wake up at 4:30 am, and immediately set out my Three Most Important Things to accomplish today. I fix lunches for myself and the kids, then read and eat breakfast. Then, I exercise or meditate. Finally, I shower, then wake my wife and the kids at 6:30.”
– Leo

“I’ve gotten to a point where my body wakes up on its own around seven. I get out of bed and put a yoga routine on my laptop, which goes until about seven thirty. I do that, then go downstairs and make myself breakfast – I’m a big fan of red river cereal, greek yogurt with fruit and peanut butter toast. I eat it outside on my deck when there’s good weather – maybe reading, maybe just listening to the birds. I go back upstairs at eight and dress for the day, put on my makeup and then I’m out to catch the bus for quarter past eight.”
– Kate

“I find that the morning is the perfect time for me to work on my hobbies. I love keeping illustrated journals – the ritual has been a life-changing experience for me. I sketch and paint for an hour or so right after waking up at six. By seven, I’m ready to start my day. I shower and dress, and then have breakfast and read the paper until eight. I keep up regular correspondence with some faraway friends, so I also answer letters in this time. In any case, I’m usually out the door by eight-thirty.”
-Vicky

“I get up around 5:30 and leave the house by a bit after 6am.  I bring my breakfast with me – its a really big protein shake with amazingly nutritious stuff in it.  Doesn’t sound like much time, I know, but I use my long walk to work in the fresh air of the early morning to do some stretching, some walking meditation, give thanks for everything and everybody in my life and then do my mindset work – thinking about my goals, my dreams and the great things that will happen today.  And you know what?  I feel fantastic!!”

– Dave

And Finally, Turn Up Your Speakers for Another Take on Your Morning Routine:

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 🙂


5 Keys to a Great Sleep

While so many of us forgo it in favour of surfing the Internet or gazing into the flickering light of a TV screen, sleep is an essential part of our well-being.  Many people put effort into eating well and exercising regularly, but then skimp on sleep.  How can a lack of sleep affect your work performance?

First of all, a lack of sleep takes a huge toll on your body.  According to the World Association of Sleep Medicine, consistently getting less than the optimal eight hours increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, asthma, diabetes and depression.  In the short term, you’re also more likely to catch the common cold, as your body’s defenses are impaired by staying awake for long periods.  The World Association of Sleep Medicine also reports that sleeplessness can mean weight gain.

A good night’s sleep improves performance.  A study by the Stanford University Sleep Clinic tested competitive athletes for their skills: they were tested after two weeks of getting their regular amount of sleep, and then again after aiming for ten hours every night (often achieving an average of 8.5 hours).  The results were conclusive: after sleeping longer, athletes ran significantly faster, shot more accurately, and reported overall feelings of physical well-being and happiness.  Sleep doesn’t just improve your physical performance, but also your mental state: people perform better in memory, vocabulary, and logic tests with more sleep.

The really shocking thing is how much worse people do with less sleep.  At only one hour less than usual, researchers saw subjects perform significantly worse on a test as simple as pressing a button upon seeing a light turn on.  They also began engaging in what researchers called ‘microsleeps’ – falling asleep for a couple of seconds and waking up before they realized what happened.

Sleep improves your mood.  A study performed by the University of Michigan  found that people’s happiness increased considerably when they were able to get more sleep.  “Making $60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night,” says study author Norbert Schwarz, Ph.D., a professor of psychology.  Who knew we were letting the opportunity of feeling so good slip by?

A study in the British Medical Journal stated that people who stayed awake for more than 17 hours are as cognitively impaired as people with blood alcohol levels of 0.05, which is nearing the blood alcohol limit for driving drunk!  It would be universally considered folly to go to work inebriated, and yet I’m sure many of us wouldn’t think twice about showing up at work with less than six hours sleep.

Finally, sleep really is restoring.  It allows the body to heal and fight illness, and it cements memories made during the day.  And without sleep, you miss out on the opportunity to dream!

There are many ways to improve your sleep quality, and to make sure you get as much as you can. Below are some of my personal favourites:

 

1. Sleep Cycle Iphone App

The sleep cycle alarm functions based on a phenomenon documented throughout sleep science. When you sleep, you enter a series of phases which differ in intensity.  Your sleep progresses slowly in and out of REM, or rapid eye movement.  The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that each stage of sleep has its own set of physical, neurological, and psychological benefits. This app provides an alarm clock which detects your sleep patterns and wakes you up gently in the lightest sleep phase – it feels like waking up naturally.  This alarm is also available as a watch – find it at http://www.sleeptracker.com.

