Rest for the Weary . . . We Need Our Sleep!

“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

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Happy New Year! Happy New Decade! Early January and the holidays are over and most of us are getting back into ‘Real Life.’ For many of us, we’ve burned the candle at both ends and perhaps are feeling the exhaustion of the culmination of doing too much and not getting enough sleep. I’ve heard so many women in the last month or so tiredly grin, (or grimace) and say “No rest for the weary.” As though we all must blithely accept exhaustion.

But No – We cannot accept this lying down, or more likely running around! Sleep is essential and has been described by sleep expert Matthew Walker, as our life-support system and Mother Nature’s best effort yet at immortality.

The decimation of sleep throughout industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our wellness, even the safety and the education of our children. It’s a silent sleep loss epidemic, and it’s fast becoming one of the greatest public health challenges that we face in the 21st century. 

So why do we need sleep? What difference does a good night’s sleep actually make? I think we all know the obvious answers to that – lack of sleep makes us tired, grumpy and not quite able to think properly. But research shows that it’s much more serious than that. Not enough sleep or poor quality sleep impacts our immune system, hormones, heart, learning, memory and even impacts men’s testicles and women’s reproductive organs. Interestingly enough, it also impacts our genetic code.

Lack of sleep hugely impacts our ability to heal as well. In our body we have cells that protect us, sometimes called natural killer cellsYou can think of natural killer cells almost like the secret service agents of your immune system. They are very good at identifying dangerous, unwanted elements and eliminating them. In fact, what they’re doing here is destroying a cancerous tumor mass. So what you wish for is a virile set of these immune assassins at all times, and tragically, that’s what you don’t have if you’re not sleeping enough. 

And as we age, and our memory seems to fade rapidly, all of us over 50 can certainly attest to that, sleep is even more essential. Research is showing that the disruption of deep sleep is an underappreciated factor that is contributing to cognitive decline or memory decline in aging, and most recently discovered in Alzheimer’s disease as well. 

Basically in a nutshell there is nothing positive about not getting enough sleep.

A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures for anything.

– Old Irish Proverb

On the other hand, getting enough sleep positively impacts us in almost every way. We have a stronger immune system, better focus, better memory, and a more optimistic outlook on life.

Walker describes recent research done at UC Berkeley on sleep and learning:

By placing electrodes all over the head, what we’ve discovered is that there are big, powerful brainwaves that happen during the very deepest stages of sleep that have riding on top of them these spectacular bursts of electrical activity that we call sleep spindles. And it’s the combined quality of these deep-sleep brainwaves that acts like a file-transfer mechanism at night, shifting memories from a short-term vulnerable reservoir to a more permanent long-term storage site within the brain, and therefore protecting them, making them safe. And it is important that we understand that during sleep actually transacts these memory benefits, because there are real medical and societal implications.”

 Sleep provides time for our brains to tidy up and make space; this action is called synaptic pruning.

Sleep provides a time when the brain’s synapses — the connections among neurons—shrink back by nearly 20 percent. During this time, the synapses rest and prepare for the next day, when they will grow stronger while receiving new input to learn new things.”

Without this reset, known as “synaptic homeostasis,” synapses could become overloaded and burned out, unable to function at an optimal level. Scientists call this “use-dependent cortical reorganization,” meaning that we strengthen whichever neural pathways we use most often, and lose the ones we use the least.

I am totally in favor of pruning those unused pathways. I usually feel like my brain can use a little Marie Kondo action!

I think we all can agree that getting more and better quality sleep is essential. But what is the best way to do that? Fortunately, Walker does have a few suggestions:

The first is regularity. Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, no matter whether it’s the weekday or the weekend. Regularity is king, and it will anchor your sleep and improve the quantity and the quality of that sleep. The second is keep it cool. Your body needs to drop its core temperature by about two to three degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep and then to stay asleep, and it’s the reason you will always find it easier to fall asleep in a room that’s too cold than too hot. So aim for a bedroom temperature of around 65 degrees, or about 18 degrees Celsius. That’s going to be optimal for the sleep of most people. 

