I always have more than one book in progress: One for when I’m tired and need mindless entertainment; one for when I’m alert, is informative and grows my neuro-connections.
I found a book* that addresses both and surprised me with a tip on napping. When I was younger naps were a waste of time. Now, I appreciate the “restorative power” of catching a mid-day snooze. Here is a good recipe for a…
Want to maximize your Nappuccinos? Here is what you do:
- Find the best time for your nap. When is your energy low point? Your mood low point? For most of us, it is about 7 hours after we wake up.
- Create your nap environment – someplace comfortable: the floor, bed, couch, bathtub (EMPTY) – definitely low lights and NO cell phone.
- Set a timer, nap 10 to 20 minutes, you will feel more alert and function better, without waking with that groggy feeling.
Here’s the kicker that surprised me:
Drink a cup of coffee! That’s right, drink coffee before you nap. It takes the caffeine about 25 minutes to kick in, so you’ll get the perfect amount of napping time and then you’ll wake up with the caffeine boost. Who woulda thunk it?
There’s also evidence that habitual nappers get more from their naps than infrequent nappers. Practice makes perfect – I’m taking a Nappucino every day until I am an expert.
*”WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink
How happy we feel is strongly influenced by 4 neurotransmitter chemicals: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. They are often called “the quartet.”
Here’s a very basic idea of what they do for you and 7 ways to help boost your happiness:
They promote a sense of well-being, lesson pain and are primarily released when we are in pain or stressed. Endorphins work in similar ways as prescription anti-anxiety drugs and opiate painkillers but provide the benefits without all the side-effects.
Low levels of endorphins are linked to opposite effects: physical and emotional pain (including chronic pain linked to disorders like fibromyalgia), addiction and risk taking behavior.
Serotonin is often called the “happy hormone”. It improves your mood and helps beat depression. Not only does it help with mood stabilization but plays a big role in getting good sleep, dreaming, emotional and social stability.
Low levels serotonin are associated with various mental disturbances including: depression, anxiety, PMS, sugar/carbohydrate cravings, trouble sleeping, obsessive thinking and addiction to alcohol or drugs. Too high levels can be problematic as well.
Dopamine is one of the strongest “feel-good hormones”. It makes you feel energized, alert, motivated and in control. Within the brain, dopamine helps control the reward and pleasure centers as well as helping regulate movement and emotional responses. Interestingly, it enables us to not only see rewards, but to take action to reach them.
Dopamine deficiency is implicated in Parkinson’s Disease and people with low dopamine levels may be more prone to addiction. Low levels can trigger depression, lack of concentration (brain fog), poor motivation and difficulty initiating and/or completing tasks.
Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” since it’s released during highly emotional moments, such as childbirth, being in love, and during orgasm. It motivates us to strengthen personal relationships, be faithful and facilitates compassion. Oxytocin is a powerful hormone, produced mainly in the hypothalamus, and acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain
On the flip side, as a facilitator of bonding among those who share similar characteristics, oxytocin fosters distinctions between “in-group” and “out-group” members, and sets in motion favoritism toward “in-group” members and prejudice against those in “out-groups”.
7 ways to get the “Happiness Quartet”
working more for you:
We are all capable of producing our own natural highs (without taking illegal or prescription drugs) and when we repeat behavior that facilitates the release of neurotransmitters we become naturally motivated to create positive habits.
Neurotransmitters that signal the release of endorphins come mostly from nutrients in our diet, like amino acids, vitamins, fatty acids and minerals.
Serotonin is made primarily through intake of tryptophan-rich foods, such as turkey or milk. Most proteins will help release serotonin, including meat, fish, chicken, poultry, cheese, milk and eggs, which are complete proteins. A number of different plant foods, such as beans with sprouted grains, will get the same effects. Whole foods like seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, peas, corn or the germ of grains, such as buckwheat and oats, are all good plant sources of amino acids that help increase serotonin.
