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Exercise, Nutrition & Sleep

Hugh Van Cuylenburg from The Resilience Project talks about 3 daily research-backed activities that have been shown to help prevent mental health issues in children and adults, and improve symptoms where there are existing problems.  These 3 activities are:

  • Gratitude
  • Mindfulness
  • Empathy.  

The research is showing if you practise these 3 things everyday for 21 days it will improve your happiness.

Sounds simple!  Although these tools are the focus of his talks, he did say they will not work without exercise, good nutrition and sleep – so in this blog we’ll explore why that is.

Exercise

Moving your body a lot (whether it’s sport or walking the dog) will release feel-good chemicals (hormones) in your body called endorphins.  You want endorphins because they make you feel happy and relaxed.  Exercise also releases other chemicals important for mood and motivation, called serotonin and dopamine – and if that’s not enough, it releases growth factors which help your brain to grow and adapt (a process known as neuroplasticity). Conversely, sitting for hours on end, on computer games, or computer or watching TV makes most people feel tired and grumpy and is disruptive to our brain chemistry.

Nutrition

Having a few treats every now can make us feel happy, but when we have too many it can affect our mood. There is a connection between what you eat and how you feel. Research is showing that if you eat lots of fruit, vegetables and whole-grains it can boost your mood.  Eating loads of sugar and processed food (ie ‘junk food’) may cause your mood to decline.  Although it’s complex, this could be related to the link between our gut and the brain (called the gut-brain axis) – for example, over 90 percent of the mood enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in our gut and not our brain. If our gut isn’t happy, it sends messages up to the brain and in turn affects our mood.

Sleep

Sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise. Nothing good comes from not getting enough sleep. Sleep affects mood, learning and behaviour.  It also helps us get better if we’re sick. When we’re sick, sleep produces infection-fighting proteins called cytokines, which also make us feel sleepy. That’s why when we’re not feeling well, we also feel tired.  It’s our body telling us to rest. Sleep is also the time when our brains flush out toxins and repair and strengthen our brain cells. It’s like sleep is the time our brains take out the rubbish.

So, in summary – practising gratitude, mindfulness and empathy along with eating well, moving a lot and getting a good night’s sleep are the keys to a healthy, happy life.

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Working shifts and late nights

When you’re working a shift-schedule or working late nights, your physical activity, sleep and diet habits can really suffer. People who work shifts may find it hard to keep up a regular exercise and sleep schedule, putting shift workers at higher risk of weight gain, and all sorts of health disorders, from heart disease to cancer (National Sleep Foundation).

EXERCISE

No matter how busy your schedule may seem, even small bursts of physical activity will be beneficial to your health. Not only can it help improve your fitness and sleep, but also decrease your risk of disease and make you feel better.

Here are some tips to make it easier for you to stay active even with an irregular or shift work schedule.

  1. Try to take walks before or after work, or even during your breaks. This is a soothing activity which can help with not only your physical health but also your mental health.
  2. If you’ve been standing for long periods of time; get up and move, whether it’s a light stretch or some short spurts of movement, such as push-ups or some squats. Read our blog post on Movement Snacks for more ideas.
  3. We take the lift or escalator without thinking but if it’s just a few floors – really make an effort to take the stairs whenever you can.
  4. If you drive, park further away so you have to walk more. If you take Public Transport, get off a stop or two early.
  5. If you do have time to workout, try doing it before work as it’s likely you’ll be too tired afterwards. This will give you a sense of accomplishment before your day/night begins and give you some energy to get through your shift.
  6. Keep a pair of light weights, a stability ball or resistance bands at your desk and try to use them for at least 10 minutes during your breaks or throughout your shift.
  7. Find a gym that offers 24-hour access so that you can go whenever it suits you.
  8. Try short sharp bursts of exercise over long workouts which might be hard to squeeze in for those of you working longer shifts. Log-in to Ritualize to try our 7-minute workouts.

It’s important to remember that every little bit of movement counts!

