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10 Ways To Hack Into Your Happy Brain Chemicals

10 Ways To Hack Into Your Happy Brain Chemicals

How you experience life boils down to the chemicals in your brain. Happiness, sadness, anger, anxiety – all can be traced to what’s going on inside your head. In the past decade we’ve come a long way in the science of happiness and have a pretty good idea of what happy looks like in your brain these days. Rather than being in the passenger’s seat of this process, science has proven, without a doubt, that you can take control of your brain and hack into your happy neurochemicals.

Happiness can be found in the seemingly insignificant, mundane things you do every day. These give your brain a boost of feel-good chemicals and keeps them flowing. Your brain is a positive feedback system, meaning that being happy often leads to more happiness. Usually all it takes is a small attitude adjustment to keep your brain feeling good or start it on an upward cycle.

What works for one person may not do anything for another, but there are many little things you can try today to give your brain a more positive slant. So whether you’re depressed, feeling anxious, or have found yourself in one of those crisis freak-out moments, there are simple steps – backed by neuroscience – that you can take right now to start your brain on a more positive path.

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Give or get a hug

A long hug releases the neurotransmitter oxytocin, the bonding hormone, which calms down your amygdala, the fear alarm, and just makes you feel warm and fuzzy.

Get out in the sun

Bright sunlight helps boost the production of serotonin in your brain. Make an effort to get outside on your lunch hour, go for a walk on a sunny day, or take a break and step outside to soak in the sun. Sunlight also improves the release of melatonin, which helps you sleep better at night.

Put your feelings on paper

Studies have shown that linguistic processing of emotions produces less amygdala activity, helping you to feel less distressed. A calmer amygdala means a happier, less anxious you.

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Remember some happy memories

Just thinking about happy times boosts serotonin levels in your brain, according to research. Serotonin is necessary for the highest functioning of your prefrontal cortex, the executive, which controls self-reflection and your emotions, helping it to override old knee-jerk patterns. Try visualizing a joyful time in detail or even better, write it down.

Splash cold water on your face

Seriously. Find a sink, fill your hands with cold water, and rinse your face. Doing this will slow down your heart rate by indirectly stimulating your vagus nerve, which regulates a variety of vital bodily functions including your heartbeat and the muscles used to breathe. The vagus nerve also controls the chemical levels in your digestive system, which greatly affect mood and health.

Smile

It’s a simple thing to do and really does improve your mood. Most people think we smile because we feel happy, but it works the other way too. You can feel happier if you smile. Your face doesn’t just display emotion – it also creates it. Your face isn’t simply a billboard for your internal feelings, it’s an equal partner in the emotional process.

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Laugh

Laughing works for the same reasons smiling does. You may feel silly, but opening your mouth and letting out a chuckle or thinking of something funny to make you giggle can make you feel happier. There’s not much difference in your brain between fake and genuine laughter and before you know it, provoked laughing can often lead to the real thing.

Be around other people

If you start to feel your mood slipping go somewhere around other people, like a coffee shop, book store, or break room. You don’t even have to interact with them, just being in the same physical space does the trick. Chatting or chilling with a friend is even more beneficial. If you don’t feel like talking, try doing an activity with a friend where you won’t feel forced to talk. Social interaction causes your brain to secrete oxytocin that supports the serotonin system, giving you get the benefits of both feel good chemicals.

Spend time with a pet

Just stroking your pet or even someone else’s can increase the oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine in your brain. Several studies have shown that having a pet can reduce depression, encourage healthier habits, and increase feelings of connectedness. One Japanese study determined that playing with a dog with which you have a bond increases oxytocin levels.

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Diaphragm Breathing

Taking long, deep breaths into your tummy slows your heart rate and activates the calm, parasympathetic nervous system. Place your hand on your diaphragm, the center of your stomach a couple of inches below your lungs, and take slow, full breaths. Count to six and make your hand move in and out with each inhale and exhale. After you get the hang of it, you can practice diaphramatic breathing anywhere without using your hand.

Boost Your Gut Bacteria

Science is uncovering more and more evidence that the bacteria in your gut exerts influence on your brain. Probiotics and prebiotics are showing the potential to help lessen anxiety and depression.

While no one is happy all the time, staying consistently positive begins in your brain with simple changes in thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Small steps can help nudge or keep your brain in a more upbeat cycle and literally start bettering your life immediately.

Featured photo credit: Girl Throwing Autumn Leaves In The AIr – Vicktor Hanicek via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on October 16, 2018

The Ultimate Guide to Help You Sleep Through the Night Tonight

The Ultimate Guide to Help You Sleep Through the Night Tonight

It’s well past midnight and you’ve got to get up in less than six hours. You toss and turn all night. Before you know it, another hour passes by and you start panicking.

If I don’t get to sleep in the next 30 minutes, I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow!”

One thing is for sure, you’re not alone. Over 70M+ Americans have stated that they don’t get the proper sleep they need at night.[1] So what could possibly be causing this insomnia epidemic?

Throughout my entrepreneurial journey of building my language learning company, I have experimented and researched dozens of best sleep practices. Some have flopped but a few have dramatically improved the quality of my life and work.

In this article, I’ll look into the reason why you’re sleep deprived and how to sleep through the night tonight.

