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3 Ways Yoga Can Improve Mental Health

3 Ways Yoga Can Improve Mental Health

This year’s World Mental Health Day, recognized on October 10, comes at a time when depression rates are tripling and there’s a looming mental health crisis on the horizon. We’ve all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in one way or another, and many of us are feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

While the emotional toll of the pandemic is causing an increased demand for mental health services, limited access to treatment is a huge problem.

It’s high time that the mental health conversation goes mainstream and we find effective solutions that don’t rely solely on access to healthcare services.

Conventional psychiatric treatments like medications and talk therapy typically address symptoms only from the “head up”. However, research shows that a full body approach that incorporates exercise, nutrition, and mind-body practices like yoga into treatment is most effective.

As a practicing psychiatrist and sleep specialist, yoga has become an integral tool in my toolkit.

Now, when I say “yoga”, it may conjure up images of twisting your body into pretzel-like poses while outfitted in figure-hugging lycra. However, yoga is more than just a physical exercise.

The word yoga comes from Sanskrit and literally means “yoke” or “union”. It’s a complete system that includes physical postures (asanas), breathing practices, and meditation.

Ironically, it’s when I was training to become a psychiatrist that my feelings of burn-out hit the roof. I was exhausted, disillusioned, and looking for a solution. At that point, I was introduced to kriya yoga, which is a type of breathing-based yoga practice, and I noticed a difference almost immediately.

Although the external situations hadn’t changed, with my consistent yoga practice, things just felt easier.

The great thing about yoga is that it’s effective for reducing stress and is accessible to everyone. This is something we all need during this unprecedented time.

Here are 3 ways yoga can help with mental health

1. Yoga can alleviate depression in people who haven’t responded to antidepressants.

A study on breathing-based yoga done through the University of Pennsylvania showed reductions in depression and anxiety scores after only 8 weeks of practice in people with major depressive disorder (MDD) who continued to feel depressed on antidepressant medications (1).

2. Yoga improves physiological markers of stress like heart rate variability (HRV) and blood pressure.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is an indicator of how well your body handles stress. A high HRV usually indicates better health, better physical fitness, and an increased ability to handle stress. Yoga helps to increase HRV and is an effective way to reduce negative emotions and reduce stress in people living under high stress situations — which is most of us at this moment in time(2)!

A study of college students showed that practicing meditation for 3 months reduced blood pressure, psychological distress, anxiety, depression, anger/hostility, and improved their ability to cope with stress(3).

3. Practicing yoga from the safety of your home is effective, and you can still reap the benefits you’d get from going to a yoga studio!

Participants in a tele-yoga program offered during the pandemic in April 2020 reported improved energy, increased mental relaxation and calmness, feeling more refreshed, and concentrating better after just 4 weeks of practicing yoga at home through guided videos⁴. The best part is that you can do this in your pj’s, no Lululemon yoga pants required.

These mind-body tools are effective, safe, and available to everyone regardless of age, health status, and access to healthcare services.

Not sure where to begin? Here’s a free resource to get you started, whether you want to try a guided meditation or a simple, 5-minute physical yoga practice. Click here to get started.

1. Sharma A, Barrett MS, Cucchiara AJ, Gooneratne NS, Thase ME. A Breathing-Based Meditation Intervention for Patients With Major Depressive Disorder Following Inadequate Response to Antidepressants: A Randomized Pilot Study. J Clin Psychiatry. 2017 Jan;78(1):e59-e63.

2. Zou L, Sasaki JE, Wei GX, et al. Effects of Mind⁻Body Exercises (Tai Chi/Yoga) on Heart Rate Variability Parameters and Perceived Stress: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Clin Med. 2018;7(11):404. Published 2018 Oct 31.

3. Sanford I. Nidich, Maxwell V. Rainforth, David A.F. Haaga, John Hagelin, John W. Salerno, Fred Travis, Melissa Tanner, Carolyn Gaylord-King, Sarina Grosswald, Robert H. Schneider, A Randomized Controlled Trial on Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Program on Blood Pressure, Psychological Distress, and Coping in Young Adults, American Journal of Hypertension, Volume 22, Issue 12, December 2009, Pages 1326–1331

4. Jasti N, Bhargav H, George S, Varambally S, Gangadhar BN. Tele-yoga for stress management: Need of the hour during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond? [published online ahead of print, 2020 Aug 2]. Asian J Psychiatr. 2020;54:102334.

5 Easy Breathing Exercises to Try Today (VIDEO)

5 Easy Breathing Exercises to Try Today

Breathing is a really interesting physiological process. Unlike other bodily functions like digestion, breathing may be involuntary (happens automatically without us thinking about it), or voluntary (happens consciously under our control). The way we breathe has a direct impact on the way we feel.

