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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Optimizing your Night's Sleep - Unwind First

Don't try to fall asleep directly after or while your brain is still cranking away. Do something that relaxes you in order to calm the internal chatter and slow the thought rate. Do some reading, write, meditate, whatever floats your boat; whatever is relaxing to you. If you are having trouble finding something relaxing here are a few things to try:

  1. Breathe deeply. Breathe in as much air as you can, hold it, then breathe in just a little bit more. Hold this for a few seconds and then let it out slowly, steadily, all the way, until there is no air left in your lungs. Hold it, then breathe out just a little bit more. Hold this for a few seconds. Do this 5-10 times a day.
  2. Breathe slowly. Inhale through the nose, taking in just a small stream of air, filling the lungs completely from the bottom all the way to the top. Breathe as slowly as possible and try to make the breath last as long as you can. Breathe out through the mouth and again, try to make this breath last as long as possible. Practice this 5-10 times.
  3. Be aware. Lie in a comfortable position and focus on your toes, feel what your toes feel think about what is going on inside of them. You should be able to feel them start to tingle if you focus hard enough. Do this for a few minutes, and then move onto your feet. Focus on the feet for a few minutes and then the ankles, lower legs, knees.. etc. All the way up the body.
  4. Stretch. Do some basic stretches to loosen up your muscles.

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Always Challenge Your Limits

What does it mean to challenge yourself, and what is the benefit?

To challenge yourself is to set a goal to do something that will not be easily accomplished. A challenge can be anything large or small. Sometimes it is easier to identify the larger challenges (bench press your weight, finish your school paper a week early, don't eat that chocolate, etc.), but it can be more difficult and require more creativity to exploit the smaller challenges, such as opening the door with your foot or optimising the way you close the bottle of milk. I believe that these smaller challenges are extremely important to understanding one's self. All self-challenges are great, I just think the small ones are underestimated.

If you challenge yourself to jump over a trash can, or to walk up the stairs only on your toes, or grab a bug out of mid-air with a pair of chopsticks, these are all intrinsic tasks that are performed by the fundamental "you"; they are not composite tasks based on reliance of others or your surroundings. Every time you complete a self-challenge, you've further defined another self-limitation. It would be great to find all of you physical limits via small challenges and know them all fully. This would give you a good picture of who you are and what you can accomplish (at least physically) and this will, in turn, allow you to get to know yourself even better.

There is no limit to the amount of information you can find out about yourself, so keep being creative and continue to find out your limits. As you test your limits, you will, at the same time be expanding your limits. Therefore, once you know your limit, try it again (and again and again and again), you may surprise yourself.

The below image set depicts the limit test, acquisition and challenge sequence. The solid circle represents your physical limit (for example, the absolute maximum distance you can jump), and the dotted circle represents what you interpret to be your limit via challenging yourself:

Fig.1: You have tested your limit and were easily able to complete the task. You are too far within your personal limits and are underestimating yourself. This is all too common in humans.
Fig.2: You have not properly tested your limit, and for some reason you have an altered perception that you can do more than you think you can. This is dangerous as it is an overestimation of your own ability.
Fig.3: This indicates "pushing the limits". Continually challenge yourself and dance around the line which dictates your absolute personal limitation. This will allow for an improved familiarity with yourself as well as work to increase your limits.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Optimizing your Night's Sleep - Using the REM cycle

In order to get the best night's sleep, sleep in multiples of your REM cycle. Circadian rhythm is what governs the duration of these cycles and is made up of systems of Nerve Centers, Hormones and Neurotransmitters.

The average person's REM cycle is 90 minutes long. If you control the duration of your sleep so that it is a multiple of this, then when you wake up it is more likely that your body and mind will be ready to wake up. Being "ready" to wake up means that your body has experienced REM sleep, which is said to categorize your thoughts and repair your mind, and also "Deep" sleep which relaxes your muscles and repairs your body.

