Articles

Trouble Sleeping? Try This.

Whether it’s chronic insomnia or tossing and turning before bed once in a while, sleep deprivation can become a big domino that negatively impacts other aspects of our lives. Lack of sleep can lead to emotional disease, loss of productivity and energy, and other health issues.

When we can’t fall asleep, many of us turn to a distraction like a phone or a laptop screen. However, this blue light is often the worst thing we can do to signal our bodies to sleep. In fact, light will stop the natural production of melatonin, a natural hormone your body secretes that helps to maintain your wake-sleep cycle and can increase cortisol levels.

Read.

Swap the screen for a Kindle. Reading gets your mind of “trying” to sleep and puts you in a restful state. Plus, if you can’t sleep anyway, you might as well be enjoying your time and possibly learning something in the process.

Listen to music or a podcast.

Another way to help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system is to listen to music. According to the Sleep Foundation, "Music has the power to slow your heart rate and breathing, lower your blood pressure, and it may even trigger your muscles to relax. These biological changes mirror some of the same changes that your body undergoes when you're falling asleep,” per Livestrong.

If you’re not in the mood for music, you can find a podcast on almost every topic that can help reign in your mind and focus. Podcasts can be like bedtime stories for adults.

Meditate.

Chances are, you’re awake because of a busy mind. Integrating a mindfulness practice into your day will help alleviate stress and calm the mind when you are ready for bed. That said, if you are still feeling anxious at night, accept what is happening and come back to those tools.

Try a body scan, from the tips of your toes to the crown of your head, and imagine releasing tension in each little part of the body. If your own meditation doesn’t work for you, consider downloading an app like Calm or Insight Timer, which have many meditations specifically for bedtime.

Breathe.

Focus on the constant inhale and exhale. Notice how the air moves in through your nose, and out through your mouth, and how it feels in the body.

Then, you can practice lengthening the breath.

According to Livestrong, deep breathing “stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for activities that occur when our body is at rest.”

Michelle Drerup, PsyD, director of behavioral sleep medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center explains that the parasympathetic nervous system functions oppositely to the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates activities associated with the fight-or-flight response. She recommends trying the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise.

How to Perform the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise:

  • Sit up straight and breathe in silently through your nose to the count of four.
    Hold your breath to the count of seven.
    Exhale through your mouth to the count of eight, making an audible "woosh" sound.
    Repeat the cycle for four breaths, gradually working your way up to eight full cycles.

If your insomnia persists, there could be an underlying issue, and therefore you may seek out a medical professional.


A Better Way to Manage Loneliness

In an age where we’re more digitally connected than ever, our social media accounts look like vision boards rather than our real lives. Meanwhile, our levels of real-life social isolation are on the rise.

This is due to a variety of factors. Some look to smaller household sizes, with 10% of Americans now living alone. Two in five Americans report that they sometimes or always feel their social relationships are not meaningful, and one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated. This feeling of loneliness can lead to chronic illness and inflammation on a cellular level. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

According to the 2016 VICELAND UK Census, loneliness is the number one fear of young people today—ranking ahead of losing a home or a job. The study found that 42% of Millennial women are more afraid of loneliness than a cancer diagnosis, by far the highest share of any generation.

Typically, when we feel lonely, we want to get rid of the feeling as quickly as possible and see it as a sign to do more in the external world. Yet perhaps this is exactly the opposite of what loneliness is asking of us.

Imagine your sense of connection and belonging as a building structure. It’s often standing on key pillars of our lives, like our romantic partners, friends, family relationships, creative projects, volunteer work, career (work friends), roommates, etc.

When one of these pillars falls, such as when we go through a breakup or live alone for the first time, or move to a new city and don’t have any friends yet, we see how fragile that building is.

We feel empty, like something is missing, a pillar of the foundation -- so we go about frantically trying to build it back up, or find a quick replacement because we can’t bear to feel lonely.

Yet if we just paused to focus on the foundation, we could form a long term strategy to dealing with loneliness instead of reaching for a band-aid. A sense of connection laid on solid, unbreakable, foundation, a deep relationship with yourself, a growing, compassionate, and patient relationship with yourself, is the most sustainable way to keep your structure standing.

In this view, when one of the structures falls, a better way to manage would be focusing on your relationship with you. Of course, seeking out connection and community in all those other ways, like supportive friendships and volunteering is important, but we overlook the most powerful tool of all.

Loneliness shows up to remind us to come back into alignment, starting with our inner self.

