10 Tips for Rest, Recovery and Rejuvenation

10 Tips for Rest, Recovery and Rejuvenation

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The Season for Stillness

We tumble to the end of another warp-speed year. We spin through our tasks and grasp at floods of information.

We press too hard, too fast and for too long. Reservoirs are sucked dry. Self-awareness fades. Self-regulation is impaired. Your health and your relationships are at risk.

It is time to slow down, repair, rejuvenate and reconnect with what matters.

In a world of optimisation, ambition, pride and duty, we push hard on multiple fronts. The rest, recovery and rejuvenation cycle is squeezed out between ever shorter bursts of dopamine. We are child-like in our impulsive tapping, swiping, checking, buying, rushing, feeding… compelled to chase the next hit.

As I come to the end of 2019, I feel battered. My mind is a little flat. Attention is fragile. Relationships are edgy. I know I need a good break. I am struggling to disconnect, calm my hypervigilance, and allow the natural cycle of recovery. I sense it in our family, friends and colleagues.

Rest, recovery and rejuvenation (R3) is the next competitive edge. Ironic!

My end of year message it to give rest, recovery and rejuvenation your full attention.

At a cellular level, the R3 cycle is vital to repair and rejuvenation. It is the key to longevity and sits at the biochemical core of fasting, sleep quality, intense activity, meditation, and cold water baths. It is a promising solution that supports this process of slowing, cleaning and repairing hard working cells.

The R3 cycle is key to musculoskeletal strength and physical wellbeing. Intimacy, touch and dreaming (REM) sleep stimulate the R3 cycle for emotional wellbeing. The default network is the R3 cycle for cognition allowing us to focus, engage and refresh our minds.

Our end-of-year pause is an opportunity to capture the R3 cycle for life and family. Please make an effort to allow for adequate rest, recovery and rejuvenation as your year comes to an end. Engage your family in this process so that you may reconnect in more intimate ways.

Share what works well for you.

10 tips to have a Good Night’s sleep

10 tips to have a Good Night’s sleep

Original publication in Thrive Global on August 29th 2019

To avoid sleepless nights and set yourself up for success the next day, try one of these science-backed steps.

If you have trouble getting into a regular sleep pattern, establishing clear morning and nighttime routines can help you fall asleep more easily and wake up feeling refreshed, leading to greater productivity all day. It doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming, but sticking to a schedule has a calming effect and can relieve stress

Here, two sleep scientists give their suggestions.

In the Morning:

Pick a wake-up time and stick to it  

“Setting the same wake-up time every morning is essential and it’s best to maintain that every day, even on the weekends,” says Cheri Mah, M.D., a physician scientist specializing in sleep and performance at the University of California, San Francisco (U.C.S.F.) Human Performance Center. 

“There’s no right or wrong time to get up,” Christopher Winter, M.D., Director of the Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine Center, tells Thrive. “If you want to tackle the day at 7 a.m. or 10 a.m., either is perfectly fine, just stick to that time.” He notes that if you do need to get up earlier occasionally, that’s OK, but it’s better not to sleep beyond your regular wake-up time. 

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the minimum recommended sleep for healthy adults is seven hours a night, but just as everybody is a little different, everyone’s sleep needs can differ as well; you may need more than the recommended hours of sleep to feel fully rested.  

Tidy your bedroom in the morning 

Dr. Winter, the author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How To Fix It, suggests making your bed every morning and keeping your room neat. He also recommends keeping your laundry and any unsorted mail or paperwork out of sight. “It’s calming to tidy up at the start of the day so you enter a fresh, neat bedroom at night.  There is research suggesting that a neat environment helps facilitate the onset of sleep and better sleep quality,” he says.

At Sleep Number, 73 percent of Sleep Number® SleepIQ® sleepers make their bed every day. Compared to those who don’t make their bed, this group wakes up 20 minutes earlier but they’re more rested; they end up getting four more minutes of restful, good sleep.* Those four minutes may not sound like much, but could add up to much more quality shut-eye and energy over time.

Exercise outside or somewhere bright

Exercise is a great way to start your day, says Dr. Mah, who is a sleep specialist working with elite and professional athletes, along with her academic work. “Regular exercise can be beneficial for healthy sleep, and morning sunlight is a strong stimulus to lock in your body clock and keep you on a regular schedule,” Dr. Mah tells Thrive.

Dr. Winter adds that exercising somewhere bright, whether it’s outdoors or in a well-lit indoor space, helps wake up your brain for a more productive start. “It’s great to have the contrast between a dark, cool, motionless room during the night versus, say, a bright, warm Zumba class at 7:30 a.m. That’s a fantastic way for your brain to understand when the day begins, so it can plan accordingly,” says Dr. Winter.  

In the Evening:

Don’t eat too late 

Eat dinner on the early side, says Dr. Winter. “If you drink alcohol, it’s best to have it as soon as you get home from work in the evening — and in moderation.” 

