Six Tips for Better Sleep

Hey Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well!

In my experience, one unhealthy habit that people like to boast about is their lack of sleep, or their ability to get by with very little sleep.

Perhaps this is most common amongst university students who like to “pull all-nighters” in order to study for exams or complete projects and assignments. And its not just students that are getting less sleep.

A report by Gallup showed that Americans are sleeping one hour less per night than they did in the 1950’s.

The average adult human needs between seven to nine hours of sleep each night to survive and thrive. In her book The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time Ariana Huffington argues that sleep is not a luxury rather it is a necessity.

She cites scientific evidence of how sleep is a time for intense neurological activity in which the brain renews and repairs itself.

A lack of sleep is linked with severe health problems such as diabetes, heart attack, stroke, cancer, obesity, and Alzheimers disease.

According to sleep expert Daniel Gartenberg, humans need sleep to save energy, to help their cells recover, and to help them process and understand their envirnment. Since sleep is so vital to our overall health and well-being, here are a few tips to help you get a better night of sleep.

Ban Screens Before Bedtime:

The very first tip is the one that I struggle with the most and that is to stop using my phone or laptop before bed. It turns out that I am not alone because a 2015 survey showed that 71 percent of Americans sleep with or next to their smartphones. The problem with this habit is that our electronic devices (such as phones and laptops) emitt blue light which can keep us awake at night.

As you know, melatonin is a brain hormone that helps us fall asleep but blue light suppresses our melatonin levels. The effects of blue light do not immediately go away once you stop using your device. It is best to stop using your electronic devices up to an hour or so before bedtime.

If you’re like me and you’re often tempted to check your phone before bedtime, my suggestion would be to completely remove your phone (and other electronic devices) from your bedroom before you go to sleep.

Sleep Consistency:

If possible, try to wake up and go to sleep during the same time each and every day including weekends. This way, your body establishes a routine and its easier to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. It might be tempting to skim on sleep during the week and then sleep in during the weekends. While the extra few hours of sleep during the weekend may feel good, research has shown that you cannot make up sleep debt because its hard to make up for the REM (Rapid Eye Movement)sleep that you have missed. Also, REM sleep is a vital stage of sleep due to its restorative properties.

Take A Nap:

The reality is that in this day and age it is difficult to get an adequate amount of sleep each and every night. Taking a quick 30 minute nap during the day can help you feel rejuevenated. Even if you do get enough sleep at night, a nap can help you reenergize your brain. Its best to take your nap anytime before 3 pm so that you don’t confuse your circadian rythm and you don’t disrupt your nightime sleep.

Bonus tip: If you are someone who drinks coffee, consider drinking a cup before your nap and the caffeine will work as a natural alarm clock because it will kick-in, in 30 minutes and wake you up from your nap.

Temperature:

The room temperature can definitely impact the quantity and quality of our sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 65 degrees as the ideal room temperature for sleep. They also argue that anything above 75 degrees our below 54 degrees can disrupt our sleep. Of course, this is just a general estimate and the climate that we are from also influences our temperature preferences.

Food:

Personally, I often feel sleepy after I eat pasta and I know that a lot of people feel sleepy after eating Turkey.

However, when it comes to food and sleep its more about what kind of foods you should avoid rather than what foods to eat. Although different foods may work for different people, they ‘re aren’t many foods that experts believe can really help us fall asleep.

However, there are foods that should be avoided before bedtime:

Foods High in Sugar: If you consume a lot of sugar before bed, your blood sugar levels will become very high and your body has to release hormones to decrease your blood sugar and this process may temporarily disturb your sleep.

Caffeine: We all have a different caffeine sensitivity but a 2013 study showed that people who drank coffee 6 hours before bed lost about an hour of sleep at night. So, its best to stop drinking caffeine way before bedtime.

Late Dinners: Since it can take between two to three hours for our body to digest a meal, it is best to avoid eating a large meal right before bed. This is especially true for those who suffer from acid reflux disease.

Spicy Foods: For some people, spicy foods can cause bloating and heartburn.

High Fat Foods: Its best to avoid high fat foods as much as possible because research has linked high fat foods with excessive sleepiness during the daytime.

Alcohol: At first, alcohol can help you fall asleep faster but it can disrupt the quality of your sleep.

Exercise:

We all know how beneficial exercise is for our overall health and well-being. Now, research has shown that regular exercise can improve the quantity and quality of our sleep. One study from Oregon State University found that 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week can act as a great non-pharmaceutical way of improving our sleep. The only caveat is that it takes time to reap the sleep benefits of exercise. A study from Northwestern University showed that exercise added 45 minutes of extra sleep but it took four months to see results.

Overall, sleep is something that most of us love and all of us need. I really hope that you find some of these tips helpful in getting better sleep!

With Love,

Yasmin

Top 6 Signs of Abnormal Behavior

Hey Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well!

anxiety-1337383_640I think that due to a wider acceptance of psychology as an important field of study and of course, thanks to the internet, more and more people are becoming increasingly aware of some of the basic signs and/or symptoms of the major psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) etc.

While I think that this increasing awareness is great, one possible downside is that sometimes people use their limited knowledge to diagnose themselves or others as having certain mental disorders.

We all have certain quirky or peculiar habits and behaviors and we all go through different emotions however, this does not automatically mean that we have some sort of mental disorder.

