Welcome to Joy Lab!: Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Henry: Hello, I'm Henry Emmons and welcome to Joy Lab.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. Here at Joy Lab, we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. And as you may know, we are working through our podcourse series here for a while. We're taking a fresh look at depression, anxiety, chronic stress, and looking at really the most impactful strategies that we can take to transform these experiences and prevent them from popping up in the future. So in the last several episodes, Henry introduced a more holistic definition of depression, I'd say. We talked about the science of hope. And then in last episode, Henry, you explained the subtypes, which can help us sort of become more aware of tendencies that we might have, ones that can snag us oftentimes, and then using these subtypes as well to help us tailor strategies to help us come back to balance and then go beyond that.
These strategies, we sometimes call them lifestyle medicine over here. Henry, do you want to highlight that term, and also what we'll cover in these next lessons?
Henry: Sure, so I actually love that this has a kind of an official sounding name, "Lifestyle Medicine." Because it puts it in the right context, which is that, these things that we do, that we often think of as common sense, really do have a health value, even a medicinal value. Carolyn Denton, the nutritionist who works with us, she often uses the phrase that food is medicine.
And it really is. What we put into our body, what we do with our bodies, is going to have an impact in our health, one way or the other. So, this is a growing movement, actually. Kind of a large scale, nationwide, there's an increasing awareness, certainly amongst health professionals. We've known it all along.
It's just that now we're realizing just how important it is to keep it front and center as part of our treatment strategy. So lifestyle, the things that we choose to do that have an impact on our health and wellbeing. So we're going to talk about this in four primary arenas, if you will. And those are sleep, which in my opinion might be the most important of all of these, even though it often gets the kind of the short shrift. But I think it is absolutely the pillar of good mental health.
And then we're also going to talk about movement, and we use the word movement rather than exercise, at least kind of moving in that direction that it's, uh, doesn't have to be exercise the way we normally think of it. And then food, which in my view is the place to start when we're trying to help balance brain chemistry, because we want to put into our system the things that the body and the brain need in order to keep itself well balanced and functioning well.
And then we are going to touch upon supplements, which are kind of a second step when food isn't enough, then we can move on and take a look at how we can support or supplement our diet with some other strategies that might even have somewhat of a medicinal effect.
Aimee: Yeah. We're going to cover quite a bit in these next lessons. I like as well that you sort of noted the term lifestyle medicine, like it sounds pretty prestigious and it just reminds me of that saying sort of, you know, you are your own best doctor. And here's our scope of practice right here, lifestyle medicine, the things that we can do, we know these things, they are intuitive, they are part of our inherent knowledge of taking care of ourselves and our healing capacity. I think it's just kind of wonderful that it's coming back into practice.
Henry: Yeah, you know, I think when we, when we talk about healing and recovering from some kind of illness, whether that be anxiety or depression or some sort of physical problem, we really have to take a broad view of it. And, and even recognizing that, you know, the body and the mind, the mental and the physical are not really separate from one another.
They're part and parcel of the same thing. So anything you do to help take care of the physical, part of yourself is going to help the mental and emotional part of yourself and vice versa. So we wanna kind of broaden and expand our reach. We want to recognize that the body and mind are unified, and impact one another constantly. And really try to be smart about how to think about these things in a way that move us toward greater health and wellbeing
Aimee: Yes. I think we're all on board for that. So, let's dive in. We're going to talk about sleep first as Henry made sure would happen as it's his favorite. Um, I agree as well. So, to support you even more, we also have this really great workshop over at our resilient community, led by Henry and Carolyn, who Henry just noted, wonderful nutritionist.
So if you are struggling with sleep, you can listen in right here and also join us over at the resilient community. You can work through that sleep workshop as well for more resources.
Henry: Yeah, I just, just couldn't leave it alone, could I? We gotta do more of a focus on
Aimee: Absolutely. All right. So enjoy everybody. We hope you sleep well.
Henry: It's a really interesting question that the scientists and really thinkers have wondered about for years, for probably for centuries, and that is this: why is it so important to sleep for roughly eight hours a day when being asleep leaves you so vulnerable to all kinds of things that could happen to you. Especially, you know, going back to our ancestors day when, you know, you really were vulnerable if you're not conscious and aware.
What could be so important that puts sleep, as that high of a priority, that roughly a third of your time is spent sleeping?
So I want to talk about what I think are the really important aspects of sleep.
