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Light helps regulate our circadian rhythm and sleep patterns by sending signals through our eyes to suppress the sleep hormone melatonin until nightfall. In contrast, sun exposure during the day ramps up the production of feel-good hormones like serotonin and vitamin D, helping us feel energized. Without this daily light exposure, we’re sure to feel groggy, grumpy, and gross. Neuroscientists say that unfiltered morning light exposure is best – that means no hats, sunglasses, or windows. However, too much unprotected sunlight leads to sunburns and fatigue that may leave you asking yourself, “why does sunlight make me sleepy?” Light exposure late in the evening is also bad news, as it prevents melatonin production from causing sensations of drowsiness that help us drift off. There’s just one problem: our electronics emit tons of blue light known to partially mimic sunlight and throw our sleep patterns off by confusing our brains. Therefore, our circadian rhythm relies on morning sunshine and limited electronic use before bed to function properly.
Sometimes dreams are better than reality, causing feelings of letdown upon waking. But what if we could control our dreams so that every dream is a good one? Science says we can. Lucid dreaming refers to gaining awareness that one is in a dream while asleep. Some lucid dreamers can even control their experiences, surroundings, and actions within their dreams, leading to literal out-of-this-world experiences. While we’re just beginning to delve into the science behind lucid dreams, philosopher Aristotle was one of the first to describe it. Researchers believe that lucid dreaming may even offer potential benefits for our waking lives, like improved self-reflection, problem-solving, and creativity. Some people may be pre-disposed to experience lucid dreams more than others. However, some say that certain techniques and tips help evoke lucid dreams, such as waking yourself up in the middle of the night, using smartphone apps designed for lucid dreaming, and even using special sleep masks like the NovaDreamer.
Anxiety has many causes. However, shallow, rapid breathing is proven to intensify it. That said, shallow, rapid breathing typically follows feelings of anxiousness. Therefore, in order to shift your mind into a calm state, you have to shift your breathing into a calm state. Deep breathing exercises for anxiety shift your focus to your breathing patterns, forcing you to take slow, calm breaths. This activates the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system, taking the body and mind out of the sympathetic (fight or flight) state. Deep, easy breathing sends signals to the brain that it’s safe to relax; being on high alert isn’t necessary. As a result, anxiety levels drop. Like many mindfulness or meditation practices, it can be intimidating to know where to start when it comes to breathwork. Quick and easy practices such as the physiological sigh, humming breath, or alternate nostril breathing are simple to learn and easy to remember, helping you shift into a state of calm anywhere, anytime.
Want to re-center your sleep habits? Re-center your mind. The popularity of meditation is rising higher each year, and for good reason. Guided meditations offer visualization and imagery that eases us into relaxation, releases stress, and is proven to boost mood and improve sleep. Establishing a meditation practice for better sleep may sound intimidating, but many free resources are available that allow you to ease into a daily practice without any extra stress. Guided meditation features  instruction that eases you into every session (and all you have to do is follow along!) Many guided meditation resources exist, but a large library can be found on YouTube, such as Jason Stephenson’s guided meditations. Meditation apps also feature a large selection of meditation music, guided sleep meditation, body scanning practices for progressive muscle relaxation, and more. Take it a step further with Non-Sleep Deep Rest, or NSDR.
Imagine it: you’re in bed trying to relax, but your eyes burst open and your heart feels like it's beating out of your chest. There’s no experience more unpleasant than waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night or feeling impending doom and panic first thing in the morning. Although anxiety has many potential causes, certain lifestyle choices can fragment sleep and certain mental processes that lead to a racing heart upon waking. Controlling anxiety that wakes you from sleep requires uncovering the potential causes to lower overall stress. As a result, overall well-being improves and you’ll instead wake up with ease feeling calm and relaxed. Moreover, the potential causes of morning anxiety may surprise you. For example, skipping out on breakfast or choosing the wrong foods for breakfast (along with too much caffeine) creates the perfect recipe for an anxious morning.
It’s estimated that millions of adults have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – but they don’t know it yet. This may explain why so many of us face trouble falling asleep, as at least three-fourths of adults with ADHD experience chronic sleep problems. The most popular of these sleep problems? Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS). Understanding the link between ADHD and DSPS is key to building a plan for improved sleep quality and overall well-being. DSPS is a circadian rhythm disorder that causes the delayed onset of sleep, making it difficult to go to bed at your desired time. As a result, you may wake up groggy and down caffeine to boost focus, only to find it has no effect. If you find yourself asking, “why does caffeine not affect me?” It could be due to the difference between how caffeine stimulates an ADHD brain in comparison to ADHD medication. Cutting back on caffeine dependence is key to treating DSPS, along with correcting sleep patterns with tried and tested methods.
