Anne Foy

Sleep And Memory

January 3, 2017

By Anne Foy, Guest Contributor

For some years now, the world appears to have seen sleep as an inconvenience. Sure, we acknowledge that it’s something which needs to happen. We’re even aware of the dire consequences [1] of not getting enough sleep [2]. But we nonetheless try to push it to the margins of our existence. We force ourselves out of bed before we’re fully awake, and, at the other end of the day, bludgeon our exhausted brains into keeping us awake for longer. We stifle sleep with caffeine, or bring it on artificially with pills [3]. We try to make it into our servant, to be called upon at times of our choosing and hidden away when not wanted. Little wonder that so many of us are struggling with sleep disorders. However, poor sleep does a lot more than simply make us feel groggy and slow. Over time, chronic lack of sleep can have a very serious impact upon your cognition. In particular, sleep is associated with good memory function - so much so that disordered sleeping habits are associated with dementia.

More Than Just ‘Recharging’ Time

There is a common misconception that sleep is about ‘switching off’ in order to ‘recharge’. Humans aren’t cellphones, however. We’re far, far more complicated than that. Sleep is in fact the time when your body and mind carries out some of its most complex operations - the kind of thing it doesn’t want your conscious mind and day to day life interrupting. This is why doctors and healthcare providers [4] are eager for patients to sleep well - without good sleep, a lot of these vital health and maintenance operations go undone, leading to myriad health issues down the line. One of these vital operations is the sorting and processing of memories. We’ve known for a long time that sleep plays an incredibly important role in healthy memory, but haven’t been entirely sure precisely what it does or how it does it. Recently, however, a lot of facts about sleep and memory have been discovered [5] - and revealed serious implications about lack of sleep and cognitive decline.

Deep Sleep Neuron Connections

When we’re in deep, ‘slow-wave’ sleep, our brains effectively ‘replay’ what we’ve experienced during the day. As we’re asleep, it’s able to do this without cognitive interruption, and therefore ‘concentrate’ (for want of a better word) on what it’s experienced. During deep sleep, scientists have observed [6] brains making lots of new connections between neurons. New connections forming between neurons is what ‘learning’ looks like from a neurobiological perspective. From a psychological perspective, ‘learning’ involves taking memories, extrapolating from them, and then storing those memories in ‘long-term’. This is the process the scientists observed occurring in the brains of sleeping subjects.

Lack Of Sleep And Dementia

Quite obviously, if your brain uses its deep sleep time to sort through, store, and learn from memories, a lack of deep sleep is going to cause issues with memory. However, it seems to go a lot deeper than the odd spate of simple forgetfulness. Studies show that disturbed sleep patterns can significantly increase one’s chances of developing dementia. As yet, nobody is entirely sure why this should be the case, but the facts are indisputable [7], and many are reasonably sure that it has something to do with sleep’s role in memory formation. Some speculate that lack of usage during deep sleep causes the brain's memory-retention functions to degrade. Others believe that lack of sleep generally puts an inordinate amount of strain on the brain, causing cell death and therefore cognitive decline.All in all, whatever is actually going on inside the skull, if you want to learn more, remember more, and generally maintain good cognitive health, it’s best to sort out your sleep cycle - and quickly!

[1] Think!, “Fatigue”, UK Government

[2] Mercola, “How Dangerous Is Sleep Deprivation, Really?”, Mar 2014

[3] Ny Daily News, “CDC: 9 million Americans use prescription sleeping pills”, Aug 2013

[4] Q, "health cover"

[5] James Gallagher, “Sleep’s memory role discovered”, BBC, Jun 2014

[6] Guang Yang, Cora Sau Wan Lai, Joseph Cichon, Lei Ma, Wei Li, Wen-Biao Gan, “Sleep promotes branch-specific formation of dendritic spines after learning”, Science, Jun 2014

[7] Caroline Cassels, “Disturbed Sleep Linked To Increased Dementia Risk”, Medscape, Jul 2014

 