I have come to see sleep as the absolute linchpin for mental health, and by that I mean that if sleep is there, if it's intact, you have a really good chance of recovering. If you pull that out and sleep falls, it's really hard to recover from almost any mental health condition. It is that important.
Over the years, I've also come to see that many mental health problems, especially like the more serious ones, like bipolar illness, maybe major depression, they are very often preceded, and I believe triggered, by a problem with sleep. So if, if you're looking to recover from depression, I really want to emphasize this, that the research tells us very clearly, and my experience absolutely bears this out, if you're not sleeping well, and you address that, and you get your sleep on track, you have just doubled your chances of recovery, at least.
So this is really important. And I think if, you're having trouble sleeping, until that gets better, put it at the top of your list and keep focusing on it.
So in this section on sleep, I want to start by talking a little bit about the science of sleep, and then we'll move on to talk about some of the really important but basic kinds of fundamentals for sleep that are pertinent to everybody.
Henry: So, Number one, sleep is essential to keeping our moods stable. That's so important for our topic today, but it really is the most important, most effective mood stabilizer of all. And you can bear that out in your own experience.
Go for even a night or two without sleeping well, and the next day or days after that, you can tell your mood is shaky, or you don't feel quite as well. You're not thinking as clearly, of course, but mood is really, really impacted by sleeping well or not sleeping well.
Second thing is how well does the brain work? And when you don't sleep well, again, your own experience tells you this, you're not clicking as well. You're not remembering things. You're feeling maybe a little bit spacey. You just have more trouble staying focused or concentrating. It is essential for how the brain works and especially how the memory system works.
And then thirdly, the body uses the time of sleep in a very real sense to heal itself, to repair itself. So there are little micro injuries for example or things that have gone a little bit wrong with the body that, during the time of sleep, especially deep sleep, the body is able to repair and heal itself.
It's that time of great restoration and, and I would say repair. So again, people who have any kind of chronic illness, mental health or physical, if they're not sleeping well, it tends to be something that just keeps it going, keeps it alive. Whether we're talking heart disease or inflammation or, you know, metabolic issues, you name it.
Sleep is also really important for keeping appetite normal. So people who are, for example, who are trying to lose weight or just keep their weight stable, if they're not sleeping well, it changes the mechanism that tells us when we're hungry and when we're, we've had enough. And it makes it really, really hard to lose weight or keep the weight off.
Now, there's a few things, really important things, that happen during sleep that I just want to highlight for a moment. And these are really in some instances, really recent scientific understandings. One is that sleep is, and the timing of sleep, is absolutely essential for keeping our circadian rhythm normal.
For keeping our bodies on this regular 24 hour cycle, which I cannot overemphasize how important that is for mood. Because, every cell in the body, including your brain cells and your endocrine cells, your hormones, they have their own timekeeper, their own internal clock. Every cell has its own. Which tells you how important this phenomenon is of timekeeping and circadian rhythm.
And one of the ways that's really important for mood is that the hormones,
all of them, are timed by our 24 hour cycle. So, for example, the stress hormones, which are really important for mood, they fluctuate over the course of the day. And typically at around three or four in the morning, your cortisol level has risen high enough that your sleep lightens and within a couple hours or so, your your sleep lightens enough that you wake up naturally, especially if there's sunlight to help trigger that.
And then cortisol continues to rise in the morning and typically it dips a little bit after lunch, comes back up a little in the afternoon and then it just falls throughout the evening and into the kind of the middle of the night. That's normal. That's the normal pattern. But if we disrupt our circadian rhythms, by sleeping in in the morning or by flying across time zones or anything that changes that 24 hour cycle, the body doesn't quite know what to do or how to react to that.
One of the, um, the things I remember learning way back in my training about depression is that for people with major depression, clinical major depression, there's this phenomenon that seems to really be a trigger or maybe even the cause of some cases of depression where the brain and the adrenal glands are no longer talking to each other or they're not listening to one another.
And so they've, they've gotten out of communication. And so the adrenals, which produce the stress hormones like cortisol, they don't know what to do. They don't shut off properly. So you keep those stress hormones high and it just keeps waking you up too early in the morning and disrupting the sleep pattern even further.
So getting the circadian rhythms on track is essential. Another aspect of, what the body is doing during sleep, which is really important for us, especially as we age, and that is that it's when the brain cleans itself up, so to speak. It's when it gets rid of the waste products and the toxins. You may know that in the rest of your body, outside the brain, there's this system of channels called the lymphatic system or the lymph system.
