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Science Says Within A Week You’ll Be More Productive If You Try This

Science Says Within A Week You’ll Be More Productive If You Try This

When someone starts taking about productivity, and how to be more productive our mind often drifts off. We may think that to become more productive we need to undertake some difficult model of behavior or to adopt habits that we feel will be hard to stick to. However, recent scientific findings have indicated a week of camping can effectively change our sleeping patterns, which in turn can lead to greater alertness and productivity, because early risers are found to be more productive than night owls.

The study

A study published on Thursday in the journal Current Biology sought to discover the effect that sitting under artificial light bulbs all day in the office has on our sleeping patterns. The research team was led by Kenneth Wright, the director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Wright stated: “We already knew that electrical lighting, especially at night, can push the time of your clock later, and that leads to later bedtimes,” but what they did not know is how ordinary light exposure during the day could affect our sleep. To find the answer Wright and his team recruited eight volunteers. Each of the volunteers were given wristbands that measured their light exposure and sleeping times.

The first week of the experiment required the volunteers to undergo their usual activities; such as going to work or school. “Then we took them all on a camping trip,” Wright says. “They slept in tents, and they received only natural sunlight and campfires.” The participants were forbidden from bringing any electronics that produced artificial light; even flashlights.

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The results of the study

Wright and his team found that the sleeping patterns of the participants changed after their week of camping. Even people who were going to bed very late and were having difficulty being alert in the morning saw a change in their sleeping schedule; they were going to bed earlier and waking up like the early rises.

“If you consider people who are very late night owls, they stay up late and have a greater difficulty of being alert in the morning,” says write “After camping, we found that their clocks were shifted — and they looked more similar to the early risers.”

The participants continued to get the same hours of sleep in the wilderness as back home; their internal clocks simply moved two hours (on average). So they were going to bed and waking up two hours earlier. “Individuals who had the latest bedtimes back at home had the larger shift in their internal clocks after camping,” Wright says. By the end of the week all participants had become morning people.

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Interpretation of the results

Two factors are believed to be the cause of the change in the participants sleeping habits. Firstly, the lack of artificial light in the wilderness setting allowed the melatonin (which aids in sleep) levels of the participants to naturally decrease at the right times. Such decrease in melatonin can promote sleep. Secondly the exposure to natural light that was achieved by living in the outdoors helped to set their circadian clocks, which decreased melatonin levels before waking.

This decrease in melatonin levels helped to prevent the groggy feeling or tiredness people can experience when they first rise in the morning.

The theory

Human beings evolved to work according to a 24-hour cycle, which was based on the daily rising and setting of the sun. Our bodies knew to secrete the hormone melatonine (which aids in sleep) just before the sun went down. It also had the ability to reduce the production of melatonine before the sun rose in the morning. This worked together with other biological patterns (our internal circadian rhythm). The circadian clock is a flexible system; it can slow down or speed up depending on how much light is around. Both these systems helped us sleep well and ensured that we woke up fresh and rested.

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This system worked well until the invention of electricity and other electrical devices that allow us to have light at all hours of the day; including the night hours. As we spend most of our days inside, at school, work, shopping malls and the like, we miss out on a lot of sunlight exposure. Sunline is needed to set our circadian clocks. Thus, our modern way of life has in a sense put off balance our internal mechanisms that are supposed to tell us when to sleep and when to wake. This is why so many of us now a days have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up in the mornings.

What you can do apart from camping

How can you use the finding to improve your own sleep habits?

“We can achieve earlier bedtimes by having people be outside more, especially in the morning,” Wright says. “You could start your day with a morning walk. Raise the shades in the house. Or if you read the newspaper, do it outside.”

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“On the flip side,” he says, “reduce exposure to light at night by dimming the lights or computers. This is especially important within the hour prior before bedtime.”

Summation

If you decide to make a big change to your lifestyle and improve your sleeping habits a week camping vacation is the way to go. Why not take time out of your daily routine and reconnect with the outdoors? Not only will you find that you will be able to sleep and wake earlier you may also find that you become more alert and productive during the day.

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Rebecca Beris

Rebecca is a wellness and lifestyle writer at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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