Want to Lose Weight? Get Some Sleep

Sleeping Can Help You Lose Weight

According to Dr. Michael Breus, author of the book “The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan”, you can lose three times more fat during sleep than lying awake in your bed. When the author appeared on the Dr. Oz show, Dr. Oz voiced his support for this statement.

According to Dr Oz, while there are so many diets available in the market, one aspect of the dieting lifestyle is often overlooked. This is the element of sleep, and according to the good doctor, one can burn as much as 150 more calories through sleeping an extra hour each evening. With the total calories burned computed for a year, the projected weight loss can add up to fourteen pounds. That’s fourteen pounds of a weight loss by doing nothing other than sleeping more.

The calorie burn occurs during REM or rapid eye movement sleep, as the body burns more calories during this time compared to just being awake and in bed. Dr. Oz further adds that if one sleeps less than six and a half hours each night, this will result in weight gain, as the hormone that tells you to stop eating does not work properly, leaving you constantly hungry. Further making things complicated, the lack of sleep slows down your overall metabolism.

Dr. Breus’s research demonstrated that as the brain triggers the REM cycle, this results in more calories burned. The body’s core temperature also increases during this time, helping the body to burn more fat. Dr. Breus further recommends the following to help in losing weight even when asleep:

  1. Setting the Clock. The snooze button would not help you in this, as one’s sleep cycle is actually disturbed when the alarm goes off. Thus, it is better to set your alarm for the actual time you would wake up, so that you get up right away. You should sleep by the clock as well — set a schedule, and go to sleep at the same time every night.
  2. Taking Naps. Doing short power naps during the midday can help recharge your batteries. One trick is to make cold-brewed coffee and drink it straight away, then go take your nap. In thirty minutes, you are awakened by the caffeine jolt, full of energy from your power nap.
  3. Go to Bed on a Full Stomach. Traditional advice tells us not to eat right before bed, but recent research is demonstrating the opposite. Having a snack with slow-digesting protein and carbs right before bed ensures that you’re satiated, so you’ll sleep more deeply and won’t be awakened by hunger.

The doctors have handed out the information. Your turn to take the lead for your overall better health.

read more

Daydreaming for Creativity

Daydreaming, “the idle mind”, is said to be the playground of the devil. Now, recent studies have found that this seemingly innocuous activity plays a vital function of the psyche. It has been found that daydreaming is a good time for creativity exercises and “dress-rehearsals” for socialization skills. To some extent, this may even become the backbone of one’s consciousness.

We tend to have a negative conception of Daydreaming, stemming from when we were school-children. In school, children are reprimanded or teased for letting their imaginations wander instead of focusing on their course material. But is it really such a bad thing?

According to neurologist Marcus Raichle of Washington University in St. Louis, “Everybody does it, they know they do it, and it’s easy for people to relate to.” Many experts say that individuals spend between fifteen and fifty percent of waking hours doing just that, daydreaming. This has been scientifically defined as straying from focused tasks or external stimuli, leading to focus on inner thoughts, fantasies and feelings. This is characterized by the brain going into assimilation of external stimuli to just internal stimuli, triggering the activity of a whole neural network dedicated to facts already known and imagining possibilities in the future.

Old school psychology said that daydreaming was not just a waste of time but can also lead to one form of insanity, specifically neurosis. As a result, there is even a whole line of medication has been prescribed to combat this activity. But modern studies are flipping this notion on its head, showing that daydreaming may be essential to our brain function and mental well-being.

Only a very few studies have been made, but from the looks of it, this is a healthy way for individuals to induce creativity and enhance socialization skills. Besides, it’s a safe way to while away the time.

read more

For a Healthy Brain, Drink Tea

Throughout history, tea has been an integral part of many momentous events, from the elegant tea ceremonies of Japan to high-society tea and scones parties in Britain. But tea is not just a drink for the elite — studies have repeatedly demonstrated numerous beneficial effects of tea on the brain, which point to the conclusion that we could all use to drink more tea.

