Sleeping With Any Light Raises Risk of Obesity  Diabetes and More

Even dim light can disrupt sleep, raising the risk of serious health issues in older adults, a new study found. Dogs and cats who share their human’s bed tend to have a “higher trust level and a tighter bond with the humans that are in their lives. It’s a big display of trust on their part,” Varble said.

Sleep myths that may be keeping you from a good night’s rest. “Exposure to any amount of light during the sleep period was correlated with the higher prevalence of diabetes, obesity and hypertension in both older men and women,” senior author Phyllis Zee, chief of sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told CNN.

“People should do their best to avoid or minimize the amount of light they are exposed to during sleep,” she added. A study published earlier this year by Zee and her team examined the role of light in sleep for healthy adults in their 20s. Sleeping for only one night with a dim light, such as a TV set with the sound off, raised the blood sugar and heart rate of the young people during the sleep lab experiment.

An elevated heart rate at night has been shown in prior studies to be a risk factor for future heart disease and early death, while higher blood sugar levels are a sign of insulin resistance, which can ultimately lead to type 2 diabetes. The dim light entered the eyelids and disrupted sleep in the young adults despite the fact that participants slept with their eyes closed, Zee said. Yet even that tiny amount of light created a deficit of slow wave and rapid eye movement sleep, the stages of slumber in which most cellular renewal occurs, she said.

Objective Measurements

The new study, published Wednesday in the journal Sleep, focused on seniors who “already are at higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said coauthor Dr. Minjee Kim, an assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a statement. “We wanted to see if there was a difference in frequencies of these diseases related to light exposure at night,” Kim said. Instead of pulling people into a sleep lab, the new study used a real-world setting.

Researchers gave 552 men and women between the ages of 63 and 84 an actigraph, a small device worn like a wristwatch that measures sleep cycles, average movement and light exposure. We’re actually measuring the amount of light the person is exposed to with a sensor on their body and comparing that to their sleep and wake activity over a 24-hour period,” Zee said. “What I think is different and notable in our study is that we have really objective data with this method.”

Fewer than half of the adults in the study got five hours of darkness at night. Zee and her team said they were surprised to find that fewer than half of the men and women in the study consistently slept in darkness for at least five hours each day. “More than 53% or so had some light during the night in the room,” she said. “In a secondary analysis, we found those who had higher amounts of light at night were also the most likely to have diabetes, obesity or hypertension.” In addition, Zee said, people who slept with higher levels of light were more likely to go to bed later and get up later, and “we know late sleepers tend to also have a higher risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.”

What to do

Strategies for reducing light levels at night include positioning your bed away from windows or using light-blocking window shades. Don’t charge laptops and cellphones in your bedroom where melatonin-altering blue light can disrupt your sleep. If low levels of light persist, try a sleep mask to shelter your eyes. Using melatonin for sleep is on the rise, study says, despite potential health harms. If you have to get up, don’t turn on lights if you don’t have to, Zee advised. If you do, keep them as dim as possible and illuminated only for brief periods of time.

Older adults often have to get up at night to visit the bathroom, due to health issues or side effects from medications, Zee said, so advising that age group to turn out all lights might put them at risk of falling. In that case, consider using nightlights positioned very low to the ground, and choose lights with an amber or red color. That spectrum of light has a longer wavelength, and is less intrusive and disruptive to our circadian rhythm, or body clock, than shorter wavelengths such as blue light.

Source: Sleeping with any light raises risk of obesity, diabetes and more, study finds – CNN

Heart rate increases in light room, and body can’t rest properly 

We showed your heart rate increases when you sleep in a moderately lit room,” said Daniela Grimaldi, MD, PhD, co-first author of the study and a research assistant professor of Neurology in the Division of Sleep Medicine. “Even though you are asleep, your autonomic nervous system is activated. That’s bad. Usually, your heart rate together with other cardiovascular parameters are lower at night and higher during the day.”

There are sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems that regulate our physiology during the day and night. Sympathetic takes charge during the day and parasympathetic is supposed to control physiology at night, when it conveys restoration to the entire body.

How nighttime light during sleep can lead to diabetes and obesity

Investigators found insulin resistance occurred the morning after people slept in a light room. Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t use glucose from your blood for energy. To make up for it, your pancreas makes more insulin. Over time, your blood sugar goes up. An earlier study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at a large population of healthy people who had exposure to light during sleep. They were more overweight and obese, Zee said.

“Now we are showing a mechanism that might be fundamental to explain why this happens. We show it’s affecting your ability to regulate glucose,” Zee said. The participants in the study weren’t aware of the biological changes in their bodies at night. “But the brain senses it,” Grimaldi said. “It acts like the brain of somebody whose sleep is light and fragmented. The sleep physiology is not resting the way it’s supposed to.”

Exposure to artificial light at night during sleep is common

Exposure to artificial light at night during sleep is common, either from indoor light emitting devices or from sources outside the home, particularly in large urban areas. A significant proportion of individuals (up to 40 percent) sleep with a bedside lamp on or with a light on in the bedroom, or keep a television on.

Light and its relationship to health is double edged.

“In addition to sleep, nutrition and exercise, light exposure during the daytime is an important factor for health, but during the night we show that even modest intensity of light can impair measures of heart and endocrine health,” Zee said. The study tested the effect of sleeping with 100 lux (moderate light) compared to 3 lux (dim light) in participants over a single night. The investigators discovered that moderate light exposure caused the body to go into a higher alert state.

In this state, the heart rate increases as well as the force with which the heart contracts and the rate of how fast the blood is conducted to your blood vessels for oxygenated blood flow.

Zee’s top tips for reducing light during sleep

  1. Don’t turn lights on. If you need to have a light on (which older adults may want for safety), make it a dim light that is closer to the floor.
  2. Color is important. Amber or a red or orange light is less stimulating for the brain. Don’t use white or blue light and keep it far away from the sleeping person.
  3. Blackout shades or eye masks are good if you can’t control the outdoor light. Move your bed so the outdoor light isn’t shining on your face.

More contents:

6 clever tips for a great night’s sleep NewsNet5, Ohio

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Social Media Break Can Significantly Improve Mental Health

A social media break could significantly improve overall well-being and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to a new study from the University of Bath.

The researchers examined the mental health effects of stepping away from social media for one week. For some participants, the break freed up about nine hours that they would have normally spent on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

“Social media (SM) has revolutionized how we communicate with each other, allowing users to interact with friends and family and meet others based on shared interests by creating virtual public profiles,” wrote the study authors. “In the United Kingdom, the number of adults using SM has increased from 45 percent in 2011 to 71 percent in 2021.”

The researchers noted that previous studies have found negative relationships between social media use and various mental health indices. For example, a study of US adults showed that participants who used social media the most frequently had much greater odds of suffering from depression.