It asks us to sit with ourselves and work on building a thriving relationship from the inside out. We may decide to try new things and ask ourselves questions. To process trauma, celebrate wins, push ourselves to do the things we’ve put off forever, and start sharing authentically. Getting to know this new version of ourselves, refining our values and sticking up for them.

When the inner relationship is strong, when one or a few pillars fall, the entire structure does not tumble.

I love this Brene Brown quote from her book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging.

“True belonging is not passive. It's not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It's not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it's safer. It's a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.”

Maybe loneliness scares us because it forces us to feel deeply. To integrate our experiences, take off our masks and gaze inward at our truth. To simply breathe.

Loneliness isn’t something to push away, it’s something to befriend, to spend a night with having quality time, getting clear about your values, your intentions and the impact you want your life to have on those around you. It’s an emotion to cozy up with -- cup of tea in hand, book in the other, after a day of plenty of water, clean food and a stroll in the park with your friend.

See, it’s not so bad after all. Here’s to one less stranger! Loneliness doesn’t ask us for much.


New Study Finds High Intensity Exercise Is Best for Memory

The idea that the mind and the body are more connected than we previously believed is now being accepted by more and more people. We all know that staying active and treating our bodies right can help alleviate stress, promote wellbeing, increase our energy levels and promote longevity on many levels. 

According to a new study, when it comes to the effect of aerobic exercise and brain health, the level of intensity of the workout really matters. 

A report published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, examined the effect of aerobic exercise intensity on memory and general cognitive abilities. A group of healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 88 were analyzed during a 12-week period, in which they participated in three sessions per week. The participants were split evenly into three groups: one HIIT workout group, one moderate-intensity continuous training group, and one group that only stretched. 

“The researchers tested the amount of each group's "newborn" neurons—this type of neuron has been previously shown to be more active than mature neurons and can better form new connections in the brain and create new memories,” per MindBodyGreen. 

The researchers found that the participants in the HIIT group saw their memory performance increase by 30% after the three-month period, compared to no change for the moderate exercise group. 

“These scientists found that the HIIT group specifically boosted their high-interference memory, which typically helps people distinguish between similar information (think differentiating cars from the same make or model),” per MBG. 

Key takeaways from the study include:

  • High-intensity interval training results in the greatest memory performance in inactive older adults compared to moderate continuous training or stretching 
  •  Improvement in fitness correlates with improvement in memory performance

Overall, the new research supports the notion that exercise can help promote healthy aging and reduce the negative side effects of degenerative brain diseases like dementia. 

"There is an urgent need for interventions that reduce dementia risk in healthy older adults. Only recently have we begun to appreciate the role that lifestyle plays, and the greatest modifying risk factor of all is physical activity," wrote Jennifer Heisz, Ph.D., lead author of the study. 


Step Up Your Game by Perfecting Your Morning Routine

How we start a new day can significantly alter our next 24 hours. Although not all morning routines will look the same, it’s important to allocate some time for yourself before you jump into the hustle and bustle of life. Many people find that when they get into a habit of doing morning rituals, like journaling, meditating, and exercising, it impacts their productivity, creativity, and levels of wellbeing for the entire day. 

Get the big things done first. 

While our running to-do list may tempt us to check off the small errands first, it’s recommended to knock out the biggest and most important things first. For many, that’s a healthy workout routine, like a run, or working on a passion project that it always put off later in the day.

Prioritize based on your values. 

Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs gave a powerful commencement address to Stanford University in 2005. Everyday, the entrepreneur and billionaire would remind himself of the life he wanted to live, helping him realign his actions with his purpose. 

 “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Get outside of the box. 

If the traditional morning routine of writing, journaling and exercise doesn’t feel enticing to you, try shaking it up and making it your own. 

Tony Robbins, the world’s most famous life coach, travels the world, hosts events, monitors the dozens of companies he’s invested and involved in, and consults some of the world’s most powerful leaders. Throughout it all, he stays true to his morning routine. That said, he's not just drinking your average cup of Joe. 

According to Business Insider, Robbins wakes up between 7:00 and 9:00, running off three to five hours of sleep. He begins the day with a “adrenal support cocktail,” which includes greens powder, vitamin C, antioxidants, and capsules of other vitamins and nutrients. 

After breakfast, Robbins does a 10-minute meditation he calls “priming,” which includes an intense breath-focused practice, giving gratitude, and visualization. He then performs a high-exertion 15 minute workout and jumps right into his sauna, followed by a cold plunge and ending with a stretch on his back inversion machine. 

Remember, no size fits all. 