Have you ever noticed what your breathing is like under different circumstances?

You may have noticed that when you’re stressed out, your breathing is more rapid, that your breaths are more shallow and come from the upper chest. This is how we breathe when our body senses danger.

What about when you’re relaxed, what’s your breathing like then? You may have noticed that in a relaxed state, your breathing is slower, deeper, and comes from the belly. This is how we breathe when we’re comfortable and at ease.

How might you feel if you were breathing like that all the time?

There are a multitude of benefits to practicing breathing exercises, like:

  • Balancing the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and stimulate the parasympathetic (rest & digest) nervous system
  • Stimulating the vagus nerve to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression
  • Promoting a healthy cardiovascular system by reducing the heart rate and blood pressure
  • Improving immune function and lung function
  • Reducing insomnia

Here are 5 easy breathing practices to try

1. Start by noticing your breath

Check in with yourself a few times a day, like before you start work, when you sit for a meal, or before you get on a meeting. Take a few seconds to notice your breath. You don’t need to change anything, just notice it. Over time, the act of paying attention to your breath will become automatic and will help you feel more present and mindful.

2. Focus on the exhalation

Oftentimes, when doing breathing exercises, people focus too much on the inhalation and this can actually cause more anxiety. Shifting your focus to a long, slow and complete exhalation will help with relaxation.

3. Box breathing

This is so effective that Navy SEALS are trained to use this technique to help with focus in high pressure situations. How to do this: inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold for a count of 4. Do this 4 times.

4. 4-7-8 Breathing

This is another great technique that is very effective at promoting relaxation. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, and exhale for a count of 8. Do this 4 times.

5. Alternate nostril breathing

You may have done this in a yoga class. This is a very effective practice that has tons of research behind it and provides so many benefits for physical and emotional health. There is a specific method to it, so I recommend learning it from a trained yoga teacher or through an instructional video like this one.

Breathing practices are not just for when we’re feeling stressed. Daily practice of breathing exercises can improve your health and performance in your personal and professional life. It’s a free, renewable resource without side effects! Try a few minutes of these breathing exercises every day for the next week and see how it affects your experience of the day.

How to wake up in the morning: 5 things to do before you get out of bed

How to wake up in the morning: 5 things to do before you get out of bed

Do you have trouble getting up in the morning? Do you keep hitting the snooze button until you finally have to drag yourself out of bed?

That was me all throughout university and medical training. It’s one of the reasons I became so interested in sleep science and became a sleep specialist.

The good news is that you don’t have to become a sleep specialist to make your mornings go more smoothly. Here are a few simple tricks can make it easier for you to get up and get going.

Here are 5 things you can do, before you even get out of bed, to help you wake up more easily

1. Don’t set your alarm clock for too early

This might sound counterintuitive — isn’t the point to get up earlier? Setting your alarm for too early disrupts those precious moments of REM sleep we get in the hourly hours of the morning. This will make you even more foggy and tired in the morning. If you’re one of those people who sets your alarm for one or two hours ahead of your required wake time, try this: allow yourself to sleep a little longer and set your alarm for a more reasonable time, within 15 minutes of the time you actually need to get up.

2. Let there be light

As soon as your alarm goes off, reach over to open up the blinds or curtains, or switch on the lights to full brightness. Think of bright light as nature’s alarm clock. A good dose of bright light in the morning will put a stop on your brain’s secretion of melatonin and help to reset your body clock (circadian rhythm). If you really want to get your circadian rhythm on track, do this at the same time every morning.

3. Sit up & stretch in bed

Stretching first thing will help get the blood flowing and wake up your muscles. If your body feels really heavy, simply sit up with your spine straight. Next, add on a stretch or two. Start by raising your arms over your head, reaching toward the ceiling. Then, stretch forward in a child’s pose while you’re still in bed. The act of sitting up and moving is another way to signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up and will help reset the circadian rhythm.

4. Listen to upbeat music

Many of us tend to grab our phones first thing in the morning and start scrolling through the news or emails. Not only would this make a person not want to get out of bed, it also sets the tone for the day by affecting motivation, stress levels, and mood. Listening to upbeat music helps to reduce blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and will give you a little boost of motivation to get up.

5. Drink water

Are you a member of the “don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee” tribe? Whether you tend to start your day with a cup of coffee or a green smoothie, I always recommend having a glass of water first. Approximately 60% of the body is composed of water and we need to stay hydrated to keep our organs functioning optimally. Overnight, we naturally become dehydrated, which contributes to feelings of fatigue and lethargy. Keep a bottle of water on your nightstand and enjoy a refreshing drink of water before you even get out of bed.