To investigate the benefits of a social media break, the researchers focused on people between the ages of 18 and 72 who used social media every day. The individuals were randomly assigned to either stop using social media platforms altogether for seven days or to continue their social media engagement as usual.

At the beginning of the study, the participants had reported spending an average of eight hours per week on social media. Those who took a break showed significant improvements in well-being, depression, and anxiety.

“Scrolling social media is so ubiquitous that many of us do it almost without thinking from the moment we wake up to when we close our eyes at night,” said lead researcher Dr. Jeff Lambert.

“We know that social media usage is huge and that there are increasing concerns about its mental health effects, so with this study, we wanted to see whether simply asking people to take a week’s break could yield mental health benefits.”

“Many of our participants reported positive effects from being off social media with improved mood and less anxiety overall. This suggests that even just a small break can have an impact.”

“Of course, social media is a part of life and for many people, it’s an indispensable part of who they are and how they interact with others. But if you are spending hours each week scrolling and you feel it is negatively impacting you, it could be worth cutting down on your usage to see if it helps.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

Source: Social media break can significantly improve mental health • Earth.com

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Critics:

By: Zia Sherrell

Social media has associations with depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation, particularly among heavy users. A 2015 Common Sense survey found that teenagers may spend as much as 9 hours of each day online. Many of these individuals are themselves concerned that they spend too much time browsing social networks. This wave of concern suggests that social media could affect the mental health of its users.

The researchers behind a 2017 Canadian study confirmed this finding. They noted that students who use social media for more than 2 hours daily are considerably more likely to rate their mental health as fair or poor than occasional users. A 2019 studyTrusted Source tied social media use to disrupted and delayed sleep. Regular, high quality sleep is essential for well-being, and evidence shows that sleeping problems contribute to adverse mental health effects, such as depression and memory loss.

Aside from the adverse effects on sleep, social media may trigger mental health struggles by exposing individuals to cyberbullying. In a 2020 survey of more than 6,000 individuals aged 10–18 years, researchers found that about half of them had experienced cyberbullying. One of the downsides of social media platforms is that they give individuals the opportunity to start or spread harmful rumors and use abusive words that can leave people with lasting emotional scars.

Although social media may not play a role in each of these incidences, the time frame correlates with the growing use of these platforms. A 2021 study confirms this effect. The researchers reported that while social media use had a minimal impact on boys’ risk of suicide, girls who used social media for at least 2 hours each day from the age of 13 years had a higher clinical risk of suicide as adults. Furthermore, findings from a population-based study show a decline in mental health in the U.S., with a 37% increase in the likelihood of major depressive episodes among adolescents.

A 2019 studyTrusted Source suggested that teenagers who use social media for more than 3 hours daily are more likely to experience mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, aggression, and antisocial behavior.

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11 Passive Income Ideas to Earn an Extra Grand Each Month

What would you do with an extra $1,000 a month? For most of us, this could be a real game-changer. After all, with this influx of extra cash, you could…

For most of us, this could be a real game-changer. After all, with this influx of extra cash, you could pay off financial debt, purchase a life insurance policy, or invest in your retirement. What’s more, you could finally take that dream vacation, make home repairs, or take a class to further your career. And, considering that fewer than 4 in 10 Americans could pay for a $1,000 emergency expense, you could build a substantial emergency fund.

But, unless you receive an inheritance or win the lottery, this $1,000 per month isn’t just going to appear out of the blue. You’re going to have to earn it. And, your first thought might mean picking up a second job.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach — especially if you’re in a financial crisis or have a short-term financial goal. On the flip side, this can pull you away from your family, friends, or hobbies. Plus, it can be exhausting in addition to your full-time job. In turn, that could actually put your main source of income in jeopardy if your performance or productivity plummets.

So, where can you realistically earn an extra grand each month? Through a passive income.

What is a passive income?

A passive income is when you make money without exerting much effort. In fact, this requires so little effort that many people describe a passive income as earning money while sleeping. Obviously, that doesn’t always literally happen. But hopefully, you have at least a basic understanding of what a passive income is.

There is, however, a passive income myth that must be debunked. Many people assume that earning a passive income is so easy that you only need a weekend to start. And, after that, you can just sit back and wait for the money to roll into your bank account.

In reality, there’s a lot of work to be done upfront. Even after the initial legwork, you’ll still have to maintain and update your passive income sources. It’s like taking care of your home or vehicle. Without properly taking care of these assets, they will quickly deteriorate and lose value.

If you do put in a little elbow grease and stay committed, then yes, a passive income can create an additional income stream. Eventually, this can help you achieve financial freedom, stability, and security. As a result, this reduces stress and anxiety.

In short, earning a passive income can significantly improve your life. And, if that sounds appealing to you, here are 11 passive ideas that can bring in an extra thousand bucks per month.

1. Investing.

As Jeff Rose, the Wealth Hacker, says, this first idea should be a no-brainer. And, despite what you may believe, it doesn’t take a small fortune to begin investing.

“Whether it be 50 bucks a month, $100 a month, anything that you can start investing, you can start making gains, start making interest, of your investment,” he adds. Examples include;

  • Index funds. These are mutual funds or exchange-traded funds that are tied to a market index, such as the S&P 500. Because of this, these funds’ performance correlates with that of the underlying index. Moreover, they’re passively managed as well.
  • Dividend stocks. If you want to make this a worthwhile investment, you will have to invest a significant amount of time and money. If you invest regularly in dividend stocks and put in the time and effort, you will have a very stable recurring income.
  • Peer-to-peer lending. Through platforms like LendingClub and Prosper, you can lend money directly with a click of a button. You can expect a 10.58% average interest rate.
  • Cryptocurrency. It’s not advisable to go all-in with crypto. But, as Cale Moodie wrote in a previous Due article, “the risk of investing in crypto is evening out, and as the market continues to correct itself, we’ll see more legitimate crypto investment opportunities rise to the top.”

What if you don’t know where to start? No worries. You can get assistance with robo-advisors.

“There are Robo Advisors such as Betterment, Wealthfront, Acorns, Robinhood, Ally Invest, E-Trade,” Rose says. “If you know nothing about investing and you want somebody to pick those investments for you, that’s why I have to recommend Betterment.

“Betterment doesn’t have any money to start and they will choose an ETF model for you,” he explains. “So, if you’re putting any money in, they’re gonna choose those investments and then you’ll sit back and start making those capital gains in dividends, otherwise passive income.”

2. Deal and/or survey sites.

Some might not consider this as a passive income since you are putting in a little work. But, signing up for deal and/or survey sites let you earn a minimal income while going about your daily life.

For example, you can make money when you’re doing your online shopping or filling surveys while watching Netflix or on your commute to or from work.

