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Sleep Soundly

What is Mental Health (and what can we do to optimize it)?

What is Mental Health (and what can we do to optimize it)?

KEY POINTS:

1. Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual can realize his/her own abilities, can cope with stress, can work productively, and is able to make contributions to his/her community. 

2. There are many tools, tactics, strategies and techniques that can be used to improve mental health.

3. Eating smarter, moving more, and sleeping soundly will all enhance your ability to think clearly and will improve your mental health.  

The World Health Organization has defined mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make contributions to his or her community.” They expand on mental health as it relates to children where they state that children should “have a positive sense of identity, an ability to manage their thoughts, emotions, and to be able to build positive social relationships as well as having an aptitude for learning.” I think those sound like good goals for adults as well.
 
Fortunately, there are many tools, tactics, strategies and techniques that can be used to improve mental health. Those that I propose here are mostly focused on helping to create better mental health, improve mental performance and to prevent mental illness. If we apply these ideas as a society, one person at a time, I think that we can make a huge impact and create a culture and an environment where people experience much better mental health and people with mental illnesses get comprehensive and holistic help and treatment. The ideas and concepts that I am presenting here cannot take the place of medical and psychiatric treatment. They are meant to be used as preventative and complimentary modalities to improve mental and physical health and to help you unleash your potential.
 
Eating smarter, moving more, and sleeping soundly will all enhance your ability to think clearly and will improve your mental health. This is just the beginning. Thinking clearly is key to building your mental health and a happy, high-performance life. Practice these ideas, and share them with others. Together we can truly impact people and help them live a world-class life where they can reach their potential, achieve their dreams, and be as healthy as they can be.

Words of Wisdom from Dan Millman

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Millman, Author of The Way of the Peaceful Warrior on the Dr. Greg Wells Podcast (http://drgregwells.com/community/dan-millman/). He had some brilliant insights into the links between mind and body that I wanted to share with you. Here they are:
 
“When we talk about the body, mind, and emotions, of course we're drawing an artificial distinction. We work as a unity obviously in life but we have these names and labels to help us understand ourselves for analysis, but it struck me that physical skills alone were not enough. 
 
We've seen people who are physically skilled but who fall apart mentally in competition or under pressure or stress. That's when sports psychology was devised and psychologists tried to come up with techniques, methods, like visualization, positive self-talk and all that, to help athletes on the mental side of the game and then the emotional side goes along with that. 
 
How do we deal with self-doubt, fear, and other elements to help optimize our performance, not just in sport but in life? We know. We read all about it, athletes who are getting in trouble with the law, having relationships break up. Being physically skilled is being physically skilled and it's an achievement. It's something to honor. It represents practice over time, but how finely do we need to sculpt our bodies to be happy? That's when I started looking at what makes up the whole human being. 
 
What do we mean by personal development? Personal growth, spiritual growth, if you will. It does involve a holistic attitude and the ancient warriors, in the Budo tradition, the martial arts of Asia and Japan and China and so on. In that tradition, the samurai for example recognized that physical skill alone was not enough in a duel to the death with razor sharp swords. The mind had to be focused and sharp as the sword. The emotions had to be opened and even existentially one had to be willing to give up one's life.
 
Those who faced death every morning and died in their mind were the most successful warriors. Those who clung to their life ended up losing it. It led me to a path that I call the way or path of the peaceful warrior in terms of this holistic emphasis that we're here as a whole human being and life. It's not as if there's some marine boot camp program everyone has to go through to become this chiseled body mind spirit athlete. 

It's that recognizing daily life is a kind of classroom. Planet Earth might be seen as a school. We all notice lessons repeat themselves until we learn them and if we don't learn easier lessons they get more dramatic. In a way life is a perfect school, just doing what we do with awareness. That's all I can do is remind people of what they already know on deeper levels but we tend to forget.”

Today's POWER-UP: The Pursuit of Happiness

1. RESEARCHERS SUGGEST THAT HAPPINESS IS A COMBINATION OF HOW SATISFIED YOU ARE WITH YOUR LIFE AS WELL AS HOW GOOD YOU FEEL ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS.

2. HERE ARE SOME IDEAS THAT RESEARCHERS HAVE SHOWN INCREASE HAPPINESS LEVELS:

SPEND TIME ON RELATIONSHIPS. HAPPY PEOPLE TEND TO HAVE DEEP RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS. SO INVEST SOME TIME EACH WEEK ON BUILDING DEEPER RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS. MAKE A PHONE CALL TO CATCH UP WITH SOMEONE, GO TO THE PARK WITH YOUR KIDS, TAKE YOUR SPOUSE OUT FOR DINNER, OR GO DO A WORKOUT WITH A FRIEND.

BUY EXPERIENCES NOT POSSESSIONS. RESEARCH SHOWS THAT UP TO A POINT MONEY DOES BUY HAPPINESS, BUT BEYOND AN ANNUAL INCOME OF $70,000 PER YEAR INCREASES IN INCOME ARE NOT RELATED TO INCREASES IN HAPPINESS. HOWEVER RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THAT BY SPENDING OUR HARD EARNED MONEY ON EXPERIENCES THAT WE CAN INCREASE OUR LONG-TERM HAPPINESS. LAST WEEKEND I SPENT $150 ON SURF LESSONS. I LOVED THE EXPERIENCE AND WILL REMEMBER THAT FONDLY FOR MANY YEARS.

VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME OR MONEY. CONTRIBUTING YOUR TIME AND / OR RESOURCES TO HELP PEOPLE HAS BEEN SHOWN TO IMPROVE HAPPINESS AS WELL. FIND A CAUSE THAT YOU CARE ABOUT AND GET INVOLVED. YOU’LL BE AMAZED HOW LITTLE TIME AND MONEY IT TAKES TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD THAT YOU CAN REALLY FEEL GOOD ABOUT.

EXERCISE = ENDORPHINS. EXERCISE CAUSES THE RELEASE OF ENDORPHINS WHICH DECREASE YOUR SENSATION OF PAIN AND CAUSE YOU TO EXPERIENCE DEEP FEELINGS OF WELL BEING AND SOMETIMES EVEN EUPHORIA – ALSO KNOWN AS THE RUNNERS HIGH. DAILY EXERCISE IS A POWERFUL TOOL TO IMPROVE HAPPINESS. AMPLIFY THIS EXPERIENCE BY WORKING OUT WITH A FRIEND.

ENGAGE DEEPLY WITH THE EXPERIENCE. WE LIVE IN THE AGE OF DISTRACTION WHERE WE ARE CONSTANTLY BOMBARDED BY EMAILS, TEXT MESSAGES AND PHONE CALLS. THIS CAN TAKE AWAY FROM OUR ABILITY TO ENGAGE WITH OUR ACTIVITIES AND EXPERIENCES. MY 5 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER QUOTED A CAMERON DIAZ LINE FROM THE MOVIE SHREK WHEN WE WERE IN THE PARK LAST YEAR AND I WAS RESPONDING TO AN EMAIL. SHE SAID “YOUR JOB IS NOT MY PROBLEM!”. THIS WAS A PRICELESS MOMENT THAT REMINDED ME TO BE MINDFUL AND PRESENT WHEN I WAS WITH HER. WE ALL NEED TO DO THIS MORE OFTEN SO THAT WHEN WE HAVE A MOMENT TO BE HAPPY THAT WE REALLY TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THOSE MOMENTS.

PRACTICE SHORT BURSTS OF HAPPINESS: TAKE 5 MINUTES TO BRIGHTEN SOMEONE’S DAY, EMAIL SOMEONE TO THANK THEM FOR SOMETHING THEY DID FOR YOU, HAVE A MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION WITH A FRIEND, TAKE 30 SECONDS TO HELP SOMEONE WHO NEEDS IT, CREATE A NEW FUN EXPERIENCE OR RECALL A GREAT PAST EXPERIENCE.

Dive Deeper: Dr. Greg Wells Podcast with Dr. Kelly Brogan on Mental Health

ABOUT 1 IN 5 PEOPLE WILL FACE A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS AT SOME POINT IN THEIR LIVES. HAVING SEEN THE IMPACT OF MENTAL ILLNESSES IN FAMILIES, SCHOOLS AND BUSINESSES, MENTAL HEALTH IS NOW ONE OF MY TOP PRIORITIES. TO HELP SHED SOME LIGHT ON THIS TOPIC THIS WEEK I TALK WITH DR. KELLY BROGAN.

PODCAST: PLAY IN NEW WINDOW | DOWNLOAD

SUBSCRIBE: ITUNES | ANDROID | RSS

Sleep Soundly Wrap-Up

Sleep Soundly Wrap-Up

KEY POINTS:

1. Keep in mind the seven keys to sleeping soundly: save your caffeine for the morning, defend your last hour, keep your sleep cave dark and cool, sleep 7-8 hours per night, don't snooze, and optimize your naps. Even if you can't achieve these on a daily basis due to your line of work, at least prioritize your sleep on your days off. 

2. Sleeping better will reduce the risk factors associated with heart attacks, strokes, and cancer, will strengthen your immune system, will build muscle, will regulate your appetite, and will help with learning, problem-solving, creativity, and your ability to manage stress. 

We’re at the end of the sleep component….but you’re going to keep working at it. You know how important sleep is. You can’t be exhausted and lead a high performance life. You can’t drag around and be your best self at work or at home.

Here’s what you’ve achieved:

You learned that sleep maintains your health. You know it reduces the risk factors associated with heart attacks, strokes and cancer. You know that your immune system is strengthened by sleep, helping to keep colds, flu bugs, inflammation and infection at bay. You know that you build muscle and regulate appetite when you sleep well. You know that your brain gets scrubbed clean. And you know that your learning, problem-solving, creativity and ability to manage stress are boosted.

Here are the 7 micro-wins for sleeping soundly, performing better and being healthier.

1. Save your coffee for the morning. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that stays in your system for about six hours or even longer. Avoid foods or drinks with caffeine for 6-8 hours before your bedtime. That coffee after dinner is just not a good idea. 

2. Defend your last hour. Our hectic lives mean that we often come home from work jacked up and are still revved at bedtime. Create a calming ritual to help lower the cortisol in your body. Make a to-do list and put it aside, stop checking email or other electronic devices by 8 p.m., and read in bed. 

3. Your sleep cave should be pitch black. Light reduces your melatonin levels, and low melatonin can lead to disrupted sleep. Even light from your alarm clock is enough to wake you up. Keep it really, really dark.