While in-depth studies are still underway, one of the best effects of tea on the brain include alleviating fatigue and providing increased alertness and focus during the day. This is due to the presence of an amino acid called L-theanine, an active ingredient in green tea and caffeine.

So how is tea different from coffee? Both provide caffeine but tea undergoes a much simpler process allowing for greater retention of the important anti oxidants as well as the helpful amino acids to help in better brain functioning. Coffee is high in caffeine, providing the jolt but the quality of tea ensures low caffeine to provide the beneficial effects without the highs associated with caffeine.

There are other benefits to tea, aside from brain improvement:

  • Healthier teeth and gums. A previous study conducted in 2009 who drank green tea regularly have lower incidences of periodontal disease as well as lower the incidence of tooth erosion.
  • Preventing Strokes. Regular intake of green tea, at about three cups daily can reduce the risk of stroke by 21%. Drinking more than three cups can provide an additional 21% risk reduction for stroke.

But most importantly, drinking tea, especially green tea, increases the cognitive ability of the brain. In a study conducted in Japan, individuals that drank green tea four to six times daily have a lesser risk, about 38% risk, of experiencing cognitive impairment as they age.

Thus, having a cup of tea every morning would not be a bad habit to adopt. (I should note: we’re not talking about commercial iced tea, which is rich in sugar, something that hot tea does not have intrinsically). Switching to tea can help make the world seem clearer and brighter for you, especially if you aren’t a morning person.

read more

Beating Jet Lag

As the world’s economies continue to become interconnected, air travel has become more and more common. One of the seemingly unavoidable drawbacks of this is jet lag, especially when one travels across many time zones. However, a study shows evidence that jet lag might not be ineviable after all.

When someone travels across time zones, their circadian rhythm goes out of sync, as there is a difference between their local time and the time at their destination. This phenomenon is called “jet lag” and its symptoms include insomnia, irritability, disorientation, confusion and indigestion — or more commonly just fatigue and a feeling of being “out of it” for a couple days. The symptoms typically last, according to an accepted computation, one day for each time zone crossed. Thus, when traveling across five time zones from your home can have jet lag effects last for at least five days. However, some symptoms might take up to several weeks before the body fully adapts. Another further complication would be the direction of travel, where eastwardly travel is more severe compared to westwardly travel.

Since this has become a common issue in the new world economic order, researchers from the Harvard Medical School in conjunction with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston have discovered new information on how better to manage this temporary condition.

The research found that jet lag is a common occurrence and one way to recover from this condition is simply not eating for sixteen hours after arrival. This conclusion was based on observations of the individual circadian rhythm that is governed by a particular region of the brain called the hypothalamus. Specific cells in this region of the brain govern the main body clock and are highly sensitive to the light conditions observed by the eye’s optic nerve. Now, the research found that there is also a secondary clock, which is governed by the availability of food.

According to Clifford Saper, the study’s senior author, this second clock takes over when food is unavailable and scarce. This may be an evolutionary mechanism to ensure that mammals continue on searching and foraging for food to stay alive, even foregoing sleep altogether. The side-effect is that this can be exploited by long-haul travelers in order to override the circadian clock rhythm and be able to adjust quickly to their new time zone.

Dr. Saper said, “A period of fasting with no food at all for about sixteen hours is enough to engage this new clock.” He added, “Once you eat again, your internal clock will be reset as though it is the start of a new day.”

There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done in order to confirm these findings. In the meantime, the following are some of the remedies many have recommended to alleviate the effects of jet lag:

  • Melatonin Supplements. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that is released only in the absence of light. When the optic nerve is stimulated by light, melatonin release is suppressed. When ingesting melatonin supplements, the body is able to sleep. This though must be for a limited use only as high long-term usage can cause side-effects like daytime sleepiness and headaches.
  • Schedule Adjustment. One way is programming the body to the time zone before actually going to the new time zone. This can be done in by shifting your sleep schedule over the course of a few days. Even diet can be adjusted prior to the actual travel.