Sure. This probably won’t buy you a yacht. But, instead of just sitting there and wasting time, why not pick up some extra cash on the side?

3. Cash-back reward points.

“This one’s a little bit outside the box, but hear me out,” Rose states. “Taking advantage of cash-back reward points,” is another proven passive income idea.

“Now, I know, I’m sure you’re thinking how is that really passive income?” he asks “But, check this out.

“Before I started using credit cards to pay all of our bills, we used to use debit cards all the time, “ Rose states. “Because I always subscribed to the idea of like you shouldn’t have credit cards because credit cards are evil.” The thing is, when used responsibly, credit cards aren’t that evil.

Why? Because credit cards offer various reward points. And, if you don’t take advantage of them, you’re missing out on free money.

Rose explains that began using rewards points for cash back, hotels, or airline miles. “Anything like that that we knew that we’d be using on a frequent basis.,” he says. “So, now everything that we buy, whether it’s our cell phone bill, our satellite bill, Netflix, groceries, gasoline, we run all of our expenses through our credit cards and we get back tons of reward points.”

In fact, Rose was able to take a family vacation to Jamaica without having to spend a dime. “So, using your credit cards to take advantage of these reward points is so passive because you don’t have to do anything. You’re doing something that you’re already gonna do to begin with.” You just sit back and watch the money roll in.

4. Sell photos online.

Today, more than ever, photographers of all levels are in high demand. The reason? Bloggers, graphic designers, marketers, publishers buy and use photos online every day. Specifically, those on a shoestring budget, like bloggers and small to medium-sized website business owners are purchasing stock photos for their site or marketing materials like brooches.

But, where exactly can you sell your photos online? Unsplash, Shutterstock, iStock. Adobe Stock or Dreamstime are some of your best choices. Or, you could be in complete control by creating your own photography website in WordPress.

5. Patron.

“So, there’s this cool service called Patreon,” says Rose. “It’s for any artist that has a community, a growing community, and you wanna get paid for your work. And, you have a community of people that love your art whether that be your drawings, your music, whatever that art may be. And each time that you release a new item, you can get paid a fee for that.”

Best of all? You determine the amount of the fee.

An example of how this works is from Evan Burse, aka the Cartoon Block, who is friends with Rose. Burse has a thriving YouTube channel where the community will pay a fee whenever release a new image. And, he loves showing people how to sketch superheroes.

Since Burse was already sketching superheroes, he’s making some extra cash from a dedicated community that is excited and supportive of his work.

6. Write a book.

There’s no need to sugarcoat this. You aren’t going to compose a book overnight. Thankfully, the process is relatively simple.

Write a book about a niche you’re familiar with, self-publish it on Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo, IngramSpark, or Smashwords. Although you’ll have to market as well, if it’s well-written and unique you’ll have another income source for years. In fact, Ross says that he’s still getting paid on sales of his book Soldier of Finance that he released in 2013.

7. Physical goods.

With physical goods, the sky’s the limit. For instance, you could sell coffee mugs, t-shirts, dog leashes, yoga mats, or handkerchiefs online. Especially, through Amazon’s FBA program.

“Amazon offers a couple of different fulfillment strategies,” explains Serenity Gibbons in a previous Due article. “One is their Fulfillment by Amazon platform – also known as FBA. The other option allows sellers to fulfill their own orders. Each method comes with its own pros and cons.”

“The major benefit of using FBA is that you don’t have to worry about a thing,” adds Serenity. “Amazon stores your inventory and does all of the picking, packing, and shipping. They also provide tracking numbers, handle returns, and deal with customer correspondence.” Just be aware that you will “have to pay for this service, which can eat away at your profits.”

Another option? Sell your own handmade products, like jewelry, belts, furniture, pet supplies, clothing, or candles. Afterward, you can list them on online platforms such as Etsy or Shopify.

8. Real estate.

“Real estate investing is a great way to not only build your passive income but your financial future,” notes Catherine Way in another piece for Due. “Thankfully there are many easy ways to start investing in real estate despite your background. From flips or note investments, it is easier than ever to start real estate investing.”

In order to start investing, you must understand the basics such as the local market conditions, how to calculate your return on investment, profits, and the different types of real estate prior to investing in real estate

Another option for real estate investing? Rental property that’s run by a managing company via platforms like;

  • Roofstock provides the option for renting cash-flowing single-family homes.
  • Fundrise lets investors invest in private real estate through a crowdfunding platform.
  • RealtyMogul allows you to invest in large developments, such as commercial or multifamily buildings.
  • EquityMultiple permits you to invest in real estate with as little as $10,000.
  • Groundfloor aims to make private capital markets accessible to all by crowdsourcing real estate investing and lending for as little as $10.
  • FarmTogether lets you invest in farmland to create a predictable investment strategy.

9. YouTube.

In terms of what type of channel to launch on YouTube, there are quite a few options available to you. You might review products, give your opinion, or share instructional tips. You can even provide updates on a niche topic that you’re either familiar with or passionate about.

But, how does that translate into money?

That’s an easy question to answer; ads. Of course, you need to be a quality content creator and build an audience. When you do, you’ll get paid through those ads that you’re probably skipping. Additionally, you could have your videos sponsored by a company. If you spend any time on YouTube, you’ve no doubt come across videos that have been sponsored by companies like Magic Spoon, Manscaped, Raycon, or ExpressVPN.

10. Blogging.

Yes. You can make serious coin by blogging. You just need to take that all-important first step and actually start your blog by;

  • Select a blog name related to your name, product, or service.
  • Purchase the domain and web hosting so that your blog goes live.
  • Customize your blog through a website builder or hire a pro to do this for you.
  • Write and publish your first post.

Next, keep creating and sharing your content. Like with YouTube, having quality content and a dedicated following can help you monetize your blog. Generally, this is through banner ads or affiliate marketing. But, you could also offer coaching services or sell information products like an instructional guide, eBook, or case study.

To turn this income into a passive income you’ll want to take advantage of automation. “Simply find tools that streamline the tasks you’re tired of doing and integrate them into your blogging workflow,” suggests Peter Daisyme is the co-founder of Hostt. “There are apps to automate email marketing, social media, list segmentation, proofreading, writing headlines, scheduling meetings, tracking analytics, finding link-building opportunities, optimizing images, automating business payments, and everything in between.”

On the other hand, there is only so much you can automate.” At some point, you have to build up a team of skilled professionals who can help you handle the tasks that require human energy and creativity,” he adds. “This is where outsourcing to freelancers and virtual assistants comes into play.

11. Create your own online course.

Creating a course is one way to diversify your income,” says personal finance writer and founder of Tay Talks Money Taylor Gordon. “If you’re making money from a business, there’s a good chance you have something to teach that people want to learn.”