4.5 hours, 6 hours, or 7.5 hours are all multiples of a REM cycle. Although 7.5 hours may be too much for some. I've managed to get 4.5 hours of sleep over long periods of time without feeling like I'm not getting enough sleep. I find it's generally good to leave about 30 minutes to fall asleep, that is, if you're obeying rules number 1 and 2. And each night before lying down verify that your alarm is set for the correct time -- a multiple of a sleep cycle plus 30 minutes to fall asleep.

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Optimize your Night's Sleep - Set an Alarm

The Hallicrafters AM Alarm ClockImage by Whiskeygonebad via FlickrThis is kind of obvious, but there are a couple important elements I'd like to note when using the dreaded alarm clock.
Anyone can take a reservation. Take take take... It's keeping the reservation... - Seinfeld
The most important thing to do when waking up to an alarm clock is getting up when it goes off and not hitting snooze, not once. (Also see "Wake up on the right side of the bed") A good way to do this, I've found, is by putting the alarm clock on the opposite side of the room, so that you must get out of bed to shut it off. Once you have stood up and shut off the alarm get you bearings, breathe deeply, and get started picking out clothes or whatever it is that you do first thing in the morning. It's good to have this first daily task be consistent so that you know exactly what you should be doing as soon as you shut off your alarm.

To Summarize:
  1. Shut off the alarm clock on the opposite side of the room
  2. Consider your day ahead (See Planning for the next Day)
  3. Take a deep breath and get your balance and bearings.
  4. Begin your consistent daily task.
Once you have adjusted your body to a regular pattern an alarm clock may not be necessary. But it is important in order to get adjusted.
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Friday, October 24, 2008

Optimize your Night's Sleep - Plan for the next day

A mid 1970's analog alarm clock radio using ro...Image via Wikipedia Before you hit the hay think about the day to follow. Are you in the middle of doing something that you'd like to continue? Is there something on your to-do list that you'd be able to get into first thing in the morning? Maybe you just have some cereal that you enjoy, or a new song to listen to. Plan on doing THAT, whatever it is, before you go to bed, and as you're standing at your alarm clock in the morning, waiting for your eyes to focus, think about what you're planning to do and picture yourself doing it and hopefully enjoying it! Take a deep breath, and embark!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Try standing up at your desk

So I've heard of standing up at your desk and have not really tried it until recently. I tried it because I couldn't find a chair that had enough lumbar support and I kept getting a sore back. The three main benefits that you'll probably gain from standing up at your desk are:

Better posture

More energy throughout the day

and Burning more calories!

I brought in a few text books to the office (user boxes or telephone books or whatever you have) and propped up my keyboard so that my arms bend approximately 90 degrees to rest on it. I put my mouse pad on top of my mini-tower and my monitor is on a tall stand, set back about 2 feet in front of me, and angled upward so that my eyes can easily come to rest on it by looking slightly downward. I found some insoles for my shoes that add a nice amount of padding which is important. You might even want a soft rubber mat to stand on.

The setup I have allows me to easily transition from sitting to standing fairly quickly which I think is important because if it's too much of a procedure then you probably won't ever actually do it, especially if you're busy working. So take a few minutes and create a setup that is easy to configure. Maybe a high stool would work instead of moving the desk around. Sometimes I do have to take a seat; right now, after only about a week of trying it, I'm probably sitting for a total of 30 minutes to 1 hour a day. Hopefully I'll be standing all day very soon.

I'm definitely seeing the benefits of it too. The days actually tend to fly by much quicker. I get to move around a bit, too, and I think that is part of what makes it more comfortable.

If you're having trouble try:

  • Shift your weight around
  • Stand on one foot for a while, then the other.
  • Stand with feet together, then apart.
  • Legs bent, and then legs straight.
  • One foot in front of the other, and then switch it around.
  • Move your weight from your toes to your heels to the outside edges of your feet.
  • Turn your body to the side, twisting your torso, and then to the other to move your organs around.
Anyway, it's a lot easier than I thought it would be. 3:00pm does start to present a challenge, but if you keep moving around it's not too bad. Don't forget to walk away from the desk from time to time either. Walking will help you to stand for longer too because it seems to get the blood flowing.

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