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.

Deepak Chopra’s Suggestions for Good Health

“If you consciously let your body take care of you, it will become your greatest ally and trusted partner.”
– Deepak Chopra 

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As I age, I need to watch myself, that I don’t start using unhealthy language.  Language like, ‘My eye sight just isn’t what it used to be’ or ‘Oh my ageing body doesn’t move as fast as it used it’ or the most common that I hear ‘Growing old is a bitch! Nothing works anymore.’  This kind of talk is training our brains to to be unhealthy.

 

According to Deepak Chopra, our health is up to us.  In a wonderful talk with Hay House President Reid Tracy,Deepak Chopra, M.D. shares his top 6 secrets to great health based on decades of scientific research and study. To hear the entire conversation you need to sign up for the Hay House Summit.

According to Chopra’s new book, The Healing Self,  95% our health is under our control, and he explains that most disease is reversible. His 6 secrets to a healthier life and better health are really simple and something we can all start doing now!

#6 – Connect to Earth and to Nature

Immerse yourself in nature, go for long walks in trees.  And he explains that the best way to connect is by walking barefoot outside.  Take a walk on the beach barefoot whenever possible.  You now have permission to indulge – it’s good for you!

#5 – Nutrition

It’s pretty simple, eat fresh and organic wherever possible.

#4 – Watch your Emotions and Relationships

Negative emotions and relationships can cause illness and disease.   Whereas positive relationships and feeling positive emotions help to create health and can actually reduce inflammation naturally. And it’s been proven that loneliness can harm your health. So find positive relationships and nurture them.

#3 – Movement and Yoga

Walking, especially barefoot, is good, but he explains that doing yoga is the best movement for the brain to help in healing your body and in staying healthy.

#2 – Meditate and Manage Your Stress Levels

Meditation not only helps to reduce stress, it has been shown time and again to help you heal.

#1 – Get Good Sleep

And finally, the number one thing that will help you to heal and to stay healthy is a good night’s sleep.  Chopra suggests 7 – 8 hours a night is best.  This is the absolute best way to heal and to stay healthy.

Arianna Huffington has been saying this for years as well and has written several books about it, including The Sleep Revolution.

This is all within our own control, we can be healthier.  So I make a commitment to watch my language about my health and start paying close attention to Deepak Chopra’s 6 secrets to health.

In closing, appropriately here is a video by Chopra called Only You Can Heal Yourself.

 

I’d love to hear how you take care of yourself.  How well are you following Chopra’s 6 Secrets?
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

 

Practice Some Mindful Self-Compassion this Holiday Season!

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

― Jack Kornfield

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The holidays are upon us. Tis the season to be jolly and all that. But for many people, this is the season of stress and depression. People tend to push themselves beyond their limits. Overspending is rampant; people overindulge in food and drink; there is increased stress due to travel and obligatory family get togethers. And often, our sleep suffers and we have less time to recharge our batteries. And then to top it all off, most of us beat ourselves up because we haven’t done enough or haven’t done it right. “Are the presents just right?” “Did I make enough pies?” “Did I make a fool of myself at that party?”

This holiday season, I am committing to a whole new approach. In order to be fully present for my loved ones, I need to take care of me. My plan centers around Mindful Self-Compassion; with an added focus of paying attention to what my body needs.  I describe this plan in my latest article in Thrive Global.

 

 

Thrive Global, by the way, turned One Year Old this month!  Congratulations to the founder Arianna Huffington!  I have been a contributor since the inaugural edition.  If you missed my first article in Thrive Global in December 2016 on Forgiveness, you can read it here.

But back to practicing Mindful Self-Compassion.  If you want to learn about this wonderful topic, look no further than Dr. Kristin Neff. Kristin Neff Phd is one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion. She explains that with self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend. This quote by Neff sums it up pretty well:

“You don’t want to beat yourself up for beating yourself up in the vain hope that it will somehow make you stop beating yourself up. Just as hate can’t conquer hate — but only strengthens and reinforces it — self-judgment can’t stop self-judgment.”

This holiday season, by treating myself like I’d treat a loved one, I’m hoping to increase my emotional well-being and resilience. Here’s my plan:

  1. Take time for myself

During the holidays, we are so quick to give our time and energy that we can end up feeling completely depleted. This holiday season, I plan to take the time each day to check in with myself: “How am I feeling?” “Have I done something good for me today?” This will require setting boundaries with others as well as myself. I don’t have to do everything for everyone these holidays. I commit to taking time to just be; to go on walks and to read. I don’t have to bake the cookies and host the community carolling party. I can choose to stay home and read with a cup of tea instead of joining one more holiday party. Self-care and self-compassion bring me peace and joy, which in turn will allow me to bring peace and joy to those around me.

2. Slow down and meditate

Part of my plan to take care of myself will include making sure I have plenty of time for me, and just plenty of time period. The holiday season tends to be a time of rushing around, hurrying from one event to the next. This year I plan to focus on many mini moments of mindfulness as Andy Puddicombe refers to it in his program, Headspace. And I’ll make sure I make time in my busy schedule to meditate. I know that those 15–20 minutes in the morning make all the difference to the other 23 + hours in the day.

3. Gratitude

I know from experience that when I’m in a place of gratitude everything in my life just works and feels better. Neuroscience has proven that actively practicing gratitude protects your brain from stress and depression. Recent research shows that even just thinking about what I am grateful for increases dopamine and serotonin. But, I’m not just going to think about what I’m grateful for, I commit to writing down three positive things that I’m thankful for every morning in my journal. I have learned that this simple activity trains my brain to be more positive by looking for the good in life rather than the bad. And I plan to share my appreciation too, to articulate my gratitude to others. These simple statements of gratitude to others for who they are and what they are doing are like small gifts, often appreciated more than that box of chocolates.

4. Eat well and not overindulge

We all know it’s common to put on weight during the holiday season, and then to beat oneself up mercilessly for the next few months. I know when I eat healthier, I feel better. I don’t plan to deprive myself of holiday treats, but I will eat in moderation. And when I do put on those extra holiday pounds, I will be kind to myself in the new year, just like I would a good friend. Instead of berating myself and calling myself fat, I will suggest that perhaps a long walk would be a great idea.

5. Stay Active

And speaking of long walks, I know that exercise is essential to my well being. I will make time this holiday season to go on long walks and do plenty of yoga. I know that physical activity reduces stress, improves my mood and prevents depression. I know this from experience, but the research shows it as well; exercise triggers the same hormones (dopamine and serotonin) in my brain that are targeted by anti-depressant medication. So I know that exercise won’t just help me with those few extra pounds this holiday season, but it will greatly help my mood as well. But you know what, if I miss a couple of days of exercise, I won’t beat myself up about it either!

6. Sleep

Finally, this holiday season I commit to protecting my sleep. There are few things that mess up my health and well-being like poor sleep. I know that not sleeping well leads to stress, irritability and just feeling like crap. A lot of us lose sleep around the holidays, whether it’s from staying out late, overindulging in food, drink and sugar, or over-caffeinating. But I know that the best way for me to be cheerful this holiday season is to get enough sleep.

So this holiday season, I invite you to follow my plan and make a commitment to yourself. Take care of yourself over the holidays and practice some self-compassion. Let’s all remember Soren Kierkegaard’s wise words:

“Don’t forget to love yourself.”

If you want to learn more about how to practice Mindful Self-Compassion, you can find many videos by Kristin Neff on YouTube.

I’ll close this post with one of my favorite videos by her:  Overcoming Objections to Self-Compassion

 

I’d love to hear about how you plan to take care of yourself this holiday season.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.