“I like making and taking courses from other people because they’re often a smaller ticket product that gives me an introductory into what the person is about,” adds Gordon. “From there, I can decide if I want to invest with them again.”

Interested? Then let’s rundown the steps you’ll need to take to create an online course;

  • Choose the right idea. Your course topic should be one that is likely to be of interest to people. Make sure to do your research and ask the right questions beforehand. “Sometimes courses that people say they’re interested in aren’t actually courses that they will dig into their wallets to purchase, she says.
  • Outline the course. You don’t have to include every single detail. But, you’ll want to flesh out a lesson plan so that you and your students know where the course is heading.
  • Test the market. Gauge interest through a presale or beta version.
  • Choose a course platform. Delivering your course via daily emails is probably the easiest and cheapest method, says Gordon. Alternatives include Udemy, Teachable, Thinkific, or Zippy Courses, which are more involved sites. You could also go with a straightforward payment and digital delivery service such as SendOwl or Gumroad.
  • Promote like it’s your job. Finally, go on a marketing blitz through email marketing, purchasing ads, hosting a webinar, or being a podcast guest.

By

Source: 11 Passive Income Ideas to Earn an Extra Grand Each Month

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The Science of Mind Reading

One night in October, 2009, a young man lay in an fMRI scanner in Liège, Belgium. Five years earlier, he’d suffered a head trauma in a motorcycle accident, and since then he hadn’t spoken. He was said to be in a “vegetative state.” A neuroscientist named Martin Monti sat in the next room, along with a few other researchers. For years, Monti and his postdoctoral adviser, Adrian Owen, had been studying vegetative patients, and they had developed two controversial hypotheses.

First, they believed that someone could lose the ability to move or even blink while still being conscious; second, they thought that they had devised a method for communicating with such “locked-in” people by detecting their unspoken thoughts.

In a sense, their strategy was simple. Neurons use oxygen, which is carried through the bloodstream inside molecules of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin contains iron, and, by tracking the iron, the magnets in fMRI machines can build maps of brain activity. Picking out signs of consciousness amid the swirl seemed nearly impossible. But, through trial and error, Owen’s group had devised a clever protocol.

They’d discovered that if a person imagined walking around her house there was a spike of activity in her parahippocampal gyrus—a finger-shaped area buried deep in the temporal lobe. Imagining playing tennis, by contrast, activated the premotor cortex, which sits on a ridge near the skull. The activity was clear enough to be seen in real time with an fMRI machine. In a 2006 study published in the journal Science, the researchers reported that they had asked a locked-in person to think about tennis, and seen, on her brain scan, that she had done so.

With the young man, known as Patient 23, Monti and Owen were taking a further step: attempting to have a conversation. They would pose a question and tell him that he could signal “yes” by imagining playing tennis, or “no” by thinking about walking around his house. In the scanner control room, a monitor displayed a cross-section of Patient 23’s brain. As different areas consumed blood oxygen, they shimmered red, then bright orange. Monti knew where to look to spot the yes and the no signals.

He switched on the intercom and explained the system to Patient 23. Then he asked the first question: “Is your father’s name Alexander?” The man’s premotor cortex lit up. He was thinking about tennis—yes.

“Is your father’s name Thomas?”

Activity in the parahippocampal gyrus. He was imagining walking around his house—no.

“Do you have any brothers?”

Tennis—yes.

“Do you have any sisters?”

House—no.

“Before your injury, was your last vacation in the United States?”

Tennis—yes.

The answers were correct. Astonished, Monti called Owen, who was away at a conference. Owen thought that they should ask more questions. The group ran through some possibilities. “Do you like pizza?” was dismissed as being too imprecise. They decided to probe more deeply. Monti turned the intercom back on.

That winter, the results of the study were published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The paper caused a sensation. The Los Angeles Times wrote a story about it, with the headline “Brains of Vegetative Patients Show Life.” Owen eventually estimated that twenty per cent of patients who were presumed to be vegetative were actually awake. This was a discovery of enormous practical consequence: in subsequent years, through painstaking fMRI sessions, Owen’s group found many patients who could interact with loved ones and answer questions about their own care.

The conversations improved their odds of recovery. Still, from a purely scientific perspective, there was something unsatisfying about the method that Monti and Owen had developed with Patient 23. Although they had used the words “tennis” and “house” in communicating with him, they’d had no way of knowing for sure that he was thinking about those specific things. They had been able to say only that, in response to those prompts, thinking was happening in the associated brain areas. “Whether the person was imagining playing tennis, football, hockey, swimming—we don’t know,” Monti told me recently.

During the past few decades, the state of neuroscientific mind reading has advanced substantially. Cognitive psychologists armed with an fMRI machine can tell whether a person is having depressive thoughts; they can see which concepts a student has mastered by comparing his brain patterns with those of his teacher. By analyzing brain scans, a computer system can edit together crude reconstructions of movie clips you’ve watched. One research group has used similar technology to accurately describe the dreams of sleeping subjects.

In another lab, scientists have scanned the brains of people who are reading the J. D. Salinger short story “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes,” in which it is unclear until the end whether or not a character is having an affair. From brain scans alone, the researchers can tell which interpretation readers are leaning toward, and watch as they change their minds.

I first heard about these studies from Ken Norman, the fifty-year-old chair of the psychology department at Princeton University and an expert on thought decoding. Norman works at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, which is housed in a glass structure, constructed in 2013, that spills over a low hill on the south side of campus. P.N.I. was conceived as a center where psychologists, neuroscientists, and computer scientists could blend their approaches to studying the mind; M.I.T. and Stanford have invested in similar cross-disciplinary institutes.

At P.N.I., undergraduates still participate in old-school psych experiments involving surveys and flash cards. But upstairs, in a lab that studies child development, toddlers wear tiny hats outfitted with infrared brain scanners, and in the basement the skulls of genetically engineered mice are sliced open, allowing individual neurons to be controlled with lasers. A server room with its own high-performance computing cluster analyzes the data generated from these experiments.

Norman, whose jovial intelligence and unruly beard give him the air of a high-school science teacher, occupies an office on the ground floor, with a view of a grassy field. The bookshelves behind his desk contain the intellectual DNA of the institute, with William James next to texts on machine learning. Norman explained that fMRI machines hadn’t advanced that much; instead, artificial intelligence had transformed how scientists read neural data.

This had helped shed light on an ancient philosophical mystery. For centuries, scientists had dreamed of locating thought inside the head but had run up against the vexing question of what it means for thoughts to exist in physical space. When Erasistratus, an ancient Greek anatomist, dissected the brain, he suspected that its many folds were the key to intelligence, but he could not say how thoughts were packed into the convoluted mass.

In the seventeenth century, Descartes suggested that mental life arose in the pineal gland, but he didn’t have a good theory of what might be found there. Our mental worlds contain everything from the taste of bad wine to the idea of bad taste. How can so many thoughts nestle within a few pounds of tissue?