Fats comprise 60 percent of the brain. Essential fatty acids support the activity of neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Get healthy fats from coconut or olive oil, wild-caught fish like Alaskan salmon, nuts, seeds and avocado.
Laughter is a quick-fix for feeling almost instantly better, thanks to the release of endorphins. Studies have even linked laughter with an elevated pain threshold. Try regularly doing something to keep your sense of humor: play with children, watch funny shows, recall a funny moment, share jokes, spend time with friends who have a sense of humor.
Give a hug, get a massage or simply have a deep conversation with someone you trust will all help release oxytocin and other chemicals that help you feel calm and comforted. Some studies show acupuncture and other hands-on treatments have similar effects. Make time for friends, reach out to others in need, find a sense of purpose and notice how good you feel when you do something nice for someone else.
Every time you experience something novel or learn something new dopamine’s reinforces you. With the internet, learning is at your fingertips. Use your techno-time to look up something that peaks your curiosity, travel, take up a hobby or get better at something you already do and release feel good neurochemicals.
The release of endorphins helps you feel calmer almost instantly when you smell the aroma of something that reminds you of fun or comforting times. It can be as simple as the scent of fresh baked cookies, a parent’s favorite perfume or a dab of essential oil scents such as vanilla, chamomile, rose and lavender. Your nose, after all, is close to your brain.
6. Sunning & Nature
Sunshine and nature sites/sounds/colors seem to help regulate the release of serotonin and melatonin. It only takes about 20 minutes a day to help your skin produce vitamin D (sunscreen will block this), which is important for your mood. Studies indicate that exercising outdoors elevates mood better than indoors.
A large body of research shows that people who exercise regularly have added protection against depression, reduce anxiety and get better sleep. Exercise is one of the most endorphin-boosting things we can do. It also increases self esteem, gives a sense of mastery, increases energy levels, and thanks to dopamine, keeps you motivated to continue and improve. You don’t have to do 10,000 steps or do intense workouts. Research indicates that 3 times a week of brisk walking will do the trick.
Putting into practice all 7 ways to get the Happiness Quartet working for you:
Eat a hardboiled egg while walking for 20 minutes in the park with a trusted friend, practice speaking Mandarin Chinese, laugh at your bad pronunciation and stop occasionally to smell the flowers. How easy is that!
How to Save Your Precious energy, lower your level of confidence, decrease productivity and be dumber. Start by avoiding 6 simple things and be on your way!
Stop reading! (no, not this post, stop reading books)
People who read often gain empathy for others, somethings that is helpful if you want to be an effective leader, which as we all know takes inordinate energy that can be used more effectively. Reading also keeps you mentally sharp which can be painful in troubled times. Dumb and dull can be cultivated. Try just laying about.
2. Do not sleep so much!
With less sleep your ability to plan, reason, organize and make decisions decreases. Neuroscientists have found that after being awake for 16 hours your ability to focus and your executive-function decrease. BUT your awake time will allow you to stream more favorite shows. If you question this stay awake as long as you can and watch your productivity lower as your entertainment time increases.
3. No more fruits and vegetables!
Mental energy is affected by what you eat. Getting a lot of micronutrients, minerals and vitamins you get from foods, such as fruits and vegetables, helps give you health and energy to be more productive. Stay away from them if you are already too energetic. Stick with cakes and cookies for short term boost instead (Read about that here).
4. Do not look at new ideas . . .
. . . or go to new places. Stay with the familiar and do not look to other fields for inspiration. Doing novel things can change your brain chemistry and even the way you see the world. Curiosity can make you more productive and expand your world but will take away from valuable Facebook and Twitter time. Remember! What you don’t know can’t hurt you.
5. Quit learning!
Stay in your comfort zone where it is familiar and stress free. That is where your mind will go soft, your memory less sharp and you can relax. The Journal of Psychological Sciences published research showing that activities that demand hard thinking and new activities improves your memory. BUT who needs memory to enjoy the mundane . . . so do not take up new hobbies, learn a new useless language or play a musical instrument badly . . .
