Stop sleepwalking through life

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What isn’t possible after a good night’s sleep?

Sleep is dedicated time for the body to repair and rejuvenate itself. If you sleep for less than six hours a night, there’s a body of research to show that you will live a shorter life.

I recently explored why the theme of sleep is so popular today.

We’re busier than ever. As technology distracts us and makes information more accessible, the things stimulating our minds all fight against each other for our precious attention. Ask yourself this: would you take yourself off to bed one hour earlier simply to sleep? Or, more likely, would you use that hour updating your social media channels, browsing for your next purchase, or writing your start-up business plan? More often than not, the latter wins, meaning your window of sleep is getting smaller.

The science of attention, and how we can improve it, is discussed in this TEDx talk. It turns out that to improve your attention span, practice really does make perfect. The more you put time aside to concentration on something, the better your brain gets at the process of focussing your attention.

Here are three reasons why you really should stop, think and sleep. Here’s an excerpt from a recent piece with Richard Jolly, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School (LBS).

Why don’t we do the things we know we should be doing? It’s a question that Jolly asks executives daily.

1. Stop

You’re busy. Are you prepared to put on the brakes?

In January 2016, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum said that people and technology had reached a crossroads. “We should not stay human; we should become better humans,” he said. He meant that artificial intelligence is beginning to occupy the work that can be programmed – forcing people to be more creative, self-aware and empathetic, in essence, more human. What makes people human comes from their brain chemistry, so people have to stop for the sake of their most important attribute in a digital world.

And what are brains for? Thinking.

2. Think

The act of thinking is a lifestyle choice, and one that improves brain health.

When people are thinking, they often take their hands to their temples. It’s the place that generates people’s thoughts, feelings and movements. It’s also the home of ideas.

“Humans don’t like uncertainty. As the world gets more complex, the ability to generate new ideas and adapt rapidly, are vital skills. That’s why we need time to think about the critical things. As we get caught up in the short term, focusing on the long term gets harder, particularly with the distraction of technology.”

Thinking time helps us survive, adapt and prosper. But no one can think without sleep.

 3. Sleep

What’s good for the body is good for the brain, too.

But how much sleep is enough to make you sharp? And how much is too much to make you slow and groggy? “It takes time to test,” he says.

Ariana Huffington is a prime example of someone who underslept and overworked,” he says. “But today, she’s an authority on sleep.”

If sleep increases productivity and happiness, and supports smarter decisions, why are people still bragging about their terrible sleep habits? Because bad sleep supports the outdated idea that if you’re busy, you’re important.

Exercise yourself happy

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It’s been the month of juice diets, 5:2 eating and new exercise regimes. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I think Mindlessness, as opposed to Mindfulness, is the healthiest way forward, and hence, we must move more! So, as I drink in the fitness decisions taken by friends and loved-ones around me, I start to think: when is the best time to exercise?

Inspired by a recent talk by Richard Jolly, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School on happiness at work, I’d like to explore what role exercise plays in our happiness.  Stay tuned to become happier!

Jolly said:

“95% of senior executives I work with tell me they are ‘Hurry Sick’ – addicted to email and disillusioned with inefficient meetings.

“Realising that they have achieved everything that would make them happy, but finding they were unhappier than they had ever been is at the heart of the mid-life crisis. This pattern is not what is going to inspire the next generation of employees to join and stay loyal to an organisation.”

Stress the body and de-stress the mind

Stress, over time, can:

  • Cause key connections between nerve cells in your brain not to function well
  • Impair your memory and the ability to take in new information
  • Increase your risk of suffering from depression and anxiety.

So, how can exercise-stress trigger happiness?

  • As your heart-rate goes up, say hello to feel-good serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine – these are good folks to have around
  • A substance to protect your brain from emotional disorders and repair damage that stress and depression cause − Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – appears
  • Now for the good bit: opiate-like endorphins kick in, leading to a happy-sigh state of well-being.

Did you know that 20 minutes of exercise can produce mood enhancers that last as long as 12 hours?  Cambridge University studied of 334,000 people and Ulf Ekelund, who led the study, said:

“This is a simple message: just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive.

“Although we found just 20 minutes would make a difference, we should really be looking to do more than this – physical activity has many proven health benefits and should be an important part of our daily life.” 

When to exercise?

So, hopefully you’re planning to work-out, but when should you do it?

Your body’s circadian rhythm determines whether you’re a lark or an owl, and I’m afraid there’s not much you can do to change it! (I’m a lark, and can be found quietly flagging between 16.30 and 18.30.)

Circadian rhythm is affected by the 24-hour pattern of the earth’s rotation. These rhythms influence body functions, like: blood pressure; body temperature; hormone levels; and heart rate, all of which play a role in your body’s readiness for exercise.

I may be bias, but experts have said that morning is your best time to exercise.

“Research suggests in terms of performing a consistent exercise habit, individuals who exercise in the morning tend to do better,” says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego.

“The thinking is that they get their exercise in before other time pressures interfere,” Bryant says. “I usually exercise at 6 a.m., because no matter how well-intentioned I am, if I don’t exercise in the morning, other things will squeeze it out.”

Summing up

If you stay sedentary your body can become more sensitive to stress, so even minor triggers – you know, the washing machine breaking; organising a Hen Party; or having a crap date ­− leaves you mentally exhausted.  Look, I’m not the ‘fit and fun police’, but if you can squeeze in 20 minutes exercise a day and you’re physically able to, why not try it and see if you land sunny side up?