Want to learn more about sleep optimization? Click here to get my FREE sleep guide.

4 Common Causes of Sleep Issues (VIDEO)

4 Common Causes of Sleep Issues

If you have trouble sleeping, going to bed can start to feel overwhelming and sometimes downright stressful. There’s so much information out there about supplements and pills for insomnia, cutting down on caffeine, finding the perfect mattress, not watching TV in bed, getting the right kind of noise cancelling ear plugs, and so on. Although some of these things can help, it won’t do any good unless you understand why you’re not sleeping in the first place.

Whenever I see someone in my practice for sleep issues, the first thing we try to figure out is what’s causing their difficulty sleeping. Until we understand that, focusing on sleep hygiene measures can feel like an endlessly frustrating game.

These are four common causes of poor sleep quality that everyone should know about

1. Stress

This is one of the most common causes of insomnia, it both precedes and perpetuates sleep problems. Stress leads to a state of “hyperarousal”. Think of this as your nervous system in overdrive. Physical symptoms of hyperarousal include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or feeling “wired” or edgey. Hyperarousal is also associated with cognitive symptoms like excessive worrying, ruminating, or an inability to turn your mind off when you go to bed. When left untreated, stress then leads to anxiety about not sleeping, which then feeds into the sleep issues. The act of going to sleep then shifts from a passive to an active process. This is why trying to use sleep medications, substances, cocktails of sleep supplements for stress-related insomnia don’t work in the long run, because they only address the physical symptoms of insomnia without actually dealing with the root cause.

2. Irregular sleep times

Our internal body clock, called the circadian rhythm, regulates our sleep-wake patterns. Going to bed and waking up at different times everyday confuses the body clock and contributes to insomnia and poor sleep quality. It creates a jet lag-like state called social jet lag. Shift workers are at particular risk of this. Irregular sleep times lead to issues with feeling heavy or foggy, getting sleepy at the wrong times, or feeling “wired but tired”. Realigning the body clock to ensure that it is on a regular schedule and aligned with our body’s “sleep drive” is a crucial step in restoring healthy sleep.

3. Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS)

A “night owl” sleep pattern is a common sleep issue that is often misdiagnosed as insomnia. Around the time of puberty, melatonin secretion is delayed by 2 hours. DSPS causes an inability to fall asleep, but once asleep, people sleep well and tend to wake up too late. This explains why lots of teenagers and young adults have so much trouble getting to sleep on time and then getting up for class. Many people grow out of this as adults, but it may persist into adulthood. DSPS is often misdiagnosed as depression, ADHD, chronic fatigue syndrome, or fibromyalgia, and people may be prescribed medications unnecessarily.

4. Breathing issues

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). This is a condition that affects nearly 1 billion people worldwide. It’s estimated that in North America, up to 30% of males and up to 15% of females have OSA. It affects all genders, ages, and body types, from infants to the elderly. Signs and symptoms include snoring, waking up with dry mouth or a headache, restless sleep, teeth grinding, jaw clenching, mouth breathing, unrefreshing sleep, choking or gasping in sleep, and difficulty falling or staying asleep. Left untreated, OSA can cause long term sleep issues, difficulty losing weight, anxiety, depression, ADHD-like symptoms, and even cardiovascular issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, and increased risk of stroke.

At IntraBalance, we specialize in finding the root cause of your sleep problems and providing you with effective and personalized interventions to sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed.

If you want to learn more about how to optimize your sleep, get our FREE sleep guide.

The Sleep Disorder You Might Be Missing

The Sleep Disorder You Might Be Missing

Every living creature, from deep sea fishes to microscopic single-celled terrestrial organisms, has an innate biological clock. For us surface dwellers, our rhythms undulate to the beat of the earth’s dark and light cycles.

Light is the most powerful zeitgeber, or time giver, that regulates the internal clock. In this era of breaking news and binge watching, we are bombarded with constant exposure to artificial light, resulting in disruption of our natural body rhythms.

Disturbances in the circadian rhythm can result in metabolic diseases, obesity, cancer, and mental health disorders. Despite the growing appreciation of chronobiology, circadian disorders are frequently missed in clinical practice.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS), also known as Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder, is one of the most commonly encountered circadian rhythm disorders in clinical practice and is often misdiagnosed as sleep-onset insomnia. DSPS should be suspected in those who complain of consistent patterns of sleep onset significantly later than the desired or conventional time. Patients with DSPS may also complain of problems with social and occupational functioning such as chronic tardiness to work or school, impaired academic or work performance, conflicts with parents or partners regarding wake time, and sleep deprivation. Common psychiatric comorbidities include depression, seasonal affective disorder, bipolar I disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A higher degree of circadian misalignment may be correlated with more severe depression and poorer response to treatment with antidepressant medications. Furthermore, it has been shown that patients with DSPS have a threefold higher prevalence of comorbid seasonal affective disorder compared to controls.