4. Your sleep cave should be cool. Your body naturally cools down at night by about 0.3-0.4 degrees C, and that drop in temperature makes you drowsy. Keep the room no warmer than 19 degrees C to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

5. Sleep 7-8 hours per night and be consistent. Our brains and bodies love regular routines. Not only are your hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin well regulated by a good sleep routine, you lower the amount of stress caused by constantly changing sleep and wake times. Sleep for at least 7.5 hours and keep your fall-asleep and wake-up times consistent. 

6. Snoozers are losers. Keeping a regular sleep cycle and clocking at least 7.5 hours of shut-eye means that you’re likely to wake up out of REM sleep. This is a good time to wake up, as you’ll feel refreshed. Hitting the snooze button means waking up out of Stage 1 or Stage 2 sleep – not good! You’ll feel groggy and gross. Don’t do it.

7. Nap happy. There is growing evidence that napping improves energy, productivity, cognitive functioning and health. If you don't have time for a full 90-minute full cycle nap, take a short 15-minute power nap to improve alertness.

There you have it, folks… all of the sleep wisdom wrapped up in a warm (but not too warm!) blanket to take into your (very dark and quite cool) bedroom with you. With this knowledge of practical things to do to improve your sleep, your days will be the best they can be.

It seems like a no-brainer to get the right amount of rest. And yet, I know it’s a daily struggle.

Practical steps help a lot. Embrace the process of building your sleep cave: getting your bedroom really dark, keeping screens out, cooling the air, and having a few good fiction books at hand. Also, monitor your caffeine, avoid gastro-distressing foods, be consistent in your bedtime and wake time, fight like a hyena to get 7.5 hours of sleep, and avoid snoozing before or after your alarm.

Remember, make 1% improvements. You can’t do everything at once. Small steps really matter and you can always do a bit more. And you really can sleep better.

Today's POWER-UP: Apply the 1% Better concept to your Sleep

Every night, you can make a 1% improvement to your sleep situation! Aim for 15 minute improvements and 1% better sleep. Micro-wins add up over time to change your life!

Training With Your Eyes Closed

Training With Your Eyes Closed

The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. Getting enough sleep is like a miracle drug for your body - it reduces your risk of getting numerous chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

2. Sleep is also highly beneficial for athletic performance. This is largely due to Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which is released during sleep. HGH promotes fat breakdown, increases muscle mass, and improves your body's ability to recover from your workout and prepare it for your next training session. 

“The trend for late nights and early mornings is actually a ticking time bomb for our health, so you need to act now to reduce your risk of developing these life-threatening conditions.” - Dr. Francesco Cappuccio of the Warwick Medical School

The Miracle Drug

No, I don’t have a magic tonic to sell you that will cure all your ills. But I am trying to sell you on a real and honest idea, which is that sleep is just about one of the best things you can do for your health and performance. Plus, it feels great!

Here are just a few facts about chronic sleep deprivation, which is defined as six or fewer hours per night:

1.     We have higher levels of three inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein, which is associated with a number of diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

2.     For women, the risk of a fatal heart attack increases 45%.

3.     We have a 15% greater chance of developing or dying of a stroke.

4.     Women are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer with more aggressive tumours.

5.     Men have a 50% greater chance of developing colorectal adenomas, which are pre-cancerous tumours in the colon.

And the list goes on…. We have the evidence that lack of sleep increases inflammation and suppresses the immune system, which is why chronic fatigue is associated with heart disease, stroke and cancer. That’s why I call sleep a miracle drug. You can literally do nothing and get healthier!

If you’re caught in a late-night/early-morning lifestyle habit, it’s time to pay attention and make a change. It’s not worth permanently damaging your health. You’ve got to stop making excuses and sleep properly.

You already own this miracle drug. It’s time to take it at the right dose: 7-8 hours per night.

Training With Your Eyes Closed

There is a reciprocal relationship between sleep and exercise. If you sleep properly, you will probably perform well during your next workout, and if you exercise regularly, you will be able to sleep well. By understanding and applying the science of sleep, you will know how to optimize your health, fitness and performance.

Scientists recommend that people get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per night because that is the amount of time required for all of the critical sleep-based recovery processes to occur. Acute exercise experiments indicate that exercise is associated with a small, but reliable increase in Stage 2 and slow wave sleep.

One example of a critical restorative process that occurs while you are sleeping is the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH promotes fat breakdown and increases in muscle mass, which allows the body to recover from the physiological stresses that occur during exercise and daily life. If you are sleep deprived and have less HGH in your system, not only will you restrict your body’s ability to recover while you are sleeping, but it also appears that you will limit your ability to exercise the next day. Lower levels of HGH may decrease the amount of time you can exercise due to reduced energy stores in your muscles.

The more you can commit to getting a proper amount of sleep, the healthier and more effective you will be.

Today's POWER-UP: Sleep, Recovery and Regeneration Tactic: Progressive Relaxation

Muscle tension consumes energy inefficiently and decreases circulation, leading to physical aches and pains. Whereas if you can achieve a relaxed state, you can get relief from aches and pains and improve digestion, cardiovascular function and sleep – all of which will improve your mental and physical performance.

The good news is that you can induce this magic state using a technique called Progressive Relaxation, which consists of alternating 3-5 seconds of tension and 10-15 seconds of relaxation of various muscle groups.