Now, Norman explained, researchers had developed a mathematical way of understanding thoughts. Drawing on insights from machine learning, they conceived of thoughts as collections of points in a dense “meaning space.” They could see how these points were interrelated and encoded by neurons. By cracking the code, they were beginning to produce an inventory of the mind. “The space of possible thoughts that people can think is big—but it’s not infinitely big,” Norman said. A detailed map of the concepts in our minds might soon be within reach.

Norman invited me to watch an experiment in thought decoding. A postdoctoral student named Manoj Kumar led us into a locked basement lab at P.N.I., where a young woman was lying in the tube of an fMRI scanner. A screen mounted a few inches above her face played a slide show of stock images: an empty beach, a cave, a forest.

“We want to get the brain patterns that are associated with different subclasses of scenes,” Norman said.

As the woman watched the slide show, the scanner tracked patterns of activation among her neurons. These patterns would be analyzed in terms of “voxels”—areas of activation that are roughly a cubic millimetre in size. In some ways, the fMRI data was extremely coarse: each voxel represented the oxygen consumption of about a million neurons, and could be updated only every few seconds, significantly more slowly than neurons fire.

But, Norman said, “it turned out that that information was in the data we were collecting—we just weren’t being as smart as we possibly could about how we’d churn through that data.” The breakthrough came when researchers figured out how to track patterns playing out across tens of thousands of voxels at a time, as though each were a key on a piano, and thoughts were chords.

The origins of this approach, I learned, dated back nearly seventy years, to the work of a psychologist named Charles Osgood. When he was a kid, Osgood received a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus as a gift. Poring over the book, Osgood recalled, he formed a “vivid image of words as clusters of starlike points in an immense space.” In his postgraduate days, when his colleagues were debating how cognition could be shaped by culture, Osgood thought back on this image. He wondered if, using the idea of “semantic space,” it might be possible to map the differences among various styles of thinking.

Osgood conducted an experiment. He asked people to rate twenty concepts on fifty different scales. The concepts ranged widely: BOULDER, ME, TORNADO, MOTHER. So did the scales, which were defined by opposites: fair-unfair, hot-cold, fragrant-foul. Some ratings were difficult: is a TORNADO fragrant or foul? But the idea was that the method would reveal fine and even elusive shades of similarity and difference among concepts.

“Most English-speaking Americans feel that there is a difference, somehow, between ‘good’ and ‘nice’ but find it difficult to explain,” Osgood wrote. His surveys found that, at least for nineteen-fifties college students, the two concepts overlapped much of the time. They diverged for nouns that had a male or female slant. MOTHER might be rated nice but not good, and COP vice versa. Osgood concluded that “good” was “somewhat stronger, rougher, more angular, and larger” than “nice.”

Osgood became known not for the results of his surveys but for the method he invented to analyze them. He began by arranging his data in an imaginary space with fifty dimensions—one for fair-unfair, a second for hot-cold, a third for fragrant-foul, and so on. Any given concept, like TORNADO, had a rating on each dimension—and, therefore, was situated in what was known as high-dimensional space. Many concepts had similar locations on multiple axes: kind-cruel and honest-dishonest, for instance. Osgood combined these dimensions. Then he looked for new similarities, and combined dimensions again, in a process called “factor analysis.”

When you reduce a sauce, you meld and deepen the essential flavors. Osgood did something similar with factor analysis. Eventually, he was able to map all the concepts onto a space with just three dimensions. The first dimension was “evaluative”—a blend of scales like good-bad, beautiful-ugly, and kind-cruel. The second had to do with “potency”: it consolidated scales like large-small and strong-weak. The third measured how “active” or “passive” a concept was. Osgood could use these three key factors to locate any concept in an abstract space. Ideas with similar coördinates, he argued, were neighbors in meaning.

For decades, Osgood’s technique found modest use in a kind of personality test. Its true potential didn’t emerge until the nineteen-eighties, when researchers at Bell Labs were trying to solve what they called the “vocabulary problem.” People tend to employ lots of names for the same thing. This was an obstacle for computer users, who accessed programs by typing words on a command line. George Furnas, who worked in the organization’s human-computer-interaction group, described using the company’s internal phone book.

“You’re in your office, at Bell Labs, and someone has stolen your calculator,” he said. “You start putting in ‘police,’ or ‘support,’ or ‘theft,’ and it doesn’t give you what you want. Finally, you put in ‘security,’ and it gives you that. But it actually gives you two things: something about the Bell Savings and Security Plan, and also the thing you’re looking for.” Furnas’s group wanted to automate the finding of synonyms for commands and search terms.

They updated Osgood’s approach. Instead of surveying undergraduates, they used computers to analyze the words in about two thousand technical reports. The reports themselves—on topics ranging from graph theory to user-interface design—suggested the dimensions of the space; when multiple reports used similar groups of words, their dimensions could be combined.

In the end, the Bell Labs researchers made a space that was more complex than Osgood’s. It had a few hundred dimensions. Many of these dimensions described abstract or “latent” qualities that the words had in common—connections that wouldn’t be apparent to most English speakers. The researchers called their technique “latent semantic analysis,” or L.S.A.

At first, Bell Labs used L.S.A. to create a better internal search engine. Then, in 1997, Susan Dumais, one of Furnas’s colleagues, collaborated with a Bell Labs cognitive scientist, Thomas Landauer, to develop an A.I. system based on it. After processing Grolier’s American Academic Encyclopedia, a work intended for young students, the A.I. scored respectably on the multiple-choice Test of English as a Foreign Language. That year, the two researchers co-wrote a paper that addressed the question “How do people know as much as they do with as little information as they get?”

They suggested that our minds might use something like L.S.A., making sense of the world by reducing it to its most important differences and similarities, and employing this distilled knowledge to understand new things. Watching a Disney movie, for instance, I immediately identify a character as “the bad guy”: Scar, from “The Lion King,” and Jafar, from “Aladdin,” just seem close together. Perhaps my brain uses factor analysis to distill thousands of attributes—height, fashion sense, tone of voice—into a single point in an abstract space. The perception of bad-guy-ness becomes a matter of proximity.

In the following years, scientists applied L.S.A. to ever-larger data sets. In 2013, researchers at Google unleashed a descendant of it onto the text of the whole World Wide Web. Google’s algorithm turned each word into a “vector,” or point, in high-dimensional space. The vectors generated by the researchers’ program, word2vec, are eerily accurate: if you take the vector for “king” and subtract the vector for “man,” then add the vector for “woman,” the closest nearby vector is “queen.”