So, how do we differentiate DSPS from insomnia? A good clinical history is the cornerstone of psychiatric diagnosis and the diagnosis of DSPS is no different.

Diagnostic criteria according to the third edition of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD-3) is as follows:

  • The phase of the major sleep episode shows a significant delay in relation to the desired or required sleep time and wake-up time, as evidenced by a chronic or recurrent complaint by the patient or a caregiver of inability to fall asleep and difficulty awakening at a desired or required clock time.
  • The symptoms are present for at least three months.
  • When patients are allowed to choose their ad libitum schedule, they will exhibit improved sleep quality and duration for age and maintain a delayed phase of the 24-hour sleep-wake pattern.
  • Sleep log and, whenever possible, actigraphy monitoring for at least seven days demonstrate a delay in the timing of the habitual sleep period. Both work or school days and free days must be included within this monitoring.
  • The sleep disturbance is not better explained by another current sleep disorder, medical or neurological disorder, mental disorder, medication use, or substance use disorder.

Zeitgebers and lifestyle should be also assessed including use of caffeine and stimulants, diet, the timing of meals, exercise, work/school/activity schedules, evening light exposure, and use of screens. Sleep diaries are useful adjunct to the clinical history and are recommended to evaluate the sleep schedule. The AASM sleep diary is free to download and provides two weeks’ worth of data. Actigraphy provides an accurate measure of sleep-wake cycles but may not be readily available in clinical practice. Polysomnography is not indicated unless there is clinical suspicion for another sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea.

Once a diagnosis is established, behavioral modifications should be initiated in order to facilitate advancement of the circadian phase. Patients should be advised to minimize use of stimulants, avoid daytime naps, reduce light and screen exposure in the evenings, and avoid stimulating activities at least 2 hours before the time of desired sleep onset. Along with behavioral changes, melatonin and light are powerful body clock regulators that may be considered in the treatment plan. Short-term (<3 months) use of melatonin at a dose of 0.5mg, timed strategically 1.5 to 2 hours before the desired time of sleep onset can “pull” sleep earlier. Morning light therapy with a light box is effective for “pushing” back the wake time. It is recommended that patients start with using the light box at their natural wake time, then advance use of the box by 15 to 30 minutes each morning until the target wake time is reached. Use of hypnotics or sleep aids is not recommended. Consistency in following these strategies is the key to successfully shifting the sleep-wake cycle to align with one’s work or school schedule.

By recognizing and treating circadian rhythm disorders, we can help improve quality of life, reduce the risk of medical and psychiatric comorbidity and restore a natural, balanced body rhythm. Now, that’s something that will help us all sleep better at night.

Source: Psychiatry Network
Read the full article -> The Sleep Disorder You Might Be Missing

Want to get better sleep? Click here for our FREE sleep guide.

To enhance your body’s own production of cannabis, try meditation

To enhance your body’s own production of cannabis, try meditation
  • Researchers found that participants in a meditation retreat had increased levels of endocannabinoids and BDNF after the program, along with improved mood and wellbeing.
  • Endocannabinoids are cannabis-like substances produced naturally by the body and help improve mood, pain, sleep, metabolism, and the immune system. BDNF is a protein essential for brain health.
  • Improvements in mood and wellbeing were sustained one month after the program ended.

When I arrived at the retreat in the mountains of Tennessee for a 4-day yoga and meditation program, I had no idea what to expect. Although I was pretty nervous going in, by the end of the program my anxiety had transformed into a glorious feeling of bliss that I had never before experienced. Since ancient times, countless others have described similar things, using words like joy, boundlessness, and even ecstasy to describe their inner experiences, and all without the use of external substances. Now, modern science is starting to learn why that might be.

Inspired by their own experiences of feeling more calm, compassionate, and blissful by practicing meditation, a team of researchers led by Dr. Senthil Sadhasivam MD from the Indiana University School of Medicine decided to investigate further. They studied 142 participants in the same intensive 4-day Isha yoga meditation retreat that I had attended (1). Levels of endocannabinoids and BDNF were measured in participants’ blood samples immediately before the program started and one day after it concluded. Endocannabinoids are cannabis-like substances produced naturally by the body, and BDNF is a protein that functions like fertilizer in the brain. Participants also filled out rating scales to measure mood at three time points: immediately before the program started, one day after the program ended, and again one month later.