SLEEP

The sleep-wake cycle appears to have evolved for humans to be awake during the day and to sleep for approximately eight hours at night. There is a small part of the brain called the ‘circadian clock’, which monitors the amount of light you see, so in the evening, when the light starts to wane, your clock notices and prompts a flood of a brain chemical called melatonin, which gives the body the signal to fall asleep. Overnight, melatonin levels remain high. They drop at daybreak and remain low during the day. A person working the night shift, which causes disruption to the circadian rhythm, is at greater risk of various disorders, accidents and misfortunes.

So if you’re a shift-worker or regularly working late, what can you do to help improve your sleep?

  • Try not to work a number of night shifts in a row. You may become increasingly more sleep-deprived over several nights on the job. You’re more likely to recover if you can limit night shifts and schedule days off in between.
  • Avoid frequently rotating shifts. If you can’t, it’s easier to adjust to a schedule that rotates from day shift to evening to night rather than the reverse order.
  • Keep your workplace brightly lighted to keep yourself alert. If you’re working the night shift, expose yourself to bright light when you wake up, such as that from special light boxes, lamps, and visors designed for people with circadian-related sleep problems, Being exposed to bright light when you start your ‘day’ can help train your body’s internal clock to adjust.
  • Limit your caffeine intake. Drinking a cup of coffee at the beginning of your shift will help promote alertness, but don’t consume caffeine later in the shift or you may have trouble falling asleep when you get home.
  • Avoid bright light on the way home from work, which will make it easier for you to fall asleep once you hit the pillow. Wear dark, wraparound sunglasses and a hat to shield yourself from sunlight. Don’t stop to run errands, tempting as that may be.
  • Use blackout blinds or heavy curtains to block sunlight when you sleep during the day. Even if your eyes are closed, the sunlight coming into the room tells your brain that it’s daytime, and that can really impact your ability to sleep and stay asleep for the time that you need.
  • Try Box Breathing to help unwind after shifts. It is a simple technique to help you manage stress, calm your nerves, reduce anxiety and can improve your sleep. Check out our tutorials and a series of guided breathing sessions.

DIET

When you work shifts, you may find it hard to know when and what to eat. Here are some tips on how to manage a healthy diet:

  • Eat your “main meal” before going to work, as eating large meals during the night can cause heartburn, gas, or constipation. Then have smaller meals and healthy snacks during your shift and before bed.
  • Have a light snack before bedtime. It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re too hungry or too full. If you’re still hungry after work, eat a small healthy snack before bedtime. Try a bowl of whole grain cereal with milk or a piece of whole grain toast with jam. If you’re too full at bedtime try cutting out a snack during your shift.
  • Pack your own healthy snacks. It can be difficult to find healthy snacks during the afternoon and night shifts. The cafeteria may be closed. Vending machines may only carry salty or high-fat snacks and high-calorie sugary drinks. Examples of good snacks are an apple, a banana or a handful of nuts with low in sugar yoghurt.
  • Avoid fatty, fried or spicy foods. Foods such as hamburgers, fried chicken and spicy chilli may lead to heartburn and indigestion. Eating too much processed and trans fat can also increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. For information on healthy fats, check out our blog post.
  • Avoid fast food, no matter how easy and accessible it is. Try to meal prep at the start of each week, if you’re finding it difficult to prepare healthy food every day.
  • Avoid sugary foods and drinks. You may feel a quick boost of energy after having a chocolate bar or sugary soft drink. This feeling doesn’t last long and you may experience low energy levels later on. Enjoy nutritious snacks and beverages instead to stay alert and keep your energy up.
  • Take your time eating. Don’t rush when you eat. You deserve your break, so enjoy every single bite of your meals and snack! If possible, eat with your co-workers for some company.
  • Stay well hydrated. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. It may help you to stay alert and not feel so tired during your shift. Keep a water bottle nearby and take sips even before you feel thirsty. Low-fat milk, tea or herbal tea are other nutritious beverages that you can drink. Watch the amount of 100% fruit juice you drink because the calories can add up quickly.
  • Avoid alcohol after work and when you get home. A drink may make you feel more relaxed, but alcohol can disturb your sleep.