Word vectors became the basis of a much improved Google Translate, and enabled the auto-completion of sentences in Gmail. Other companies, including Apple and Amazon, built similar systems. Eventually, researchers realized that the “vectorization” made popular by L.S.A. and word2vec could be used to map all sorts of things. Today’s facial-recognition systems have dimensions that represent the length of the nose and the curl of the lips, and faces are described using a string of coördinates in “face space.” Chess A.I.s use a similar trick to “vectorize” positions on the board.

The technique has become so central to the field of artificial intelligence that, in 2017, a new, hundred-and-thirty-five-million-dollar A.I. research center in Toronto was named the Vector Institute. Matthew Botvinick, a professor at Princeton whose lab was across the hall from Norman’s, and who is now the head of neuroscience at DeepMind, Alphabet’s A.I. subsidiary, told me that distilling relevant similarities and differences into vectors was “the secret sauce underlying all of these A.I. advances.”

In 2001, a scientist named Jim Haxby brought machine learning to brain imaging: he realized that voxels of neural activity could serve as dimensions in a kind of thought space. Haxby went on to work at Princeton, where he collaborated with Norman. The two scientists, together with other researchers, concluded that just a few hundred dimensions were sufficient to capture the shades of similarity and difference in most fMRI data. At the Princeton lab, the young woman watched the slide show in the scanner.

With each new image—beach, cave, forest—her neurons fired in a new pattern. These patterns would be recorded as voxels, then processed by software and transformed into vectors. The images had been chosen because their vectors would end up far apart from one another: they were good landmarks for making a map. Watching the images, my mind was taking a trip through thought space, too.

The larger goal of thought decoding is to understand how our brains mirror the world. To this end, researchers have sought to watch as the same experiences affect many people’s minds simultaneously. Norman told me that his Princeton colleague Uri Hasson has found movies especially useful in this regard. They “pull people’s brains through thought space in synch,” Norman said. “What makes Alfred Hitchcock the master of suspense is that all the people who are watching the movie are having their brains yanked in unison. It’s like mind control in the literal sense.”

One afternoon, I sat in on Norman’s undergraduate class “fMRI Decoding: Reading Minds Using Brain Scans.” As students filed into the auditorium, setting their laptops and water bottles on tables, Norman entered wearing tortoiseshell glasses and earphones, his hair dishevelled.

He had the class watch a clip from “Seinfeld” in which George, Susan (an N.B.C. executive he is courting), and Kramer are hanging out with Jerry in his apartment. The phone rings, and Jerry answers: it’s a telemarketer. Jerry hangs up, to cheers from the studio audience.

“Where was the event boundary in the clip?” Norman asked. The students yelled out in chorus, “When the phone rang!” Psychologists have long known that our minds divide experiences into segments; in this case, it was the phone call that caused the division.

Norman showed the class a series of slides. One described a 2017 study by Christopher Baldassano, one of his postdocs, in which people watched an episode of the BBC show “Sherlock” while in an fMRI scanner. Baldassano’s guess going into the study was that some voxel patterns would be in constant flux as the video streamed—for instance, the ones involved in color processing. Others would be more stable, such as those representing a character in the show.

The study confirmed these predictions. But Baldassano also found groups of voxels that held a stable pattern throughout each scene, then switched when it was over. He concluded that these constituted the scenes’ voxel “signatures.” Norman described another study, by Asieh Zadbood, in which subjects were asked to narrate “Sherlock” scenes—which they had watched earlier—aloud.

The audio was played to a second group, who’d never seen the show. It turned out that no matter whether someone watched a scene, described it, or heard about it, the same voxel patterns recurred. The scenes existed independently of the show, as concepts in people’s minds.

Through decades of experimental work, Norman told me later, psychologists have established the importance of scripts and scenes to our intelligence. Walking into a room, you might forget why you came in; this happens, researchers say, because passing through the doorway brings one mental scene to a close and opens another.

Conversely, while navigating a new airport, a “getting to the plane” script knits different scenes together: first the ticket counter, then the security line, then the gate, then the aisle, then your seat. And yet, until recently, it wasn’t clear what you’d find if you went looking for “scripts” and “scenes” in the brain.

In a recent P.N.I. study, Norman said, people in an fMRI scanner watched various movie clips of characters in airports. No matter the particulars of each clip, the subjects’ brains all shimmered through the same series of events, in keeping with boundary-defining moments that any of us would recognize. The scripts and the scenes were real—it was possible to detect them with a machine. What most interests Norman now is how they are learned in the first place.

How do we identify the scenes in a story? When we enter a strange airport, how do we know intuitively where to look for the security line? The extraordinary difficulty of such feats is obscured by how easy they feel—it’s rare to be confused about how to make sense of the world. But at some point everything was new. When I was a toddler, my parents must have taken me to the supermarket for the first time; the fact that, today, all supermarkets are somehow familiar dims the strangeness of that experience.

When I was learning to drive, it was overwhelming: each intersection and lane change seemed chaotic in its own way. Now I hardly have to think about them. My mind instantly factors out all but the important differences.

Norman clicked through the last of his slides. Afterward, a few students wandered over to the lectern, hoping for an audience with him. For the rest of us, the scene was over. We packed up, climbed the stairs, and walked into the afternoon sun.

Like Monti and Owen with Patient 23, today’s thought-decoding researchers mostly look for specific thoughts that have been defined in advance. But a “general-purpose thought decoder,” Norman told me, is the next logical step for the research. Such a device could speak aloud a person’s thoughts, even if those thoughts have never been observed in an fMRI machine. In 2018, Botvinick, Norman’s hall mate, co-wrote a paper in the journal Nature Communications titled “Toward a Universal Decoder of Linguistic Meaning from Brain Activation.”

Botvinick’s team had built a primitive form of what Norman described: a system that could decode novel sentences that subjects read silently to themselves. The system learned which brain patterns were evoked by certain words, and used that knowledge to guess which words were implied by the new patterns it encountered.

The work at Princeton was funded by iARPA, an R. & D. organization that’s run by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Brandon Minnery, the iARPA project manager for the Knowledge Representation in Neural Systems program at the time, told me that he had some applications in mind. If you knew how knowledge was represented in the brain, you might be able to distinguish between novice and expert intelligence agents. You might learn how to teach languages more effectively by seeing how closely a student’s mental representation of a word matches that of a native speaker.

Minnery’s most fanciful idea—“Never an official focus of the program,” he said—was to change how databases are indexed. Instead of labelling items by hand, you could show an item to someone sitting in an fMRI scanner—the person’s brain state could be the label. Later, to query the database, someone else could sit in the scanner and simply think of whatever she wanted. The software could compare the searcher’s brain state with the indexer’s. It would be the ultimate solution to the vocabulary problem.

Jack Gallant, a professor at Berkeley who has used thought decoding to reconstruct video montages from brain scans—as you watch a video in the scanner, the system pulls up frames from similar YouTube clips, based only on your voxel patterns—suggested that one group of people interested in decoding were Silicon Valley investors. “A future technology would be a portable hat—like a thinking hat,” he said.