The results were astounding. Within one day of completing the 4-day program, levels of endocannabinoids and BDNF had increased in every single participant. The rise in these levels were associated with increases in mindfulness, happiness, and positive wellbeing.
One month after the retreat, participants continued to report improvements in mindfulness, happiness, and wellbeing. Although blood levels were not measured at the one month mark, the results of the study suggest that increased endocannabinoids and BDNF may explain the improvements in happiness and other psychological benefits. In light of these results, it is not surprising that one of the endocannabinoids is called anandamide and got its name from the word “ananda”, meaning “bliss” in Sanskrit.

It is not necessary to attend a multi day retreat to prime your endocannabinoid system and increase BDNF. Practicing meditation for just a few minutes a day has a positive effect on health and mood. When I first started an Isha meditation practice at home, the benefits were noticeable within just a few weeks. Little did I know that I was enhancing my body’s own production of the bliss molecule, no substances required.

(1) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2020/8438272/

Misdiagnosing Sleep Disorders

Misdiagnosing Sleep Disorders

The quality of sleep we obtain during the night affects how we feel during the day, our mood, and our emotional and mental well-being. However, issues we may have during the day can be misdiagnosed as other conditions even though they may be caused by sleep disorders.

Sleep disorders are actually more common than people imagine. The American Sleep Association claims that between 50 and 70 million adults in the US are affected by sleep disorders. Unfortunately, many sleep disorders share symptoms with other more commonly known conditions. By learning more about specific sleep disorders, you’ll be in a better position to judge your symptoms accurately and address the root cause of the issues you encounter. And in a short period of time, you’ll be able to return to a healthy sleep schedule.

ADHD Could Actually Be Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is characterized by the blocking of breathing pathways in the body while someone is sleeping. They’re not blocked all the way, of course, but enough to cause an individual to snore, take breathing pauses, or even gasp for breath. Like many sleeping disorders, sleep apnea makes it difficult to have a good night’s sleep which then causes issues like mood swings, irritability, fatigue, and problems with attention and concentration. These last few symptoms are often confused with ADHD symptoms and can lead to a misdiagnosis.

Experts agree that ADHD is overdiagnosed. On the other hand, sleep apnea is underdiagnosed and can mimic symptoms of ADHD. There are some simple and advanced treatments available for sleep apnea, received after a diagnosis is obtained through a comprehensive examination.

Insomnia Could Actually Be Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Do you go to bed but stay awake for hours before falling asleep? Do you not feel tiredness set in until the early hours of the morning and then have trouble dragging yourself out of bed in time for work? Many people who report this issue to their doctors call it insomnia. However, there’s another sleep disorder that is very similar: Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) that may be left undetected.

With DSPS, a person does have issues falling asleep, but once they do, they find that they’re able to get normal, good-quality sleep. Usually, a person with DSPS has their circadian rhythm off or delayed, and this is what causes the issue with falling asleep. Doctors will tell you that your body is on time, it’s just not on time with everyone else!

The misdiagnosis comes in when it’s time to wake up. People with DSPS may still have to wake up early for work or school, and if they weren’t able to fall asleep when they went to bed, they probably didn’t get enough sleep, leading to the symptoms we know to associate with insomnia.

Anxiety Could Actually Be Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) causes strange feelings in the leg and sudden urges to move them. It’s classified as a sleep disorder because most people present with more extreme symptoms at night.

RLS can cause many symptoms similar to anxiety. It can affect your concentration, memory, mood, performance at work or school, and your personal relationships. Because anxiety is more well-known and easier to understand, RLS is often treated as anxiety, and the symptoms remain because the root cause is not properly addressed. One specific cause of RLS may be undiagnosed iron deficiency. While there’s no cure for RLS, there are therapies and treatments to minimize symptoms.

Mood Disorders Could Actually Be Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is characterized by heavy drowsiness during the day or overwhelming sleep attacks. It is thought to be an incurable sleep disorder, but due to its similar symptoms of drowsiness and weariness, oftentimes narcolepsy is misdiagnosed. Narcolepsy may present as fatigue and low motivation, which may be mistakenly diagnosed as depression or another mood disorder.

Another major misdiagnosis is between narcolepsy and epilepsy. The sudden paralysis that causes muscles to weaken and people to fall asleep during narcolepsy may be mistakenly diagnosed as seizures. The best way to find out if you have narcolepsy is to see a physician who specializes in sleep disorders, where a sleep study might be required.

Mental Health Issues Could Actually Be Poor Diet

Having read the entries above, it is no secret that many mental health issues and sleep disorders share symptoms. In other words, where a mental health issue may present itself, you may actually be experiencing a symptom of a sleep disorder. Furthermore, many mental health issues themselves could be products of poor nutrition and diet, and issues with the gut-brain axis.