Here’s how:

  • Sit in a chair

  • Lean back and make yourself comfortable.

  • Close your eyes.

  • Lift your toes as high as possible. Hold. Release and let the tension go into the floor. Point your toes. Repeat.

  • Tense the upper part of your legs. Hold. Relax. Feeling your legs against the chair and your feet against the floor. Experience the relaxation.

  • Tighten your stomach muscles . . . then relax. Take a deep breath. Feel the tension in your chest. Exhale and relax. Concentrate on how calm you can get.

  • Make tight fists with your hands and hold for about 5 seconds. Unclench your hands and let the tension flow out, noting how it feels different to relax.

  • Do the same with your upper arms, then your neck. Frown, and then relax. Take a moment to notice any other areas of tension and concentrate on releasing those as well.

  • Take a few deep breaths and open your eyes – you will be totally alert and relaxed!

If you would like a guide to doing this technique check out The Inside Edge audio program by Dr. Peter Jensen on iTunes. Or Relax+ is a cool app that will lead you through a progressive relaxation exercise. 

Dive Deeper

If you are interested in the link between exercise and sleep and how sleeping more can help you train better, check out this 4 min video I did for The Running Room on that topic:

Sleep Soundly to Eat Smarter

Sleep Soundly to Eat Smarter

The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. Sleep affects what and how much you eat. The worse you sleep, the more likely you are to go for that unhealthy snack. This is because sleep helps regulate the amount of leptin and ghrelin in your body, which are the hormones that control and manage your appetite and satiety.

2. People who sleep less than six hours per night have almost double the risk of obesity compared to those who sleep six hours or more.Lack of sleep also disrupts insulin metabolism, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes.

3. Sleeping well helps us to manage our appetite, avoid cravings for sugar and high fat foods, and improve our body composition (more muscle, less fat).

People who sleep less than six hours per night have almost double the risk of obesity compared to those who sleep six hours or more. The Canadian Obesity Network recently added sleep as one of its top recommendations.

We are in the midst of a worldwide obesity epidemic. We are also sleeping less than we ever have in history. Amazingly, those two problems are connected. Sleep helps regulate the amount of leptin and ghrelin in your body. Those are hormones that help to control and manage your appetite and satiety. So if you sleep better, you’re better able to avoid cravings for sugar and high fat foods.

But wait, there’s more!

Lack of sleep also disrupts insulin metabolism, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Recent research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Dr. Matthew Brady and his team showed that after four nights of sleeping four and a half hours each night, the fat cells of the participants acted like the cells of people with full-blown Type 2 diabetes. What that means is that the fat cells became insensitive to insulin. Total body insulin response decreased 16% and fat cell response decreased 30%.

The bottom line: only a short period of sleeplessness changes the metabolism of your cells – as if you have Type 2 diabetes. That’s really not good.

Slow down, do less, sleep more – it’s not only possible, it’s a requirement of a high-performance life. Sleeping well will help you manage your appetite and improve your body composition (more muscle, less fat).

A great biohack for using nutrition to sleep better and vice versa is to have a small protein snack right before you fall asleep. Research has shown that protein ingestion before sleep improves protein synthesis (like building muscles) by about 22% when compared to a placebo pre-bed snack.

Today's POWER-UP: Eat Your Way to Sleep

Food affects our energy level: some foods rev us up and some foods calm us down. As you begin to make some changes in your life to sleep better, it’s good to know the difference.

Here are some calming, sleep-inducing foods that are great before bed: non-dairy milk, bananas, oats, yogurt and sunflower seeds. So if you need a post-dinner snack, try a bowl of plain yogurt with berries and sunflower seeds or fruit like berries or a banana.

But there are some foods that stress our bodies and can keep us awake at night. Some classic body-stress foods are those high in fat, because they require a lot of digestive energy and stimulate the production of acid in the stomach. Spicy foods can also place a heavy burden on your digestive system. 

Bottom line: avoid spicy or fatty foods before bed. Of course, those big greasy meals are not healthy in general. But if you are going to indulge once in awhile, make sure you do it at least four hours before sleep.

Dive Deeper: The Dr. Greg Wells Podcast

Recently I interviewed Dr. Charles Samuels from the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance for my podcast. To learn more about sleep you can listen to the interview here.

Sleep Better Keys 5-7: Defend Your Sleep

Sleep Better Keys 5-7: Defend Your Sleep

The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. Here are the final 3 three keys to sleeping soundly.

2. Key 5: Sleep 7-8 hours/night and be consistent. Even if you can't get 7-8 hours, at least try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. Sleeping on a regular schedule is even more important than the total amount of time you are asleep.

3. Key 6: Snoozers are losers. Sleep cycles are approximately 90 minutes long. We're naturally designed to wake up during the end of our sleep cycle (during REM sleep). So if you wake up naturally within 45 minutes of your alarm, get out of bed. If you try and go back to sleep, you might fall back into the deeper stages of sleep and feel worse when your alarm goes off.

4. Key 7: Nap happy. Naps have been shown to improve energy, productivity, cognitive functioning and health. However, make sure that you take into account the 90-minute sleep cycle. If you want to have a quick power nap, sleep for 15 minutes. If you want to sleep for longer, make sure you complete the 90-minute cycle. 

