What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Over the last few years, a big push for mental health awareness has allowed for anxiety and anxiety disorders to come into the limelight. As the stigma around anxiety and mental health is slowly being chipped away, more and more people are realising that the anxiety that they are living can perhaps be prevented or treated, and that the toll that anxiety takes does not have to be a permanent fixture in their lives.

Indeed, one New York times article from 2016 noted in that in the past eight years, Google search rates for anxiety have more than doubled, and that 2016 saw the most searches out of any year in the past decade.

And yet, the mainstreaming of anxiety has also fostered an environment of misinformation, or at least, has failed to facilitate a fostering of in-depth understanding of what anxiety is and what it feels like to different individuals, the many forms that it may assume, and what can be done about it. This blog seeks to elucidate some of the most pertinent of these questions, namely, what does anxiety really feel like, how do different anxiety disorders differ from one another, and what can be done about it?

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What is Anxiety, and Why Do We Have It?

Feelings of anxiety are often conflated with a general feeling of worry, or having worried thoughts. But the word ‘anxiety’ is an umbrella term for a number of different anxiety disorders, each condition encompassing a mental, emotional, and physical aspect, and each with overlapping as well as distinct symptoms. All anxiety disorders are characterized by a few hallmark indicators, including feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. Other common symptoms include overwhelming fear, dizziness, heart palpitations, trembling, chest pressure or pain, feeling detached from reality or disassociation, and numbness. However, it is important to note that anxiety can feel very different depending on the person, and on the specific disorder. Different kinds of anxiety disorders are characterized by specific symptoms – more on this below.

When faced with a potentially dangerous or harmful l situation, anxiety is one of the human body’s most natural and necessary responses. When the body feels that it is in danger, the biological response to anxiety – an increase in the hormone adrenaline – causes a host of biological reactions, including an increased heartbeat, sweating, and increased awareness and sensitivity to our surroundings. These physiological changes allow us to take action to either evade or confront the potentially dangerous situation, a well-known phenomenon referred as the ‘fight or flight’ response.

And while potentially dangerous and physically life-threatening situations have become less of a norm in the 21st century, anxiety is now instead felt in relation to work, money, family life, and other crucial issues that demand an individual’s’ full attention. The anxiety you feel when you’re running late for your international flight, or right before you have to present a proposal in front of your boss and colleagues, while unpleasant, might actually put the necessary pressure on you to perform your best — in this case, perhaps your body wakes you up an hour before you meant to in order to leave ample time before your flight, or to practice your presentation a few too many times in front of friends and family.

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Anxiety Disorders

So, if feeling anxious is at times a normal and healthy response to life, how do we know if the anxiety that we are feeling is within the range of normal?  In other words, how do you know whether your general feelings of anxiety have become, or are becoming, a disorder?

Anxiety is thought to become an anxiety disorder when the general feeling of fear or worry that is usually felt sporadically becomes more persistent. In many cases, anxiety disorders are differentiated from the general feeling of anxiety when those feelings become intense, distracting, or dysfunctional, often resulting in more physical symptoms. Often, more persistent feelings of anxiety also result in trouble carrying out what otherwise used to be normal activities, like going to work or seeing a friend that you’ve been meaning to catch up with.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults aged 18 years and older, or around 18.1% of the population, every year. Anxiety disorders can be divided into six main types, listed below. Knowing what each of these specific anxieties feel like may help you narrow in on what type of anxiety you may be suffering from, and better equip you to coping and seeking the help you need.

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), the broadest type and one of the most common types of anxiety disorders, is characterized by the feeling of excessive and long-lasting worrying. People suffering from GAD can experience severe and irrational concern around specific triggers. These triggers may often revolve around nonspecific life events, objects, thoughts, or situations, although they are also often not identifiable by the individual suffering. GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, less than 50% of sufferers are receiving treatment. Women are also twice as likely to be affected as men.

2. Panic Disorder

Panic Disorders are characterized by brief and unexpected ‘attacks’ of intense terror and apprehension. If you have ever felt a sudden, dreadful feeling of fear that lasts several minutes, accompanied by equally terrifying physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, a racing heart, shaking or trembling, sweating, weakness or dizziness, or a fear of dying, then you may have already suffered from a panic attack. But while panic attacks are relatively common in times of high stress, a panic disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated panic attacks, as well as a fear of having more attacks. Panic disorders affect 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the U.S. population, and they are also twice as likely to afflict women than men.

3. Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by intense fear of being judged, embarrassed, negatively evaluated or rejected in a social situation. While it is normal to feel nervous before a presentation or performance, people with social anxiety disorder tend to feel worried for days or weeks leading up to particular event or situation, and may avoid the situation altogether. Those suffering with social anxiety disorder may also feel persistently worried about acting or appearing visibly anxious or awkward, or being viewed as stupid, unusual, or boring, and while they may acknowledge that their fear is excessive or unreasonable, they are often powerless in stopping it. Social Anxiety disorder can also elicit a number of strong physical symptoms, including rapid heart rate, nausea, and sweating. Social anxiety disorder is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder, and affects approximately 15 million American adults every year.

4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Of the six major types of anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the only one that involves engaging in repetitive compulsions or obsessions, as opposed to fearing or avoiding triggers. Obsessions involve having repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety, whereas compulsions involve repetitive behaviours that a person with the disorder feels the urge to perform in response to an obsessive thought. While everyone has rituals or habits, like checking that the door is locked or that the porch light is off, a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder can’t control their thoughts or behaviours and experiences significant problems in their daily life due to these thoughts and behaviours. Similarly to social anxiety disorder, individuals with OCD can recognise that their behaviours are excessive or unwarranted, but often feel powerless in stopping from carrying them out.

5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

People with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develop this disorder after experiencing a shocking, scary or dangerous event.  While many people will experience a traumatic event at some point in their lifetimes, only around 8% of people will experience PTSD. It is normal to feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed after a traumatic event, PTSD is thought to develop if these symptoms persist for more than one month. Along with feelings of stress, anxiety and overwhelm, individuals suffering from PTSD might experience a host of other symptoms, including recurring thoughts or nightmares about the event, trouble sleeping or loss of appetite, difficult making decisions, anger, guilt, and feeling scattered and unfocused.

6. Phobias

In contrast to GAD, phobia disorders are not generalised at all, but rather revolve around specific situations or things. Specific phobias involve strong, irrational fears of a host of objects, people, animals, or situations. People suffering from specific phobias often feel overwhelming, disruptive and exaggerated fear that can cause difficulty functioning normally at work, school, in personal relationships, or in your everyday life. Most phobias arise unexpectedly and onset is usually sudden — even the thought of the specific phobia can cause severe anxiety.

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What to do if you think you may suffer from anxiety?