Just like sleep, our diet is a major part of our lives. You are what you eat, as the old adage says, and it’s literally and figuratively true. Poor diets and problems with the gut can cause or increase symptoms of anxiety or depression, along with other mental health issues. However, an optimized diet and healthy digestion can do the opposite—it can relieve a person of those symptoms.

One of our specialties here at IntraBalance is treating sleep disorders as well as teaching our patients to align themselves with the core pillars of holistic health. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms discussed above, call us to set up a consultation where we can give you more information about how to find the root cause of your discomfort.

Want to learn more about optimizing your sleep? Click here to get your FREE sleep guide.

Seven Ways Sleep Affects Your Mental Health

Seven Ways Sleep Affects Your Mental Health

1. Undiagnosed or Misdiagnosed Sleep Disorders

Sleep disturbance can be both a cause and a symptom of mental health problems. But this relationship does not imply that sleep problems are always symptoms of a larger mood disorder. They might be indicative of a standalone sleep disorder, such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and more.

Because sleep patterns and mental health disorders are so intertwined, sleep disorders are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed as a myriad of other mental health conditions, such as ADHD in adults.

This also means that not all people who experience trouble sleeping have insomnia. What might look like insomnia might actually be delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS). Those with DSPS complain of consistently falling asleep later than desired and difficulty waking up at the desired time. This delay in sleep onset can lead to significant distress or impairment in social and occupational functioning. However, when we’re able to regulate our sleep schedule, the quality of our sleep can improve.

2. Lost Routines

Our body keeps its own routine by regulating our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are biological clocks that regulate our sleep-wake cycle and other bodily functions like digestion and hormone release. Every living thing has a circadian rhythm, including plants, animals, and microbes.

While our body naturally regulates our circadian rhythm, it is strongly influenced by signals in our environment, like light. Most people’s circadian rhythm cycles with the sun: when there is more light, like during the day, we feel more awake. When there is less light, like at night, we feel drowsy.

But in our era of smartphones and easy access to digital information, this constant exposure to light can throw off our body’s natural sleep routine and affect our mental health. A lack of routine can lead us to feel stressed and disorganized.

However, we can structure our environment in ways that help our circadian rhythm do its job. Minimize blue light exposure by turning down your screen brightness, dim your light a few hours before bed, and stay in bright light during the day.

3. Lost Productivity

Understanding your body clock or chronotype can help maximize feelings of restfulness and productivity. Chronotypes are the behavioral manifestations of our natural circadian rhythms, which influences the likelihood that we’ll fall asleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period. Chronotypes depend on genetics, environmental influences, age, and more.

Chronotypes are generally separated into morning types and evening types, but there are variations. Our chronotype dictates when we like to wake up and when we have our greatest energy or feel the most productive.

A mismatch between our chronotype and environment can have detrimental effects and lead to a loss of productivity, which means our chronotype is important to consider when planning activities and tasks. If you know you’re an early riser and feel most productive before lunch, try to plan all your meetings and deadlines during that time, especially if you anticipate a crash in the afternoon. Ensuring a good fit between our chronotype and environment can help increase our productivity.

4. Memory Problems

Think back to when you were in school. Do you remember staying up late cramming for a test? You might have considered pulling an all-nighter, but then you remember someone told you to “just sleep on it” to ensure you remember the material.

During sleep, our brain organizes and consolidates information that we took in throughout the day. This is our brain’s way of making sense of what we’ve learned and influences three specific processes:

  • Acquisition – how our brain receives and learns information
  • Consolidation – the process by which our brain strengthens and extends connections to make our memories more stable and useful
  • Recall – how our brain accesses and uses stored information and memories

Poor sleep negatively affects all three processes. We’re less likely to retain and remember information. It’s almost as if all your teachers telling you not to pull all-nighters were onto something.

5. Decreased Creativity in Problem Solving

Similarly, “sleeping on it” allows us to brainstorm creative solutions to problems. Sleep facilitates creative problem solving by granting us an incubation period, or a period of time spent away from the problem at hand.

Some research on creative problem solving suggests our brain prunes misleading information and dead ends during sleep so that we can later return to the problem at hand with a clear mind.

6. Increased Tension and Irritability

Think about how you feel when you don’t get adequate sleep. Maybe you had trouble falling asleep, tossed and turned all night, or woke up much earlier than you’d like. Are you cheerful and ready to take on the day? Probably not. We’re often pretty cranky when we don’t get enough sleep.

Even small changes in the amount of sleep you’re getting can chip away at a normally cheerful exterior. In fact, the American Psychological Association recognizes a relationship between sleep and stress, whereby a decrease in quantity or quality of sleep can lead to problems with irritability and muscle tension. No wonder it feels like we’re waking up on the wrong side of the bed.