Last post, we talked about managing caffeine, defending our last hour, dark sleep caves, and sleeping in the cool; here are the final three keys to sleeping soundly to tap into your full potential.

Key #5: Sleep 7-8 hours each night & Be Consistent

Research has shown that for adults, sleeping less than 6 hours per night is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality. It takes us 90 minutes to move through a complete sleep cycle. We need at least 5 complete sleep cycles (5 x 90 minutes = 7.5 hours) for optimal sleep.

Also, if you’re sick, you have done a really hard workout, or if you had a very mentally demanding day, tack on extra sleep to help you to recover and regenerate better! The bottom line? Not sleeping enough can actually decrease our life span! Do your best to get those 7-8 hours per night.

In terms of the timing of your sleep, there is also an increasing body of evidence that suggests that sleeping on a regular schedule is even more important than the total amount of time you are asleep. Studies show that when an athlete’s bedtime is shifted around but the total number of hours they sleep remains the same, there is a measurable decrease in athletic performance. So sticking to a consistent routine is critical.

Check out sleepyti.me. It’s a cool little app that works based on the fact that we sleep in 90 minute increments. So if you know what time you want to wake up, sleepyti.me will calculate when you should go to bed so that you wake up feeling good and refreshed. Check it out at http://sleepyti.me/.

Key #6: Snoozers are losers

You know from yesterday’s article that we naturally cycle through sleep stages during the night. We have five sleep stages (REM and sleep stages 1-4) within each 90-minute cycle. Near the end of our sleep in the morning, we spend lots of time in REM. We are designed to naturally wake up after a night’s sleep during a REM stage. If you wake up while you’re dreaming, you’re waking up at a good time.

So when you do wake up out of a dream, it’s a great time to get out of bed – if you are within 45 minutes of your alarm time. Don’t fall back asleep and hope that getting that extra 15-30 minutes will help. It won’t. Because you’ll drop down into stage 1 or even stage 2 sleep. And when the alarm goes off, you’ll be awakened from a state that you’re not physiologically supposed to wake up from. The outcome is that you’ll feel bleary and slow for hours.

The same goes for those of you addicted to your snooze button! Don’t set the alarm for 6 a.m. and then “snooze” for ten minutes…then ten minutes more…. You are not getting the right kind of sleep in those little ten-minute increments to make you feel more rested.

Key #7: Nap happy

It is fabled that Leonardo da Vinci used to take multiple 20-minute naps throughout the day to charge his creativity. Brainiac Albert Einstein was also a napper. It’s taken hundreds of years, but recent research seems to back up this approach. Naps have been shown to improve energy, productivity, cognitive functioning and health.

Artists, scientists and even politicians (Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton) are on to something powerful. Professor Matthew Walker from UC Berkeley has found that a biphasic sleep schedule (sleeping at night and during the day) not only helps with mental recovery and regeneration, but can make you smarter as well!

But there is a catch, and it has to do with those 90-minute sleep cycles we’ve been talking about. In 90 minutes, we generally pass through REM, stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, stage 4, then back through stage 3, 2, 1 and REM again.

So if you want to have a rejuvenating nap, go for a short 15 minute power nap so that you wake up before falling into the deeper levels of sleep. Or alternately, allow yourself the full 90 minutes to complete all the sleep cycles.

Some companies are optimizing happy napping. Nike, Apple, Google and Deloitte Consulting encourage employees to add a power nap to their daily routines!

Pick from the “nap menu” below when you seek happy napping:

1. The micro-nap (2-5 minutes) - Helps to decrease sleepiness and improves cognitive performance.

2. The mini-nap (10 minutes) - Improves mental and physical performance, decreases fatigue.

3. The power nap (20 minutes) - Improves alertness and energy and has the added bonus of also improving memory.

4. The I-feel-like-hell nap (30 minutes) - Makes you feel groggy and foggy - go back to sleep!

5. The full-cycle nap (90 minutes) - This one includes all the sleep cycles and is like a mini-full night’s sleep. Great for memory and creativity if you have the time. The added bonus here is that there is some growth hormone released, which repairs muscle and bones. So if you had a hard workout in the morning, then this is the nap for you.

Today's POWER-UP: Sleep Information from the NY Times

CHECK OUT THIS FANTASTIC OVERVIEW OF ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING SLEEP RELATED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Sleep Better Keys 1-4: Set the Stage

Sleep Better Keys 1-4: Set the Stage

KEY POINTS:

1. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll outline the 7 keys to sleeping soundly. Here are the first 4 keys.

2. Key 1: Save your caffeine for the morning. Limit your caffeine consumption to 200 mg per day and make sure you don't have caffeine within 8 hours of when you'd like to go to sleep.

3. Key 2: Defend your last hour. Stay away from screens - this includes TV, your computer and your phone one hour before you'd like to go to sleep.  

4. Key 3: Your sleep cave should be dark. Melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy, is released when it's dark. So make sure your bedroom (or sleep cave) is as dark as possible. 

5. Key 4: Be Cool. Increased melatonin levels cause a natural cooling of your body temperature by 0.3-0.4 degrees Celsius, which helps you fall asleep. So keep your room at 19 degrees C (or cooler) to promote drowsiness. 

By sleeping soundly, we can strengthen our bodies and minds, enhance our mental and physical health and get to our potential. To help you on your way, here are four keys to sleeping soundly.