There’s nothing worse than being unable to get the quality sleep you need before a big day. Waking up tired throws off your entire day, and it can start a chain reaction that leads to a bad week. Common signs of a lack of sleep include grogginess and irritability. But sleep deprivation is more than just an annoyance, it’s dangerous. Did you know that a lack of sleep also depletes cognitive and bodily functions? Lack of sleep causes anxiety, heightened emotional reactivity, increased forgetfulness, chronic pain, and more. And it may be easier than you think to fall behind on rest - just losing one or two hours of sleep each night can impact the body and mind just as severely as skipping out on one or two full nights of sleep. If you find yourself losing your cool, experiencing more anxiety or depression than usual, or getting sick more often, your sleep patterns may be the main culprit. That’s why it's vital to address and correct our sleep patterns to protect the body and brain from further harm.
Have you ever felt paralyzed upon waking up in the middle of the night? Maybe you want to speak but can’t, or even worse, you feel a presence in your bedroom but you’re unable to do anything about it. Did someone break in? You feel unsafe, completely unable to move. Finally, you fully wake and look around, feeling immediate relief that the experience may have just been a bad dream. But what if it wasn’t a nightmare? These episodes are known as sleep paralysis, caused by REM sleep sensations and wakefulness overlapping as you rest. These terrifying experiences can feel like they last for a lifetime. If you’re wondering, “how long does sleep paralysis last?” the answer is just minutes. However, it feels longer due to the in-between state of consciousness your brain experiences during these episodes. So why does sleep paralysis occur? While we still have much to learn, it could be due to sleeping position, a sleep disorder, severe sleep deprivation, or certain mental conditions like panic disorder.
Have you ever told someone to have “sweet dreams” before bed? We all would prefer to have blissful, enjoyable dreams over terrifying, peculiar nightmares. If you want to have a nice dream over a bad one, research suggests that a couple of lifestyle changes just might do the trick. While we still have a lot to learn about the science of dreams, bad dreams are linked to our brains either preparing for stressful situations in our waking lives or trying to process traumatic memories we’ve already experienced. Moreover, the more relaxed and calm we are before bed, the greater our chances of experiencing soothing dreams that match our mood. That’s why it’s vital to avoid distressing media or conversations before sleep, along with stimulants like caffeine or food that boost metabolism and brain activity. Alcohol is known to fragment sleep and induce bad dreams, too, so opting for your evening cocktail with any early dinner rather than drinking into the night is best. More research may be needed to reveal the true science of dreaming, but bad dreams don’t have to be a nightly occurrence.
Does it seem like you just can’t get going in the morning? Or do you have no issue rolling out of bed? Some people hit the ground running as soon as they wake up,  prepared to conquer the day with a smile. Others have to ease into productivity, ramping up their energy as the day goes on. Beyond that, certain people find it hard to wake up and even harder to fall asleep at night. Are these people just night owls or early birds? Science says it’s much more complex than that. In fact, modern research has proven that there are at least four different types of sleep chronotypes that determine the time of day we’re biologically the most productive and focused. You’re either a bear, wolf, lion, or dolphin sleep chronotype – and you may even be a mix of more than one. If you’re not sure which chronotype you most closely identify with, certain online quizzes can help you determine yours.
Good dreams are blissful and exciting. Have you ever woken up from a great dream only to wish you could go back to sleep to relive it? What about a nightmare? Most of us not only never want to relive our nightmares, we’re happy to wake up from them. For some people, nightmares become so frequent and distressing that sleep becomes anxiety-inducing. So why do we have nightmares at all? Turns out, there is a need for them. They help us prepare for life-threatening scenarios. However, sometimes recurring nightmares are the result of a mental health condition like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unprocessed trauma leads to bad dreams that disrupt and diminish our quality of life. Sleep apnea is another potential cause, as this sleep disorder causes a blocked airway and lowered oxygenation during sleep. No matter the reason for your nightmares, rest assured that their occurrence is caused by your brain trying to process memories and protect you from danger.
The winter months are harsh and cold in more ways than one. Winter is the time of year when most of us get sick with a respiratory illness, the flu, or feel generally under the weather due to being stuck inside for so long. Thankfully, your nose is there to get you through the flu season.