No one should have to live with severe and persistent anxiety. Many at-home relaxation techniques and exercises exist to help manage and overcome anxiety disorders, as well as cognitive behavioural therapies, that can produce consistent and long-lasting improvements. Eventually, with treatment, most people are able to manage their anxiety and feel more comfortable facing their triggers. It is important to be able to recognise the symptoms of your anxiety and take the proper steps to dealing with them. However, if symptoms persist, it’s important to talk to your doctor about options.

The 5 Best Relaxation Techniques for Sleeping

Bedtime – the brain’s seemingly perfect time of day to contemplate every life detail, think through worst-case scenarios, and work through any and every other reflection that you pushed to the back of your mind during the day.

All of us experience sleeplessness at some point in our lives, most often because stress or difficult life events leave our minds, and subsequently our bodies, tense and unable to relax into sleep. And while a bit of restless sleep might be a minor inconvenience to those afflicted once in a blue moon, others experience sleeplessness on a more regular basis and truly feel the results.

The link between anxiety and sleeplessness is well studied, and the findings are both intuitive and terrifying. Anxiety and insomnia can disrupt circadian rhythms, cause more stress and anxiety, and wreak havoc via a host of other physical and mental health problems including elevated heart rates, blood pressure, and stress hormones.

While breaking out of your no-sleep cycle might feel like it requires a total life overhaul, there are some simple yet effective techniques you should try before quitting your job or begging your doctor for a prescription for sleeping pills. Using various relaxation techniques, the mind and body can be trained into a sleep schedule come night time, leaving you to enjoy the restful nights you deserve.

How do relaxation techniques work?

A technique first credited to Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard Medical School physician in the 1970s, the relaxation technique is meant to elicit a physical state of deep rest — the opposite of the body’s stress response. Years of research have shown results in reducing stress and anxiety using relaxation techniques, as well as sleeping longer at night, having more uninterrupted sleep, and falling asleep somewhat more quickly.

Relaxation techniques work by encouraging the body’s natural relaxation response in order to achieve both mental and physical relaxation. The techniques reduce physical tension by interrupting the thought processes that are preventing you from going to sleep, and offer a great way to help you naturally manage your stress, as well as cope with everyday life-events and stresses. While a substantial amount of research has been done to show that these techniques are perfectly safe for most healthy people, people with serious physical or mental health problems should first discuss relaxation techniques with their health care provider.

Most recently, scientists have begun to elucidate the pathways through which these techniques work to improve sleep. Recent Harvard research suggests that practicing relaxation responses can lead to genomic activity changes. In the study, researchers looked at how the relaxation response affected each of the body’s tens of thousands of individual genes, and found that those who regularly used the relaxation response induced anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory changes that counteract the effects of stress on the body, as compared to control subjects.

Before You Start… A Note About Good Sleep Hygiene

 While relaxation techniques can help you achieve the rest you need when you’re feeling unusually stressed or anxious, there are other important (yet simple) habits that should become part of your routine to ensure that you’re giving your body and mind the best chance to fall asleep quickly. The following set of ‘sleep hygiene’ habits can have an important and positive effect:

  1. Don’t drink alcohol, coffee, or tea four to six hours before your bedtime. These substances will keep your body and mind wired, so give your body time enough time for these side effects to pass before trying to go to sleep.
  2. Avoid smoking or other nicotine products before bedtime or during the night. Nicotine is a stimulant, and can substantially affect your sleeping patterns if you consume it before bedtime. Studies have also shown that smoking can change your natural circadian rhythm.
  3. Avoid heavy meals or spicy foods before going to bed. Good sleep hygiene calls for avoiding food at least three hours before getting into bed. Heavy or spicy foods can cause irritation in the upper digestive tract, leading to indigestion and heartburn, which may worsen when you lay down to go to bed.
  4. Get your exercise in, but not right before going to bed. Exercising early in the day can help tire your body, release endorphins, and help you get to sleep faster, but exercising also temporarily elevates your heart rate and raises your core body temperature, two things that are counterproductive if you’re trying to sleep. Leave a four to six-hour window between your workout and your bedtime.
  5. Avoid napping during the day. Napping more than 30 minutes can upset your sleep cycle and mess with your metabolism. Work through your drowsiness if you can, and if you absolutely must nap, try to limit it to 30 minutes.
  6. Establish a regular sleep routine. Having a regular sleep time and routine can help your body recognize and prepare for sleep when it’s that time to go to bed. If possible, establish a routine before bed – whether that be taking a warm shower or bath, doing light stretches or yoga, or reading a book – and try to keep to it.

5 Relaxation Techniques to Try

Now that you’ve ensured that your practices and habits are optimal for a good night’s rest, here are some relaxation techniques to try when you still just can’t fall asleep.

1. Progressive muscle relaxation

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This technique involves tensing groups of muscles from the top of the head to the bottom of the foot progressively, and then consciously relaxing them again. The technique is easy to learn and helps you lower your body’s muscle tension and stress levels, relaxing you when you are feeling anxious.

The technique requires just 10-15 minutes a day. First, find a quiet and comfortable place. As you breath in, tense the muscles at the top of your head, and relax them as you breath out. Do this for every muscle group until you get to your toes, and give yourself around 5 seconds before your mind and body leave the practice.

Empirical, peer-reviewed evidence supports this technique for use in reducing tension headaches, insomnia, and even for chronic pain management.

2. Guided Imagery

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Guided Imagery uses the power of your imagination to elicit physical responses. It is a mind-body technique that has been shown to reduce stress and promote sleep by imagining the details of a safe, comfortable, and happy place or experience.

To relax using visualisation, try to incorporate as many senses as you can – thinking about the smell, touch, sight, and sound of the visualisation. For example, if you imagine walking through a grassy field barefoot, think about the feeling of grass in your feet, the smell of dew in the air, the breeze on your face or the sun on your skin. It is best to practice this technique with your eyes closed, in a quiet space and comfortable position. Importantly, think about the most positive and comforting scene possible. Instructor-led courses for guided imagery can also be found, as well as scripts and recordings for different visualisations being widely available for free online.

Many robust scientific studies have been done to look at the effect of guided imagery. Overall, studies suggest that guided imagery can both reduce stress and elevate the immune system, and can even improve pain management in patients with cancer and fibromyalgia. With so much to gain and virtually nothing to lose, who wouldn’t want to try this powerful technique?

3. Breathing techniques

The 5 Best Relaxation Techniques for Sleeping 4Deep breathing techniques have been used for thousands of years to elicit a relaxation response. This technique is the most intuitive of the relaxation techniques – if you think about the moments right before you fall asleep or right when you wake up, you’ll realise that your breathing is slow and deep. Indeed, deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. When we breathe deeply, we are sending a message to our brain, which then sends a corresponding message to the body, to calm down and relax.

Best of all, deep breathing is intuitively learned and can be done in any situation. There are many types of breathing exercises, the simplest of which might be belly breathing. Lying flat or sitting in a comfortable position, put one hand on your belly, just below your ribs, and another hand on your chest. Take a deep breath through the nose, and feel your belly push your hand out. Breathe out through pursed lips and feel your belly move in. Repeat five to ten times.