Key #1: Save your caffeine for the morning

Caffeine promotes blood flow to the brain which increases memory and concentration. It encourages oxygen delivery to the body, making exercise feel easier, and acts as an antioxidant which heals damaged tissue. However, it’s not the caffeine, per se, that does that antioxidant work. It’s the phytonutrients from the teas or the coffee beans, dissolved in the water, that can have that powerful effect. The problem is, while there are health benefits from tea and coffee, too much caffeine can promote anxiety and insomnia. So where is the line between improving performance and decreasing performance?

The general rule is that 200 mg of caffeine per day is safe for most people (equates to about 2 10-ounce coffees or 2 cups of black tea). Another rule to follow is if you want to sleep well at night, skip the caffeine 8 hours before you fall asleep. So if you want to go to bed at 10pm, don’t have caffeine after 2pm. And remember to watch out for other sneaky sources of caffeine. Decaf java can have up to 20 milligrams of caffeine in a cup, and tea, pop, chocolate, weight-loss products, pain relievers, energy drinks and even some cold and flu medications are all to be avoided for a good night’s sleep.

Key #2: Defend your last hour

Have you ever had an exhausting day, then in the hour before you’re going to bed you find your mind racing even though your body is tired? You’re not alone. Calming down in the hours before you want to fall asleep is crucial. A key habit is not to check your electronic devices within 1 hour of when you plan to go to sleep unless you absolutely have to.

Research by Mari Hysling from Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare in Bergen Norway published a population-based study on 9846 adolescents and showed that there was a dose-response relationship between the amount of time that was spend using electronic devices during the day and sleep duration, time to fall asleep, and sleep efficiency. Basically, the more adolescents used their electronic devices during the day, the less they slept and the worse their sleep was.

Key #3: Your sleep cave should be dark

I want you to have a place in your home that is your place to rest and recover. Think of it as a peaceful place where you go to crash out after rocking the world all day. This will be your sleep cave – formerly known as your bedroom.

Melatonin (a hormone that helps regulate sleep) is produced by your pineal gland, which is located deep inside your brain and is very sensitive to light, including light from screens. Because the pineal gland responds to light via neurons that project from your eyes, you have to ensure that you are in a dark space while you sleep. To do that you have to keep you room dark. Really dark. Even the light from your alarm clock is enough to reduce your melatonin levels. Little things like covering up your alarm clock lights or getting dark curtains for your windows will help!

This also means getting rid of your screens if you have them in the bedroom. Television, tablets, mobile phones all compromise your ability to fall asleep. I realize this can be a huge change for you but having a massive light that flashes at you at 240 frames per second is a sure fire way to make sure you don't fall asleep.

Light Therapy Tip: Install f.lux on your computer to cut blue light emissions later in the day. If you have iOS then activate the night shift feature and if you use Android then try the Twilight app!

Key #4: Be cool

In the evening, increased melatonin levels cause the blood vessels in the skin to dilate, cooling the body by 0.3–0.4 degrees C. This cooling promotes drowsiness and helps us fall asleep. Research has even suggested that sleeping in a cool room might help you prevent diabetes, have healthier sugar metabolism and stay leaner. If you are having a hard time falling asleep, have a warm bath followed by a cool shower to decrease your body temperature slightly, and then make sure your room is as dark as possible. This procedure mimics the effect of melatonin and will knock you out every time.

At night keep your room cool. A temperature of 19 degrees C should be cool and comfortable for you. If you find yourself waking up because you’re too cold or too hot just adjust your room temperature, and the sheets and blankets until you find the right combination to keep you cool and comfortable all night!

Today's POWER-UP: Read Fiction

Before you fall asleep at night, read books, preferably fiction. Reading is great for you. It calms the mind and activates parts of your brain that you will use to fall asleep and dream. Your reading should have a story – something that requires your imagination. When you're done a book, pass it on!

Sleep to Learn and Create

Sleep to Learn and Create

The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. We have 80-100 billion neurons and each neuron has hundreds to thousands of connections to other neurons. When we sleep, the neurons make new connections (called synapses) between each other.  

2. NREM sleep is for mental recovery and learning - when we make memories so we can retain all that new information we gathered during the day.

3. REM sleep is for creativity - when we encode procedural memories like how to perform a new physical skill or mental process.

It’s clear that poor sleep causes health problems and can help you live a healthy disease-free life. But sleep also has a powerful effect on both mental and physical performance. This is true for exercise, sports, playing music, academics, business and most other pursuits. Let’s think about the positive effects of sleeping better and how that can help us learn better.

The main stages of sleep – NREM and REM, each have different effects on our ability to learn and create. Professor Vincent Walsh from the University College of London has described the deep, slow wave sleep that happens earlier in the night as being crucial for encoding of information and facts that we encountered during the day. NREM sleep seems to be when we encode memories and learn. The second half of the night – when we are in REM sleep – is when we encode procedural memories like how to perform a new physical skill or mental process. It is also when we do subconscious creative problem solving.

Simply, the first half of sleep is for mental recovery and learning, and the second half is for physical recovery and creativity.