Alcohol suppresses deep sleep, delays REM sleep, is dehydrating, and is a muscle relaxer, so it often worsens breathing and can even cause sleep apnea, Dr. Winter tells Thrive. “Remember, sedation and sleep are not the same,” he says.

Establish a wind-down routine

To prepare your body to sleep, Dr. Mah suggests prioritizing a wind-down routine before your target bedtime, which can include reading, breathing exercises, yoga, stretching, or meditation. Any wind-down time is helpful, she tells Thrive, and she recommends starting with five minutes, then building up to a 20-minute routine. “Use this as a dedicated time to process your thoughts from the day and anticipate what needs to get done the following day,” Dr. Mah says. “One athlete I worked with liked to do a Rubik’s Cube before bed, and found that relaxing. There isn’t one thing that’s going to work for everyone, so find a routine that works for you.”

Switching up your after-dinner lighting options can also help. “Get dimmer switches,” advises Dr. Winter “Also, consider buying bulbs that are blue– or green-free. That will allow your brain to start generating melatonin.” 

You can find helpful bedtime routine ideas in the free Sleep30 Challenge by Sleep Number

Stay away from screens

Avoid using technology an hour before bedtime because bright screens can delay melatonin release, which is important for sleep, and prevent you from sleeping when you intend to, says Dr. Mah. “Creatively rearrange how you spend your time. Use the phone and watch TV earlier in the evening, not right before sleeping,” she advises.   

Go to bed at around the same time 

“It’s important to have a regular bedtime, because that helps our body anticipate regular sleep,” says Dr. Mah. That time doesn’t have to be set in stone, but you should aim to make your bedtime early enough to allow for seven to eight hours of sleep a night. If bedtime rolls around and you “don’t feel sleepy, try to doze off anyway with the idea that you might surprise yourself. Even if you don’t fall asleep right away, resting in bed (not sleeping) is awesome and restorative too,” says Dr. Winter. And if you do stay up a little later occasionally, don’t stress about it. 

Make bedtime joyful and relaxing

Reading a book in bed can be a great way to prep your body for sleep. Dr. Mah strongly recommends reading “real” books or magazines. “That way you’re not going to get the blue light exposure from screens, triggering your brain to stay awake. Blue light can prevent sleep and melatonin release, and that’s important for falling asleep,” she says.

Work on cultivating a feeling of joy when you climb into bed, says Dr. Winter. “Being in a comfortable bed is great,” he says. “Find the enjoyment of simply relaxing in your bed. It beats a lot of other places and situations you could find yourself in!”

What you do all day matters, too

Scientists point out that to ensure a good night’s sleep, it’s not just about morning and nighttime routines. Small changes like not drinking coffee after noon, setting regular mealtimes, making sure you find some time to move and get some light throughout the day, all contribute to a good night’s sleep. “Napping is great too, if you already sleep well at night but also feel the need for a little more shut-eye during the day,” says Dr. Winter, though if you have problems sleeping, napping might not be a good idea. “If you want the best quality rest at night, it’s all about the decisions you make in the daytime,” concludes Dr. Mah. “Healthy sleep starts with the way you navigate your day as well as making choices to optimize quality sleep at night.” 

*Based on SleepIQ® data from 1/1/19 to 1/31/19 and self-reported survey data (from a Sleep Number study) among SleepIQ® sleepers.

Sleep is a super power !

Sleep is a super power !

Original publication in Open Access Government on October  4th 2019

Sleep is the best medicine: The repair programme that strengthens resilience.

What does sleep have to do with mental health and resilience? How does the “most important third” of our life affect not only the immune system of our body but also that of our mind and soul?

Dr Hans-Günter Weeß has a degree in psychology and in Germany he is an absolute expert in sleep research. He is the head of the interdisciplinary sleep centre at Pfalzklinikum, Klingenmünster.

Sleep is a highly active process. Sleeping people consume only slightly less energy than people who are awake. Recent sleep research clearly shows that sleep is a human being’s most important regeneration and repair programme. Nevertheless, more than 80% of the Germans use an alarm to get up in the morning and terminate their most important regeneration programme prematurely before it has fulfilled all its tasks. Human beings are the only beings on our planet who shorten sleep artificially and do not sleep in.

Sleep supports regeneration and learning processes

Sleep has irreplaceable functions for the human body and a well-balanced psyche: for instance, it strengthens the immune system.

Several studies have shown that in cases of enough healthy sleep, natural defence cells are built in a larger quantity and it is easier to fight bacteria and viruses. One night without sleep, for example, already leads to a reduction of the function of T-cells (T-lymphocytes or for short T-cells form a group of white blood cells helping the immune defence), which search infected cells and kill them. In some studies, human beings were given cold viruses and a connection between the duration of sleep and the onset of a cold was revealed. Shorter sleep was associated with an increased probability of catching a cold.