Until an actual pill can be taken for jet lag, you have to be more malleable and flexible when traveling across time zones. If you can’t, you’d better stay put.

read more

Want to be More Productive? Take a Nap

Ever feel sluggish after lunch? Many say that it is the body’s way of adjusting to a meal. The problem, however, is remaining productive for the rest of the day. Is it possible to maintain your energy levels so you’re just as productive in the afternoon as you are in the morning?

Recent studies from the University of California at Berkeley show that an hour-long nap during the day can tremendously help the individual recharge as well as restore brain acuity for the remainder of the day. This is a result of what may be termed as brain fatigue, as the more hours one is awake, the more sluggish brain functioning becomes. In one study measuring the effects of sleep deprivation while studying, or “cramming” as it’s so affectionately called, the numbers were surprising: cramming the night before an exam actually inhibits the brain’s ability to absorb information by as much as forty percent as sleep deprivation forces many brain areas to shut down.

According to the researchers, even a short nap allows the brain to clear up its short term memory cache, allowing for new information to be stored. This is done by transferring the short term fact-based memories from the temporary storage in the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex during sleep. This occurs only during Stage 2 non-REM sleep, the stage between deep sleep and dream state Rapid Eye Movement.

We’ve heard this all before, in a system called the Power Nap. A 20 minute power-nap allows the brain to reset, resulting in greater alertness and better dexterity in motor learning skills. Naps of longer duration, such as those between half an hour and an hour, can help with memory enhancement and creativity. Other skills known to benefit from this kind of nap would be decision making, memorization, and recall. Naps above an hour to an hour and a half help with allowing the brain to create new connections for better problem-solving abilities.

This is one of many clinical studies that has shown the benefits of a midday nap. It looks like we had it right in Kindergarten — remember nap-time? While most adults in the Western world tend to associate napping with being lazy, it looks like we’d all benefit from a more accepting attitude toward a daily nap. We should take an example from Spain, where the whole country takes a break in the middle of every day for a “siesta.”

However, despite regular clinical studies that support napping as a healthy way of recharging during a stress filled day, many continue to turn to stimulants such as cigarettes (nicotine) or coffee (caffeine) to perk up the brain. This may seem helpful in the short-term, but as the chemical rush eventually dissipates after some time, the individual is left feeling much more exhausted and unproductive than before.

The take-home message here? Try to schedule a short nap during the day somewhere into your schedule, preferably at the same time every day. Find the time every day where you tend to feel most sluggish. The nap doesn’t have to be long — 20-25 minutes is perfect. Taking a daily nap will refresh your mind, allowing you to maintain peak productivity throughout your work-day.

read more

The Hidden Power of Smiling

Another TED talk from me, this one on smiling.

The thing is, it’s often thought that we smile because we feel happy. But studies have shown the opposite is actually true as well — we feel happy because we smile. And other studies have shown that people who smile often have more successful marriages, lead more fulfilling lives, and live longer. Yes — people who smile often actually have longer lives.

If such a simple act can have such a profound effect, why don’t we do it more often? Take a minute to watch this TED talk. And while you’re watching it, why not practice smiling 😉

This doesn’t mean you should force it. Just as you go about your daily life, periodically take the time to feel that joy inside you, and let it show itself as a smile.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. By taking time every day to relax and find something to smile about, you’ll not only make your life better, but also longer.

read more

Switching from being a “night person” to being a “morning person”

It’s 6:30 a.m. as I write this article, but I actually woke up at 4:30. And that’s not an abnormal occurrence; I wake up at 4:30 a.m. every morning, 7 days a week. Am I a “morning person?” Some rare breed of human with some exceptional ability that the majority of the population lacks? Hardly. In fact, for the majority of my life (12/13ths, to be exact), I was the very definition of a “night person.” If I had nothing to do the next day, I would stay up until the early hours of the morning, then sleep until the afternoon. More than once in my life I’ve gone to sleep after the sun came up, and woken up at dinner time.