He imagined a company paying people thirty thousand dollars a year to wear the thinking hat, along with video-recording eyeglasses and other sensors, allowing the system to record everything they see, hear, and think, ultimately creating an exhaustive inventory of the mind. Wearing the thinking hat, you could ask your computer a question just by imagining the words. Instantaneous translation might be possible. In theory, a pair of wearers could skip language altogether, conversing directly, mind to mind. Perhaps we could even communicate across species.

Among the challenges the designers of such a system would face, of course, is the fact that today’s fMRI machines can weigh more than twenty thousand pounds. There are efforts under way to make powerful miniature imaging devices, using lasers, ultrasound, or even microwaves. “It’s going to require some sort of punctuated-equilibrium technology revolution,” Gallant said. Still, the conceptual foundation, which goes back to the nineteen-fifties, has been laid.

Recently, I asked Owen what the new thought-decoding technology meant for locked-in patients. Were they close to having fluent conversations using something like the general-purpose thought decoder? “Most of that stuff is group studies in healthy participants,” Owen told me. “The really tricky problem is doing it in a single person. Can you get robust enough data?” Their bare-bones protocol—thinking about tennis equals yes; thinking about walking around the house equals no—relied on straightforward signals that were statistically robust.

It turns out that the same protocol, combined with a series of yes-or-no questions (“Is the pain in the lower half of your body? On the left side?”), still works best. “Even if you could do it, it would take longer to decode them saying ‘it is in my right foot’ than to go through a simple series of yes-or-no questions,” Owen said. “For the most part, I’m quietly sitting and waiting. I have no doubt that, some point down the line, we will be able to read minds. People will be able to articulate, ‘My name is Adrian, and I’m British,’ and we’ll be able to decode that from their brain. I don’t think it’s going to happen in probably less than twenty years.”

In some ways, the story of thought decoding is reminiscent of the history of our understanding of the gene. For about a hundred years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” in 1859, the gene was an abstraction, understood only as something through which traits passed from parent to child. As late as the nineteen-fifties, biologists were still asking what, exactly, a gene was made of. When James Watson and Francis Crick finally found the double helix, in 1953, it became clear how genes took physical form. Fifty years later, we could sequence the human genome; today, we can edit it.

Thoughts have been an abstraction for far longer. But now we know what they really are: patterns of neural activation that correspond to points in meaning space. The mind—the only truly private place—has become inspectable from the outside. In the future, a therapist, wanting to understand how your relationships run awry, might examine the dimensions of the patterns your brain falls into.

Some epileptic patients about to undergo surgery have intracranial probes put into their brains; researchers can now use these probes to help steer the patients’ neural patterns away from those associated with depression. With more fine-grained control, a mind could be driven wherever one liked. (The imagination reels at the possibilities, for both good and ill.) Of course, we already do this by thinking, reading, watching, talking—actions that, after I’d learned about thought decoding, struck me as oddly concrete. I could picture the patterns of my thoughts flickering inside my mind. Versions of them are now flickering in yours.

On one of my last visits to Princeton, Norman and I had lunch at a Japanese restaurant called Ajiten. We sat at a counter and went through the familiar script. The menus arrived; we looked them over. Norman noticed a dish he hadn’t seen before—“a new point in ramen space,” he said. Any minute now, a waiter was going to interrupt politely to ask if we were ready to order.

“You have to carve the world at its joints, and figure out: what are the situations that exist, and how do these situations work?” Norman said, while jazz played in the background. “And that’s a very complicated problem. It’s not like you’re instructed that the world has fifteen different ways of being, and here they are!” He laughed. “When you’re out in the world, you have to try to infer what situation you’re in.” We were in the lunch-at-a-Japanese-restaurant situation. I had never been to this particular restaurant, but nothing about it surprised me. This, it turns out, might be one of the highest accomplishments in nature.

Norman told me that a former student of his, Sam Gershman, likes using the terms “lumping” and “splitting” to describe how the mind’s meaning space evolves. When you encounter a new stimulus, do you lump it with a concept that’s familiar, or do you split off a new concept? When navigating a new airport, we lump its metal detector with those we’ve seen before, even if this one is a different model, color, and size. By contrast, the first time we raised our hands inside a millimetre-wave scanner—the device that has replaced the walk-through metal detector—we split off a new category.

Norman turned to how thought decoding fit into the larger story of the study of the mind. “I think we’re at a point in cognitive neuroscience where we understand a lot of the pieces of the puzzle,” he said. The cerebral cortex—a crumply sheet laid atop the rest of the brain—warps and compresses experience, emphasizing what’s important. It’s in constant communication with other brain areas, including the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped structure in the inner part of the temporal lobe.

For years, the hippocampus was known only as the seat of memory; patients who’d had theirs removed lived in a perpetual present. Now we were seeing that the hippocampus stores summaries provided to it by the cortex: the sauce after it’s been reduced. We cope with reality by building a vast library of experience—but experience that has been distilled along the dimensions that matter. Norman’s research group has used fMRI technology to find voxel patterns in the cortex that are reflected in the hippocampus. Perhaps the brain is like a hiker comparing the map with the territory.

In the past few years, Norman told me, artificial neural networks that included basic models of both brain regions had proved surprisingly powerful. There was a feedback loop between the study of A.I. and the study of the real human mind, and it was getting faster. Theories about human memory were informing new designs for A.I. systems, and those systems, in turn, were suggesting ideas about what to look for in real human brains. “It’s kind of amazing to have gotten to this point,” he said.

On the walk back to campus, Norman pointed out the Princeton University Art Museum. It was a treasure, he told me.

“What’s in there?” I asked.

“Great art!” he said

After we parted ways, I returned to the museum. I went to the downstairs gallery, which contains artifacts from the ancient world. Nothing in particular grabbed me until I saw a West African hunter’s tunic. It was made of cotton dyed the color of dark leather. There were teeth hanging from it, and claws, and a turtle shell—talismans from past kills. It struck me, and I lingered for a moment before moving on.

Six months later, I went with some friends to a small house in upstate New York. On the wall, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed what looked like a blanket—a kind of fringed, hanging decoration made of wool and feathers. It had an odd shape; it seemed to pull toward something I’d seen before. I stared at it blankly. Then came a moment of recognition, along dimensions I couldn’t articulate—more active than passive, partway between alive and dead. There, the chest. There, the shoulders. The blanket and the tunic were distinct in every way, but somehow still neighbors. My mind had split, then lumped. Some voxels had shimmered. In the vast meaning space inside my head, a tiny piece of the world was finding its proper place. ♦

Source: The Science of Mind Reading | The New Yorker

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Seven Simple Steps To Sounder Sleep

Everything about our day impacts our sleep. How many minutes we spend outside, what and when we eat, what’s happening with our hormones, our habits, emotions, stress and thoughts – all this feeds into the sleep we end up with at night. All of which I was completely oblivious to when battling chronic insomnia for years on end.

