Working while you sleep – getting your ducks in a row!

The body and mind are preparing for tomorrow

We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. For many animals, sleep represents a time of vulnerability. Some species even developed special defenses against danger from predators while they slept. Dolphins and many species of ducks and birds show “split brain” activity, where one half of the brain sleeps while the other half remains alert for dangers or performs basic movements like swimming or flipper movement to remain afloat.

If sleep is such a dangerous time, then why do we do it?

Research into the purpose of sleep looked first at what happens when sleep is disturbed. Studies have shown correlations between certain sleep disturbances and future health problems. Sleep and dreaming appear to play a role in memory consolidation and learning. Problem-solving may even occur during sleep. Have you ever awakened and found you “magically” have the solution to a problem?

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How much sleep do you need?

the quantity – the quality – and the timing all count!

Sleep used to be viewed as a passive, dormant state – seemingly insignificant. But research begun in the 1950’s changed that. We now better understand that sleep affects our physical and mental health. Sleep is part of the circadian rhythm, a 24-hour cycle driven by light and dark in our environment. The circadian rhythm controls at least 15% of our DNA, including our body’s repair mechanisms. Most hormone production is regulated by sleep. The recently discovered glymphatic system works to eliminate toxins from the brain while we sleep. And sleep is when we solidify learning and establish memories.

When we don’t get enough sleep we are tired during the day, have concentration and memory problems, decreased attention span, and bad moods. Over time, health problems can develop. The immune system may weaken; obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular issues can develop due to sleep deprivation.

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Do You Pandiculate?

Use your brain to re-set muscle resting length

Have you ever watched a sleeping dog or cat wake up? What’s the first thing they do? They look like they stretch before even trying to get up. But that’s not really stretching – that’s pandiculating. Just about all mammals (including humans) pandiculate. And note that the animals repeat this motion many times during the day!

Webster’s Medical Dictionary defines pandiculation as “a stretching and stiffening especially of the trunk and extremities (as when fatigued and drowsy or after waking from sleep.” Pandiculating often includes a yawn.

Pandiculating could be better than stretching!

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Are your adrenals tired?

These tiny glands do a great big job!

You have two adrenal glands; they’re about the size of your thumb and sit on top of each of your kidneys.

The adrenal glands play a large role in human physiology. They secrete more than 50 hormones, some of which are essential for life. They help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, help in protein and fat metabolism, support proper cardiovascular and gastrointestinal functioning and have a major responsibility in responding to stress.

When these tiny adrenal glands are subjected to a constant, even low level of stress, they can easily become overworked. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue (aka hypoadrenia) are non-specific; they are general in nature and are present in many conditions. There is no specific medical test for adrenal fatigue. That may be why adrenal fatigue is often overlooked until it has become severe. Doctors often do not acknowledge adrenal problems unless there is extremely little functioning (Addison’s disease) or way too much (Cushing’s disease).

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April is National Stress Awareness Month – April 16 is Stress Awareness Day

(I’d have chosen April 15 — but they didn’t ask me)

Life = change. Change = stress. So you probably don’t need to look far to find stress in your life.

April is National Stress Awareness Month.

The Health Resource Network (HRN) started National Stress Awareness Month in 1992. They chose the 16th of the month as National Stress Awareness Day. Obviously, stress doesn’t take an 11-month vacation and just “show up” in April, but this is a reminder to sit down, take a deep relaxing breath, and consider the stress in your life. Where does it come from? What do you do about it? Stress is unique for each individual; take your own personal inventory.

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Technostress will get you if you don’t watch out!

It’s human vs computers in the tech revolution

Why is technology so difficult? It’s invisible. Older, mechanical systems had parts we could take off, fix and reinstall. That’s not done with a computer! “We have difficulty understanding what we can’t see, touch or fix and it is human nature to fear or avoid what we can’t understand or explain” according to Weil and Rosen, authors of TechnoStress.

The term technostress was coined by clinical psychologist Dr. Craig Brod in 1984 (isn’t that ironic?). He defined it as “a modern disease of adaptation caused by an inability to cope with the new computer technologies.”

Techostress is the result of our struggles to accept technology and/or our over identification with technology. Signs of technostress can vary depending on age, gender and computer literacy.

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How do we cope with stress?

“we’ve evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick” (Sapolsky)

Biologic stress is not the same as nervous tension. Selye described an environmental view of stress in terms of change and adaptation dictated by life events. Over time, persistent stress may cause the body to adapt—to permanently change, possibly in unhealthy ways. Quality of adaptation to psychological, physical, social, and economic stressors determines quality of life. Failure to adapt leads to what Selye called diseases of adaptation.

According to neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, human beings and related primates suffer stress-related diseases more than any other animals. Man is a smart, organized, social creature with too much spare time and uses that time to stress each other out. According to Sapolsky, “we’ve evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick.”

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How can I avoid stress?

Short answer: You can’t, so build resilience

Life is all about change, and change produces  stress. But there is good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress). You wouldn’t want to get rid of the good stress associated with birthdays, weddings, vacations and all the enjoyable things in life. You wouldn’t want to avoid the stress that helps protect you – tells you to remove your hand if you put it down on a hot stove burner or prepares you to run away from a threat. You cannot get rid of acute stress (like accidents) and for the most part human beings handle acute stress episodes fairly well; they are short term and when they are over and done with you recover from them. The stress you want to avoid as much as possible is chronic, low level stress – that’s the stress that hurts health-wise.

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What’s Your Stressotype?

Have you ever noticed that you feel stressed in a situation where someone else does not? How you experience stress is unique to you. That means that how you manage your stress is also unique to you. You may know people who relax through yoga, or meditation, or by listening to classical music. But perhaps those activities hold no attraction for you. Will you find the same relaxation as they do by these means? Probably not.

Your constitution (the various physical, psychological, developmental and environmental factors that make you who you are) can enter into determining the efficacy of any given stress management technique you choose to try.

Just as there are different personality types, studies have found there are different stress types. Five basic categories of stress management skills have also been identified. These findings might help explain why some people seem to handle stress better than others and why some people are more successful at stress management than others.

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Breathwork for stress relief

Deep breathing is the easiest and most effective way to reduce stress.

Stress begins in the mind and has ramifications throughout the body. The stress response increases heart rate and blood pressure, releases hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol), diverts blood flow from nonessential functions (like digestion) to the muscles to prepare for “fight or flight,” and makes breathing rapid and shallow. We may not be able to directly control heart rate, blood pressure, hormone release, or where our blood is channeled. But we can control our breathing. It’s the only function we do either completely consciously or completely unconsciously. It’s the one area of overlap, because two different sets of muscles and nerves control voluntary and involuntary breathing.

The mind and the body are connected. How we breathe both reflects the state of the nervous system and influences the state of the nervous system. It is impossible to feel stressed when your breathing is regular and slow. Deep breathing is the easiest and most effective way to reduce stress.

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