Sleep Soundly to Be More Creative

One of the physiological processes that happens when we sleep is that neurons in our brains make new connections between each other. We have 80-100 billion neurons and each neuron has hundreds to thousands of connections to other neurons. It is these patterns of neurons and the connections between them that allow us to encode new learning, movement patterns and memories. The key is that the growth of new neurons and the new connections happens at night while we sleep. So if you want to ensure that you are being as creative as you can, that you can solve difficult problems, or come up with new ways of performing a task then sleep should be at the top of your list of priorities.

Recently, REM sleep has been identified as an incredibly creative state. In a study at the University of California-San Diego, researchers found that REM sleep “directly enhances creative processing more than any other sleep or wake state.” Yes, you heard that right – more even than any wake state! One of the study’s leaders explains: “We found that, for creative problems that you’ve already been working on, the passage of time is enough to find solutions. However, for new problems, only REM sleep enhances creativity.” In REM sleep, the brain makes new and useful associations between unrelated ideas.

Sleep Soundly to Learn Better

Pulling an all-nighter get ready for exams is common. In a school that I visited this year a Principal told me that many of the students show up to school with an array of energy drinks after staying up late studying. This is hardly a high performance approach. Imagine if we taught all our kids how to sleep better and we created a school system that supported that? What would happen to our learning as a nation? How cool would that be?

Our brains are made up of approximately 86 billion neurons. And when we sleep we create new connections between those neurons. Connections are critical, because it is those connections that form the basis for our thoughts, memories, problem solving, decision-making, motor patterns (how we move), and other important aspects of what makes us human. Scientists in China and the US have recently used a microscope to witness new synapses being formed in the brain during deep and sustained sleep. What exactly was it they could see? In short, they watched the brain building memories. We’ve known for a while that good quality sleep is necessary to remember what we have experienced and learned during the day, but not why. This study made visible the brain’s work of replaying the day’s activity like a movie and building new connections between neurons during sleep.

Today's POWER-UP: Make Sleep a Priority

If we are well rested, we are able to cope with life’s stresses, stronger and more effective in our exercise, sharper in our work and just plain more fun to be around. The catch is that the attitude toward sleep tends to be that it isn’t particularly important. It’s almost the opposite where it's a badge of honour to get by on less sleep. Which is crazy and we’re getting sick and performing horribly as a result. As you plan for your great word class life where you have an impact on the world, the more you can commit to getting a great sleep, the healthier and better you’ll be.

Dive Deeper: The Dr. Greg Wells Podcast: The Science of Sleep with Prof. Richard Horner

Here is a conversation with Prof. Richard Horner, who just published a book on sleep called "The Universal Pastime: Sleep and Rest Explained". In this conversation we go a bit deeper into the physiology of sleep, and why we sleep. We talk about circadian rhythms and some of the challenges we face in trying to sleep well in a world where we are disconnected from natural light / dark cycles. Its a fascinating conversation.

Podcast: Play in new window 

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Why Do We Sleep?

Why Do We Sleep?

KEY POINTS:

1. During the night, we cycle through 90-minute sleep cycles. 75% of our time sleeping is spent in the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) stage and 25% is spent in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage. 

2. Both NREM and REM are important. NREM sleep is when we recover our energy levels, when our nervous system recovers and regenerates, and when our tissues are repaired. REM sleep is when we establish new connections between neurons in the brain.

3. Sleeping better has endless benefits. It decreases our risk of a heart attack, improves our immune system, helps manage chronic pain, makes us smarter, helps us lose fat, helps us recover faster from training, and can even help us survive cancer.

“Society is learning how important sleep is and how dangerous sleep deprivation is. We’re teaching our players: Sleep is a weapon.” – Sam Ramsden, Director of Player Health & Performance, Seattle Seahawks.

The foundation of human health and performance is sleeping soundly. This is where we will start to construct a healthy, high-performance life.

What is Sleep?

People often think of sleep as a time of rest where the body and mind shut down. It is a dormant state when the activity of our brain’s cortex reduces by 40 percent. But sleep is not a passive process. While you’re asleep and not moving there is a lot going on inside you that is helping you to recover, restore and rebuild your body and brain. Sleep is a highly active metabolic process that helps to optimize our brain structure, repair damaged cells, and restore energy levels.

Humans are naturally attuned to the 24-hour cycle of light and dark. We have developed what are known as circadian rhythms such as sleep-wake cycles, changes in your body temperature, and times where different hormones are released into the blood. Our circadian rhythms are regulated by a structure in our brains called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), although the SCN can be over-ridden by the light or darkness in our environment. That’s what happens when we fly across time zones and we get jet lagged.

Each night while we sleep we cycle through different stages of sleep in approximately 90 minute cycles. 75% of our night’s sleep is in the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) stage where our body and muscles relax, temperature and blood pressure drops, heart rate and breath rate comes down and cells and tissues grow and repair. The other 25% is called the rapid eye movement (REM) stage wherein our brain is active, energy is supplied to brain and body and eyes dart back and forth. Both stages are critical for the optimal recovery and regeneration of our bodies and our brains.

NREM sleep is when we recover our energy levels and when our nervous system (our brain, spinal cord and nerves that connect our spinal cord to muscles and organs) recovers and regenerates. During NREM sleep anabolic hormones are released that repair tissues and stabilize our energy levels. REM sleep is equally important and is thought to be when we establish new connections between neurons in the brain.