Why you can’t sleep through the night

The first step to improving anything is getting to the bottom of the root problem. Different studies have shown the reasons why most people cannot sleep well at night.[2] Here are the main ones that the average person faces:

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Stress

If you’ve ever stayed up at night worrying about something, know that it’s a major sleep inhibitor. When you’re feeling stress, your mind and body becomes more activated, making it incredibly difficult to fall asleep. Even when you do manage to sleep, it won’t be deep enough to help you feel rested the next day.

Exposure to blue light before sleep time

We’re exposed to harmful blue light on a daily basis through the use of our digital screens. If you’ve never heard of blue light, it’s part of the visible light spectrum that suppresses melatonin, our sleep hormones. Other harmful effects include digital eye strains and macular cellular damage.

While daytime exposure to blue light is not very harmful, night time exposure tricks our brain into thinking it’s daytime. By keeping your brain alert and suppressing melatonin, your mind is unable to shut down and relax before bedtime.

Eating close to bedtime

Eating too late can actually be an issue for many people, especially those who are older than 40. The reason is, eating before laying down increases the chances of Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which stomach acid backflows into the esophagus.

Another reason not to eat too late is sleep quality. Even if you manage to sleep right after eating, it’s likely that you’ll wake up tired. Instead of letting your body rest during sleep, it has to digest the food that was entered before bedtime.

Rule of thumb: eat 3-4 hours before bedtime.

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Medical conditions

In some cases, it could be medical conditions that cause your sleep problems. If you can’t relate yourself to the above reasons or any of these common sleep problem causes, you should visit the doctor.

The vicious sleep cycle

The biggest danger to repeating the bad habits mentioned above is the negative cycle that it can take you through. A bad night’s sleep can affect not only your energy but your willpower and decision making skills.

Here’s an example of a bad sleep pattern:

You get a bad night’s sleep
–> You feel tired and stressful throughout the day.
–> You compensate it with unhealthy habits (for example junk food, skipping exercises, watching Netflix etc.)
–> You can’t sleep well (again) the next night.

    You can imagine what could happen if this cycle repeats over a longer period of time.

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    How to sleep better (throughout the night)

    To help you break the vicious cycle and stop waking up in the middle of the night, I’ll explain to you a list of actionable steps to solve your trouble staying asleep.

    1. Take control over the last 90 minutes of your night

    What you do (or don’t do) before bedtime have significant impact on the quality of your sleep. Many times, it can be the difference between staying up until 4am and sleeping like a baby.

    Here are a few suggestions:

    • Go from light to dark – Darkness stimulates production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Turn off unused light around the house, and think about investing into warm light that you can use in the bedroom before bedtime.
    • Avoid screens (or wear blue light blocking glasses) – Keep the bedroom a technology-free zone as the light from electronic devices can disturb your sleep. If you need to work, wear blue light blocking glasses (also known as computer glasses) throughout or before you sleep to prevent sleep disruption.
    • Find an activity that helps you to wind down  This could be anything that calms you down, and reduces thinking (especially unnecessary stress). Fir example, listening to soothing/good feel music, taking a hot bath, reading or meditating.
    • Keep any electronics you have on the other side of the room or outside the room – One of the most harmful things that can disrupt your sleep is the notifications you get from your smartphones. The simplest way to avoid this is to keep it away from you.
    • Create a bedtime routine – A night routine is a couple of things you do prior to going to bed. By doing these things every night, you’ll have a more restful and high-quality sleep. Learn how to pick up a night routine here: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide to Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

    2. Eat the right nutrients (and avoid the wrong ones)

    What you eat (not just when we eat) plays a critical role in your sleep quality. If you’re ever in doubt of what to eat to improve your sleep, take the following into consideration:

    • Kiwi – This green fruit may be the ultimate pre-bed snack. When volunteers ate two kiwis an hour before hitting the hay, they slept almost a full extra hour. Kiwis are full of vitamins C and E, serotonin and folate—all of which may help you snooze.
    • Soy foods – Foods made with soy such as tofu, miso and edamame, are rich in isoflavones. These compounds increase the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that influences the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
    • Fiber-rich foods – Eating more fiber could be key for better sleep. Eating fiber was associated with more restorative slow-wave sleep—the more you eat, the better you sleep—per a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Fiber prevents blood sugar surges that may lower melatonin. Get a fiber boost from beans, artichokes, bran cereal and quinoa.
    • Salmon – Most fish, especially salmon, halibut and tuna boost vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin— a sleep-inducing hormone triggered by darkness.

    3. Adjust your sleep temperature

    Once you’ve gone through the first 2 recommendations, the last step to experiment with is temperature. According to Sleep.org, the ideal temperature for sleep is 60-67 Farenheit. This may be cooler than what most people are used to, but keep in mind that our body temperature changes once we fall asleep.

    Rule of thumb: sleeping in cooler temperature is better for sleep quality than warmer temperature.

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    Find out how to maintain the optimal temperature to sleep better here: How to Sleep Faster with the Best Temperature

    Sleep better form now on

    Congrats on making it to the end of this guide on sleep. If you’re serious about taking the necessary steps in improving your sleep, remember to take it one step at a time.

    I recommend trying just one of the steps mentioned such as taking a hot bath, blocking out blue light at night, or sleeping in cooler temperature. From there, see how it impacts your sleep quality and you can keep doing what works, and throw away what doesn’t.

    As long as you follow these steps cautiously and diligently, I know you’ll see improved results in your sleep!

    Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

    Reference

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