Circadian Sleep – Maximize Your Body’s Rest, Repair, and Recovery

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The way that your body cycles levels of activity throughout the day is called your circadian rhythm.  Various brain centers have internal rhythms that affect your body, and in turn are affected by personal habits such as your sleep patterns, activity level, and light exposure.  Since these lifestyle choices play such a large role in how your body functions, it is important to maximize your personal lifestyle habits to reflect how circadian rhythms are innately programmed.

Many activities inside your body vary based upon the time of day.  Body temperature, wakefulness, digestion, even cell division are all affected by circadian rhythms.  Nearly all of your bone growth as a child occurs at night!

Lack of a Healthy Rhythm
It is well known that those who don’t sleep on a healthy cycle suffer from health problems due to their schedule.  For example, those who work the night shift have a greater percentage of most of the major chronic diseases relative to those with a daytime work schedule.  Also, not sleeping enough is a powerful negative influence on your body.  For example, sleep deprivation is a strong promoter of obesity and weight gain.

Circadian Rhythms Also Effect Your Hormonal State
The hormone cortisol is emitted in a cycle throughout the day.  Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases primarily in times of energy usage.  In terms of your body’s circadian rhythm, cortisol reaches a peak output first thing in the morning.  On the other hand, the output of cortisol is lowest in the late evening.  The greatest output is around 5 a.m., while it is at its lowest point in a 24-hour period around midnight.  This is one reason why getting to bed before 11 p.m. helps your body sync up with your natural circadian rhythm.  And this helps to maximize repair during sleep. More

Rest & Rejuvenation

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  • Focus on Rest and Rejuvenation: Starting with your daily schedule: where can you make time for daily Rest and Rejuvenation in your Familial Life? Now create time on your weekly schedule for a Rest and Repair Appointment for your Familial Life. Follow this same structure for each category of your Lifetime Value Account.
  • Slowing our full lives down to reflect for five minutes does miracles for our brains. Where do you spend your most relaxing recreation time? How often do you get there? When do your friends get to see you? What off-the-clock activity or non-activity do you come back from rejuvenated?
  • Periodic moments of rest during the workday enable greater focus and creativity.  How can you make time for your brain and body to rest and renew during the work day?
  • By intentionally aligning with our body’s natural rhythms, we learn to listen to its signals. How are you actively listening to your body’s need for rest?
  • In a culture of relentlessly rising demand and chronic overdrive, a little intentional renewal goes a long way. What pastime do you engage in to give your brain a break? Is it a healthy one?
  • “Health is a state of harmony between the body, mind and spirit.  When one is free from physical distractions, the gates of the soul open.”  ~B.K.S. Iyenga

Napper’s Delight: Evidence to Support a Favorite Pastime

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The mid-day nap – some of us yearn for it, some of us never engage in it, and others aren’t sure what to think of it. Humans are animals, domesticated animals with more irregular sleep patterns, but animals nonetheless. If you have ever been to a zoo or wild animal park, you know that animals and napping go hand in hand, and humans are no different. In many cultures, especially those closer to the equator, a nap or a siesta is a way of life. What you probably didn’t know is that from the moment you wake up, there are chemicals circulating in your brain that are telling you to sleep; however, there are also chemicals telling you to stay awake. The hottest time of the day coincides not only with a post-prandial dip in blood sugar (your body’s response to eating a heavy lunch by releasing insulin and making you sleepy), but also with the time that our brain’s biochemistry is even in regards to sleep and wakeful chemicals. In this specific time is what Dr. John Medina calls the perfect “Nap Zone” and it usually takes place between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Dr. Medina states on his website dedicated to his book “Brain Rules” that this is not only the best time to take a nap, but also the worst time to give a lecture or operate heavy machinery; the most car accidents happen at this time.

The absolute best time to take a nap is between 2-3 p.m., but for how long? Well, there are many theories on naps; the power nap is a shorter nap with its focus on benefits to time ratio and on working on correcting sleep debt. To get the best performance post short nap, keep the power nap to around 20 minutes, but gauge this for yourself; everyone is different, and 15 minutes might be perfect for one person, while 22 minutes is great for another. Different nap times will improve different areas of cognition; for example, in the book by Dr. Sara C. Mednick called “Take a Nap! Change Your Life,” she says that naps around 20 minutes will “increase alertness and motor skills,” while a 40 minute nap will “improve memory,” and naps of about 90 minutes “improve creativity.” This all has to do with what type of sleep you get (sleep stages), ranging from slow wave to REM sleep.

In a UC Berkeley study, researchers found that a group who napped 90 minutes in the afternoon scored much better on memory tests and their ability to learn than the no-nap group. An associate psychology professor heading up the study, Matthew Walker compared what the nap did for the napper’s mind to someone clearing a full email inbox, thereby allowing for more; “It’s as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you’re not going to receive any more mail. It’s just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder.”

This makes perfect sense because sleep is essential for learning. Research done with rats shows that while learning a specific maze, a rat’s brain will stimulate a specific set of neurons, and that at night (while sleeping), the rat will stimulate the same specific set of neurons in his brain over and over, thousands of time during specific types of sleep called REM sleep. If the rat is awakened during one of these stages of sleep, his ability to recall the way through the maze is compromised. “The rat seems to be consolidating the day’s learning the night after that learning occurred.”

As long as you don’t nap at your desk (and get fired) or in traffic, the benefits of napping far outweigh the risks. In terms of health promotion and prevention, nappers are much less likely to experience heart disease and other lifestyle diseases. Nappers also experience a dramatic increase in productivity, performance, memory, and learning with a decrease in sick days, reaction time, and stress.