 

REFERENCES:

https://sleepfoundation.org/shift-work/content/tips-healthy-eating-and-exercising-when-working-shifts

https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2017/jun/22/shift-work-how-to-stay-healthy-while-working-round-the-clock

https://www.military.com/military-fitness/health/working-the-night-shift-fitting-in-fitness-nutrition

https://www.livestrong.com/article/530503-the-best-time-to-workout-if-you-work-a-night-shift/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2784228/

https://sleepfoundation.org/shift-work/content/living-coping-shift-work-disorder

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1389945709000094

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5241621/

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/shiftwork

https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/night-shift-sleep#1

http://www.ohsrep.org.au/hazards/fatigue,-impairment-and-shift-work/shiftwork-health-effects

https://www.dietitians.ca/your-health/nutrition-a-z/healthy-eating/10-nutrition-tips-for-shift-workers.aspx

 

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Box breathing: The Military Secret

In 2012, the New York Times wrote an article, called “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, about how so many of us over-schedule ourselves in order to feel more important or to avoid being alone with our thoughts but our busyness can be self-inflicted. We often take on too much work and other obligations and can let our ambition or drive come before our health.  It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this; it’s something we’re collectively – albeit unknowingly – encouraging each other to do (1).

So, if being too busy – and not challenging ourselves to be more mindful of how we choose to spend our time – is ruining our health, taking time out of our day, even just 2 minutes, to relax, unplug and clear our minds can have enormous benefits.

Box Breathing, otherwise known as Four-Square Breathing or Controlled Breathing, is a great way to reduce stress and to give your mind a break for a few minutes. The Special Forces, public speakers, and surgeons use tactical breathing to help control their thoughts and emotions when faced with challenging situations that obscure their clarity. (2)

HOW DO YOU DO IT?

Box Breathing is a technique where you take slow, deep breaths while counting to four while you breathe in, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four.

  • Start by relaxing your whole body and be seated if possible.
  • Sit upright, and then slowly exhale, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs. Really focus on this and be conscious of what you’re doing.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four, very slowly in your head.
  • Feel the coolness of the air you’re breathing in and the way it fills your lungs, one section at a time until they are completely full.
  • Hold your breath for another slow count of four.
  • Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen. Be conscious of the feeling of the air leaving your lungs, how the coolness has become warmth.
  • Then hold your breath for another 4 counts and repeat the whole process again (3).

If you have trouble clearing your thoughts, trying humming in your mind or really focus on the counting.

 

WHEN AND WHERE CAN YOU DO IT?

It’s almost like meditating, and so it works best in a quiet, stress free environment. However if you cannot find a quiet place, it’s something you can easily do with your eyes closed in a quiet spot with your eyes closed, at work or at home or anywhere in between. Give it a go while you’re standing waiting for your kettle to boil, or on the train to work, or in the bathroom before a meeting, or after you park your car, before you head into your office for the day. Repeat your mantra and count to yourself and no one will even notice that you are performing a stress-reduction exercise.

WHY DOES IT WORK?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a medical research clinic in the United States, there is a sufficient amount of evidence to suggest that intentional deep breathing can actually calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system, a system which regulates involuntary body functions like temperature. It can lower blood pressure and provide an almost-immediate sense of calm, and improve your mood. But the benefits of deep breathing also extend beyond in-the-moment stress relief. It’s an exceptional treatment for conditions like generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. It can also help treat insomnia by allowing you to calm your nervous system at night before bed. Box breathing can even help with pain management (4).

