Friday, June 15, 2018

What Causes Insomnia? - Dan Kwartler

What keeps you up at night? Pondering deep questions? Excitement about a big trip? Stress about unfinished work? What if the very thing keeping you awake was stress about losing sleep? This seemingly unsolvable loop is at the heart of insomnia, the world’s most common sleep disorder. So what is insomnia? And is there any way to break the cycle? Dan Kwartler details the science of insomnia.

Lesson by Dan Kwartler, animation by Sharon Colman.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Ten Reasons Why We Need More Contact with Nature

 Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

By:Richard Louv 

It improves your memory, helps you recuperate and even makes your sense of smell more acute. So turn off your computer and get outside

• The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need

We have a human right to a meaningful connection to nature, and we have the responsibilities that come with that right. Many people today support the notion that every person, especially every young person, has a right to access the internet. How much more should every person have a right to access the natural world, because that connection is part of our humanity?

• Humans are hard-wired to love – and need – exposure to the natural world

Researchers have found that regardless of culture people gravitate to images of nature, especially the savannah. Our inborn affiliation for nature may explain why we prefer to live in houses with particular views of the natural world.

• We suffer when we withdraw from nature

Australian professor Glenn Albrecht, director of the Institute of Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University, has coined the term solastalgia. He combined the Latin word solacium (comfort — as in solace) and the Greek root – algia (pain) to form solastalgia, which he defines as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault.”

• Nature brings our senses alive

Scientists recently found that humans have the ability to track by scent alone. Some humans rival bats in echolocation or biosonar abilities. Military studies show that some soldiers in war zones see nuances others miss, and can spot hidden bombs; by and large these individuals tend to be rural or inner city soldiers, who grew up more conscious of their surroundings.

• Individuals and businesses can become nature smart

Spending more time outdoors nurtures our “nature neurons” and our natural creativity. For example, at the University of Michigan, researchers demonstrated that, after just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20%. In workplaces designed with nature in mind, employees are more productive and take less sick time.

• Nature heals

Pennsylvania researchers found that patients in rooms with tree views had shorter hospitalisations, less need for pain medications and fewer negative comments in the nurses’ notes, compared to patients with views of brick.

• Nature can reduce depression and improve psychological wellbeing

Researchers in Sweden have found joggers who exercise in a natural green setting feel more restored and less anxious, angry, or depressed than people who burn the same amount of calories jogging in a built urban setting.

• Nature builds community bonds

Levels of neurochemicals and hormones associated with social bonding are elevated during animal-human interactions. Researchers at the University of Rochester report that exposure to the natural environment leads people to nurture close relationships with fellow human beings, value community, and to be more generous with money.

• Nature bonds families and friends

New ways are emerging to make that bond, such as family nature clubs, through which multiple families go hiking, gardening or engage in other outdoor activities together. In the UK, families are forming “green gyms” to bring people of all ages together to do green exercise.

• The future is at stake

The natural world’s benefits to our cognition and health will be irrelevant if we continue to destroy the nature around us, but that destruction is assured without a human reconnection to nature.

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

What Are the Health Benefits of Unplugging?

So far, there’s not much strong science suggesting a direct connection between taking regular breaks from digital devices and your health. Investigation of this issue is still in its nascent stage.

There have, of course, been multiple studies suggesting that over-involvement with our digital devices can create or exacerbate problems.

But so far, there’s no research telling us that making a concerted effort to “unplug” from our devices for any specific period of time—whether it’s for one day or one week or for a couple of hours every day—will do anything to benefit your health.

Are screens the problem or a symptom?

It’s become part of our culture to think that being “too plugged in” and too dependent on our devices is the root of our problems, rather than a manifestation of other problems. Is constantly checking your phone during dinner with your family causing you to be less close to them? Or are you constantly checking your phone because it’s a convenient way to avoid conversations? Are you anxious and having trouble sleeping because you’re spending too much time online? Or are you spending lots of time online to try to tune out your anxiety?

We humans are social animals, and to the extent that our social interactions with other people are being replaced by interactions with devices, that may have detrimental effects on our health. But I’d have to underline that word “may.” It certainly seems to make sense, but it hasn’t yet been proven. If a patient told me, “I spend almost all my day online, doing either work or social activities, and my life’s pretty good,” I don’t know that I as his or her doctor would push for changing that.

None of this is to say that I think it’s a good thing that so many of us are so constantly connected to our devices. If we spend too much time staring at a screen, the life that is happening right in front of us—our kids’ childhoods, conversations with our partners, work that we can do to help make the world better—may just pass us by.