Deep breathing is highly effective at managing stress and promoting relaxation on its own – so much so that it is a common feature in several other relaxation techniques. By encouraging full oxygen exchange, this technique works to slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure – and thus allows you to control your anxiety, relax, and get to sleep.

4. Autogenic training (AT)

The 5 Best Relaxation Techniques for Sleeping 6Autogenic training (AT) is probably the least used and known technique of this list, is nonetheless an effective and accessible method to reduce stress and improve sleep. AT uses visual imagination and verbal exercises to focus the mind on specific physical sensations, eventually teaching the body to respond to your verbal commands. Once you master the technique, you should be able to ‘tell’ your body to relax and get to sleep.

So how exactly does the technique work? AT consists of six main exercises that make the body feel warm, heavy, and relaxed. For each exercise, you get into a simple and comfortable posture and use your visual imagination as well as repetitive verbal cues to relax the body in a specific way. It is thought that mechanism through which it works is similar to hypnosis, in that the exercises allow you to more deeply control communication between the mind and body so that you may influence bodily reactions that cannot usually be controlled.

These exercises can either be taught by an instructor, or learnt on your own through online and written resources. These exercises are most effective when practiced regularly, but be warned that progress will take time; expect at least 4-6 months to master all six exercises.

5. Biofeedback

The 5 Best Relaxation Techniques for Sleeping 7Biofeedback, in a way similar to AT and guided imagery, uses a ‘mind over matter’ approach – it uses your thoughts to control involuntary actions or reactions of your body. The technique works by tracking information from your body like breathing, heart rate, sweating, body temperature, and sleep stages in order to make you aware of stress and allow you to make small changes in response, allowing you to relax both physically and mentally. When you’re alerted to the stress response, other relaxation techniques like deep breathing can be used to help you combat the feelings of stress and anxiety. This is especially useful for those who struggle with knowing whether they are feeling more stressed or anxious than what is considered normal.

Biofeedback techniques have gained steam over the last few years, and as a result there are increasing numbers of wearable devices, like the Spire, that can deliver information about your stress levels and emotions as measured through biofeedback. While the precise physiological mechanisms behind biofeedback are not fully understood, research shows that biofeedback promotes relaxation and can help relieve a number of other conditions related to stress, as well as get you to sleep faster.

How is Anxiety Affecting My Sleep?

It’s the end of a tiring day. You’re looking forward to getting some sleep. But as soon as you lay down and close your eyes, your mind starts to fill with racing thoughts. You might worry about waking up in time to get to work in the morning, or you might fret about an upcoming event this month. Sometimes, it seems like there are a million things to worry about, and that makes it almost impossible to sleep.

If you suffer from anxiety, it’s likely you’ve experienced this at least once in your life. In fact, 54% of people say anxiety makes it harder to fall asleep at night. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders have a hard time getting to sleep at night. Lack of sleep can have some serious impacts on your health, and can even worsen your anxiety.

Continue reading to learn why anxiety makes it hard to sleep, how lack of sleep and increased anxiety perpetuate a never ending cycle, and what you can do to improve your sleep habits.

Why Anxiety Messes With Sleep

Sleep problems and anxiety tend to go hand in hand. 56-75% of people with anxiety disorders have problems sleeping. Understanding how anxiety works, and what sleep physiology looks like can go a long ways towards helping you understand why the two don’t interact well.

When you’re anxious, there are a few things going on in your body. Persistent worry makes it difficult for your brain to shut off. Your body also holds a lot of tension in your muscles, which can cause pain and make it difficult to get comfortable.

When you’re feeling anxious, your body is activating your stress response. When your brain perceives potential threats, it sends an alarm to your amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions. The amygdala then sends that alert to the hypothalamus, which then activates your sympathetic nervous system. When this is active, your body enters fight or flight mode, because it believes there is a threat that needs to be deal with. And when this system is active, your body won’t rest because it believes it needs to be ready to deal with danger.

However, our brain hasn’t yet adapted to modern life. It can’t tell the difference between being chased by a bear and worrying about performance on a test or interview. When you’re always worrying about what will happen, your brain is constantly sending alarm signals to the rest of your body, producing ever present anxiety.

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One study on sleep and anxiety disorders shows that when the body’s stress response is active, it isn’t able to enter a restful state. Whether you only suffer from occasional worries, or have to deal with a severe panic disorder, any state of anxiety can have a negative impact on your sleep.

But why does this come up when you’re trying to sleep? When you lay down to rest, the distractions of the day don’t come with you. Instead, you’re left alone with your thoughts. If you’ve been putting off your worries or trying not to think about them, they will pop up when you are trying to get to sleep. Worries about finances, job performance, or relationships will plague your mind and make it difficult to rest. This can even lead to stressing about falling asleep, making it even harder for you to sleep.

The Cycle of Sleep Deprivation and Anxiety

It’s hard to know if anxiety causes sleep disturbance, or if sleep deprivation causes anxiety. If you’re already stressed out, it’s hard to get to sleep at night. On the other hand, if you’re not sleeping, you’ll feel anxious about not getting enough rest.

Medical studies have shown that some kind of sleep disturbance happens with nearly every kind of psychiatric disorder. In fact, 50-80% of psych patients struggle with sleep in some way. Brain imaging has found that good sleep is crucial for mental and emotional stability. Chronic sleep problems often lead to emotional vulnerability and negative thinking common in many mental illnesses.

There are more than 80 different kinds of sleep disorders that can interfere with your rest each night. Insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy are some of the most common. Others include movement related disorders, like restless leg syndrome and sleep walking Those who have sleep problems are also very likely to develop an anxiety disorder.

Sleep deprivation also tends to heighten anxiety. When you don’t sleep, your mind isn’t working at top performance. Things that didn’t bother you before can become a big nuisance when your brain isn’t able to rest.

Lack of sleep can cause a lot of health problems. You may have noticed these problems in your life, and you might be feeling anxious about how they will affect you.

These problems include:

  • Compromised Immune System
  • Higher Risk of Heart Disease
  • Impaired Coordination and Judgement
  • Memory Problems
  • Weight Gain

How to Break the Cycle

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The good news is that you don’t just have to put up with the downward spiral of sleep loss and worsening anxiety.

If you’re able to treat your anxiety, your sleep will improve. Your anxiety will also lessen if you can treat your sleep disturbances.

Here are some things you can try to help you deal with nighttime anxiety and sleep issues.

Try Relaxation Techniques

Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness are great ways to deal with your anxiety. Many of these practices are designed to help you quiet your mind and look at your anxiety in a productive way. Research shows that meditation grows grey matter in the parts of the brain connected with compassion and empathy. Not only does this help you become a nicer person, but it helps improve your mental health overall.

Schedule Down Time Before Bed

If you’re busy all day everyday, your brain doesn’t have any time to process what is going on. Your body also needs time to wind down before it is ready to go to sleep. Take this time to read or meditate to sort through your thoughts that you’ve been putting off all day. You can also try relaxing activities like journaling or going on a relaxing walk to get your mind ready to sleep.