References:

  1. https://www.wellandgood.com/good-advice/stop-glorifying-how-busy-you-are/
  2. https://thepreppingguide.com/box-breathing/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/box-breathing#tips
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/decrease-stress-by-using-your-breath/art-20267197?pg=2
  5. https://www.livestrong.com/article/225192-sudarshan-kriya-breathing-technique/
  6. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?_r=0

 

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Blue light casts a new light on sleep deficiency

Sleep is affected by many things. When you think of what affects your sleep, the usual suspects are things like caffeine, alcohol, stress, noise.  What has come to light (pun intended) is our increased use of artificial light which is affecting our sleep.  It may be time to question Thomas Edison when he reassured that electric light ‘is in no way harmful to health, nor does it affect the soundness of sleep’

Our body’s biological clockwork around circadian rhythms, which are affected by the amount of light and dark we are exposed to.  Our organs even function to these rhythms, which determine our sleep, feeding patterns, brain activity, hormone production and the effectiveness of cell regeneration. Sleep affects our lives in so many ways – mood, hunger, stress and energy which affects how much we move.

If we lived purely in natural light, our brain would signal the body to start releasing sleep hormones, like melatonin when it started to get dark outside. Our temperature would drop which would start the sleep process.  When it got light again, our temperature would rise and our body would start producing hormones like cortisol to wake us up (1). 

When our bodies are exposed to artificial light, such as LED’s and screen lights, we are confusing it and all these natural processes are disrupted. The body doesn’t know when it’s time to get ready for sleep and stays alert.

Studies have shown that melatonin is suppressed by approximately 85 percent when it’s exposed to room light during the night compared with dim light (2).

With more blue light in our lives emitted by room lights and screens, our quality and duration of our sleep is negatively affected (3). Although we are staying up later on computers, watching TV or on our mobiles, it’s also the blue light we are exposed to during the day that is impacting our circadian rhythm and therefore our sleep (4). Sleep deprivation has a powerful impact on our overall wellness and there is a lot of evidence to support it (5). 

We live in the modern world, so it’s not realistic to start living purely in natural light.  There are a few things you can do to limit your exposure and improve your quality of sleep.

TIPS ON LIMITING EXPOSURE TO BLUE LIGHT

  1. Turn off all your devices at least one hour before you go to bed. Try not to keep your mobile phone next to your bed to avoid the temptation to check it. Read a book, take a bath or have a no-screen wind-down routine.
  2. Turn lights off gradually at night, or use a dimmer switch.
  3. Use orange or red light bulbs in lamps (found in most hardware stores) instead of bright room lights.
  4. Consider red or orange tinted glasses while looking at screens.
  5. Use Nightshift if you have an iPhone and MacBook. This is a setting which makes the colours on your screen warm. Most smartphones have the night option – look for it under settings. Set a time for it to automatically switch on and off so you don’t have to always remember.
  6. Turn daytime lights off if possible and spend as much time as you can in natural light. If you can’t, there are lights that mimic natural light that can help.

Sweet dreams!

References:

(1) https://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/see.php
(2) https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/96/3/E463/2597236
(3) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170822103434.htm
(4) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203191841.htm
(5) https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article-abstract/65/suppl_3/S244/1911960

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Sleep, Focus and Cognitive Performance

Do you wake up feeling exhausted?  Or have trouble concentrating at work? Or maybe your tolerance levels are lower than usual. It might be you are not getting enough sleep.

Cognitive performance is our ability to utilise the knowledge acquired by the mental processes in our brains. A well-functioning brain controls a range of voluntary and involuntary actions, such as our sleep-wake cycle, attention, perception, mood, emotions, hunger and memory.

When you lose sleep, it interferes with the functioning of certain brain areas and people who are exposed to Sleep Deprivation usually experience a decline in cognitive performance, changes in mood, decreased reaction times, loss in free recall and in facial recognition.

While losing sleep here and there won’t have much affected, ongoing loss of sleep can have a big impact over time and can impair our ability to do well in school, at work, and in our daily life. Sleep Deprivation can make it significantly harder to focus, and pay attention and be productive. This affects school performance and job productivity.

A lack of sleep can also slow your reaction time, which makes for dangerous driving and other safety-related risks at work and at home. This can put not only your life in danger but others as well.

We also need a good sleep to achieve our best innovative thinking and problem-solving abilities. As you sleep, memories are reactivated, connections between brain cells are strengthened, and the information is transferred from short to long-term. Without enough quality sleep, we can easily forget new information, old information and even memories. Getting a good night’s sleep can be crucial for school and university students throughout their semesters.