During deep sleep the hypophysis releases growth hormone. It has growth and metabolism-enhancing effects. Growth hormone mainly works by activating growth factors on muscles, liver, bones and on the cells of the fatty tissue. It is responsible for energy storage processes at the cellular level and, thus, a key element of physical and mental regeneration.

Sleep is also a decisive factor for the formation of the memory. During sleep the information newly acquired over the day is transferred from the short-term and working memory into the long-term memory and unnecessary information is rejected. For this reason, sleep experts advise us to take a regular afternoon nap of 10 up to a maximum of 20 minutes, especially for active learners but basically to ensure a healthy and long life. Studies demonstrate that a short nap between learning phases helps memorize factual information more easily.

Sleep is important for the mental well-being

Sleep does not only help people who are learning, but also regulates emotions. The advice to “sleep on it for a night“ is legitimate, as even in case of difficult emotional situations information that is less important for the cause is filtered out of the memory during sleep. The next morning, we can simply think and judge more clearly. A lack of sleep, however, makes you more reckless and more willing to take risks and leads to more errors in case of complex decision processes. That puts a completely different perspective on certain decisions made in politics and business after long night sessions.

People with chronic sleep disorders have more than double the risk of developing depressions than people with a healthy sleep. The probability of developing anxiety disorders and addictions is also higher.

The importance of a healthy sleep is already revealed in early childhood and adolescence. Children and teens who sleep well and sufficiently are more stable regarding their ability to regulate emotions and more balanced when dealing with other people. In turn, young people who sleep badly all the time tend to show rather dissocial, excited and impulsive behaviour and an impeded social development. Each hour of sleep deprivation heightens the risk of leading an unhealthy lifestyle with insufficient physical activity and weight gain, as well as increased consumption of fast food, nicotine and caffeine. Even with one hour of sleep less than preset by our genes the probability of overweight increases by 23%.

Sleep protects against age-related diseases

During sleep, waste products generated by neurons in the brain over the day, so-called amyloid plaques, are degraded again so that the human brain maintains its functionality. For this reason, enough sleep enables people to grow old successfully while enjoying good health and reduces the risk of age-related diseases, such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Sleep makes us alert and productive. Often, we only realise how important it is when we do not get enough sleep. Depending on the study, up to 43% of the Germans feel “quite often”, “mostly“ or “always tired” during the day and not well rested (DAK health report 2017). The consequences of sleep deprivation on the psychosocial level of performance, however, are not always apparent, but they can have disastrous consequences because sleep deprivation, like alcohol, slows down the reaction time. Lethal traffic accidents on German roads are twice as often a result of lack of sleep than of alcohol consumption.

Consequently, whoever sleeps sufficiently and well is not only physically and mentally fit but also has a better mental balance and resilience. Vice versa physical and mental well-being results in a more relaxing sleep. It constitutes a cycle that provides many reasons to attach more importance to sleep and to sleep soundly again.

Written by Hans-Günter Weeß

7 steps to nailing it (with your eyes shut): optimising sleep = better leadership

7 steps to nailing it (with your eyes shut): optimising sleep = better leadership

Originally published in Inside HR on August 22nd 2019

There are a number of important steps busy leaders can take to optimise their sleep – which will, in turn, improve a range of factors that make for better quality leaders, writes Stuart Taylor

In today’s globalised, hyper-connected, and “always-on” working culture, many of us are working longer hours with less sleep, compensating for less time in the office with more time in front of screens. Rest is becoming increasingly difficult for the average professional, with a plethora of meditation apps and podcasts to assist us in habitualising relaxation and restoration in our digital lives.

But before we reach for the smartphone yet again, it’s worth revisiting one of the most important relaxation exercises that so many of us fail to do right. That’s getting a good night’s sleep, which seems to be more elusive than ever before.

Sleep deprivation
People need to stop treating their sleep deficit like a professional achievement and instead evaluate how it’s affecting their overall productivity in the workplace. Swapping sleep to send emails late at night shouldn’t be worn as a badge of honour, and it proves only to be a hindrance to your work performance later down the track.

Sleep plays an integral role in how effective you are in a work capacity, your ability to make sound business decisions, and how engaged you are with your colleagues.

As our opportunity to recharge, regroup and establish an efficient mindset for the day ahead, most of us can only tolerate and recover from short periods of sleep deprivation with long-term sleep deficit having negative implications on your ability to perform at work long-term.

“A good night’s sleep will increase alertness, improve memory, allow you to make better decisions, allow you demonstrate a measured response to challenges and better handle stress – all factors that make you a better leader”

Aside from being an invisible contributor to our individual productivity at work and overall health, a study by Deloitte Access Economics health survey found that sleep deprivation costs Australian businesses $17.9 billion a year in lost productivity, with 46 per cent of the world’s sleep-deprived individuals frequently missing work or committing more mistakes in the office than those who practise a good sleep routine.