Picture citation: Jeanette Goodrich, Fitness and health concept in tag cloud (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Most depressing day of the year

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I’m feeling bright and I’m feeling breezy, but wait: it’s officially the most depressing day of the year.

This year Blue Monday – the day that researchers say is the most depressing day of the year – is today and will be a foghorn for all mental health illness. The hashtag #bluemonday24 (for 24 hour posts) is set.  So use it!

The world health organisation says that in 2030 mental health will be one of the biggest concerns. And we know that one in four people experience a mental health problem each year.  Many will come into contact with the police either as victims of crime, witnesses, offenders or perhaps when detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

Police are now working with a wide range of agencies, such as health services and voluntary sector services, to ensure there’s an appropriate response which meets the needs of individuals with mental health problems. But, there still isn’t enough support for mental health services and governments need to sit up and take notice, like Mind is already doing.

The mental health charity recently received an accolade in recognition of the valuable work it does – via its helpline – to support those affected by mental health problems. Recent figures show demand for the Infoline has risen by 55 per cent in two years. Since 2012 the number of people contacting the Mind Infoline for advice and support has risen from 51,300 to 79,600.

I’m trying to do something good on the most miserable day of the year, so, if you want to do something great too, please share this, or join in the conversation on social media, using #bluemonday24.

There is a stigma for those in ‘possession’ of mental health of feeling alone, so today, spare just five minutes – on the most depressing day of the year – and help others feel a little bit brighter, and maybe a little better.

Picture citation: Natalie Schmid, Eyes Closed, Mind Open (CC BY-NC 2.0)

‘Back’ in the game

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This post is purely a quote from a letter of complaint I sent shortly after undergoing my third spine operation (OLIF Fusion).

 “My second complaint is about the staff working on the evening Friday 25 January. Towards the early hours of the morning I ran out of my morphine pump. I pressed the nurse bell and waited 20 minutes, the nurse came in, turned my bell off and said she could not replace the morphine alone but would return soon. I waited for over three hours for the morphine to be replaced and in that time I pressed the nurse bell five times.

I pressed the nurse bell to go to the toilet. Two nurses arrived, and they moaned – I would not try a bed pan. You mention that ward staff are advised on how to manage patients care after spine surgery, however on more than three occasions I was asked to use a bed pan, for ease of the nurses, rather than a commode. I refused the bedpan as it would have come into direct contact with my wound (and my drain), after already having two spine surgeries, I knew that I needed to remain flat; tilting my pelvis would have put me in clinical jeopardy. I would like to confirm that I did not want a catheter and I was happy using the commode, the biggest problem I faced was nurses attending promptly and offering me a safe and dignified way to release myself. During my time in hospital I waited for relatives to visit and I relieved myself in a camping toilet pan.

The nurses were unaware of the type of surgery I had received. When they helped me from the bed to the commode they did not hold my weight and I could not hold myself up, so they dropped me on the floor. It was surreal to, one day after having major surgery, be dropped on the floor. I screamed out in pain and another nurse entered the room, they placed me on the commode. I was cold, sobbing and trying to relieve myself.  They showed great care by leaving me for ten minutes sitting on the commode. I had no choice but to wait as I could not reach the bell. They returned, placed me in bed and continued their private conversation.  The gist of their conversation: they wanted me to have a catheter, as it would have been easier on their backs not to have to lift me onto the commode again. How ironic, back pain.  I was told to stop crying.  I was prettified to be helped to the toilet again. I called my fiance and he arrived at 6.10 am and stayed with me. I finally received my pain relief at 8.00 am I could not reach any water or any of my things as the night staff had moved them out of reach for a person bed bound.

Other problems included:

  • During the medication rounds I was given Tramadol, which I refused to take as I was linked up to the PCA morphine pump. It would have been over my opium dose allowance. The nurse was embarrassed when I pointed this out.
  • Generally, the staff did not know what surgery I had received, so they asked me to use the bed pan, ‘sit up’ and pulled on my drain. A simple scribble on the white board – perhaps my name and my surgery type – would have solved the problem.
  • I wasn’t given any water during my stay. The water jug was left by the sink, in the far corner of my room, which I could not reach, being bed bound. My table was often moved away, and not moved back so I could not reach it. 
  • On the whole, my nurse bell was not answered and my relatives had to find a nurse to get me help.
  • Nurses raised my head without asking (medically I was not to raise it above 45 degrees).

I hope these problems will be addressed as I would hate for this level of care to continue. It was a truly awful experience.”

When you’re contending with this (see picture), you don’t want to have to write a letter, you don’t want to worry that you’ll be dropped on the floor a day after having spine surgery, and you don’t want to be humiliated by hospital staff, no one would.Back

It angers me that the only 14 UK hospitals were placed under investigation by the government.  Every hospital offering care should be bench-marked against the best and the worst.  All UK hospitals should receive the same standards to be measured by.  That’s what regulation’s for, even the banking system is catching on.  The NHS is a great service, but without (enough) trained staff showing empathy and common sense, patients will always suffer. I hope that I don’t need more surgery, and for anything that isn’t back-related, there’s always private.

Picture citation: Hospital corridor, in gray Julie Kertesz, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0