7. Increased Risk of Anxiety and Depression

Sleep disturbances can also increase our risk for developing anxiety and depression. People with insomnia are 10 times more likely to suffer from depression and 17 times more likely to suffer from anxiety. The hypervigilance characteristic of anxiety forces people to stay alert at all times, which makes it difficult to truly relax and have restful sleep. For depression, the relationship between poor sleep and this disorder is so clear that insomnia has long been considered a risk factor for depression.

The relationship between sleep and mental health is clearly complex, but understanding it can help us live better, healthier lives. And that’s something that will help anyone sleep well at night.

Understanding these seven principles and the importance of a good night’s sleep is just the beginning. Schedule a consultation or sign up for my upcoming online course where we will do a deep dive into the science behind a good night’s sleep and help you discover how to make it a regularity in your life.

Ready to optimize your sleep? Get our FREE holistic sleep guide!

Seven Simple Steps to Improve Diet and Digestion

Seven Simple Steps to Improve Diet and Digestion

When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use; when diet is correct, medicine is of no need.

“What should I be eating?” is a question I hear frequently from my patients. Research shows that diet affects not only physical health, but also has a significant impact on mental health and wellbeing. Gastrointestinal and digestive complaints are common in psychiatric disorders and maintaining a well-balanced diet and healthy digestion is a cornerstone of holistic psychiatric treatment. As an Integrative Psychiatrist, my appointments are not complete without a discussion of diet and nutrition. From ketogenic, to paleo, gluten-free, vegan, intermittent fasting, and Atkins, there are so many diets to choose from and the plethora of information available can be overwhelming and confusing. There is no one size fits all approach and what works for one person may not be right for the next. So, when counseling my patients on diet, I offer seven basic Ayurvedic principles that apply to everyone:

1. Make gradual changes

In Ayurveda, quick, drastic changes in diet are not advisable. Rather, gradual, gentle changes are recommended to allow time for the body to adjust to your new dietary routine. Taking things slow and steady is also easier to implement and more likely to bring lasting success. For example, if you are currently consuming a Standard American Diet (SAD) and having trouble getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables, instead of a complete overhaul, start by dividing your plate in half. Fill one side with colorful fruits and veggies and the other with a half size portion of your usual food. With consistent small changes over time, you’ll find that your food choices naturally start to shift.

2. Slow down and chew well

Many of us eat on the go, while in our cars, or at our desks working, checking email, or reading, not paying attention to what we’re eating or how we’re eating it. In Ayurveda, it is understood that the way we eat impacts digestion and overall health. First, slow it down. Take at least 10 to 15 minutes to eat while sitting in a calm environment, keeping distractions to a minimum. Chewing the food well is another simple but fundamental step that most of us forget about. Digestion begins in the mouth, thus it is important to chew thoroughly, as much as 30 times per bite for very dense foods. Lastly, whatever you are eating, take it with confidence! Enjoy and savor it, paying attention, slowing down, letting go of any associated guilt. If you are reading this right now while eating, close your browser, pay attention to your meal, chew it well, and enjoy!

3. Stay on a schedule

Even 5,000 years ago, the importance of regulating the circadian rhythm was understood in Ayurveda. Eating at the same time every day helps to synchronize circadian cycles, improves sleep and energy, helps with weight loss, regulates blood sugar and hormone secretion, and improves digestion. Try to eat your meals around the same time every day, give or take an hour. Give yourself bonus points if your largest meal is midday when digestive power is at its peak. Eating your largest meal at lunch will help fuel you throughout the day and reduce the likelihood of overeating in the evening when metabolism slows down. Studies show that people who eat their largest meal at lunch time also have an easier time losing weight.

4. Use herbs and spices

Spices are a key component of the Ayurvedic armamentarium. In addition to providing flavor, they also aid digestion, promote a healthy gut microbiome, and have myriad other health benefits. Fennel and cumin, for example, are effective for bloating, turmeric is recognized for its anti-inflammatory properties, cardamom is an anti-oxidant and anti-spasmodic, and cinnamon can help balance blood sugar levels. Have fun and experiment with different herbs and spices in your food. Indian, Mexican, and Mediterranean recipes are a great place to start. A caveat – be careful with hot spices like ginger or cayenne if you have any issues with heartburn, GERD, or inflammation of the GI tract.