Life as a Night Owl

In high school, I would rarely go to sleep before 1 or 2am. Considering I had to wake up at 6am, most of the time I was just a sleep-deprived zombie. College allowed me the luxury of choosing only afternoon classes, which meant for the first time in my life I could sleep in — and sleep in I did. It was rare that I woke up before noon. I would stay up late, and then sleep in as late as I could to catch up on sleep.

After college, I moved to Korea and started teaching English at an after-school academy. Since I worked from 3pm – 10pm, my late-night cycle continued. I would go out with my coworkers after work to get something to eat or for a few drinks, sometimes stay out quite late, and wake up around noon (or later) to get ready for my day of work. It doesn’t help that Seoul is a city that doesn’t sleep — in fact, the streets are much busier at night than they are during the day.

Seoul at Night

Being the night person I was, I got deeply involved with the nightlife scene. In fact, I even ran a website about clubs in Seoul and worked part-time as a party promoter for a while. I was going clubbing 2-3 nights a week, staying out until 5am or later, and then sleeping until 1 or 2pm. If ever there was a natural “night owl”, it was me.

What Changed?

But from the title of this article, you realize that I’m no longer a “night person”. As I said before, I wake up at 4:30 every morning — I’m more “morning” than most morning people. Nowadays I wake up and go for a run before I would have even gone to sleep two years ago. What changed?

For one, it was a shift in my goals in life. I don’t party any more, and I have some pretty ambitious goals for the future. Whereas when I was a night person I spent most of my time on the Internet or socializing with friends, just trying to kill time, nowadays I’m more interested in maximizing my time and being productive.

About the same time I started making this transition, I got a new job at an international school, working mornings. I knew I was going to have to start work at 8:30am every day, and that I couldn’t keep staying up late at night. I think the knowledge of this inevitability helped me convince myself that I couldn’t stay up late anymore, and that I needed an early bedtime.

The transition itself wasn’t difficult, it was simply a matter of deciding to become a morning person. Sure, my body was jet-lagged for a few weeks, but after that I was pretty quick to adapt. I just made the transition one day, and never went back.

Is it in our genes?

I reject the notion that being a morning or night person is somehow encoded into our genes. If it’s dark outside, how could your body possibly know if it’s 11pm or 1am? Considering that you could move time zones at any time, and your body would have to adapt to the new cycles of light and dark, I don’t see why the same thing wouldn’t apply to shifting your sleep schedule. You just pretend like you’ve moved to a new time zone, go to sleep a few hours earlier, and wake up a few hours earlier.

It’s simply a matter of desire. If you don’t want to wake up early, waking up early will seem hard. But if you’re driven to wake up early and work on something, it won’t seem like a chore anymore.

Which brings me to the next obvious question — early is one thing, but why in the world do I wake up at 4:30?!

Basically it comes down to, I’ve found I’m most productive in the mornings. Since I have to leave for work at 7:45am, subtracting the time it takes me to run, shower, and get ready, that leaves me 2 hours of productive work on my high-priority tasks every morning. If I didn’t have to work until later, I might not wake up until 6. But there’s definitely something magical about waking up before the sun rises and making significant progress toward your life goals while most people are still sleeping.

read more

A Fascinating Ted Talk on Time

There are hundreds of amazing Ted talks out there; it’s hard to choose which ones to share. This is a fascinating talk by Philip Zimbardo on time perspective. (He actually mentions the marshmallow test here, too, which I didn’t realize until I watched it again). Anyway, enjoy:

read more

Sleepwalking Through Life

I’m reading a fascinating book called “The Power of Habit”, and this section struck me as particularly interesting:

While each animal wandered through the maze, its brain—and in particular, its basal ganglia—worked furiously. Each time a rat sniffed the air or scratched a wall, its brain exploded with activity, as if analyzing each new scent, sight, and sound. The rat was processing information the entire time it meandered. The scientists repeated their experiment, again and again, watching how each rat’s brain activity changed as it moved through the same route hundreds of times. A series of shifts slowly emerged. The rats stopped sniffing corners and making wrong turns. Instead, they zipped through the maze faster and faster. And within their brains, something unexpected occurred: As each rat learned how to navigate the maze, its mental activity decreased. As the route became more and more automatic, each rat started thinking less and less.

