Bright Blue: Dawn and your resilience

Bright Blue: Dawn and your resilience


Why dawn is so good for you? Why missing it is dangerous?

Waking up with the blue light of dawn is a delight for the soul. It is also a very simple, powerful discipline to save, enrich and empower your life. Over the past weeks, a surprising number of resilience participants have shared that they did not understand the concept.

For those who just want a simple, well supported practice to action now:

Wake up every morning before dawn and be outside for 30 minutes before sunrise.

For those who want a more comprehensive understanding here is my best explanation – given that much is still to be learned:

  1. Evolution has designed humans and almost all primates as diurnal creatures. We function best during the hours of daylight. At night we are easy prey and relatively disabled in body, emotion and mind. During the day we are safe, well and effective. Our blood pressure, brain functions, hormones, mood, metabolism and physical competence are all synchronised by the circadian clock.
  1. For at least 30 million years primates have woken with the dawn light. As a consequence our circadian cycle is roughly 24 hours and is paced by the effect of blue light at dawn (we call this a zeitgeber). When blue light hits the back of your eyes, you release melanopsin, which resets the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This synchronises your biology to the day, making sure you are prepared for movement, alert and engaged. Temperature, social activity, exercise and consumption are also zeitgebers.
  1. Securing enough sleep (between 7 and 9 hours) is important. Timing of your sleep may be more important. During the day we accumulate fatigue, sometimes measured by adenosine in the brain. This peaks as light fades, temperature drops and we become less active. Our body prepares to “flop” into sleep. This feeling of sleep pressure peaks every 90 minutes (ultradian cycle). If we drop into bed quiet, calm, cool and dark we will drop into the two important cycles of deep or NREM sleep. This is between the hours of 10pm and 2am.
  1. After 5 ultradian cycles (~2 deep and 3 dreaming), which equals 7.5hours, our body is ready to “flip” into wakefulness. If we have slept well – time and quality – we should wake up with a positive bias for movement and action. It is at this time that blue light is critical and the best source is at least 20 minutes for pre-dawn blue light along with movement.
  1. When we miss blue light we desynchronise the circadian clock. This happens in three specific situations, all of which have potential danger. The first is jetlag and the best way to reset your clock is to travel west when you can or to use melatonin at about 1mg an hour before sleep. We know that shift workers incur increased risk of cardiovascular, metabolic and cancer diseases.
  1. The second is weekend sleep-ins. Because most adults accumulate an hour of sleep debt per day, many try to “catch up” by sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday. This is a dangerous and foolish trap. If you miss the dawn zeitgeber over the weekend your clock with free-run for two ultradian cycles leaving your clock desynchronised. Monday mornings show a peak of heart attacks, motor vehicles accidents and suicides. See picture above.

It is also demonstrated that those who sleep in over the weekend are at much higher risk of cardio-metabolic disease – obesity, diabetes, heart disease and inflammation. The following changes when you sleep in over the weekend (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, November, 2015):

  • Lower HDL (know as the protective cholesterol)
  • Higher Triglycerides (linked to metabolic disease)
  • Higher fasting insulin and insulin resistance (diabetes and aging risk)
  • Greater body mass and larger waist circumference (fat)
  1. The third is the desynchronisation caused by the introduction of daylight savings (DST) in spring. It is well established that there is a 10 to 24% increase in heart attacks on the Monday after DST is introduced. This is similar to the weekend sleep-in effect. The clock ‘rolls back” on us like Monday morning.
  1. Practical changes that deliver benefits to our clients include:
    1. Regular wake up time and exposure to dawn light
    2. Cutting the blue light from all screens for at least an hour before bed
    3. A cool, dark and quiet room or ear plugs and masks as needed
    4. Exercise earlier in the day and lighter evening meals
    5. A relaxation practice with slow, long exhalations before sleep

Bright Blue call to Action

Obesity is pandemic. Diabetes is epidemic. Heart disease, inflammation, health care costs, and childhood attention and learning disorders are testing our societies. Might we consider being a little biologically smarter about regular wake up with blue light and generally respecting our biological clocks? The actions are simple and free and evidence is accumulating on the positive effects for prevention, management and cure – let alone those who want to excel in life. As a parent, employer, athlete or leader this is important to test for your situation. Remember, we are all slightly different (larks and owls) so experimentation is usually necessary.