Sleep and Your Health

Optimal health and performance starts with sleep. You can set yourself up for success in all aspects of your life by sleeping deeply and sleeping enough. Sleeping better decreases your risk of a heart attack. It will improve your mood and energy. It improves the immune system keeping you from getting sick and can even help you survive cancer. It helps manage chronic pain. Imagine if someone developed a drug that could do all that! The drug would be hailed the miracle of our lifetime. Whoever developed it would win the Nobel Prize for sure. Let’s look at some of the specific links between sleep and health.

Sleeping soundly can help you lose fat, recover faster from training, clean your brain, and be better at solving problems. We consolidate memories while we sleep so sleep is when we actually learn! Our immune systems recover and regenerate while we sleep so sleep helps us to fight off disease and illness. If you’re training sleep is when your muscles repair and grow. Regardless of whether you’re an elite athlete, brilliant student, or titan of business sleep is the foundation of your healthy, high-performance life. Let’s explore the relationship between sleep and health in a bit more detail.

Today's POWER-UP: Try Yoga for a Deeper Sleep

Yoga is great for helping you to calm down and sleep better. Start with ujjayi breathing for a few minutes to relax and activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Then move through head to knee forward bend, child pose, and corpse pose. That sequence works wonders for calming the body and mind and setting you up for a deep, restful sleep.

Dive Deeper: Wash Your Brain!

One of the coolest studies I’ve seen in a long time was released last year by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at Rochester Medical Center. Dr. Nedergaard’s team showed that during sleep, the size of neurons in the brain is reduced by up to 60%. This creates lots of space between your brain cells. Then during sleep, the glymphatic system cleans the metabolic waste from the microscopic spaces between the neurons in your brain.

You wash your body, hair and clothes – now, we know you need to wash your brain. It’s a great image to carry around: wake up every morning knowing that your brains cells have been showered up and your mind is literally cleared for another day!

Welcome to Sleep Soundly!

Welcome to Sleep Soundly!

The STEM 1.0 Academic Program Home Page

KEY POINTS:

1. In today's society, we no longer sleep and wake according to the sun's cycle. Many of us work indoors, exposed to fluorescent lights during the day, and at night we watch bright TV and look at screens from a computer or mobile device. The result is an epidemic of poor sleep and sleep disorders. 

2. Lack of sleep is associated with increased rates of obesity, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, depression, and anxiety.

3. The good news is there are many tricks you can use to optimize your sleep, wellbeing, and performance. We're going to explore these concepts in this module.

“Pulling all-nighters isn’t a badge of honor. It’s the enemy of intelligence, patience, and creativity.” - Jason Fried, Founder of Basecamp.

For most of history, humans have woken up and gone to sleep based on the sun’s cycle. But our current situation is much different. Many of us work indoors, exposed to fluorescent lights during the day. In the evenings, we watch bright TV and look at computer, tablet or mobile phone screens.

Our internal physiology is no longer matched to the rhythm of the sun. As a result, we’re not sleeping enough and our health and performance are suffering. According to the National Sleep Foundation, we sleep 20% less than we used to a century ago. Seventy million Americans have a diagnosed sleep disorder. In Canada, one in seven people suffer from insomnia. That’s bad.

How bad? Along with sleeplessness comes increased rates of obesity, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, depression and anxiety. Lack of good sleep is so damaging that it actually shortens your life. An epidemiological study of over one million Americans reported that sleep duration below 6 hours per night was associated with increased mortality.

Here’s a quick story to illustrate how our culture perpetuates this problem.

Just seconds after its launch in January of 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven crew members. Some of the managers involved in the launch had only slept for two hours before arriving for work at 1 a.m. In the Presidential Commission on the accident, investigators wrote, “The willingness of NASA employees in general to work excessive hours, while admirable, raises serious questions when it jeopardizes job performance, particularly when critical management decisions are at stake.”

Yes, the Challenger tragedy was partly the result of sleeplessness. But I want to focus on the part of the Commission that describes the willingness to work excessive hours as admirable. This same attitude exists in the general workplace today. We receive the messaging that we are better people if we put in longer hours. 

But working yourself into a stupor is not admirable. And volume of work does not lead to excellence. You cannot perform at world-class levels if you’re staring blankly into a screen trying to comprehend words that you could breeze through in a few seconds if you took the time to build a consistent, rejuvenating sleep pattern and routine.

So that’s our topic for this module: getting the sleep you need to live a high-performance life. Together, we’re going to fight back and reclaim sleep. Once you are sleeping like a champion, pretty much everything in your life will get better.

Today's POWER-UP: The Transition Ritual

I’D LIKE YOU TO CREATE A TRANSITION RITUAL AND USE IT TO HELP YOU MAKE THE SHIFT FROM WORKING TO BEING AT HOME. FIND AN ACTIVITY THAT HELPS YOU TO MAKE THAT SHIFT.

FOR ME, IT’S WALKING DOWN TO THE PARK NEAR MY HOUSE AND RELAXING ON A BENCH FOR FIVE MINUTES BEFORE WALKING HOME. TAKE A FEW MINUTES TO WALK, LISTEN TO MUSIC, OR MAKE A CALL TO A FRIEND ON THE WAY HOME.

THE KEY IS TO MAKE SURE THAT WHEN YOU ARRIVE HOME, YOU’RE NOT STILL AT WORK.