Keep Screens Out of the Bedroom

There are a number of ways that electronics keep you from sleeping. One of the biggest ones is that the blue light from your LED screens makes it difficult for your brain to develop melatonin. This hormone controls your sleep/wake cycle, and helps you fall and stay asleep. The noises that come from texts and notifications can also alert your brain and cause you to wake up before you’re ready. Instead of letting your phone disturb your sleep, try charging it in another room while you rest.

Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

Research shows that alcohol and caffeine can have a serious impact on your sleep. Even normal blood alcohol levels can result in a decrease in REM sleep, and waking up more frequently. Caffeine, on the other hand, works by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals and increasing adrenaline. This forces our brain to be more alert and aware of what is going on around you. Limiting, or even removing these substances from your diet can help you get better sleep at night by allowing your brain to function unaltered.

Exercise During the Day

There are several studies which show that regular exercise makes it easier for you to sleep at night. One study found that exercising on a regular basis improves the quality and length of sleep, as well as the ability to function during the day. Most people in this study slept an hour more than they had before, and decreased the frequency with which people had a hard time falling asleep. Along with these research results, exercising is a great way for you to burn off anxious energy that would otherwise build up in a sedentary lifestyle.

Anxiety and sleep disturbance can interfere with your quality of life and make you feel worse overall. However, you don’t have to just deal with the effects that come from the cycle of anxiety and sleep debt. Spire can help you control your breathing and increase your mindfulness to help you get a hold of your anxiety and get a better night’s sleep. Check out the science behind our wearable devices today!

The Best Guided Meditations to Improve Sleep

Sleep affects your entire life. When you’re able to get a good night’s sleep, you feel refreshed during the day and can meet your responsibilities with ease. However, if you spend your nights tossing and turning, you’ll likely go through your day in a haze.

Thousands of people across the world use guided meditation to help them get to sleep at night. Read on to see why guided meditations help, and check out a small selection of the types of meditations you can expect to find.

How They Help

Mindfulness meditations are one of the best ways to fight insomnia and other sleep related issues. This type of meditation has been proven to combat depression, fatigue, and insomnia by promoting a relaxation response.

Practicing mindfulness meditation is simple. Many people think meditation involves clearing your mind of all thought. On the contrary, practicing mindfulness is quite the opposite. Most mindfulness practices involve becoming aware of the breath, and paying attention to what is happening in your body. Focusing on your physical presence brings you to the present, and away from worries about the past or stresses about the future.

Mindfulness meditations are a great way to improve several aspects of your sleep. Excessive worry about trying to get to sleep or about your responsibilities during the day can create an abundance of beta brain waves, which are responsible for keeping you alert. Being mindful can help bring you to the present, which prevents you from worrying about the stresses of the day. It also has a great track record in reducing symptoms of depression, fatigue, and insomnia – 95% of those who meditate regularly experienced relief from these symptoms.

Meditation is also a great way to boost melatonin, one of the hormones responsible for regulating sleep and wakefulness. One study found that those who practiced meditation regularly had a 98% increase in melatonin, which in turn helped them get a better night’s sleep.

Guided sleep meditations are great for those who have little to no experience with meditation, or who have a hard time calming down without guidance. If you’re prone to anxiety or just have a million items on your to do list, it can be difficult to reach a state of meditation on your own. Music sites like YouTube and Soundcloud have thousands of meditations to help you sleep, ranging from short 5 minute audio clips to 8 hour tracks to listen to while you rest.

Here’s a selection of different types of meditations you can use to help you fall asleep.

Guided Meditation for Sleep…Floating Amongst the Stars with Jason Stephenson

Chances are good that you’ve heard of Jason Stephenson if you’ve looked online for guided meditations. With several million views per video, and more than 650,000 YouTube subscribers, Stephenson has a large following in the meditation space.

This 62 minute video starts by encouraging you to relax before going into the meditation. Stephenson invokes mindfulness by encouraging the listener to focus on the space their body takes up and encourages them to let go of worries. He paints a picture of the dark night sky, and describes what it would be like to float among the stars. After the first ten minutes, the rest of the hour long video is full of calming music.

Sleep Hypnosis Release Negativity with Deep Mind Change with Michael Sealey

Depending on your definition of meditation, hypnosis could be the same thing. The main difference between them is that hypnosis tends to have an end goal in mind. Whether you want to let go of anxiety, lose some weight, or gain confidence, hypnosis tends to be targeted towards helping you reach a specific objective.

Hypnosis works by getting you into a state of trance. In this state of trance, your conscious mind takes a back seat, allowing direct communication with your subconscious. Being under a state of hypnosis is usually characterized by extreme suggestibility, heightened imagination, and relaxation.

This 48 minute self hypnosis video focuses on helping you create positive personal change through overcoming negative behaviors or habits. It does so by helping you replace those behaviors with positive actions, emotions, responses, and thoughts which are thought to open the path to being a happier person.

Guided Meditation for Sleep and Anxiety

If you are a naturally anxious person, chances are good that you have a hard time sleeping at night. Your anxiety can bring up nagging thoughts of what happened during the day, causing you to be so preoccupied with things that have happened, or that might happen, that you aren’t able to sleep.

This 45 minute video was created specifically to address anxiety that might be preventing you from falling asleep. It uses calming sounds like an open fire or rain on your window in the background to help produce an environment of relaxation. Anxiety creates a lot of energy that activates your brain and makes it difficult to let go of your racing thoughts.

The video encourages the listener to visualize as vividly as possible all of the details in the audio. It explains that visualizing these details will make it easier for your subconscious mind to relax and come back to a more rational way of thinking, instead of getting caught up in the irrational fears of anxiety.

Guided Sleep Meditation by Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra is another big name in mindfulness and meditation. Chopra is considered an expert in the alternative medicine field as a whole. He has written a large number of books, and founded The Chopra Center to help people find their own health and happiness.

Chopra’s large volume of work centers on mindfulness as the first step to addressing any health issue you might be facing. His 80+ books cover topics such as losing weight, finding love, overcoming addiction, using herbs in your everyday life, and spiritual connections.

This 4 minute video encourages the listener to reimagine their sleep space and remove any obstacles preventing you from sleeping. Chopra states that the biggest cause of insomnia is worrying about not being able to sleep. By reclaiming your mind and allowing yourself to slip into a peaceful and relaxing state, you’ll be able to rest easy and wake up refreshed.

Relaxing Sleep Music

People who listen to 45 minutes of calming music before sleeping see an incredible improvement in sleep quality. They tend to fall asleep quickly, stay asleep for longer periods of time, and generally feel more rested when they wake up. Those who listen to music before sleeping also have longer periods of REM sleep, which is the crucial part of sleeping when your mind stores memories and processes the events of the day.

Sleep music is created specifically with the intention of helping people fall asleep. There are hundreds of videos online that mix together relaxing sounds with a calming background track to promote relaxation and help you fall asleep faster.