Here are the 6 most common criterion that psychologists often use to determine if certain behaviors are abnormal and possibly a sign of an underlying mental disorder.

Unusualness:

One sign of possibly abnormal behavior is behavior that is unusual. One example would be going through extreme anxiety inside of a crowded elevator. One important thing to point out is that unusual should not be mistaken for uncommon. For example, there are many people who are very talented in one particular way and may be able to do things that the rest of us cannot do, however, this definitely does not mean that their behavior is abnormal.

Social Deviance:

As many of us know, every culture and society has its own set of norms and standards of appropriate and acceptable behaviors in any given situation. For example, in the U.S. and other Western societies giving eye contact to the person you’re talking to is an absolute necessity. However, there are some other cultures in which giving direct eye contact may be considered inappropriate or in extreme cases can be seen as a sign of disrespect.

Misinterpreting Reality:

An example of this would be hallucinating, where we see and hear things that are not present. Another example would be having the delusion that someone is out to get you. It is important to consider cultural norms. Hearing and seeing things that are not present is certainly considered abnormal in our culture, however, in certain other cultures, such as the Native American culture this may be seen as a perfectly normal or even as a spiritual experience.

Significant Personal Distress:

This is when an individual is always feeling  one or more  negative emotions such as fear and anxiety. Of course, we all go through our fair share of ups and downs and its totally normal to go through negative emotions. Having such emotions can be considered abnormal when these negative emotions are persistent for a very long period of time.

Maladaptive or Self-Defeating Behaviors

These are the types of behaviors that prevent an individual from properly fulfilling his or her roles and responsibilities. An example would be a person who consistently drinks too much alcohol and as a result is no longer able to function properly at work and/or in their interpersonal relationships. Also, any type of behavior that is a self-defeating behavior is considered abnormal. For example, there are people that have Agoraphobia which is basically a fear of going outside the house.

Dangerousness:  

I think this one is pretty obvious. Any type of behavior that is a danger to ourselves or others is abnormal. Of course, the social context is important. In times of war, soldiers or others who risk their lives for the greater good are rightfully praised. Unfortunately, certain actions that could potentially harm innocent civilians are also considered normal due to the wartime context. A slightly unrelated but important point to be made is that contrary to popular opinion the overwhelming majority of people with a mental disorder are not a danger to society.

I would just really like to emphasize that the six criteria mentioned above are just some of the many criterion  that mental health professionals use to judge whether a behavior is abnormal.

Meeting one or more of these criterion certainly does not mean that there is anything wrong with you. Only an experienced mental health professional can make a true and accurate judgment. This post is only for informational purposes.

With Love,

Yasmin

The #1 Myth about Stress

Hey Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well!stress

Stress needs know no introduction. We have all been through some sort of a major stressful episode in our lives and many of us face some form of stress on a daily basis. We have also heard of how dangerous stress can be for both our physical and mental health and well-being.

However, Stanford University lecturer and health psychologist Kelly McGonigal Ph.D. argues that it is not the actual stress that is dangerous for us and can make us sick rather, it is how we think about and perceive stress that can make it harmful for us.

She cites a study conducted in 2012. This study tracked 30,000 Americans for a total of eight years. Towards the end of each year the participants were asked two questions. First they were asked: “How much stress have you experienced in the past year? Then they were asked: “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?”.  Each year researchers used public death records to find out how many of these people died that year.

As we might expect the people who reported that they experienced a lot of stress in the last year had a 43 percent increased risk of death.

However, this increased risk of death was only true for the people who also believed that stress was harmful for their health.

The people who experienced a lot of stress but did not view this stress as being harmful were not more likely to die. These people actually had the lowest rate of death compared to everyone else in the study (even compared to those who had only a little bit of stress but viewed stress as being harmful).

The researchers of this study generalized the results of this study to the overall American population and they estimated that each year nearly 20,000 people die not from the actual stress but the belief that stress is harmful for them.

The major takeaway from this research is that changing how we think about stress can make us healthier and actually improve our stress response.

When we are going through a stressful episode we experience certain physiological changes such as a faster heart rate, faster breathing and sweating. Normally, we interpret these physical changes as a sign of weakness and thus we may start getting anxiety.

Now that we are equipped with this new knowledge, the next time we are experiencing a stressful episode and we are experiencing our heart pounding or any other signs of stress we should practice thinking of these signs as helping energize our body and helping us to face the challenge that we are about to face.

In fact, a study done by Harvard University demonstrates that thinking differently about our stress response really does help us deal with the stress in a healthier manner. In this study participants were taught to view their stress response as being helpful and not dangerous. Then when the experiment started they were all placed in a stressful environment (they had to perform various challenging tasks such as arithmetic in front a number of “judges”). The results of the experiment showed that those who viewed their stress response as being helpful were less anxious, less stressed out, and more confident.

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of this Harvard study was that those who viewed stress in a positive manner had their physical stress response actually change. Under normal stressful conditions when our hearts are pounding, our blood vessels really tighten up and constrict themselves and over the course of a lifetime this type of stress reaction can lead to heart disease. Those with a positive attitude about stress still had a pounding heart however, their blood vessels were much more relaxed and this is a much healthier state to be in.

Without a doubt, long-term stress or a lifetime of stress, can cause health complications however, this research gives us hope that we can prevent some of the detrimental effects of stress by simply changing the way we think about stress.

With Love,

Yasmin