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Last Updated on February 21, 2018

Your Sleep Cycle And How To Hack It For Better Sleep

Your Sleep Cycle And How To Hack It For Better Sleep

If your health and wellness are important to you it’s critical to be aware of your sleep cycle. Neglecting your sleep can have some pretty damaging spill over effect on your health. Sleep is when your brain and body spring into action. Understanding the importance of sleep and the sleep cycle can allow you to take control of the rejuvenating and healing power of sleep.

How Your Sleep Cycle Works

So you’ve nodded off while watching a House Hunters marathon and are slowly off to la la land. No, not the charming movie with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling but you’ve started a 4 stage process that happens to our bodies each night.

Stage 1: Within minutes your brain starts to produce alpha and theta waves which help to slow things down and your eye movements also slow down. This is a light stage of sleep that can last around 7 minutes and you can be easily woken up. This length is usually the best for a quick cat nap or if you’ve fallen asleep in the bathroom at work.

Stage 2: This is also a pretty light stage of sleep but your brain starts to spring into action creating sleep spindles which are burst of brain activity. Waking up at the end of this stage works for the classic power nap as it’s not too deep which can result in grogginess.

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Stage 3 & 4: Now you’re getting into deep sleep and the body starts to slow down and really relax with very little muscle activity or eye movement. You’re less likely to be woken during this stage. As you move into stage 4 you now begin to produce more brain waves and fall into real restorative sleep. When it comes to your health and wellness this stage is critical as it’s when you repair muscle and tissue, stimulate growth and development, boost immune function and set up your energy for the next day.

Eye movement determine when we will dream

I was never a big fan of the band REM but am a big fan of it’s function in the body! REM stands for rapid eye movement and you enter into it around 90 minutes into sleep. This is where your brain becomes super active and you start to dream. Along with dreaming your body also springs into action as your heart rate and blood pressure are increased and breathing becomes faster and shallow. Each REM phase can last around one hour and you can have 4-5 of these cycles each night.

The REM stage isn’t just about dreams of you showing up naked to school but serves an important role in memory and learning function. This is when your brain processes and consolidates information from the day before so it can be stored in your long term memory such as information that I’m very handsome…

Non-REM sleep on the other hand involves no eye movement and dreamless sleep. Breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure will become lower in non-REM sleep. Brain activity also becomes slower or as I like to call it, the ‘Kardashian phase’ of sleep…

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Mental Notes To Keep If You Want To Sleep Better

Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night is still a good rule of thumb to get that true restorative sleep. It’s important to recognize that during times of sickness or stress that you allow yourself to get more sleep. This is the time where your body burns off those stress hormones and can fight illness so make sleep a priority. With that in mind how do you get the best quality sleep each night?

Sleep experts say that the most important thing in getting a good night sleep is to create a consistent wind down routine and stick with it starting at the same time each night. This may involve having a shower and then reading and listening to music but the main thing is that consistency as your body will recognize that sleep cycle is about to begin. This will help you fall asleep quicker and get deeper and more restorative sleep each night.

Here are 4 other tips to get better sleep:

1. Keep Your Room As Dark As Possible

Darkness helps to stimulate melatonin in your brain which helps to control you circadian rhythm and sleep cycle. It helps in you getting that deep sleep but it needs darkness to activate. A good tip is to buy black out curtains to keep your room as dark as possible.

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2. Your Sheet Should Feel Cool When You Touch

Your body goes through temperature fluctuations throughout the day and when you fall asleep your body naturally cools off. Helping your body get to that lower temperature quicker can encourage deeper sleep. There’s not a specific temperature but your sheets should feel cool to the touch when you lie down on them.

3. Cut Out Blue Light At Least 1-2 Hours Before Bed

In the same way darkness stimulates melatonin in the brain blue light disrupts it. Blue light is what comes from the screens of our electronics and can cause a real disruption in your sleep so try to avoid them the few hours before bed. If you have to be doing work on a lap top or scrolling Facebook to the wee hours there are at least some steps you can take. F.lux is a program that gives your laptop screen a warmer glow taking out the harsher blue light. If you use an iPhone you can activate the night shift mode which also has a similar effect.

4. Avoid Caffeine After 3-4 P.M 

This might seem obvious but you’d be surprised how long caffeine can last in your system. The noticeable effects of caffeine can ware off in a few hours but it has a half life which extends its effects in your blood stream. This half life can last anywhere from 5-6 hours and possibly even longer. So if you have a coffee at 5-pm and try to go to sleep at 11 and wonder why you’re not nodding off it may be due to the caffeine.

You’re going to have to experiment when the best cut off time for yourself is as people have different tolerances and sensitivities to it.

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Hopefully you can see how understanding your sleep cycle can have a massive benefit for your health and wellness. If you’re fit and active sleep is crucial for getting healthier and stronger. It’s when you recover and rejuvenate and with these sleep tips hopefully you can improve your sleep starting tonight.

And if you dream of Ryan Gosling, so much the better.

Featured photo credit: Seniju via flickr.com

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Jamie Logie

Personal Trainer

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How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality.

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser. He is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

He is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would he abuse you? And since “he” is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

He is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it.

Occasionally, he is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

He is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

He can be set off by words or feelings. He can even be set off by sounds and smells.

He has no real motivation; he has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

His motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • He riles up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • He is often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • He is a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • He is the destroyer of self-esteem. He convinces you that you’re not worthy. He’s a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get him out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace him with your new best friend who supports, encourages, and enhances your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

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Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

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One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(He’s made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

Becoming the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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