This 3 hour video uses relaxing sounds, trance backgrounds, sounds from nature, and other calming sounds to help people release stress and have a better night’s rest.

Sleep Binaural Beats

Binaural beats have been around for nearly 200 years.They were discovered by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove when he put a subject in a room and placed two tuning forks vibrating at different frequencies at each of their ears. The brain then makes up the difference and hears it as a combined sound, or a binaural beat.

Different frequencies invoke different brain waves, which correspond to various feelings and states of being. Some frequencies invoke Alpha brain waves, which are responsible for making you feel more alert and attentive, while others invoke theta brain waves, which are responsible for lucid dreaming.

When you are sleeping, your brain gives off delta brain waves. These brain waves are what tell your mind you are fully rested and can go about your day.

This 9 hour video stimulates the “Delta Wave frequency” by playing 1-4 Hz binaural beats. These beats help you fall asleep quickly and get the rest you need to calm your anxious mind.

The next time you’re having trouble sleeping, you don’t have to put up with tossing and turning all night. Try pulling up one of these videos on your smartphone and plugging some headphones in.

How Sleep Affects Weight Loss

Do you struggle with getting enough sleep? Do you also happen to struggle with losing weight? Well, these two things share a stronger association than you might think, and research continues to suggest that improving one will have a mutually beneficial effect on the other. That’s right, a growing body of evidence is destabilizing our notions of eating less and exercising more as the ultimate key to attaining our desired weight loss, and enlightening us as to what might be the most relaxing weight loss regime we’ve ever embarked on – simply, getting ample sleep.

Astonishingly, 40% of adults report either short term or chronic insomnia, a fact that may also help explain the rise in obesity across the country. We’ll go through the evidence of some of the subtle and more obvious ways that sleep and weight are interconnected, and hopefully convince you that healthy sleeping habits are key to maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle.

Sleep and Hunger Hormones

If you commit yourself to making healthy food choices during the day and often get frustrated when, lo and behold, you give in to temptation once again — take some comfort in knowing that your willpower is not the only factor at play when food cravings hit. Research shows that hunger and food cravings are largely controlled through two hormones: leptin and ghrelin.

Leptin is released by your body’s fat cells and is deeply involved in appetite regulation, metabolism, and calorie burning. When your body wants to tell you that it’s time to stop eating, it releases leptin to suppress appetite and stimulate energy expenditure (calorie burning). While you sleep, leptin levels increase, and this tells your body that you have lots of stored energy and that there’s no need to trigger the feeling of hunger. However, when you begin to lose sleep or you’re sleep deprived, you fail to build up enough leptin in the body, which ultimately signals your brain that your body is lacking energy and that it’s time to start eating.

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Sleep also boosts the production of ghrelin, what can be considered the opposing hormone to leptin. When your body is in motion or getting low on energy stores, ghrelin acts to tell your brain to start eating, stop burning calories, and reserve energy as fat. While you sleep, your levels of ghrelin drop, largely because sleep requires far less energy than being awake. The result of sleep deprivation leaves you with an excess build-up of ghrelin in your system, telling your body to eat more and to stop burning calories.

The effects of these two hormones are becoming increasingly clear as research delves into the implications of sleep deprivation. In one study from Stanford University, researchers found that shorter sleep times were associated with increased circulating ghrelin and decreased leptin, and that in those sleeping less than 8 hours a night, increased BMI was proportional to decreased sleep. What’s more, researchers have also found evidence of the opposite effect—where taking leptin and ghrelin as supplements can actually alter sleep patterns, working to decrease deep sleep in both mice and human subjects.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Lack of sleep has also been shown to increase levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which is associated with fat gain. Have you ever binge eaten while stressed? The same idea applies when your body and brain are stressed from lack of sleep. The combination of cortisol and ghrelin shut down the area of your brain that would normally make you feel satisfied after a meal, so that you feel hungry – and eat – constantly under the pressure of sleep deprivation. Cortisol also makes you crave high-calorie foods, making it even likelier that you’ll indulge in the wrong types of foods when you’re lacking sleep and the munchies hit.

Sleep and Fat Storage

If you’re prioritizing exercise over sleep when you’re faced with a busy schedule, you might want to think again. A study from Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles have shown that a single night of sleep deprivation can cause as much insulin resistance as six months on a high-fat diet. In the study researchers deprived eight dogs of a night’s sleep, then tested their insulin sensitivity using intravenous glucose tolerance tests. Results showed that one night of sleep deprivation decreased insulin sensitivity by 33%, while dogs put on a six month, high-fat diet saw insulin sensitivity decrease by 21%.

But what does insulin have to do with anything? Insulin assists the entry of glucose from your food into your body’s cells. When your system gets loaded with glucose, it causes a shift in your metabolism and slows down fat breakdown, as well as starts the synthesis of new fat. Decreased insulin sensitivity, as seen in the sleep-deprived dogs, means that glucose is no longer clearing into cells as efficiently, and fat synthesis is on the rise. Decreased insulin sensitivity, otherwise known as insulin resistance, is a major cause of obesity.

Sleep and Exercise

At this point you might be thinking that: yes, it might be true that sometimes you’re skimping on your full eight hours, but shouldn’t your hard work in the gym counteract some of the effects of your sleep deprivation? Unfortunately, sleep deprivation has a serious impact on your workouts and on your ability to burn fat. First, we all know that building lean muscle is key to sustaining a healthy body weight – and sleep deprivation may be preventing you from doing just that. A study published from the University of Chicago put ten overweight males and females in a sleep research centre for two separate periods and for two weeks each. Participants all followed an identical low calorie diet. However, one group slept 8.5 hours per night, while the second group slept 5.5 hours each night. While both groups lost around 7 pounds each, the dieters with less sleep lost mainly muscle rather than fat.

Similarly, a lack of sleep makes it harder for your body to recover from a hard workout by slowing down the production of growth hormones – our natural source of anti-aging and fat burning, which also helps recovery after a hard workout. Human growth hormone (often abbreviated HGH) promotes a healthy metabolism, and is released both during exercise and during sleep. However, some researchers estimate that as much as 75% of human growth hormone is released during sleep. Cortisol, the stress hormone we mentioned earlier that is also released when you’re lacking sleep, also acts to slow the production of growth hormone.

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Finally, one of the more obvious connections between lack of sleep and fat loss is your ability to actually keep up with your exercise regime. If you’re not getting enough sleep, everything during the day feels harder and more laborious, not least the high intensity interval training workout you had planned after your long day at work.

What You Can Do to Counteract the Sleep Deprivation – Weight Gain Cycle

Sleep deprivation is not only detrimental to your summer bikini goals; it is also connected with a host of other ill effects including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. While everyone is different, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that you get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.

The most important thing to do to combat sleep deprivation is to make sleep a top priority in your life. In a study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, women who were sleep deprived were 30% more likely to gain 33 pounds over the next 16 years than those who got at least 7 hours of sleep every night.