Setting aside protected time each day for direct interaction with people—or for solitude and meditation without the interruption of a Facebook feed or a stream of texts—instinctively feels like a good thing. But we shouldn’t make unwarranted claims or assumptions about what these tech breaks might or might not do for our physical and mental health.

Unplugging by itself probably won’t work some magic in your life. But if you spend that digital-free time focusing on your relationships and activities you enjoy, now that can make your life better.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

How Hangin’ In A Hammock Can Help Your Health

What is better for sleep: hammocks or beds? We’re accustomed to beds, but the benefits of sleeping in a hammock should be taken seriously.

A University of Geneva Study found that the gentle rocking motion of a hammock helps people fall asleep faster and encourages a deeper state of sleep. Research conducted on 12 healthy adults noted that they fell asleep quicker in a rocking bed, and the rocking also boosted certain types of sleep-related brain wave oscillations. It increased slow oscillations and bursts of activity in the brain known as sleep spindles, which are associated with deep sleep and memory consolidation.

The researchers also found the swaying motion increased the duration of stage N2 sleep, a type of non-rapid eye movement sleep that usually takes up about half of a night’s worth of good sleep.

Though the study was small, it could mean that hammocks should be considered in treating insomnia and other sleep disorders. Further, a good night’s sleep has all sorts of benefits, such as greater ability to concentrate, a better mood, better body repair and recovery and increased learning.

It’s worthwhile to note hammocks may be good for back pain, they are dust-mite free, and breathe well in hot weather.

Hammocks are also a solution to disrupted sleep because of tossing and turning. When you sleep on a flat bed, your body weight collects in different areas, called pressure points, as explained by Hammock Life Tips. That leads to moving around all night as you try to relieve tension and discomfort to different areas and parts of your body. A hammock, however, adjusts to your body shape.

Likewise, a hammock facilitates sleeping in what is considered the healthiest position: flat on your back with the head slightly elevated. The position gives the brain optimal blood circulation, and allows for unobstructed breathing, according to one doctor at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Other non-health-related benefits of hammocks include convenience and affordability. When camping, pitching a hammock is quick, and there won’t be any rocks sticking in your back as you sleep. And in hot weather, there’s great air circulation; while in cold weather, just stay in your sleeping bag, in the hammock.

And then there’s the view. One of my most memorable nights was spent in a hammock on the patio of a palafito (house on stilts in the middle of a lake) in Venezuela, watching the midnight Catatumbo lightning.

How to sleep in a hammock

Whether on your balcony, in your bedroom or camping, you should make sure your hammock is hung with a nice loose curve. The curve will prevent any shoulder squeeze, and will ensure you don’t fall out, according to The Ultimate Hang. Sleep in it diagonally for a flat position, and bring in a pillow, if you like (though a hammock does naturally elevate your head).

The diagonal line works equally for those who prefer to sleep on their side, or even in fetal position. However, with the way the netting holds you, conforming to your natural curves and removing pressure points, a hammock will often keep you happily sleeping on your back, even if that’s not your usual style.

Avoid hammocks that have horizontal rods at each end (spreader-bar hammock): They are unstable, and won’t bring the same positive benefits, though they may look nice.

Hammock history

Hammocks appear to date back around a thousand years, to when the Maya and other indigenous groups in Central America and the Caribbean used them. Hung from trees, they offered distance from the dirty ground and from snakes and spiders. Sometimes people would place hot coals or kindle small fires under the hammocks in order to stay warm or ward off insects.

The earliest hammocks were woven from the bark of the Hamak tree. Then fibers from the Sisal plant were used as they could be softened quite easily. Cotton rope hammocks have only really been around for the last 60 years.

The word “hammock” may come from the Taino people of the Caribbean, who used the word hamaca to refer to fish nets, or it might come from the Hamak tree.

Seaside Hammocks estimates that at least 100 million people around the world use hammocks as their beds. But if you want to take a gentle sleep to an amazing extreme, you can copy the participants in the International Highline Meeting in Italy, and sleep in a hammock suspended thousands of feet in the air, with a great view of the Italian Alps.

Whatever your preference, it’s worth thinking about alternative ways to sleep instead of the typical bed. Sometimes there are better ways to do things — don’t be afraid to try them!

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

How to Stay Calm Under Pressure - Noa Kageyama and Pen-Pen Chen

Your favorite athlete closes in for a win; the crowd holds its breath, and at the crucial moment ... she misses the shot. That competitor just experienced the phenomenon known as “choking,” where despite months, even years, of practice, a person fails right when it matters most. Why does this happen, and what can we do to avoid it? Noa Kageyama and Pen-Pen Chen explain why we choke under pressure. 