The Importance of Sleep Hygiene in Recovering Mental Health and Addiction

February 15, 2015

By Anne Foy, Guest Contributor

Hygiene is a highly emphasized feature in our everyday life. We are always encouraged to practice the highest level when preparing, cleaning our homes, being out in public, and taking care of ourselves and our loved ones, particularly children and the elderly. In this day and age, it is difficult to walk into a hospital without a hand sanitizer advocating the importance of clean hands, or public washrooms, restaurants, and other facilities demonstrating the same. Yet when it comes to “sleep hygiene”, our attitude is often lax, despite the sheer number of studies which stress just how vital sleep is for basic functioning. How strange it is, then, that we strive to not cut corners by any means when it comes to factors like work, diet, and fitness, but our sleep is valued as dispensable, often leading to problematic and even serious consequences for the body. 

Vulnerable Minds at Risk without Sleep

The role which sleep plays on our mental health is profound. We see this on a day to day level when we have missed a few hours of sleep and find ourselves struggling to function normally, often requiring a kick from a stimulant like caffeine to get us back into gear. On a long-term basis, we begin to see how a lack of sleep takes its toll on the body; new parents and hard-working students, as well as those managing demanding jobs and working irregular shifts will start to experience fatigue and other effects. Many people who are in this situation do not choose to practice poor sleep hygiene – their schedule may not allow the required number of hours of sleep as well as a healthy routine. The body will naturally acclimatize and adapt to these irregularities, but on an even more long-term basis, bad sleep hygiene will have a negative impact.[i]

That is why establishing a stable sleep schedule is essential for everyone, and especially for those who are vulnerable.[ii] Sleep is the natural healer, the body’s most effective “time out” button where it can do some serious repair work. This is a vital function for everyone, but especially for those suffering from depression or recovering from substance abuse. For many people, insomnia can lead to the start of depression or perpetuate an already present condition, and in addicts, sleep is often completely dysfunctional where circadian dissonance occurs. This is partly because of the biological effects which certain substances have on the brain – drugs which initiate a huge comedown will plunge the body into a deep sleep, while other drugs will pump up the adrenaline and keep the body awake and active for several hours. Those who use drugs for this reason – whether it’s to perform longer at work or engage in a high party lifestyle – will subject their body to an abnormal schedule, and those who already engage in such a lifestyle, especially teens, are already at risk for potentially developing addiction problems.[iii]

Healing through Sleeping

Establishing a healthy sleeping schedule may seem like a fairly obvious, commonplace task, but especially for addicts, it’s anything but straightforward. Lifestyle habits and withdrawal symptoms can hinder this task considerably. Yet it is a vital step towards recovery. As well as giving the body the appropriate time needed to recover and restore, it is also about establishing a lifestyle which reflects a normal schedule, as well as empowering the individual during waking hours to adjust to a certain routine. This can be a challenging – and often discouraging – change to undertake; insomnia is a common side-effect of withdrawal and re-adjusting to a healthy sleep schedule can take months to achieve. However, with the right program in place and with support from friends, family, mentors and professionals, individuals can gradually ease themselves into a lifestyle where they are the ones conditioning their environment, not the other way around. 12 step programs are particularly effective in this instance, because they make lifestyle changes on a consistent and gradual, rather than drastic, basis which allows the individual to adapt slowly but surely. This means that reintroducing and reintegrating healthy sleep forms a valuable and effective component of this part of the process.

Using one or more therapeutic techniques to restore the body and help it recover from addiction can involve holistic practices as well as safe methods like those used with the MindSpa. While on their own they may not be the sole answer, they can certainly contribute to helping specific processes, like circadian rhythms, gain some regularity, which will in turn have a strongly beneficial impact on the overall health of the individual. This is preferable to using sleeping medication which can have a negative effect and which is addictive in nature along with other habits[iv] – instead, it is using a safer approach to conditioning the body to naturally adjust itself to a healthier pattern.

Once a regular schedule of sleep is established, then each day can be that day which many people in recovery hail as a fresh start.