 

2. Blackout

The way that your body readies itself for sleep has everything to do with light.  Exposure to a bright light such as computer and TV screens can confuse the body, and make you less likely to fall asleep.  Even a small amount of light, such as the glow of alarm clock digits, can disrupt a sleep schedule.  Before I go to bed, I’ve started covering up the light emitted by my clock radio, and I think I have noticed a difference.

Another way to make the room more conducive to sleep is to lower the temperature.  A slightly chilly room is best for a good night’s sleep.  You can achieve this by opening up the window a little during the colder months, or by putting the air conditioning down a notch during the night.

 

3. Sleep Clutter

Your bedroom should only be used for sleep.  Your bedroom should be an oasis away from the busy bustle of your life, and you can’t relax and unwind in a room where the TV is on, there’s clutter everywhere, and your computer is there where you do your work.  Make this a ‘relaxation place’: separate from the chaos of it all, where you can recharge and sleep well.  Try moving away all the things that aren’t directly conducive to sleep.  Remember – a cluttered room is a cluttered mind!

 

4. Power Down

You should begin to relax about an hour before bed.  Don’t relegate any tasks that require alert thinking to the hour before bed, as anything too difficult will only occupy your mind in the most uncomfortable way as you try to drift off.  Try a bath or some light stretching instead of answering a few more emails or doing a crossword puzzle, and you’ll soon find your mind quieted and your senses relaxed.

 

5. It’s All in the Routine

As we discussed in the previous blog post about The Procrastination Equation, establishing a routine helps you to continually achieve your goals.  This method is especially helpful in things you have to complete regularly, such as going to sleep at a certain time.  When you incorporate something into your routine, you no longer worry about completing it or putting it off, because it has simply become part of your daily life.

Your circadian clock works around a set bedtime, and secretes various hormones and enzymes to keep you prepared for each part of your day.  For example, adenosine and melatonin are released slowly throughout the day, so that you feel tired at the same time.   You can really discombobulate your system by sleeping at irregular hours.  Another way to keep your circadian clock working smoothly is to make sure you get lots of sun during the day – especially at noon.  A brisk walk around lunchtime will ensure that enough melatonin will be released so that you feel tired when you want to sleep!

Hopefully these tips will win you a good night’s rest. Have a great week!

Still having trouble drifting off?  Then just click here for some wonderful music to fall asleep to!


DEEEEP SLEEEEP… and How to Get it

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The Power of Qi: Using EFT and Qi Gong to Clear Your Energy Patterns
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Getting a good night’s sleep, i.e., a long, deep and satisfying sleep from which you wake up refreshed, is vital to your health, immunity and overall resilience.

And women are about twice as likely as men to have trouble doing this.  Often it seems to be psychological – women have more trouble tuning out the noise, worries and frustrations of the day than men do.  But there’s more to it than that…


Your sleep disturbances may come from any number of sources and most of them are under your control.  Some of those involve falling into other bad lifestyle habits that are sabotaging your nightly slumber.  Or sometimes it’s as simple as flipping your mattress!

Here’s a very well done video that goes over the basics for you:




The Importance of Darkness



The hours of darkness were highly prized by the authentic spiritual traditions of the ancient world, including the original Christian tradition, because they all knew from experience that your brain functions at a much different level during those hours, whether you’re asleep or awake.


So naturally, the medical traditions that grew up in these cultures emphasize the need for real darkness as a facilitator of deep sleep.  On the basis of modern scientific research, we now know they were absolutely correct.  

Consider the following:

  • Darkness changes your body chemistry and affects the pineal, pituitary, thalamus and hypothalamus glands – four vital glands at the center of your brain
  • Darkness converts the neurotransmitter serotonin into the regulatory hormone melatonin, which begins to slow down organ function in preparation for sleep
  • The pineal gland generates certain inhibatory reactions, allowing you to enter into the various stages of sleep
  • The hypothalamus monitors your metabolism to maintain all autonomic functions in the normal range
  • Your reticular activation system (RAS) monitors your optic nerve and auditory functions to wake you should anything out of the ordinary occur.  The good news is this protects you from danger.  The bad news is that if your sleep environment lets in lots of light, your RAS may get a bit confused 😉

The bottom line here is that making sure your bedroom is quite dark at night is a prerequisite to a consistently good, sound sleep for most of us.  And if you live in the city, that’s harder than you may think, given all the ambient light from street lights, neighbors’ lights, the city lights reflection in the atmosphere and, of course, the moon.  


When it comes to your own sleep disturbances, you have to be a bit of a detective to figure them out.  But with the help of today’s video, you’ll be back on track in no time 😉


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


**The contents of this blog post are not to be considered as medical advice.  Always consult a physician before beginning / modifying a fitness program or before undertaking lifestyle modifications that could impact your health.**























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