Keep in mind – as long as you are napping for less than 90 minutes, it shouldn’t affect your night’s sleep, and if it does, make sure you are getting plenty of exercise.

When thinking about health-related decisions, it is important to always think about where we came from. Our genes haven’t changed in 40,000 years, making us the same as our hunter gatherer ancestors. This is important because they had relatively no lifestyle diseases. Our hunter gatherer ancestors would have tried to get out of the sun during mid-day, and because of all of their constant physical exertion, they would have relished in the afternoon nap.

If you are still unconvinced, take a night to sleep on it. And start napping tomorrow!

Week 12 Spark Insight: Rest and Repair

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Critical Concept:  Your body requires and expects periods of rest, repair and rejuvenation.

The jury is back and the results are in:  the fastest way to promote heart disease and an early death is to combine a high-fat/high-sugar diet with a high-stress life and a low-activity lifestyle.  The greatest minds in science could not design a better mix of behavior patterns that would best promote sickness and disease if they tried.  Most people are living a life that predictably destroys their health and creates disease.  Increased social stress has been identified as the straw that breaks the physiological camel’s back.

A major contributor to this mess is the general lack of rest and repair.  As a society, we have bought into the idea that rest and rejuvenation is a luxury, not a requirement.  This is fundamentally untrue, physically damaging, emotionally crippling and psychologically devastating.  We must take back our rest.

Sleep is an incredibly important part of health and wellness.  In fact, experts say that sleep actually rivals nutrition and exercise for promoting health.

Sleep expert Mark Stibich, Ph.D. teaches that when your body is sleep deficient, it goes into a state of stress.  The body’s functions are put on high alert, which causes an increase in blood pressure and a production of stress hormones (like Cortisol).  Higher blood pressure increases your risk for heart attacks and strokes.  The stress hormones also, unfortunately, make it harder for you to sleep.

Sleep reduces inflammation.  The increase in stress hormones raises the level of inflammation in your body, also creating more risk for heart-related conditions, as well as cancer and diabetes.  Low grade, systemic inflammation is widely considered one key factor in the deterioration of your body as you age.  Sleeping can actually slow aging.

Dr. John Madina, author of Brain Rules, says that 90% of Americans are chronically overtired.  Although this has noticeable implications in our day-to-day lives, such as midday head bobbing and black circles under your eyes, the silent damage you’ll experience with sleep deprivation is a real killer – literally.

Our body uses sleep to rest and repair our tissues.  Our brain requires sleep to process the information from the day.  Critical sleep cycles involve hormone balancing that affects everything from your energy and moods to your metabolism and ability to regulate your body weight.  Sleep deprivation is actually a predictor of obesity.

Healthy sleep patterns promote complete sleep cycles.  Your brain goes through different sleep phases when you rest.  REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) involves dreaming; non-REM sleep is the deepest and most critical phase of sleep.  This is the time that your most vital repair and recharge takes place.  The more complete sleep cycles you experience, the better.  Tallying seven hours or more of quality sleep has been shown to increase longevity.  And, low and behold, the afternoon nap turns out to be one of the most effective and productive methods for increasing energy, improving cognitive skills and focus, while mitigating the adverse effects of chronic stress by lowering circulating stress hormones like Cortisol.

Rest comes in many forms - our daily sleep patterns, including nighttime sleep for most of us, as well as napping or “siestas” during the day. But more broadly, rest includes our morning rituals, meditation, breathing exercises, mealtimes and evening rituals.  Rejuvenation patterns include our “time-offs,” breaks and vacations.  Most people are severely “vacation deficient.”

Well People are deliberate in their rest and repair patterns.  Design your daily and weekly schedules, as well as your monthly and yearly calendar, to reflect your commitment to this critical essential element.  There are several Bonfire vital behaviors to adopt that will ensure greater rest.  Claim ownership of your time and schedule.  Set your bedtimes and waking times, and stick to them.  Make a standing “napping appointment” in your daily schedule if at all possible.  Even presidents of the United States have made this a priority – and they have a demanding schedule, too.

Design your yearly calendar to include a rejuvenation strategy.  Every month schedule a “Sanity Weekend” where the only plans made are for rest and repair.  Challenge yourself to do nothing – it’s free.  Once a quarter take a long weekend – a “Long-evity Weekend.”  At least twice a year, take a week off.  We recommend one adventure vacation where you break routine and go experience a new place or activity.  A compelling nudge to ensure this trip and prevent “life” from persuading you to procrastinate away another break is to pre-pay for the trip (be sure to take out travel insurance, just in case).  We also recommend a “stay-cation,” where you stay home and keep it simple.  This is a great way to cut down on complexity, stress and cost.  Fight the urge to “catch-up” on everything and simply “be.”

These may be the easiest recommendations to do, yet the hardest to implement.  Start today.

At this point in the program you should be….

  • Establishing your Peace of Mind Account (PMA) using Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)
  • Getting to bed earlier: working toward sleep before 11 p.m.
  • Getting up earlier: working toward 30 minute morning rituals
  • Remaining focused on creating the life that you want
  • Choosing to develop more influence in your life
  • Recognizing challenges as opportunities to grow
  • Seeking Alignment between behaviors and Innate Values
  • Choosing an attitude of Thankfulness and Gratitude
  • Seeking opportunities to get connected with supportive people
  • Choosing to extend Unconditional Love and Acceptance to others
  • Finding balance by managing your Limited Resources (Time, Energy, Focus, & Money)
  • Scheduling your Rest and Repair Strategies