While there are some days in life that stress and lack of sleep are unavoidable, you should try to stick to a routine that allows you to wind down at the end of your day and allow your brain and body to get a good night’s rest. If you have trouble falling asleep due to reasons beyond time constraints, try these tips to fall asleep faster:

  • Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol anywhere near your bedtime. Although for different reasons, both of these substances will make it harder to sleep and reduce the quality of your sleep.
  • Exercise earlier in the day. As mentioned above, getting enough sleep is key to an efficient and beneficial workout, so don’t let your exercise regime keep you from sleep. Try to workout at least 4-6 hours before going to bed – this will give your body time to wind down from your workout and feel ready for some well-earned rest.
  • If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, there are a number of techniques that might help you fall asleep faster. Try finding some guided meditations online, take a shower or bath to relax and cool off after a long day at work, listen to some relaxing music, try lavender oil or aromatherapy, or try writing or reading away your worries
  • Finally, avoid napping during the day. Napping more than 30 minutes can upset your sleep cycle and mess with your metabolism. Work through your drowsiness if you can, and if you absolutely must nap, try to limit it to 30 minutes.

How to Fall Asleep Faster

Trouble falling asleep? These tactics might help.

Struggling to fall asleep at night can feel exasperating, and can have serious impacts on your mood, work, and social life in the days following. If you’re here because you’re desperate for a solution, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. In just the United States, approximately 40% of adults report either short term or chronic insomnia, or inability to sleep, according to the American Sleep Association. This article is meant to help you pinpoint the source of your sleeplessness and provides some science-backed solutions to help you finally get some satisfying, restful shut-eye.

What’s causing your inability to fall asleep?

For the average healthy person, it should take between 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep – any less might indicate that you’re sleep deprived, and more may suggest that you suffer from insomnia. According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are various reasons why you might suffer from insomnia. A number of medical conditions could be causing your inability to sleep, including allergies, acid reflux, endocrine problems such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, arthritis, chronic pain, and lower back pain. If you think you might be afflicted with any of these conditions, it’s important to consult your doctor.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the vast majority of adults are losing sleep due to stress and anxiety. While it’s normal for many adults to have trouble falling asleep during times of unforeseen pressure or strain, feelings of persistent worry or anxiety can begin to interfere with sleep on a more regular basis. If you think that anxiety might be the cause of your sleeplessness, some symptoms to watch for, apart from inability to fall asleep, include:

  • Muscle tension
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Feelings of apprehension or excessive worrying about past and future events
  • Feeling overwhelmed by duties and responsibilities
  • A general feeling of anxious dread and/or overstimulation

If you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s important to consider your health and think about what the underlying cause might be. If you’ve been feeling stressed and are fairly certain that the symptoms of anxiety above explain your sleeplessness, stress hormones in the body are primarily to blame. When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, your adrenal glands release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which work to keep you awake and alert. The associated sleeplessness is likely to cause more anxiety during the day, and consequently more sleeplessness—a cycle that can feel difficult to break. In addition, anxiety and sleep deprivation can have a number of other negative consequences, and are associated with long-term health risks, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and even heart attacks, so it’s important both to get your anxiety under control and get your sleep in.

Twelve of the Best Ways to Fall Asleep Faster

While eliminating stress and anxiety completely from your life is an unrealistic solution, learning to properly deal with that stress, especially before bed, can help you go to sleep faster.

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1. Lights Out

Light is one of the key signals for your body’s internal clock, which regulates sleep and wakefulness. In the morning, exposing your body to light tells it that the day has begun and that it is time to be alert and wakeful. Having any lights on when you’re trying to sleep, including the light from your phone and computer screens, could disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it harder for you to fall asleep. Recent studies suggest that exposing ourselves to the blue light from our screens and smartphones is disrupting our quality of sleep, and that turning off these devices an hour or two before going to bed can help us fall asleep faster.

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2. Try Guided Meditations

There are a number of meditative techniques that have been shown to help with sleep, but none have gained as much steam as guided mindful meditation. Guided meditation involves following the audio directions of a meditation instructor in the comfort of your own home, and takes you through the steps of focusing on moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, emotions, and breathing. Different programs and audio recordings for guided meditations are widely available for free online and through meditation apps, and this technique has been shown in studies to fight insomnia and improve sleep.

Check out our blog posts on guided meditation to learn more and find some great meditations to try.

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3. Try the “4-7-8” Method

A breathing method first introduced by best-selling author Dr. Andrew Weil, the ‘4-7-8’ method is said to promote calmness and relaxation, purportedly putting you to sleep in minutes. The breathing pattern is said to relax the nervous system, and can be used anytime (day or night) when you’re feeling anxious or stressed out. Here are the steps in brief:

1.  Exhale completely through the mouth, touching your tongue to the back of your teeth to make a whooshing sound.

2. Close your mouth and slowly inhale through your nose while mentally counting to four.

3. Hold your bread to the count of seven.

4. Exhale completely through your mouth, making the whooshing sound again, to the count of eight.

5. Inhale again, and repeat the cycle at least three more times until you’re feeling calm and ready to fall asleep.

Read our detailed article on the 4-7-8 method here.

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4. Use Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Another meditative technique, progressive muscle relaxation can help you reduce the symptoms of anxiety and get to sleep faster. Beginning at the top of your head, tense your muscles just enough to start to feel the tension (and not so much that you’re in pain) and subsequently relax, working your way all the way down to your toes. Repeat the process of tensing and relaxing 3 or 4 times or until your body feels relaxed and ready for sleep. Read our full article about progressive muscle relaxation here.

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5. Lower the Temperature in Your Room

Your body temperature changes as you fall asleep, and a slightly lower internal body temperature is an important part of regulating your biological clock. As your core temperature decreases, the temperature of your hands and feet increases, and this process is believed to help along the process of falling asleep. This suggests that if your room is too warm, it might be impeding your ability to fall asleep. Setting your thermostat to a cooler temperature between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 16 to 19 degrees Celsius) can help you fall asleep faster. In addition, covering your feet with warm socks can also help speed your body’s necessary temperature changes and help you sleep sooner.

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6. Watch What and When You Eat

There are specific foods that can help you sleep better, from a cup of warm milk or tea, to a dinner including fatty fish like salmon. Additionally, keep in mind that high-carb, low-fat diets have been shown to negatively impact sleep. No matter what you eat, it’s important to give your body plenty of time to digest after you’ve eaten dinner, so try to eat at least four to six hours before going to bed.

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7. Listen to Classical Music

Studies have shown that classical music, or any other music with a slow rhythm (60-80 beats per minute), may help put you to sleep. One 2008 study showed that among students 19 to 28 years of age, sleep quality was improved and depressive symptoms were reduced as a result of listening to classical music for one hour before going to sleep. If classical or relaxing music isn’t available, blocking out all noise could also help you fall asleep faster and promote uninterrupted sleep.