 

[i] HealthLine.com. “The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body”. Accessed February 20, 2015.

http://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body

 

[ii] DBSAlliance.org. “Why Is Sleep So Important?”. Accessed February 20. 2015.

http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_sleep_why

 

[iii] DailyScienceJournal.com. “Poor Sleep in Teens May Lead to Alcohol and Drug Addiction”. Accessed February 20, 2015.

http://dailysciencejournal.com/poor-sleep-teens-may-lead-alcohol-drug-addiction/2796/

 

[iv] DrFrankLipman.com. “Sleep Tips: Top 10 Sleep Mistakes And Their Solutions”. Accessed February 20, 2015.

http://www.drfranklipman.com/sleep-tips-top-10-sleep-mistakes-and-their-solutions/

How Mindfulness Can Help Reduce Your Stress Levels

February 26, 2015

By Anne Foy, Guest Contributor

Many people dismiss mindfulness as being the ‘fluffy’ part of meditation: as something adopted by those who lead certain relaxed and laidback lifestyles and enjoy too much yoga. But actually, mindfulness can be adopted as part of a scientifically valid and proven way of helping to reduce anxiety and alleviate stress levels. [1] So what exactly is mindfulness and how can it play a part in helping you to relax?

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the act of being aware of your thoughts, your feelings and the sensations within your body at all times, and also of being aware of your environment: of both the effect you are having on the world around you, and the effect your environment is having on you. [2] This high level of self-awareness has many wonderful effects on both your physical and mental health: being aware of your body can help you to regulate your breathing patterns, and control and understand your emotions in a better and more constructive way.  Mindfulness also encourages you to regulate your attention: improving your focus and preventing you from being distracted by unimportant things when you are trying to focus and concentrate on something significant. Finally, mindfulness can also help you to change your self-perception: by having a fluid and changeable idea about who you are, you are left in a better position to make positive changes in your life without feeling that you are sacrificing your sense of self.

There are many benefits of adopting mindfulness in these ways. It can encourage you to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as avoiding drinking alcohol or eating the wrong foods: ideal if you’re looking to make positive lifestyle changes and lose weight or simply focus on becoming more healthy. Brain scans conducted on mindful individuals has also shown that mindfulness can improve your memory, improve your ability to learn, and increase your levels of concentration. Mindfulness can also have a positive effect on your relationship with others, and the way you interact with people (both strangers and those close to you). It does this by encouraging you to be compassionate, to show altruism, and to put yourself in the place of others so you better understand what they are going through. Finally, of course, mindfulness can be used to help alleviate stress and anxiety. [3]

Mindful Based Stress Reduction

The technical name for using mindfulness to alleviate your stress levels is Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). [4] Long term stress can have a massively detrimental effect on your overall health and wellbeing. However mindfulness can help you to take back control of what is happening in your life and let go of the feelings of pressure, helplessness and lack of control that are all too often signs of stress. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) incorporates several different techniques such as meditation, gentle yoga and mind-body exercises into your daily routine in order to help you cope with stress and alleviate anxiety. Stress is now considered to be a national epidemic. Over 73% of the American workforce has admitted to experiencing regular stress that causes them either psychological or physical symptoms, or a combination of both. Of those Americans surveyed, 48% felt that their stress levels had gone up over the last 5 years. [5] It is clear then that stress is a problem that needs dealing with, particularly within the workforce. The best thing about mindfulness is that it is something that you can practice anywhere, either at home or at your desk, and that it doesn’t have to take up a substantial amount of your day. When you wake up every morning take a minute or two to center yourself; listen to your body and breath deeply. Practice the same focus and deep breathing exercises when stress arises throughout the day. You’ll quickly find yourself more able to process and assimilate stressful situations, and your capacity to handle stress will gradually increase.

Additional Reading

[1] “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress”, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical Schoolhttp://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967

[2] Mindfulness: more than simply meditation”, Kwik Medhttp://www.kwikmed.org/mindfulness-simply-meditation/

[3] “Mindfulness reduces stress, promotes resilience, University of California, Los Angeleshttp://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/using-mindfulness-to-reduce-stress-96966

[4] “MBSR Stress relief”, Be Mindfulhttp://bemindful.co.uk/mbsr/about-mbsr/

[5] “How to reduce stress with mindfulness”, Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, http://siyli.org/how-to-reduce-stress-with-mindfulness-2/

 

Could Mindfulness Reduce Employee Absenteeism In the Workplace?