How much sleep do you need?
While sleep requirements will vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7 to 8 hours per night to function at their best. Yet studies show that 4 out of 10 Australians aren’t getting the sleep they need to get to focus throughout the day.

There are a number of factors that could be causing poor sleep quality, including our obsession with technology and the tendency to face high levels of pressure in our roles at work. But the most successful leaders understand that there is a distinct link between quality sleep and optimal performance, recognising that good sleep routine can be a daily welcome boost to those who continually function at a fast pace and high-performance level.

If you are attempting to work effectively among a fog of ongoing tiredness, you’re tackling a losing battle and your social, emotional and psychological wellbeing will suffer as a result.

If that’s not enough to convince you to push sleep back to the top of your (long) list of priorities, consider the fact that a good night’s sleep will increase alertness, improve memory, allow you to make better decisions, allow you demonstrate a measured response to challenges and better handle stress – all factors that make you a better leader.

“If you are attempting to work effectively among a fog of ongoing tiredness, you’re tackling a losing battle and your social, emotional and psychological wellbeing will suffer as a result”

Tips for establishing quality sleep

  1. Discover your sleep rhythm. Our circadian rhythm ticks away in the background dictating our hormone levels, influencing when we are most productive and when it’s time for us to fall asleep. Over time, you will become aware of the optimal time you need to be in bed.
  2. Digital downtime. The blue light at dawn naturally stimulates our brain to wake up and keeps our biological clock in tune. Blue light, like the screens of phones and laptops, affects your circadian rhythm and makes falling asleep difficult. If you find yourself tossing and turning in bed, try limiting your mobile use an hour before bed, or use blue light filters on your phone. It’s time to reinstate a traditional alarm clock.
  3. Aim for seven to eight hours a night. Regularly sleeping less than six hours a night puts you at risk of ongoing productivity problems.
  4. Consistency. Commit to a strict wake-up time seven days a week. If you know you have to wake up at 7am during the week, sleeping in on the weekend effectively jetlags you, making your Monday morning wake-up even more challenging. Sleeping also affects heart health – evidence shows that Monday mornings have the highest incidence of heart attacks due to this.
  5. Don’t drink coffee past 2.00pm. While a late afternoon coffee may revive you in the short term, it will impact your ability to fall asleep quickly. For a 3pm pick me up, opt for a protein snack or a healthy smoothie instead.
  6. Avoid eating too close to bedtime. Eating too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep, mostly because it stimulates stomach acid production. If you’re really craving a late-night snack, try a bowl of cereal with milk or cheese and crackers. These types of foods are rich in minerals, such as tryptophan and calcium, which helps promote sleep.
  7. Put your work aside before you to go to bed. Ruminating about work won’t help anything, and there comes a point in the day where you are no longer productive. Mindfulness practices and other stress-reduction techniques such as breathing, and meditation are helpful for learning how to relax your body and mind before bed.

Written by Stuart Taylor

Bright Blue: Dawn and your resilience

Bright Blue: Dawn and your resilience

 by 

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.

Social Jetlag and Metabolic Risk

Social Jetlag and Metabolic Risk

A November study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows in a study of 447 adults that when we free run our biological clock over weekends (non work days), we suffer from lower HDL, higher triglyceride, greater BMI (body mass index) and larger waists. In short we develop metabolic syndrome, which is known to lead to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and inflammation.

What this study shows is that 84% of adults will sleep in on the weekend when free of work obligations. This is called social jetlag (SLJ) – the weekend sleep-in. Unfortunately, those who sleep in over the weekend are triggering a cascade of metabolic problems that will have both short and long term effects on our health.

I have been reviewing literature on the biological clock all year and have come to a very clear conclusion. The genetically controlled circadian clock has to be aligned with the light-dark cycle of your location for optimal health and performance.

The way to align your inner clock with your environment is through smart use of light signals (zeitgebers). Yes, we do need about 7.5 hours of sleep AND it is essential to time, enter and exit sleep in the right way.

Avoid all screens for at least an hour before bed. Strong blue light that comes from TV, computers, tablets and phones will reset your clock by 12 hours. Essentially you are simulating sunrise as you prepare for bed. It causes sleep disruption, resets your circadian clock and compromises your hormone levels. Darker rooms, cooler temperatures and yellow light facilitates the “flop” into sleep at the right time for your body. At least 69% fail on this count.

Ideally, we want to wake up at about the same time each day and in time to experience directly the blue light of down (before sunrise). This is a great time to do your stretches, relaxation and take a walk outside and “flip” to alertness. Some bright light during the middle of the day might also be good.

Again, don’t sleep in this weekend. It increases your risk of being fat, diabetic, ineffective and dead.