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8. Exercise Earlier in The Day

Exercise provides a host of benefits, from feeling happier to reducing your risk of chronic disease and memory loss.  It is also often cited as being beneficial to regulating healthy sleeping patterns, as it boosts the production of serotonin in the brain and decreases cortisol levels.

However, when it comes to falling asleep, when you exercise matters. Exercising right before bed can boost energy levels and keep you buzzing. It also has the effect of increasing metabolism and your core body temperature, which inhibits sleep. To help you fall asleep faster, the best time to exercise is in the morning. If morning isn’t an option, you should exercise no later than 4-6 hours before bed.

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9. Try Lavender Oil or other Aromatherapy

The use of aromatherapy or essential oils from specific plants has been shown to help in a number of health ailments, including insomnia and anxiety. Lavender is a popular essential oil that has been shown to promote relaxation and have positive effects on sleep, acting on your brain and central nervous system to release feel-good endorphins and allowing your body to relax. Rub a dime-sized amount of oil on your temples, or use an essential oil diffuser in your bedroom to reap the benefits of this amazing plant.

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10. Avoid Napping During the Day

No matter how tempted you might feel to nap during the day, especially after a sleepless night, there seems to be a consensus among researchers that long naps (exceeding 30 minutes) can upset your sleep cycle and prevent you from falling asleep at bedtime. If it’s absolutely necessary, try to limit your nap to 30 minutes, which some studies suggest may not interfere with your regular sleep-wake cycle.

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11. Take a Warm Shower or Bath

Warming your body up in a hot shower or bath around one hour before bed can help you fall asleep faster. Similar to lowering the temperature in your room, taking a hot shower and subsequently stepping out into the cooler air will drop your body temperature and prepare your body for sleep. In addition, showers and baths can be relaxing, which may help you loosen up and get a better night’s sleep.

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12. Write or Read Your Worries Away

If you’re having trouble falling asleep because you can’t stop cycling through tomorrow’s long to-do list, consider wring it down. Processing your feelings and responsibilities on paper can help you relax and ease your mind. In the same vein, reading has been shown to be a calming activity, helping you to wind you down before bed. It’s important that you read a good old paper book or ereader without backlighting, and not on your phone, ipad, or computer, which will emit blue light and make it harder to fall asleep.

We recommend Spire to help you remain calm and peaceful from the time you wake up, to the time you fall asleep.

What Happens if You Don’t Sleep?

With all the hustle and bustle of life, it’s difficult to get the amount of sleep you need each night. If you have this issue, you’re not alone. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 adults in America don’t get as much sleep as they should. Growing responsibilities, long commutes, family demands, and social interactions all add up to taking a huge amount of your time. Trying to balance all of these things often cuts into your sleep each night.

However, your brain and your body need to sleep to function. Sleeping too little or not at all impacts your health in a lot of ways, and some of those ways can be incredibly dangerous.

What Your Brain Does During Sleep

Your brain isn’t just resting when you are sleeping. In fact, your brain is working just as hard while you sleep as it is when you’re awake, just in different ways.

One of the most important stages of sleep is the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase. Also known as deep sleep, REM sleep allows your brain to consolidate and process memories. It’s also where most of your dreaming happens.

During sleep, your brain is processing your memories from the day. Replaying these memories helps your brain strengthen synapses, which in turn increases learning potential and improves overall memory. This makes it possible for you to process your emotions, and remember the skills you’ve been studying throughout the day.

Several parts of your brain are active during sleep. These structures are responsible for processing the light around you, and telling your brain when it’s time to sleep. If you have a hard time sleeping when it’s dark, these parts of your brain might not be functioning properly.

What Happens When You Don’t Sleep?

Not getting enough sleep can seriously damage your ability to function. Whether you’re pulling an all nighter, or you sleep less than the recommended 7 hours each night, sleep deprivation is bad news for your health. Simply going 17 hours without sleep puts your body in the equivalent of having a  .08% blood alcohol level.

Pulling an all nighter can become life-threatening. Going for three days without sleep will seriously damage your mood and can cause you to hallucinate.

Most people don’t go days without sleeping. However, any amount of sleep deficit can affect your body and mind in a number of ways. Here are the ones you are most likely to experience.

Impaired Coordination and Judgement

Ever heard the phrase sleep drunk?  After staying up for 24 hours, your brain functions are similar to someone who has .1 percent blood alcohol content. That’s 20 percent over the threshold at which it’s illegal to drive. This blood toxicity is considered a legal impairment.

Like when you are drunk, being awake for 24 hours at a time takes a serious toll on your judgment. Your memory suffers and your hand-eye coordination declines sharply. This level of impairment makes it difficult to control your emotions, which in turn increases the chances of you making a decision you’ll regret later on.

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It’s also more difficult to pay attention to what you are doing. When you can’t pay attention to what you’re doing, your chances of having a fatal accident increase dramatically. Drowsy driving causes 72,000 accidents a year, resulting in around 800 fatalities.

Difficulty Remembering Things

Your memory also suffers when you don’t get enough sleep. REM sleep is a crucial part of learning. When you don’t get enough sleep each night, your brain doesn’t receive the REM sleep it needs to process your memories.

One study found that subjects who were woken up each time they entered REM sleep had higher instances of anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.

Harvard demonstrated that memory consolidation occurs during sleep, meaning that losing sleep means less effective production of memory. This is because the neural connections that create those memories are strengthened while your body is sleeping. When you don’t sleep, your brain doesn’t have the chance to strengthen your neural pathways.

Increased Likelihood of Getting Sick

Your immune system builds up strength while you sleep. It does so by creating proteins called cytokines as well as illness fighting antibodies and cells. When you deprive your body of rest, it isn’t able to build up as much of a reserve of these illness fighting proteins. This makes you more susceptible to any viruses or strains you come across. In fact, if you sleep less than 7 hours a night, you’re three times as likely to catch a cold than if you sleep the recommended 8 hours.

One study found that the levels of proteins created during sleeping can influence the likelihood of migraines. Lack of sleep created more of the proteins in the brain responsible for pain transmission, which in turn can cause migraines.


Higher Risk of Heart Disease

Young adults who suffer from insomnia are 8 times as likely to suffer a stroke than their peers who get enough sleep each night. Being that many people this age go to college and work long hours, lack of sleep can potentially become deadly.

Adults from the age of 18-34 are also more likely to experience risk factors that can lead up to a stroke, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity. Sleeping too little can also cause other side effects that put a strain on your heart, like increasing your blood pressure, impacting your glucose metabolism, and creating inflammation.

Weight Gain

There are a number of ways in which lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. The most prominent one is that your metabolism slows down and your now off balance hormones cause you to feel more hungry for foods that are bad for you.

Sleep loss increases the levels of a stress hormone called cortisol in your body. Higher levels of cortisol increase your cravings for fatty and sugary foods, which can result in quick weight gain. When you’re tired, you’re also less likely to want to exercise, meaning your food choices just go to your waist.