One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year is to meditate more often, and the Dalai Lama declares that sleep is the best meditation. And who am I to disagree with the Dalai Lama? So I think I’ll close here and go take a nap. Happy New Year to all of you, and may you have a restful 2020 filled with wonderful deep healing sleep.

Before you go take a nap, you may want to watch a great TED talk by Matt Walker entitled Sleep is Your Superpower.

I’d love to hear about your sleep habits if you have any. And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Gratitude – Another good reason to be grateful

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.”

– Melody Beattie


There is an excellent article in The Scientific AmericanWhich Character Strengths are Most Predictive of Well-Being?  The article written by Scott Barry Kaufman was posted by Lisa Sansom on a Positive Psychology site I follow.  In the article, Kaufman explores Which character strengths are most predictive of well-being?  In his book Flourish, Martin Seligman, the founder of the field of positive psychology, argued that the five fundamental elements of well-being are:

  1. P – Positive Emotion
  2. E – Engagement
  3. R – Positive Relationships
  4. M – Meaning
  5. A – Accomplishment

I’ve written about PERMA in previous posts. 

In his study, Kaufman discovered that all five elements of PERMA were very strongly correlated with each other. People who tended to score higher on one of the elements (e.g., positive emotions) tended to score higher on the other elements (e.g., engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment) and those who tended to score lower on one of the elements also tended to score lower on the others.

That makes sense, but which of the 24 Character Strengths is most likely to lead to well-being? In case you are not familiar with the 24 Character Strenghts, here is a chart:

Displaying

You can get to know your character strengths by taking the VIA Survey.

Know Your Character Potential

Character testYou have many different types of strengths. These can be skills, talents, interests or resources; however these strengths do not reflect the “real” you— who you are at your core. Only by understanding your character strengths can you know how special and capable you really are. Character strengths are the personality characteristics that make you authentic, unique and feel engaged.

The VIA Survey of character strengths is a simple test that takes just a few minutes of your time and provides a wealth of information to help you understand your core characteristics. Created under the direction of Dr. Martin Seligman, the “father of Positive Psychology”  and author of Authentic Happiness and Flourish, and Dr. Christopher Peterson, distinguished scientist at the University of Michigan and author of A Primer in Positive Psychology, this self-assessment character survey is regarded as a central tool of positive psychology and has been used in hundreds of research studies and taken by over 2.6 million people in over 190 countries.  It is the only free, scientifically validated online character strengths tool available.

It’s well worth the time to take the survey and learn more about what makes you feel engaged.

Back to Kaufman’s study – he found that the top three character strengths that were most strongly correlated with well-being were:

Hope, Gratitude, and Love

But that The single best predictor of well-being was gratitude.

So if you do seek well-being, (and honestly, who doesn’t?) your best bet is gratitude.

I’ll close with a longer video, lasting almost an hour, but an excellent look at these strengths, called A Character Strengths Revolution.

If you take the Signature Strength test, I’d love to hear about your experience.  And let me know what you thought of the video.  Positive Psychology is a popular topic on YouTube – there are several videos to choose between.

As always, thank you for visiting my blog.  I appreciate it.

Happiness – At least 40% is up to YOU!

“Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today.  I can choose which it shall be.  Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet.  I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”

― Groucho Marx


HAPPY – The Movie tells us in no uncertain terms that Happiness is within our grasp.

While 50% of our level of happiness is genetic, only 10% is attributed to circumstances (like income, health or the number of shoes in our closet).  The other 40% is up to us:  what we do, how we think and our intentions to be happy.