Within a week, even the brain structures related to memory had quieted. The rat had internalized how to sprint through the maze to such a degree that it hardly needed to think at all. But that internalization—run straight, hang a left, eat the chocolate—relied upon the basal ganglia, the brain probes indicated. This tiny, ancient neurological structure seemed to take over as the rat ran faster and faster and its brain worked less and less. The basal ganglia was central to recalling patterns and acting on them. The basal ganglia, in other words, stored habits even while the rest of the brain went to sleep.

The author goes on to talk about how our basal ganglia is able to encode incredibly complex habits and allow us to perform them on autopilot, without any conscious thought. Have you ever spaced out while driving? You come to minutes later, but you haven’t crashed; despite the fact that your conscious mind was completely engrossed in some other thought, your basal ganglia allowed you to continue driving to your destination with no effort whatsoever.

But this made me start thinking. Most of what we do every day is routine. We wake up at the same time, go to work at the same time, do the same kind of assignments, eat at the same restaurants, and kill time with the same hobbies. If our basal ganglia encodes habits, and the more and more we perform an activity the less and less we use our brains in doing so, then if there isn’t enough variety in your life, you might end up sleepwalking through it. You’re awake, but not really awake.

One thing that fascinates me is how time seems to move faster as we get older. As a kid, waiting 10 minutes could be agonizing. As an adult, sometimes I look at the clock and three hours have passed in what felt like the blink of an eye, leaving me wondering where the time has gone.

But I’ve also traveled a lot, and in traveling to a new country experienced a youth-like fascination with the world around me once again. In fact, it doesn’t even need to be a new country; simply entering an open-air environment that I’ve never been to before causes my brain to work on overdrive, processing everything that is happening around me. New environments keep our brains fresh, and prevent that sense of “speeding through time” that I think is a result of your conscious brain shutting down as the basal ganglia takes over to plow through a routine.

I’ve been living in Korea for three and a half years now, and I’ve seen this in action. My first year here, everything was novel. Life felt like an adventure. People-watching was fascinating, as well as the sights, sounds, and smells of a foreign land itself. But after living here for several years, it just feels like home to me. This is good in one sense, as I’m comfortable living here. But on the other hand, as anything becomes too much of a routine, life grows stale.

For that reason, we need to reminds ourselves to wake up every once in a while and experience the world around us from a fresh perspective. One way to do this is through traveling, but I’ve found it works just as well to remind yourself to live in the present moment. Imagine you’re a kid again. Observe the people around you, the way the trees blow in the breeze, and the bugs on the pavement. Look at the large and the small.

If you find yourself sleepwalking, wake yourself up, and remember to experience the world around you.

read more

Don’t Eat the Marshmallow

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.

“A marshmallow was offered to each child. If the child could resist eating the marshmallow, he was promised two instead of one. The scientists analyzed how long each child resisted the temptation of eating the marshmallow, and whether or not doing so was correlated with future success.”

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment

The majority of the kids gave in and ate the marshmallow, unable to wait. A small percentage of the children were able to devise strategies that allowed them to delay gratification in order to receive a better reward.

The results are obvious, right? Kids can’t control temptation.

What’s crazy was the follow-up results, years after the experiment took place.

The kids who did not eat the marshmallow were less likely to have behavioral problems. They were less likely to use drugs. They were less likely to be obese. Their average SAT scores were a whopping 210 points higher.

Apparently the ability to resist giving in to temptations has ripple effects throughout all areas of your life. The take home? Don’t eat the marshmallow.


read more