Sleep anxiety can create a very real and vicious circle. I would spend hours lying in bed, increasingly wired, anxious and exhausted as time ticked by, with prescription sleeping pills within reach for those 3am nights when I had to be up first thing. The problem is that the more we worry about sleep, the higher our stress hormones go – and too much of the stress hormone cortisol, whatever the trigger, disturbs our sleep.

We’re left in a state of fight or flight, when we need to be in the opposite state of rest and digest. When my insomnia was at its worst, I’d start my day exhausted, running on empty, and have recurring burn-out days, where an overwhelming fatigue would stop me in my tracks, forcing me to lie down and recharge.

I realise now that the various sleep tips I tried over the years were like sticking plasters on a broken leg – there’s only so much that lavender, earplugs or herbal teas can do when your sleep is disrupted and out of control. Fortunately a eureka moment came along, when I was reading a book by my great great uncle, Richard Waters, a pioneer in cognitive therapy and clinical hypnosis and a protégé of the French pharmacist and self-help guru Emile Coué.

Waters wrote just a couple of pages about insomnia – how the words we use and having an understanding of sleep biology affects our mind, body and our sleep – but they were intriguing enough to set me thinking, researching and experimenting. I interviewed various experts and tried out all the sleep science and tactics I came across, while considering sleep in a much wider context than usual.

Waters also wrote a short, first-person sleep script, about what should be going on in the mind and body in the countdown to sleep. And I recorded myself reading this one-minute sleep script on my phone, which I listened to every day, when fixing my own insomnia and researching my book Teach Yourself to Sleep.

Listening to a sleep script allows us to harness the power of suggestion, using self-talk and clinical hypnosis to change our habitual thoughts, physiology and behaviour. I discussed this at length with clinical hypnosis expert Professor Peter Whorwell, whose hospital department at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust creates bespoke scripts to help treat a wide range of disorders, including insomnia, phobias, pain and debilitating IBS symptoms, with a 75-80% success rate, where other treatments have failed.

Following the thread from Waters and Coué to now, and exploring the fascinating world of sleep, light and habit science, experimental psychology and more, it became clear that it pays to have a basic grasp of the biology and science of sleep and to appreciate the extraordinary power of the mind-body loop. Getting results that last makes life easier on so many levels – quality sleep not only improves our physical and mental health but also our energy levels, cognitive function and overall wellbeing.

I now instinctively remove obstacles that will get in the way of my sleep and set up sleep habit cues throughout my day. This means I can go to sleep without being up half the night, and wake up refreshed and able to get the most out of the following day. Here are seven sleep tips I used to dismantle my insomnia.

1) Stop calling yourself a bad sleeper!

Our words have an immediate effect on us physically and mentally – and you can see this in action if you consciously choose diametrically opposed words to describe the same situation. The words we choose alter our feelings, perceptions, hormones and behaviour, including our sleep.

There are some astounding studies on this and the mind-body loop, and how this can be manipulated to improve our health. As Professor Brooks of the Harvard Business School told me: “Our words codify and solidify our thoughts” – and, in turn, they change how we feel.

2) Embrace the biological fact that your body responds to too much light

Our body is hard-wired to line itself up with the light and dark of nature’s 24-hour clock. As with everything that influences your sleep, it makes all the difference if you’re aware of the simple biology taking place. In this instance, it’s understanding that the extremely light-sensitive cells in your eyes help keep your sleep-wake cycle turning as it should.

I use a light box on certain mornings, to give my office light some extra clout. At the other end of the day, a screen break before bed, moving away from bright, stay-wake signals and towards the darkness of night, helps boost sleep-inducing melatonin levels.

3) Weaken the negative fallout from stress

Stress is a huge sleep disrupter with nearly 50% of sleep issues blamed on stress. To help balance the body’s chemical cocktail in favour of sleep, it’s invaluable if we lean on science-based stress busters, to bring down our cortisol levels, which the pace, anxiety and overstimulation of modern life is forever increasing.

Effective stress busters I’ve found include “forest bathing”, aka walking among trees, as well as reframing my emotions and changing my perception of stress to weaken its hold. I regularly make use of these tactics among others if I feel my stress levels spiking during the day.

4) Know your DIY sleep habit science

Bad sleep habits, like any other, can be systematically intercepted and replaced with good ones, once you know how they take shape in the brain. Our bedroom is our sleep habit context, and making certain changes here, behavioural and content-wise, helps to break automatic sleep behaviour. Displacing negative rumination by listing the things you’re grateful for gets measurable results.

Another thing you can do is remove sleep-sabotaging cues from your bedroom (eg, work and screens), while loading in sleep-promoting cues (eg, sleep-inducing scents), to help new, desirable sleep habits stick.

5) Listen to a sleep script

Habitual thoughts set off a chain reaction that changes your emotions, body chemicals, behaviour, expectations and your sleep. A sleep script, which is a positive affirmation of how well your mind and body are preparing you for sleep, helps with this by gradually shifting your habitual sleep-related thoughts. This taps into the power of self-talk and clinical hypnosis, which are increasingly being explored by scientists, neuroscientists and medics.

Also, by listening to a sleep script during the day, you give yourself a moment to pause, creating a window for any stress to subside. I listened to myself reading a short sleep script daily, when sorting out my chronic insomnia and still rely on one as a very potent sleep habit cue.

6) Have an armchair offload

If your mind is full of worries, or all the jobs you need to do tomorrow/this week, have an armchair offload some time before bed, to let your mind think about it all and perhaps write it down. Ideally this would involve sitting in a relaxed space that isn’t your bedroom, giving you time to reflect before heading to bed, once the rush of the day, and/or TV shows are over.

Once again, it’s more impactful if you have an inkling of the biology and science going on. By giving yourself this time to think, or jot down any notes, what you’re really doing is moving worries or preoccupations from your brain’s emotional HQ, the amygdala, to your problem-solving pre-frontal cortex. What’s more, your brain will look for solutions while you dream.

7) Stare into the darkness of a pitch-black bedroom

Staring into the darkness last thing, while lying in bed, will help to increase your sleep-promoting melatonin levels, as the “hormone of sleep” is released at night when those light-sensitive photoreceptors in your eyes see that it’s dark out there.

Among other things, melatonin is also an immune system booster, so allowing your body to release as much of it as possible throughout your evening by avoiding too much bright light the closer you get to bed, is a plus in more ways than just enjoying easier, more restorative sleep.

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Source: Seven simple steps to sounder sleep | Life and style | The Guardian

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