Discerning Minds: take in the good

Discerning Minds: take in the good

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

There are four levels of ‘positive experience’ that we can focus on:

The Reptilian and Limbic systems have a focus on survival. The Amygdala (limbic) sifts experience for negative stimuli and prepares us to deal with threats. As a result we are often locked and loaded in the reactive mode as opposed to the responsive mode.

Threat Reactivity

We have two options in a dangerous world:

    • Think there is a tiger – there is not one – get anxious
    • Think there is no tiger – there is one – get eaten

Those biased to option 1 survived as our ancestors. Bias for 2 was ‘deselected’. Hence we have a tendency towards ‘Paper Tiger Paranoia’ where we:

  1. Overestimate threat
  2. Underestimate opportunities
  3. Underestimate inner and outer resources
  4. Update our appraisal of situations with information that confirms our bias and ignore/ devalue/don’t notice information that doesn’t
  5. Avoid ‘cost’ and ‘play small’

This Negativity Bias sets the brain up to be Velcro for negative experience and Teflon for positive experience.

We focus longer on things that trigger the reactive mode – more communication between the Limbic system and Cortex burns this into long-term memory.

Positive is plain vanilla for memory – makes it to short-term memory but doesn’t as easily make it into long-term memory.

Hanson’s Responsive mode of being:

Avoid: (Calm = Reptilian)
Approach: (Contented = Limbic)
Affiliate: (Caring = prefrontal cortex)

Versus the Reactive mode of being:

Avoid: feel threatened or harmed
Approach: miss important goals
Affiliate: feel isolated , disconnected , unseen, unappreciated, unloved

Mindfulness skills allow us to focus our attention, emotion and memory on the positive. Hanson used two phases:

‘Neurons that fire together wire together’ to describe how stimulation causes the brain to develop new cells (neurogenesis) and new connections (synaptogenesis).

‘The brain takes the shape of what it rests upon’ to describe how what we attend to shapes brain structure. Good experiences, thoughts and memories enable a virtuous loop. This is similar to the positivity ratio of Barbara Fredrickson.

Turning on the ‘Cooling System’

Core modules of our Resilience Training include calming, focusing and generating constructive emotion or coherence. This enables effective thought and behaviour in complex and risky situations.

Hanson describes a heating system that activates, and a ‘cooling system’ that restores homeostasis. The heating system is associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA), which in turn is associated with sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation – including amygdala hijacks.

This system over-rides our Pre Frontal Cortex (PFC) mindfulness, pushing our attention, emotion, thought and memory in a negative direction. We call this the Death Spiral.

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) has a downward influence on the structures below it. It is closely connected to the PFC part of which focuses on problem solving and decision-making. It is also the source of empathy and our connections to others. The ACC is able to turn on the cooling system and allows action aligned with our values and intentions. This system is also connected with the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

Hanson reinforces the value of our focus on diaphragmatic breathing, Heart Rate Variability (EmWave/HeartMath), and mindfulness meditation.

Taking in the Good

Because the brain is Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive – the positive must be made to stick! (think about privileging the positive – introducing a personal affirmation of the positive).

We can use the mind in a conscious way to wire the positive in – to burn it into long-term memory. This implicit memory influences our behaviour without conscious awareness of these previous experiences. Hanson encourages us to engage with positive experiences actively to weave them into the brain.

Discerning Mindfulness

There are four levels of ‘positive experience’ that we can focus on:

  • Small pleasures of ordinary life; the satisfaction of attaining goals or recognising little accomplishments; feeling grateful, contented, and fulfilled.
  • Being included, valued, liked, respected, loved by others; the good feelings that come from being kind, fair, generous; feeling loving
  • Things are alright; nothing is wrong; there is no threat; feeling safe and strong; the peace and relief of forgiveness
  • Recognising your positive character traits; spiritual or existential realisations

Steps for allowing the Positive to ‘burn in’

  1. Turn positive facts into experiences
  2. Savour the positive experience, sustain it for 20 seconds, feel it in your body and emotions, and intensify it
  3. Sense and intend that the positive experience is soaking into your brain and body – registering deeply in emotional memory.

Unfortunately, our brain has an evolutionary ‘tilt towards the negative’…  View and Download PDF