If you’re having trouble with any of the cognitive abilities mentioned above, you maybe not getting enough sleep.  Work at increasing the hours of sleep you get a night. Everyone is different as to how many hours you should get. We have lots of tips on how to improve your quality of sleep in our Ritualize program, with an entire Quest dedicated to it and a Learn section within the app accessible at all times. Check it out and set yourself the challenge of increasing the hours you get a night, and see if you notice any improvements in your work, school and daily life. Good luck!

 

References:

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/387c/4ba8b0a5bd5533a52d63a2324f02d0183797.pdf

https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-lack-sleep-impacts-cognitive-performance-and-focus

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackie-nagel/how-to-stay-sharp-when-youre-sleep-deprived_b_7344964.html

https://hbr.org/2006/10/sleep-deficit-the-performance-killer

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Binge-watching before bedtime…

Are you guilty of it?

Since the introduction of streaming companies, such as Netflix and Stan, the era of scheduled programming has seemingly come to an end. Everyone can watch the content they like when they like. This unprecedented access has introduced a new viewing style: Binge Watching. Binge watching is defined as

“watching multiple consecutive episodes of the same television show in one sitting on a screen, be it a television, laptop, computer or tablet.”

Prior research has indicated that media bingeing was associated with more anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Binge viewers also reported higher levels of loneliness and depression. In more recent studies, conducted by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, it was reported that binge-watchers had more fatigue, insomnia symptoms, poorer sleep quality, and feeling more alert before going to sleep. Those who binge-watch before bed had 98% more chance of having poor-quality sleep than those who didn’t.

Looking at bright screens, especially at night, can wreak havoc on your biology, because it is one of the cues that helps maintain our circadian rhythm or body clock. When it gets dark, our bodies start to prepare for sleep, but bright lights can trick our brains into thinking it’s still daytime and it reduces our ability to secrete melatonin, which makes it not only harder to fall asleep, but also reduces the amount of sleep you get once you do fall asleep.

While we don’t expect you to stop watching shows, there is a way to help combat the binge-watching addiction. Dr Robert Oexman, a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says the best way to do it is on the weekend, and earlier in the day instead of the late evenings. Ideally, binge-watching should occur before 6 pm, and if that’s not possible, you should at least stop watching shows an hour before you start getting ready for bed.

For more tips and information on how to help improve your quality of sleep, check out our Ritualize app!

 

References:

https://www.google.com.au/amp/variety.com/2017/digital/news/binge-watching-health-risks-netlfix-1202447516/amp/

http://jcsm.aasm.org/viewabstract.aspx?pid=31062

https://www.businessinsider.com.au/tv-binge-watching-can-damage-your-health-2017-9

 

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Why Sleep is so Important

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.

The way you feel while you’re awake depends in part on what happens while you’re sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support a healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.

The damage from sleep deficiency can occur right away, or it can harm you gradually over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.

The amount of sleep you need each day will change over the course of your life. Although sleep needs vary from person to person, the chart below, from sleepfoundation.org shows general recommendations for different age groups. The recommendations are the result of multiple rounds of consensus voting after a comprehensive review of published scientific studies on sleep and health.

AgeRecommended Amount of Sleep
Infants & Newborns16–18 hours a day
Preschool-aged children11–14 hours a day
School-aged children9 – 11 hours a day
Teens8–10 hours a day
Adults (including the elderly)7–8 hours a day

To improve your sleep habits, it may help to:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. For children, have a set bedtime and a bedtime routine. Don’t use the child’s bedroom for timeouts or punishment.
  • Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s sleep-wake rhythm.
  • Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid strenuous exercise and bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen. The light may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake.
  • Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. (Having a light snack is okay.) Also, avoid alcohol before bed.
  • Avoid nicotine and caffeine (including caffeinated drinks, coffee, tea, and chocolate). Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, and both substances can interfere with sleep. The effects of caffeine can last as long as 8 hours. So, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night.
  • Spend time outside every day (when possible) and be physically active.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark (a dim night light is fine if needed).
  • Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed such as meditation.

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