Lesson by Noa Kageyama and Pen-Pen Chen, animation by Olesya Shchukina.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Black-Tailed Deer

Find out more about our neighbors the Black-Tailed Deer, with naturalist Michael Ellis.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Why Relaxation Is So Important

It’s Not Lazy — It’s Healthy

While billions of dollars are spent annually in the pursuit of happiness and relaxation, most people fail to obtain those elusive goals. Knowing about the necessity of relaxation fails to convince many of us to take time out and simply be.

In fact, most people pride themselves on being “unable to simply sit still.” Unfortunately the frantic pursuit of happiness often leads to disappointment, fatigue and ill health. Many responsible adults would not consider taking a day off from work simply so they could relax, yet they would consider it irresponsible not to take necessary medication.

Relaxation is critical for personal well-being, health maintenance, and for life itself. If you are among the majority of individuals who do not make relaxation a priority, it may be time to reevaluate your perspective on this critical subject. Your happiness, health and very life depend on it.

Relaxation Can Keep You Well

Many minor and life-threatening illnesses are stress-related. Stress and the lack of regular relaxation harms your immune system. As a result, you catch colds, get cold sores, and contract common illnesses more readily.

If you are a person who feels you are doing your co-workers a favor by going to work when you are not completely well, you are actually harming yourself and fellow workers. When you are sick, stay home and rest.

Unfortunately, employees are sometimes looked upon favorably when they struggle through the day, coming to work when ill. The health care industry is a particularly bad example of this practice.

Health care providers, like those in other industries, are often encouraged to go to work whenever possible, regardless of how they feel, because otherwise facilities will be short staffed. It is up to you to look out for your own well-being.

Take Care of Yourself

Burn-out is rampant among caregivers, partially as a result of a relaxation deficit. Many caregivers burn out because they feel guilty taking care of themselves when they “should” be caring for others.

Job satisfaction, relationships, and the ability to care for others suffer when caregivers are not provided with regular relaxation times. Caregivers must learn how to balance responsibilities with self-care.

I know this may seem impossible, but it can be done. Self-care requires dedication and commitment.

Support groups can be very beneficial as other members understand what you are going through. You may pick up helpful tips, feel less isolated, and no longer feel guilty for looking out for yourself.

Replenish the Sourdough

We are each responsible for taking time out every day so we can relax. A wise friend once told me we each must learn to “replenish the sourdough.”

Sourdough bread is made with a yeast starter. Every time a loaf of bread is made, a little bit of the starter is reserved. The reserved starter is then replenished with flour so there will be enough starter to make the next batch of bread.

If all of the starter is used up and not replenished, there will be no bread in the future. In human terms, this means we must each take responsibility for keeping a bit of ourselves back when we care for others. We need to nourish ourselves so we will be able to help others.

If we do not replenish ourselves, we will be exhausted and have nothing left to give. Self-care and relaxation are not selfish; they are responsible and essential actions that benefit you and those who you encounter.

Learn to Relax

A lack of relaxation leads to multiple emotional and stress-related illnesses. Panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and depression are rampant. Stress depletes the body of endorphins and can lead to insomnia, and fatigue contributes to mood and relationship disorders.

Anxiety and mood disorders don’t just make you feel bad, they are harmful for your health. For example, people who suffer from panic disorder are twice as likely as the general public to suffer from potentially fatal coronary artery disease.

Seemingly unrelated illnesses may arise or worsen when you cannot relax. Migraine headaches, heart attacks, stroke, COPD, and irritable bowel syndrome are all negatively impacted by stress.

Lack of Relaxation Impacts Relationships

Living with high levels of stress can be difficult for you and those you come in contact with. Your ability to work and support yourself financially may be impacted; you may feel irritable and helpless; and family members may experience similar issues. If you have children, it is essential you model behaviors that teach them how to relax in healthy ways.

Relax and Live Well

As you can see, if you do not take time out for relaxing, your health may be impaired. Fortunately the decision to make sure you stay well and get relaxation time is entirely yours.

Relaxing may not only save your life, it can make it more enjoyable and help you create the life you want to live.

Establish a routine for relaxing. When you first begin to relax, it may be as simple as taking a few deep breaths several times per day. You might enjoy a sitting for 10 minutes after work while you put your feet up and sip on herbal tea.

While watching a favorite television program or reading a book can be enjoyable, take time to relax by doing “nothing.” Doing nothing for a few minutes each day allows you time to notice how you feel physically , mentally and spiritually. You will begin to recognize aspects of your life that bring you pleasure and areas that need changing.

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