If you are a night owl, no matter what anyone says, the 5AM club may not be the best option for you. 

While people may boast about their morning routines, it’s crucial to remember that the best morning routine is one that makes you feel fulfilled, and that you can stick to.


Research Finds a Healthy Gut Can Build Muscle

Scientists are just starting to uncover the countless ways in which the gut’s microbiome is crucial to individual health and wellbeing. More and more people are awakening to the fact that maintaining a “healthy gut,” full of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microscopic living things, is essential to the body’s functioning. 

The growing amount of research in recent years on the human microbiome demonstrates that gut microbes, which have been found to interact with nearly all human cells, play a key role in metabolism, immunity, and other key bodily functions. Changes in gut microbes have been linked to obesity, liver disease, diabetes, cancer and neurological conditions that damage brain tissue, per Medical News Today

Now, new research supports the idea that gut microbes have a role in regulating muscle mass and function. Scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore led a study published in Science Translational Medicine, which compared strength and movement in mice as they performed activities in a lab. One group of mice had no microbes, or were “germ-free,” and the other group had normal, “healthy” gut microbes. 

“Researchers found that the mice without the gut microbes had weaker skeletal muscles and produced less energy than the mice with gut microbes,” per Medical News Today. “In addition, the team found that transplanting gut microbes from normal mice into germ-free mice increased muscle mass and strength in the latter. This intervention also led to partial restoration of muscle growth and function in the previously germ-free mice.”

"These results," said senior study author Sven Pettersson, a professor in the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at NTU, "further strengthen the growing evidence of gut microbes acting as crucial gatekeepers to human health, and provide new insight into muscle mass maintenance with respect to aging."

Another study compared the gut microbiome in 18 adults with high-physical functioning and favorable body composition, and 11 with low physical functioning and less favorable body composition. The findings showed that the bacterial profiles of the two groups were significantly different. Researchers then inoculated mice with the bacteria from both groups of humans. They found that the mice with bacteria from the adults with “favorable body composition” had more grip strength than when compared to LF-colonized mice. 

These studies support the notion that bacteria plays a role in maintaining muscle strength, especially as we age. 

You might be asking yourself, how do I maintain a healthy gut microbe? To support the general health of the gut microbiome, you should consume foods high in prebiotic fiber, and consider taking a probiotic supplement. Other steps to improve gut health include getting good sleep, drinking water, eating slowly, engaging stress-reducing activities, and shifting your diet towards plant-based.

Read more on Healthline about signs of an unhealthy gut and ways to improve your gut health.


Yin Yoga for Deep Relaxation and Mental Clarity

Yin is a style of yoga in which students hold postures for long periods of time. It contrasts with the more fast-faced, dynamic Yang practice typically known as Vinyasa yoga, which has been popularized in the Western world. 

The deeply meditative and restful practice of yin yoga is vital for creating balance in our lives. As we spend more time sitting at desks, staring at screens and driving cars, it is important to stretch and move our bodies. That said, adding a high-intensity workout or cardio vinyasa class to your routine may only work to spike your cortisol levels. A yin practice is a great way to turn on your parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for slowing your heart rate and aiding in key processes like digestion and hormone regulation. 

A 2018 study found that incorporation of yin yoga for five weeks reduced both the physiological and psychological risk factors known to be associated with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. “Yin yoga could be an easy and low-cost method of limiting the negative health effects associated with high stress,” read the report. 

A key component of yin is targeting the deep connective tissue between the muscles and the fascia throughout the body. By doing so, you can increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility. 

Yin is accessible to everyone, almost everywhere. While props and blankets are nice to have, there is no equipment necessary for a yin practice. There are countless videos and resources online, both free and premium, that will guide you into different postures. 

As self-care moves more into the mainstream, we are starting to understand why it is so important to cultivate a positive relationship with ourselves. Yin yoga gives us the space and time to connect with our breath and send gratitude to our bodies. Sitting in poses for up to ten minutes at a time, we feel what it’s like to just pause for a moment without the distractions of social media, calendar deadlines, and to-do lists. 

Like other forms of meditation, it supports a practice of acceptance, one of the most helpful tools for a happy, healthy, low-stress life. Instead of running away from challenging poses or situations, yin reminds us that sitting with discomfort will help you grow. Throughout class, the mind will want you to leave the pose. Students are encouraged to listen to that voice, let it go, and observe our own thoughts and reactions from a place of non-judgment and calmness. 