You've heard of the lymph glands. Essentially, that's how the body clears the waste from metabolism, from producing energy and just doing all the things that the cells do. Those channels come up, they parallel your blood vessels and they come up to the heart, kind of dump it into the heart so it gets into the bloodstream and then it goes out the liver and your body gets rid of it.
That's how we get rid of the toxins that our body would otherwise accumulate. Now in the brain, we don't have that system because there's not room for it. But just recently, just in the last few years, uh, scientists discovered that in fact there is kind of a hidden system of channels called the glymphatic system, which is very similar.
But here's the clincher. During the daytime when you're awake and alert and active and your brain is, you know, doing all the important things it does, then those channels shrink away. They basically disappear so that there's room for the neurons. They kind of get bigger at that time and they're doing their job.
At night, during deep sleep, the reverse happens. The other cells in your brain kind of shrink down a little bit so these channels have a chance to open up and clear out the waste. This is incredibly important as you might imagine. I believe, can't prove this, but I believe that one of the best things you can do to prevent future problems with memory, dementing illnesses, just to protect your brain as you age, is to focus on your sleep. Get it right, and really try to focus on deep sleep.
Because I think it's those deep sleep stages that are so crucial to this whole process working well.
So, getting your sleep into a really regular pattern is crucial. I really can't overemphasize this.
One of the reasons I've come to see this as so important is because I've done a lot of work over the years with young people, with college age students who are in that age range where they are seem to be more vulnerable to the start of these mental health problems.
It's at age typically from about 16 to say 24 or so, when a lot of the more serious mental health problems begin for many people. And I think one of the reasons for that is because it's an age where people are frequently not taking good care of their sleep. Especially their sleep rhythm.
So even though this is not a super popular thing to say, especially to college age students, I'm going to say it. And that is the most important thing I think that you can do for your sleep, the single most important thing, is to get up at about the same time every day. seven days a week. So even if you got to sleep late that night and you think well I need my seven hours or whatever it is and you want to sleep in, I would advise you not to do it.
At least not if you have any problems with mood because it can throw things off very quickly. So getting up at the same time everyday, at least within an hour of the same time, so you cheat a little bit and maybe on a weekend you do want to sleep in a little but no more than one hour. Then, if you've had a really short night of sleep, fine, take a nap later in the day as long as napping doesn't make it hard for you to sleep at night. We'll come back to that.
But if you do this, if you really are regular about getting up at the same time every day before long, it might take two or three weeks, it might take a month or two for some people, but before long, your body gets entrained. It gets into this rhythm and you will notice that you'll start to get sleepy at about the same time each night. I don't emphasize that quite as much as to when you go to bed as I do when you get up because the body sort of takes care of itself.
It is useful, it's really helpful to have a bedtime routine and get into that pattern of falling asleep at about the same time every night. But the really important aspect is what you do in the morning. Now I know that this is hard for some people and so I want to give you a couple of tips that I think will really be helpful.
One of the things that's made the biggest difference in my sleep
is my relationship with light. So this again has everything to do with your circadian rhythm, your 24 hour cycle. And really simply put, there's two aspects of this, both ends of the day. In the morning, you want to be exposed to bright light.
In the evening, you want to really minimize your light exposure.
So, let's start with the morning. If you're living in the northern part of the world, like I do, in the summer, the sun might rise at 5:30, 6 o'clock, and in the winter it might be 7, 7:30, you know, somewhere in those, those ranges.
Most of us don't change our sleep rhythm that much. And so in order to have a continuous signal that it's time to get up, I think it's really helpful to use a bright light device. The kind that I use that I think is really, really helpful is what's often called a dawn simulator. Uh, and it's comes in various forms and different brands, but essentially it's just a light that goes on your bedside. And it has a clock that's part of it, and it serves as an alarm.
And you set it for whenever you want and then you, find that it begins to brighten the room gradually for about a half hour before the alarm goes off. I use this year round. It's especially important in the fall, winter months, early spring. The summer you probably wouldn't have to do it, but I just find it useful to keep my rhythm the same all year long.
