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.

Get Bored and Enjoy a Daydream …

“Daydream, imagine, and reflect. It’s the source of infinite creativity.”

Deepak Chopra

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I was holding a ladder for my husband.  The sun was on my back, my hands were tight on the ladder, the ladder leaned precariously.  The sensor light that he was trying to install was not being co-operative and it was all taking much longer than anticipated.  I couldn’t check my phone, my hands were on the ladder; I couldn’t walk away, the ladder might fall; I was stuck there, unable to ‘do’ anything and had to be present to keep my husband safe.  I was bored and in this space of focused inaction, my mind drifted and I began to daydream . . . and suddenly I got the inspiration for a new book.  The cover ‘appeared’ in my mind’s eye, I ‘heard’ dialogue, I ‘felt’ characters.  I got so excited!  I wanted to run inside and take some notes . . . but there was still that damn ladder to hold. . .

I was floating on my back in the sea near my house; I was the only one on the beach.  The sun was on my face and I drifted aimlessly.  I had to be focused so I wouldn’t sink or float too far out, but I didn’t need to ‘do’ anything.  I was in a state of focused inaction, and my mind drifted and I began to daydream . . . and suddenly I got the inspiration for an online workshop.  The whole content just seemed to download into me.  I started to shake and quake, almost as though a stingray had stung me (some do occasionally visit our beach.) I jumped out of the water and ran up to my house shaking with excitement.  I started telling my husband what had happened and he asked what I was going to do with this new info. I burst into tears and said, “I have no idea!”  The idea had downloaded but I had no clue how to move forward with it. Creative thought and logical next steps don’t always coincide. But the creative idea had come and I had to trust that eventually all would become clear . . .

I was curious – was this focused inactivity a precursor to creative thought? I did some research and found that boredom and daydreaming do indeed open us up to creative thought.

“When you pay attention to boredom it gets unbelievably interesting.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn

So what actually happens to us when we are bored? I discovered that when we get bored, we ignite a circuit in our brain called the ‘Default Mode.’

In a Psychology Today article, investigative journalist, Manoush Zomorodiexplains:

“We tend to think of boredom as the exact opposite of productivity, but leading neuroscientists are starting to believe that boredom is the secret sauce that can 10x creative potential. Your brain has a resting state that scientists are calling ‘default mode.’

‘Default mode’ is like the screensaver on your computer that comes on to keep things moving when there’s not a whole lot going on. It is your brain on autopilot and it switches on when we’re doing menial activities like washing dishes or going through predictable, daily routines like driving to work or school.”

One study found that people who want to come up with creative ideas would do well to let their minds drift. The study reported in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people who allow themselves to become bored  “are more likely to engage in sensation seeking.”  When bored, people look for things that engage their minds and stimulate the brain’s reward centers; and these people tend toward more “divergent thinking styles” and the ability to come up with creative new ideas.

Boredom Researcher and Senior Psychology Lecturer, Dr. Sandi Mann explains:

Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander, you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place. The subconscious is not constrained by a need to put order to things. The subconscious is much freer.”

Several studies have reinforced the fact that the connections between different parts of our brains increase when we are daydreaming.

In other words, Default Mode switches on during mindless activity or focused inactivity, time that you allow your mind to wander, and this mind wandering time allows us to move beyond our conscious connections and different connections start to take place. Boredom often leads to daydreaming, and daydreaming seems to spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation. Heather Lench, from the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences at Texas A & M explains: “Boredom becomes a seeking state. Whatever you’re doing is not quite satisfying for your brain, so it seeks stimulation.”

Daydreaming incubates creative discovery.” – Daniel Goleman

One writer believes that this subconscious probing process suggests that we are hardwired for creativity:

By probing into our subconscious, our brain uses, develops, and strengthens abstract connections that we don’t rely on heavily during regular, logical thought processes. Using these neural connections improves the communication pathways between the different areas of our brain. And this results in more effective communication between brain cells and more cognitive abilities. The fact that neural networks expand and diversify during bouts of boredom suggests that human beings are hardwired to create, design, imagine, invent, and develop new thoughts, ideas, stories, music, and arts.”

Dr. Mann has found that the key to thinking more creatively is to make sure you have some downtime to allow your mind to wander. She even suggests scheduling “daydreaming” time or doing activities like swimming or walking (or holding ladders?) where your mind is able to wander without electronic distraction.

Dr. Jerome Singer, specialist in research on the psychology of imagination and daydreaming, supports the idea of scheduling time for your mind to wander.

Intentionally allowing your mind to wander allows it to access memories and meaningful connections. When you’re bored, you’re tapping into your unconscious brain, picking up long-lost memories and connecting ideas.“

Amy Fries, author of Daydreams at Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers, explains that the ability to fully access our knowledge, memories, experiences, and imagination helps guide us to those incredible ‘ah ha’ or ‘light bulb’ moments.

“This calm and slightly detached state, which is the hallmark of daydreaming, helps to ‘quiet the noise’ so that we can experience the answer or connection . . . we are able to link up to disparate ideas and even envision things and experiences that haven’t happened in the realm of our knowledge or experience.”

So the next time you’re bored and you reach for you phone to play Candy Crush or check your Facebook page, instead let your mind wander and daydream a bit, you never know what creative idea might spark into being.

I’ll close with the inspirational TED Talk by Manoush Zomorodi entitled: How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas.

 

I’d love to hear about any experiences you’ve had with boredom, daydreaming and creativity.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.