HAPPY is uplifting and insightful.  It asserts that we can actually re-wire our brains, altering its structure and function, by engaging in some simple activities.  And that happiness is a choice that everyone can make, everyday.  The movie outlines several ways to be happier:

  • Simple Meditation Practices (*see info below about the Compassion Meditation)
  • Physical activity, especially that which gets us “in the flow” and unaware of our surroundings, can contribute to chronic happiness
  • Other activities which get us “in the flow” – like playing music, doing something we love
  • Being of service
  • Community, being with friends, and of course, Love

This information is consistent with Martin Seligman’s findings:

Seligman’s Five Elements of Well-Being (PERMA):

  • Positive Emotions (P) – Feeling positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.
  • Engagement (E) – Being fully absorbed in activities that use your skills and challenge you. (Flow)
  • Relationships (R) – Having positive relationships is a universal requirement to well-being. (Community)
  • Meaning (M) – Belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger than yourself. (Service and Helping others)
  • Accomplishment (A) – Pursuing success, winning, achievement and mastery for their own sake. (Gratitude)

The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) is doing ground-breaking work on the subject of Meditation and Happiness.  One of the people interviewed in the movie is Dr. Richard Davidson:

Richard J. Davidson, PhD, is a renowned neuroscientist and one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of contemplative practices, such as meditation, on the brain. He is the founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work in studying emotion and the brain. A friend and confidante of the Dalai Lama, he is a highly sought after expert and speaker internationally. Time magazine named him one of the most influential people in the world.

The same meditation practice used in these studies is offered by CIHM online, free of charge. So it’s even easier to choose happiness!

If you haven’t seen the movie, please take the time to watch it. In my opinion, it is nothing less than life-altering!

 


 

Please let me know if you’ve seen HAPPY, and if so, what you thought of it.  And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

 

Making positive changes that last!

“Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation, and a pinch of creativity.”

– Bo Bennett


I am reading the most wonderful book at the moment!  I am amazed I haven’t come across it before, but as I wrote in a previous post:

When the student is ready, the teacher appears  . . . I guess I wasn’t ready yet.

The book is called The Winner’s Bible by Dr. Kerry Spackman.  It is an inspirational book about “Rewiring your brain for permanent change.”  Because Dr. Spackman is a neuroscientist, he includes very relevant information about how the brain works and how to work with your brain to make positive changes that last.  The first portion of the book is devoted to helping individuals make their own Personal Winner’s Bible.  It was so fun to make!  I had a blast.  And it was different than other vision boards that I’ve made, which have felt very static.  This felt vibrant and alive!  I felt inspired, motivated and creative.  Thus Bo Bennett’s quote – Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation, and a pinch of creativity.

You can find this book at betterworldbooks.com.  Better world books is a wonderful site to buy books!  Not only do they ship worldwide for FREE, but they also donate to literacy projects worldwide with every purchase made.  It is truly a phenomenal site, one well worth supporting!

Interestingly, Dr. Spackman is a New Zealander.  It’s inspiring to see a fellow Kiwi out there doing this work.  The attached video is an interview with Dr. Spackman on a NZ news program.

 

 

Please let me know your thoughts on this interview, and I’d love to hear from any of you who have read The Winner’s Bible.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

Authentic Happiness

The pleasant life: a life that successfully pursues the positive emotions about the present, past, and future.

The good life: using your signature strengths to obtain abundant gratification in the main realms of your life.

The meaningful life: using your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are .”

– Martin Seligman


What is Authentic Happiness?  Is it really possible to achieve?  Martin Seligman thinks so, and in my opinion he makes a very convincing argument.

In the video below, Seligman discusses being authentically happy.  He introduces us to the idea of PERMA:
‘Positive emotions’
‘Engagement’
‘Relationships’
‘Meaning’
‘Accomplishment’

One of the most significant factors in finding authentic happiness is learning about our signature strengths and using them daily.

Discovering your signature strengths is easy and fun!  Take the free signature strength test here:

https://www.viame.org/survey/Account/Register

Once you discover your own signature strengths, then it’s your decision – do you aim for The Pleasant Life, The Good Life, or The Meaningful Life?  You decide.

 

 

If you take the Signature Strength test, I’d love to hear about your experience.  And let me know what you thought of Seligman’s video.  Positive Psychology is a popular topic on YouTube – there are several videos to choose between.

As always, thank you for visiting my blog.  I appreciate it.