It takes no effort. No time. It's not terribly expensive, and you just set it by your bedside, set it up, and let it do its thing. Now, if you really have a strong pattern in the winter where it's really hard to get up in the morning, and then maybe you're really sleepy in the evening, or even have trouble falling asleep, you might want to get a, another light device. So you'd have a second one, which is much brighter, more intense. And it's one that you use after you've gotten out of bed for 20 or 30 minutes early in the morning. Really, really helpful. It gives your body a strong signal that the sun is out. The sun doesn't have to be out. You're tricking yourself into thinking that, but it's a really useful way to get your circadian rhythms regular.
Let's talk then about the evening, with regard to light in the evening. In the summer months, you probably know, you just naturally stay up later. You got more energy. You want to get out and do things, and that's fine. You probably don't need to, to do much with that in the summer, but if you've ever been camping and you know, if you're, if you're camping, you don't have a lot of bright lights, typically, you know, within an hour or so of when the sun goes down, you're ready to crash.
You're tired. You're sleepy. You can hardly stay awake, probably. And if you do that for a few days or a couple weeks, you will really get into a clear rhythm with your sleep. We want to do something like that all the time, especially in the winter months when we tend to use a lot of household lights.
So here's my advice for that.
After about eight o'clock, let's just say 10 o'clock is your bedtime. After about 8 o'clock in the evening, turn your lights way down. Think about camping and how much light you might have, you know, firelight, candlelight, that, almost that low. If you use a bright light, let's say to read by or you just have a lot of lights on in your house, or you're really active at that time in the evening, you are going to push back your own melatonin production by about an hour and a half, maybe two hours. So you don't want to be doing that at nine or ten o'clock. So really,
really diminish the lights in the evening. Nowadays you can purchase LED lights that take out the blue spectrum or some that have only the blue spectrum. Blue spectrum is the bright kind of activating part of the light spectrum.
So in the evenings, you don't want that. So you could do it with purchasing certain kind of household lights. Or if you're reading in the evening, you know, you could just use like a Kindle reader or something that takes out the blue spectrum. If you read with a real book still, you can get a little light that hooks over the book, you know, book light, which isn't very bright. That would still be okay.
But even a regular bedside lamp or a table lamp or sofa lamp, typically they're too bright. You know, 60 watts, even 40 watts might be a little bit too bright. Now it probably goes without saying that along with that, you don't really want to be using your computer, your iPad, even your cell phone, very much, in that very late part of the evening.
I think if you're having trouble sleeping, you ought to shut those things down an hour or even two hours before bed. Because part of it is the light that emits from them and part of it is just the way that they get your brain engaged and activated and kind of moving from one thing to another that is not conducive to sleep.
Now, there's Just a couple things I think are really useful to talk about.
One is that a lot of people believe that if they take a hot bath or shower right before bed, that that's going to help their sleep.
And in fact, it might help your sleep if you do it an hour or two before bed. If you do it right before bed so your body's all warmed up, it's not conducive to good sleep. You actually sleep best when your body is kind of cool or when it is cooling down.
I think too a lot of people have the misconception that having a glass or two of alcohol will help my sleep, or having a snack right before bed. And you know at that time of day your body really is not geared towards digesting. So having a small snack might be okay, but a big one probably not. And alcohol, while it is a sedative and it does make you kind of drowsy, it's not so good for sleep. And what I usually tell people is if you do want to have a drink in the evening, do it with supper or shortly after supper. Don't do it right before bed if you're having trouble with your sleep.
Caffeine is another thing that comes up a lot. I have a cup of coffee at least every day in the morning I think most people believe that if they shut down their caffeine intake after supper or maybe after lunch, even, that it's not going to affect their sleep.
I actually think that it can affect your sleep, no matter when you have it. So again, I've got no problem with having some coffee or caffeine if you're sleeping well, but if you're not, shut it down early. And if you are still having trouble sleeping, continue reducing your caffeine until you eliminate it or your sleep improves, whichever comes first.
By the way, how much sleep do you need? I didn't mention that earlier. I think most people really do need seven or eight hours a night. Somewhere between six and nine, but generally speaking, seven or eight.
Any more than nine hours, you might get even more sluggish. Any less than, say, six and a half or seven hours, you're probably depriving yourself of sleep. So try to find that sweet spot for you. And don't worry too much if you wake up in the middle of the night. I think that's really pretty normal, especially as we age, but you just don't want to be laying there for an hour or two, tossing and turning or ruminating.
So, stay with it. Keep working on your sleep until you get it right. It will make a world of difference in feeling better and preventing problems in the future.
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