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Welcome to this weekly online resource. Wellness professional Jo Foster, offers self care tips through her insights on mindfulness and positive psychology, her weekly online yoga classes and nutritious recipe recommendations. 

This week we will be considering the importance of sleep in relation to optimism. Enjoy!

Last week we explored the traits of optimism and pessimism, the impact of these mindsets on your health and the importance of self enquiry to develop an understanding of your inner dialogue.

 

Some of you may have taken the time to carry out the optimism test devised by Martin Seligman or perhaps you instinctively knew your tendency towards one end of the spectrum. Maybe you concluded that you are somewhere in the middle of the range or you might have noticed that some of the questions were particularly difficult to answer. I found that whilst carrying out this analysis I could recall past instances where, in a similar situation, my response was optimistic one day and on another, I catastrophized and was despondent. You may have also noticed that you have different tendencies in different areas of your life, such as relationships, work or your health. If this rings true, then you have identified that your state of mind is not permanent and not universal. This week we will be looking at the transient nature of pessimism and some lifestyle factors that influence our tendencies. 

The permanance dimension​

If your inner dialogue (or "explanatory style" as Martin Seligman puts it) leans towards finality, such as "diets don't work" rather than "this type of diet isn't working for me", we are thinking in a way that shuts down the possibility for this to change in the future. This in turn makes us less likely to try again. This dimension of thought also prolongs the affects of bad events, trapping us in a cycle of despair. Whilst the events themselves cannot be undone, the hurt that accompanies them will abate with time.

 

If we are able to remind ourselves in the midst of turmoil, that hurt and disappointment are natural, part of a process of recovery and are temporary, we are able to move more swiftly towards the light at the end of the tunnel. We bypass the grudges and helplessness and spring back, ready to look towards good times ahead. This dimension of thought is called "hope".  

The art of hope 

Acknowledging temporary causes of an event, limits the duration of helplessness and helps us regain control. Identifying specific causes of a bad event, enables us to ring-fence the helplessness to that particular event and not apply the causes universally to all events past and future. For example,"I'm no good at maths, that's why I failed the test. I'm always failing" versus "differential equations are not my strong point, next time I need to spend more time studying this"!  

 

Identifying hope in your thought process will turn the tables towards start to positive thinking and productivity. However, this shift is often difficult to initiate and sustain, especially when certain lifestyle factors are creating an unfavourable environment for hope.

 

Before we establish what a hope environment is, first consider, how do you feel after a bad nights sleep? Do you wake up grumpy? Do simple tasks in your day become more challenging? Are you less able to hold a trail of thought? Do you feel generally more pessimistic? 

 

Get good at sleep

Sleep is vital component of mood regulation. Multiple studies in neuroscience have shown that sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep, lead to negative emotional reactivity. In this state it becomes increasingly difficult to disengage from negative emotions and redirect our thought process towards positive stimuli. 

We all have slightly different needs when it comes to sleep, some of us may naturally be night owls and some of us are larks. But regardless of when we feel the urge to sleep or wake, we all need enough sleep to cover two critical sleep phases, REM and NREM. In order to enable both these phases to take place you will likely need somewhere in the region of 8 hours per night. 

Sleep as many of you know can easily be disrupted. Mood itself can be one of the most destructive forces, stress, anxiety and feelings of despair can all cause us to experience difficulty in getting to and staying asleep. When this occurs be patient, endeavour to shift your mindset as frequently as possible into the realms of hope (temporary, specific, surmountable) and do some sleep house keeping:

1. Cut back on the alcohol

2. Eliminate caffeine 5 hours before bed

3. Eliminate blue light 2 hours before bed

4. Redirect thoughts away from ruminating

Instead, try to;

1. Hydrate in the early evening

2. If possible limit your use of devices a couple of hours before bed. Perhaps have a bath and settle down with a good book. It is also calming to

listen to relaxing music, a audio book or a short sleep story (there are lots of apps that provide these, such as Calm).

3. Give your self plenty of opportunity to sleep, so if you need 8 hours before your alarm goes off, why not allow for 8.5 or 9 hours in bed. 

4. If sleep isn't forthcoming, don't panic. Keep the routine up and it will gradually improve. See it as a temporary hurdle. (NB If after a period of weeks you are seeing no improvement seek advice from your GP.)

By enabling a good sleep opportunity and improving the quality of sleep your brain will be able to carry out an essential repair process that has wide reaching health benefits. In particular good sleep benefits our mood and ability to reason.

 

During REM and NREM sleep phases the brain carries out repairs to it's adaptive processing functions. It fine tunes chemical balances and restores the integrity of the connections between the medial front cortex (our reasoning part of the brain) and the amygdala (the part responsible for the perception of emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness, as well as the controlling of aggression). If we deny ourselves sleep we limit these functions and our ability to think reasonably. We reduce our capacity to identify hope and diminish optimism.

So to help nurture optimism and create the right mental environment for hope, work on identifying when an event is temporary, specific and surmountable and then and make sleep a pleasurable priority. 

Further resources​

If you are interested in learning more about sleep Matthew Walker's book "why we sleep" is fascinating and well worth a read. The book will explain why the above practices, such as reducing blue light, caffeine and alcohol are so important. Sleep is truly miraculous and its importance to our overall health should not be underestimated or overlooked.

Beetroot borani and halloumi breakfast bowls by John Gregory Smith

The vibrancy, colours and flavours of this dish make it a fest for all the senses. Make this a weekend treat after a great nights sleep!

Beetroot: Beetroot contains nitrates that aid blood flow to the brain thus supporting healthy cognitive function.