November 2, 2015

By Anne Foy. Guest Contributor

Whilst mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular, it tends to be a very personal experience which individuals find their own way to, and learn about at their own pace. However that could all be set to change. In research that could lead more employers to offer their employees dedicated mindfulness training, it has been revealed that mindfulness can help to reduce the levels of employee absenteeism in the workplace [1], saving the nation’s corporations millions of dollars. Absenteeism and the number of sick days being taken annually in the United States is a huge problem for the economy, with research suggesting that sick days (both valid and less so) cost an incredible $576 billion every year.[2]

Whilst mindfulness training isn’t amongst the most popular benefits offered by American employers right now (with that privilege being reserved for companies that offer both a high level of health care coverage, and assistance with retirement saving and planning [3]), enlightened firms are beginning to realise that by offering mindfulness training to their employees, and encouraging mindful practice both in and out of the workplace, they can support and enhance the wellbeing of their employees whilst simultaneouslyreducing their own expenditure on sick days and absenteeism. It can also help to reduce their health care and health insurance expenditure, as mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress related illness as well as helping to minimise and control any mental health problems too.

The Benefits of Mindfulness in The Workplace

Mindfulness can be incredibly beneficial in the workplace. Cultivating moment to moment feeling and self-awareness may seem like something that should be individual, but it can actually improve both the atmosphere and the levels of productivity in the workplace. [4] Mindfulness is a wonderful tool for building self-confidence as well as self-awareness, which is massively useful for team leaders and managers who are looking to share their vision with their teams and inspire them to get on board with new projects or new techniques. Research has also found, perhaps surprisingly, that mindfulness training can be just as efficient when delivered in an online environment as it can when it is delivered in an offline, face to face setting. This makes it much faster, easier, and more efficient for all employees to benefit from this training whilst causing the minimum amount of disruption to the workplace environment. Mindfulness is a wonderful workplace tool, particularly in workplaces that are fast paced and high pressured environments. The stress of working within these high pressure  workplaces can often lead to absenteeism. 65% of American employees have claimed that stress has caused them problems in the workplace, and cite this as one of the main reasons that they may choose to take time off work. [5] Practicing mindfulness can make you feel less stressed, more resilient, full of positive energy and better able to cope with the pressures of anything that your day throws at you, which is why mindfulness has so many positive applications in the workplace.

It is clear, then, that there are a myriad of positive ways in which mindfulness can be applied in the workplace that will be beneficial both to employers and their employees. Whilst wellbeing programmes (such as mindfulness training or utilising the Mind Spa system) should never be used in lieu of working to reduce stressors in the workplace, they can certainly be beneficial in helping to reduce stress, and better handle and manage those forces within a workplace that cannot be controlled. Now is an important time for the Mindfulness movement, with mindfulness becoming more wide stream and more widely accepted. That makes it the ideal time for the premises of mindfulness to be adopted by the corporate world, in order to reach and support as many people as possible.

References                                 

[1] “Mindfulness training reduces workplace stress and absenteeism”, Workplace Savings and Benefits, http://www.wsandb.co.uk/wsb/news/2432353/mindfulness-training-reduces-workplace-stress-and-absenteeism  

[2] “U.S. Workforce Illness Costs $576B Annually From Sick Days To Workers Compensation”, Forbeshttp://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2012/09/12/u-s-workforce-illness-costs-576b-annually-from-sick-days-to-workers-compensation/

[3] “An overview of employee benefit offerings in the U.S”, Society for Human Resource Managementhttps://www.shrm.org/Research/SurveyFindings/Documents/14-0301%20Beneftis_Report_TEXT_FNL.pdf

[4] “Three benefits to mindfulness at work”, Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/three_benefits_to_mindfulness_at_work

[5] “Workplace stress”, The American Institute of Stresshttp://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/

 

Mindfulness and the Importance of Developing Compassion in your Career

November 22, 2016

By Anne Foy, Guest Contributor 

Mindfulness has become something of a buzzword amongst professionals hoping to de-stress, enhance their wellbeing, and take control of their lives. And yet many people aren’t really clear about what mindfulness actually is. Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of paying close attention to the world around you and the way it impacts on your wellbeing: thinking about the clean fresh air as you take several deep breaths, enjoying the sensation of warm water on your skin as you wash your hands.