6. No more exercising!
When you get your body moving, you’re creating energy. Yes, it will also lead to increased productivity, crease confidence, helps with aging, mental and physical health but it takes up your valuable time. Even walking 30 minutes a day can ruin your chances of catching your favorite show or reading the latest “tweet”.
6 Tiny Habits That Will Make You Smarter, Confident, and More Productive
Attaining and keeping a level of high performance requires a commitment to these 6 tiny habits.
I was embarrassed!
Patients who had just been released from the hospital’s psychiatric unit caught me red-handed. I was leading a group therapy session about how important it is to focus on the positive – what you want instead of what you do not want. I went on and on explaining that when we think negatively the neo-cortex part of our brains triggers neuro-chemical emotions which correspond to those thoughts.
I smoothly seque-wayed into explaining what the many symptoms of depression are. The patients had been listening, and stopped me and not so diplomatically pointed out I was focusing on the negative. Lesson learned! MY lesson learned.
The group decided that instead of learning symptoms of depression, they would create a list of symptoms of happiness.
Here’s their list:
Symptoms of Happiness
- Feeling good (or at least “decent”) most of the day, for two weeks or more.
- Eating an appropriate amount of food with good appetite.
- Sleeping well and awakening refreshed.
- Taking pleasure in most everyday activities and enjoying fun activities.
- Having a good energy level most of the day, every day, for two weeks or more.
- Having thoughts of fun or of good times to come.
- Being able to concentrate on the activity on hand.
- Feeling that one’s life matters.
- Able to exercise three times a week for half an hour, or more.
- Socialize in person or on the phone with 5 to 7 people each week. ( texting counts too)
- Laugh or at least smile every day.
How many happiness “symptoms” do you have?
(even one is a start).
Linda commented (below): Feeling grateful, enjoying nature, feeling loved, able to say “life is wonderful”.
Sleep isn’t for your body. Sleep is for your brain. When completely deprived of sleep, for only a few days, research shows that at best our immune system is depressed, we have trouble concentrating or processing information and at worst become paranoid and schizophrenic.
Maui was a superb sleeper. No matter where I went in the house I found him stretched out. Whatever magically found its way to the floor (I certainly never put it there) I’d find him asleep – on pillows, magazines, empty boxes, dirty clothes . . . new clothes. A particular comfy spot was in the middle of a pathway like the top or bottom of the stairs.
As far as I could tell Maui was never sleep deprived, paranoid or schizophrenic.
Maui’s Tips for a Good Nights Sleep . . . for humans only
- Exercise every day but never just before bedtime. (Chasing things like children and dreams doesn’t count)
- Stay away from alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine (catnip is fine).
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine (stretch, turn in circles and always clean your paws and teeth).
- Keep the room temperature cool. It helps us hibernate.
- Limit catnapping during the day to 10 minutes, 20 minutes max. Any longer and your brain goes into deep sleep (and you’ll be a ornery cat when you wake up)
Keep your bedtime consistent.
- Don’t sleep all day and be up all night – it messes with your circadian rhythm.
Peggy’s Tips on Sleeping Well
- Mind won’t shut off? Do a brain dump 30 minutes before bed. Write down your worries, things to do, random thoughts until your brain is empty. (takes about 3 days for this to work, but it works!)
- Talk to your brain. Assure your brain it can solve any problem or cope with difficulties much better when you are rested. Your unconscious mind is always working and give you solutions while you sleep.
- Get bright sunlight in the morning when you first wake up. Go outside if you can. Even if it is cloudy you get 3000 lumens vs 200 inside. (That’s a lot of lumens!)
- Turn off cell phones, computers – anything that emits blue light. It keeps the brain awake.
Here’s a bonus tip to help you sleep well!!
Buy Guatemalan Worry Cats from the Greater Good Site .
Tell them your troubles and they’ll worry for you while you sleep!
Sleep even better knowing you’ve contributed to worthy causes.