For anyone feeling disconnected with their bodies, yin is a perfect practice for reconnecting. Yin emphasizes listening to the body, playing close attention to the sensations in each pose and how they change throughout the class. This gives us the opportunity to be present and authentic. 

 When strong sensations come up, invoking memories, anxieties and tension that we store deep in our tissues, yin gives us the opportunity to let it go. While these memories and emotions can be tough to deal with at the moment, there is a long-lasting benefit. 

For people who want to start meditating, but can’t seem to get themselves to sit totally still for a length of time, yin yoga may be a great introduction. In the process, you may find more ease in your body, benefiting your other workouts. Best yet, you will likely find that you are less reactive to stress, more joyful, and find it easier to connect with your heart and practice compassion for yourself and others.


Why Positive Self-Talk Improves Athletic Performance

At any given moment, chances are we are experiencing some form of mental dialogue. Most of us wish we could shut off the voices in our head, which is why more and more people are beginning to embrace mindfulness practices intended to quiet the mental chatter, such as yoga and meditation. 

That said, not all self-talk is bad. In fact, cultivating a better relationship with that voice inside our heads can improve our mental health, sense of emotional and spiritual wellbeing, and physical performance. This is why positive self-talk has become a pillar of sports psychology, although it remains one of the hardest skills to master.

For athletes, negative internal messages and thoughts can cause debilitating pre-race jitters and performance anxiety. The first step in cultivating positive self-talk is to flip the script with positive messages. For example, if you are running a long-distance race, instead of telling yourself “I’m tired,” you may replace the phrase with “you’ve prepared for this and are strong enough to finish this race.” 

These seemingly inconsequential thoughts you whisper to yourself become self-fulfilling prophecies. It turns out that your brain has the power to alter your physical limitations. 

In a 2013 study, four self-chosen motivational phrases led 24 volunteers to last an average of 18% longer in a cycling test to exhaustion. The self-talk group also felt that the exercise was easier -- based on the fact that the rating of perceived exertion on a 10-point scale increased at a slower pace than the control group. 

A newer study shows that motivational self-talk, particularly when it is in the second person, can improve athletic performance, as outlined by Runner’s World

Researchers at Bangor University measured the time it took 16 cyclists to complete 10-kilometers, as well as their power output and rating of perceived exertion. During the first trial, they talked to themselves in the first person (“I”), and in the second race, they talked to themselves in the second person (“you”). 

When addressing themselves in the second person, the cyclists completed the 10K time trial an average of 2.2% faster (17:48 versus 17:24). Their perceived level of exertion was the same in both trials. 

To explain why the cyclists performed better with the second person mental dialogue, James Hardy, Ph.D., lead researcher, told Runner’s World that the advantage could be attributed to “self-distancing.” This distancing perspective helps one “stand back and observe what is going on, akin to being in the balcony looking down on the dance floor rather than on the dance floor itself. This promotes clearer thinking, better choices, and enhanced performance.” By taking a step back and assuming the perspective of a supporting onlooker, athletes gain a better self of willpower and self-control. 

The researchers added that individuals with bigger egos, or those who score high for narcissism, user more first-person pronouns, and may not benefit from the self-distancing perspective. 

Mitchell Greene, Ph.D., a sport psychologist in Haverford, Pennsylvania, recommends that athletes prepare a list of second person statements, and have a game plan for when to use them. 

“The more prepared you are for the physical and psychological dips you will experience, the more quickly you can go to your self-statements, the less possibility that you will let physical fatigue, the performance of other runners, self-doubt, and negative thoughts slow you down,” he added.


The Mindfulness App

Mindfulness based programs have been found to be effective for reducing stress, anxiety and depression. With a wide variety of options to suit all levels and types of meditators, The Mindfulness App is for anyone looking to improve mental health and overall wellbeing by being more present in your daily life. Included are a five-day guided introduction to Mindfulness, guided and silent timed sessions from three to 30 minutes, reminders and statistics to stay focused on your practice and a library filled with premium meditations and courses. For more information, click here.


Headspace

Headspace is an app that makes meditation accessible and simple, especially for people just learning the art of meditation. Learn online, when you want, wherever you are, in as few as 10 minutes a day. It’s like as a gym membership for your mind.

“We can’t change every little thing that happens to us but we can change the way we experience it,” so says Headspace founder Andy Puddicombe. Using the scientifically-proven technique of meditation, you can develop a healthier mind by familiarizing yourself with the present moment and ridding yourself of much of the distractedness that leads to unhappiness, according to Headspace.

Click here to learn more about the free app and subscription options for accessing Headspace.