5. Eat more (lightly cooked) plants

Eating whole, minimally processed foods with an emphasis on plants provides a multitude of health benefits and is compatible with most diets. The tendency may be to include more salads or smoothies, but raw vegetables may not be suitable for everyone depending on your digestive balance and dosha type. Raw plants are harder to digest and can cause issues with bloating, gas, dryness, and feeling cold when the digestion system is not functioning optimally. In Ayurveda, lightly cooking vegetables on low heat is preferred and helps ease digestion.

6. Avoid extremes in temperature

As drastic changes in diet are not advisable in Ayurveda, nor are extremes in the temperature of food and beverages. Ice cold foods and beverages may dampen the digestive fire and affect metabolism, while piping hot foods can aggravate inflammatory conditions in the gut. Although the types of foods to consume may vary according to your constitution and digestive type, consuming room temperature or warm foods is a good rule of thumb for most people.

7. Listen to your body

Your body has an innate intelligence and will tell you what’s working for your system and what isn’t. Many different factors determine what types of foods are best suited for you, and a diet that seems to work wonders for your best friend or coworker may not be right for you. Slow down and pay attention to how different types of foods interact with your system. How does the food you eat affect your energy, bowel movements, digestion, skin, sleep, mood, and cognitive functioning? Listening to your body will not only provide you with invaluable information, but the act of slowing down and paying attention can itself be therapeutic.

From Light To Dark: Transform Your Sleep This Season

From Light To Dark: Transform Your Sleep This Season

Moving from downtown Chicago to the valleys of Marin County, California was a lifestyle change in many ways, but one change was particularly striking: it was dark at night. I was accustomed to the bright lights of Chicago’s many street lamps and neon signs streaming in through my windows as if to call out that the day was not yet over, but in Marin it felt like bedtime at 5:30pm.

Light is a powerful force that affects our sleep cycles and the enveloping darkness of my new environment was like a velvety blanket inviting me to curl up into a deep slumber.

As a psychiatrist and sleep specialist, I am acutely aware of the impact of light exposure on mood and the circadian rhythm. During the daytime, sunlight stimulates light sensitive cells in the retina at the back of the eye. This results in a cascade of information being sent to different brain regions including the suprachiastmatic nucleus (SCN), the clock center of the brain. Peripheral clocks located in other organs interact with the central clock as part of the regulatory system. External cues such as light and temperature reset our body clock, or circadian rhythm. Every living organism, from individual cells to plants and animals have a circadian rhythm, which is set approximately to a 24-hour cycle.

The circadian rhythm is what drives our sleep cycles, hormone secretion, and metabolic processes. Exposure to light, specifically blue light, suppresses our brain’s natural production of the sleep hormone melatonin and stimulates the parts of the brain involved in alertness and attention.

Before the advent of the light bulb, we were exposed to blue light only during the daytime hours and the warm glow of firelight in the evenings encouraged a state of relaxation. Now, we are bombarded by blue light at all hours as it is found almost everywhere, from our televisions to smart phones, to fluorescent bulbs and LED lights. Exposure to blue light wavelengths in the evenings alters our sleep rhythms by inhibiting our brain’s natural production of melatonin, resulting in altered sleep patterns, insomnia, and daytime sleepiness.

Research has shown that people who are exposed to blue light at night, such as shift workers, have higher rates of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression.

In our 24/7 society, there is no getting around technology and artificial lighting. So, what can be done? Regulating the timing of blue light exposure is a simple but critical way to reset our circadian rhythms and sleep cycle.

  • Dim the lights in your home a few hours before bedtime. This may include turning off overhead lights and using table lamps or installing dimmer switches to better control the level of ambient light.
  • Minimize blue light exposure in the evenings by turning down the brightness on cell phone screens, laptops, tablets, and e-book readers. Apps such as Twilight and f.lux filter out blue light from smart phones and computers by changing the color temperature of the screen. Wearing amber colored, blue blocking glasses in the evening is also a safe and effective way to avoid blue light. Keep TVs out of the bedroom and set a curfew for using screens in the evening, preferably 1-2 hours before bed to allow your brain time to start producing melatonin naturally.
  • Keep it dark during your sleep zone. Waking up in the middle of the night is normal and typically not a cause of concern. However, just a little burst of light from looking at screens, opening the fridge, or turning on the lights to use the bathroom during awakenings can make it harder to fall back asleep. Minimize any light exposure during the night by avoiding use of screens and using a nightlight instead of overhead lights if you need to get out of bed.
  • Maintain a consistent wake-up time and expose yourself to bright light at the same time every morning. If it is still very dark in the morning or you struggle with getting up on time, consider using a sunrise alarm that gradually simulates a sunrise in the bedroom.
  • Stay in bright light during the daytime to help with alertness and to keep the circadian rhythm aligned with your daily routines.

Source: TMO
Read the full article -> From Light to Dark: Transform Your Sleep This New Year

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