Effectively, mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment and processing on the thoughts and feelings that moment creates, and is now regarded as a very effective therapeutic tool. Mindfulness helps people to feel calmer, more connected with the world around them, and more aware of their role within it. As a result, one of the ‘side effects’ of practicing mindfulness is that mindful people are more compassionate: and this is becoming increasingly important within the modern working environment, and is something that many professionals are now striving to achieve, separately to a state of mindfulness.

The Professional Benefits of Compassion

There are many professional benefits of demonstrating compassion in the workplace. Creating a culture of compassion within a workplace has been shown to bring out the best in employees within a wide range of different industries, and increases both morale, productivity, and both of these things will ultimately impact the financial bottom line of the company.

Bringing people together in a supportive environment can also lead to career progression Acknowledging the strength and attributes of others doesn’t negate your own achievements: in fact, if anything, showing this kind of support and compassion will only increase your own standing within your company and bring the right attention to you at the same time. 

Most important though is the impact it has on individual employee wellbeing: it is important that compassion is not viewed as a self-serving act and simply as a tool to assist career progression. Rather, you should consider the ways that learning to demonstrate true compassion can enhance every aspect of your life and enrich your journey through the world, as well as through your career.

Learning to Show Self-Compassion

As well as showing compassion to others, is it important that we learn to show self-compassion. According to researcher Kristen Neff, self-compassion is composed of three parts: “self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.” We often find it easier to forgive others, to show them this common humanity, whilst not forgiving ourselves for the mistakes that we make in life.

Many people choose to consider self-compassion to be something of a self-indulgence, but in reality showing compassion to yourself when you fail, make a mistake, or fall short of expectations (both your own and others) will make you a happier and healthier individual. Showing self-compassion when you fail can also help to get rid of the fear of failure so common in many young professionals.

When you are no longer afraid to fail, you are free to take risks, to make leaps of faith, and to ultimately be brave enough to further your career more than you ever felt possible. Everyone fails: everyone suffers hardships, whether they be personal or professional. Forgiving yourself for those mistakes, showing self-compassion, and accepting that you are infallible, just like everyone else, is an important step in your personal development.

Self-compassion may sound like just another buzz word (it has even been called ‘the new mindfulness’) but in reality it is an important life skill to develop if you want to be happy and successful, both in your life and in your career.

Compassion and Mindfulness are a much more important part of career development than you might thing; getting your mind in a happy and healthy space is an important aspect of developing your career and becoming the person you want to be.

Citations

“Why Self-Compassion is the new Mindfulness”, Mindful.orghttp://www.mindful.org/self-compassion-new-mindfulness/

“The importance of Mindfulness and compassion at work: LinkedIn Speaker Series with Matthieu Ricard”, LinkedInhttps://blog.linkedin.com/2015/06/25/the-importance-of-mindfulness-and-compassion-at-work-linkedin-speaker-series-with-matthieu-ricard

“Compassion: An essential ingredient of recovery”, Recovery.orghttp://www.recovery.org/compassion-an-essential-ingredient-of-recovery/

"What is compassion and how can we cultivate it", The Oxford Mindfulness Centrehttp://www.oxfordmindfulness.org/cultivating-compassion/

“Does Mindfulness Make you More Compassionate?”, Berkeley Universityhttp://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/does_mindfulness_make_you_compassionate

“10 ways to bring more compassion to the workplace”, The Chopra Centerhttp://www.chopra.com/articles/10-ways-to-bring-more-compassion-to-the-workplace

 

Member Login
Welcome, (First Name)!

Forgot? Show
Log In
Enter Member Area
My Profile Not a member? Sign up. Log Out