Mental Disorders

While the connections between mental disorders and sleep deprivation are still being studied, scientists have shown that there is a definite link. Chronic sleep disturbances can cause health related anxiety, especially since lack of sleep can make it difficult to control your emotions.

Sleep disturbances can also be cause and be caused by severe depression. If you’re not sleeping, you just don’t feel well. When this goes on for a long period of time, it can have a serious impact on your mental health and lead to complications that are difficult to treat later on.

The next time you think about trying to skip sleeping, think again. Any amount of time you might save by staying up a little later will not be worth the effects. Think about it: if you’re working at 50%, your tasks take longer and it’s harder for you to focus. You’re likely not saving yourself any time, and you’re making yourself feel lousy. Do your best to get a good night’s sleep each night, and your body will thank you!

How to Stay Calm and Prevent Anxiety From Taking Over

There are thousands of things to worry about every day. It’s easy to get caught up in the stresses of the day and let them build up until you have an anxiety attack. Going around in a constant state of anxiety can prevent you from taking part in your life.

Instead of waiting until you have an anxiety attack, there are many techniques you can use to manage your anxiety and prevent it from getting out of hand.

The best thing you can do is practice mindfulness and incorporate calmness into all parts of your life. After all, it’s much easier to prevent anxiety attacks from happening than it is to calm down from them.

Here are some techniques that will help you stay calm when you incorporate them into your daily routine.

Daily Breathing Meditations

Deep breathing is a great tool for reducing growing feelings of anxiety. It’s one of the simplest tools to use, and you don’t need any specialized knowledge to do it. When you breathe deeply, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, signaling to your brain that you are no longer in danger and can relax. Your heartbeat will slow and you won’t feel like you are in danger anymore.

There are many ways you can add deep breathing to your daily routine. Find something that works for you. If you need someone to walk you through a meditation, there are thousands of guided meditations online that range from a few minutes to a few hours. Or, if you feel like you don’t have much time during the day, you can sneak some breathing into your routine. Practice 5-10 deep breaths right as you’re waking up, or as you are trying to fall asleep. Even if you can only focus on your breath for a few minutes a day, your anxiety levels will become more manageable as you include purposeful breathing in your routine.

Live in the Present

Along with getting control of your breath, focusing on bringing yourself to the present is a great way to tackle your anxieties. When we’re feeling anxious, it’s very likely we aren’t in the present moment, between worrying about a test you’re taking next week to being scared to going on a date, or replaying old failures in your mind, asking “Would that scenario have gone differently?”

Spending too much time in the past can create a lot of pain and longing, while focusing too much on the future can cause you to worry about things that aren’t even guaranteed to happen.

Worrying about the past, or about the future isn’t going to do anything to change them. It can feel impossible to get your mind off of these situations, but the more you can focus being on the present, the easier it will be for you to stay calm.

One of the best ways to focus on the present is to focus on your senses. What are you touching? What do you smell? What do you see in your environment? What sorts of sounds do you hear? If you’re having a hard time staying present, it can help to say what you sense out loud.

Be aware of your anxious thoughts

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Anxiety is uncomfortable and no one wants to experience it. However, in order to effectively deal with them, you need to be aware of what is going on. You need to know what sorts of thoughts are racing through your mind before you can address them.

Mindfulness based approaches are incredibly helpful in treating depression and anxiety. In fact, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy has been shown to reduce mental relapse by 50%. This sort of therapy works by helping you become aware of your anxious thoughts rather than trying to fix them. Being able to see your thoughts without immediately reacting to them can take away some of the power that anxiety holds over you. Instead of reacting right away, you can process what’s going on and figure out the best way to deal with the situation.

Being aware of your thoughts is another way to practice mindfulness. Many people might think they have to completely get rid of their thoughts in order to meditate. This practice often isn’t helpful or attainable. Instead, being mindful of your anxiety means observing your thoughts without passing judgement.

There are many ways you can practice being aware of your thoughts. Some people visualize their thoughts as passing clouds and identify them as they go by. Others observe their life as if it were a movie and analyze what is happening instead of reacting right away.

Find Activities You Enjoy

Obsessing over future worries and past mistakes will quickly blow your anxiety out of proportion. Sometimes, despite your best efforts to breathe or be mindful of your anxiety, you can’t get your mind off of it. When this happens, it can be helpful to try to distract yourself from what is happening.

In a 2009 study, 74% of patients reported that knitting helped lessen their anxiety. Those patients found relief from their fears while knitting.

If knitting isn’t your thing, you can try any of the infinite hobbies out there. Find something that relaxes you and gives you a sense of accomplishment. Some people have found that painting and journaling helps them get control over their anxiety, while others find relief in exercise. Do what you love, and watch your anxiety lessen.

Identify the Worst Case Scenario

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If you truly feel you cannot get a grip on your anxious thoughts, there is a technique you can use to lessen anxiety’s power over you. Most of that power comes from stressing about the unknown. Anxiety can ask a lot of “what if” questions and not provide any answers.

One therapist has found that focusing on the worst case scenario can actually help patients control their anxieties. Most anxious people think a lot about the worst thing that could happen, but they don’t follow those thoughts all the way through.

For example, a lot of people feel anxiety about giving presentations. The absolute worst thing that could happen in your presentation is that you feel so anxious and embarrassed that you die on the spot. Instead of leaving the thought there, take it further. How likely is it that this situation will happen? It’s probably more or less impossible. Then, other more likely outcomes don’t seem particularly bad when compared to your absolute worst outcome. Having this kind of perspective when it comes to anxiety can help lessen its impact and give you more ability to face potential outcomes.

You don’t have to live in constant worry about when your next anxiety attack will happen. Instead, you can implement some of these strategies to lessen your overall feeling of anxiety and prevent times of panic and fear.

How To Manage Stress in College

The transition from high school to college can be an arduous experience, not least because college students are thrown into a high pressure environment, often without the necessary skills to manage heightened levels of stress. While overburdened college administrators and mental health counselors across North America struggle to address this issue in a tangible way, most students are left to their own devices in navigating increased expectations and workloads.

The current epidemic of stress and anxiety can have serious impacts on your health and/or success as a student. While it is almost impossible for some people to avoid some periods of high stress and anxiety while learning to navigate multiple deadlines, exams, or work and other extracurricular commitments, there are tried and proven ways to address and manage these symptoms in order to succeed, while continuing to live a healthy lifestyle.

How To Manage Stress in College

The Science Behind Stress

Stress is a natural hormonal reaction that your body uses to deal with increased pressure or perceived threats. When the body is under stress, signals to the brain spur the production of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which temporarily increase energy by triggering the release of glucose in the bloodstream, raising your blood pressure and heart rate, and allowing you to fight or run away when necessary. This process also tends to slow other bodily functions, such as digestion, that are not immediately needed.

Small levels of stress on a daily basis are healthy and necessary; it’s what motivates you to get to your early morning classes, or finish your assignments by a given deadline. However, long term high levels of stress can lead to myriad physical problems, such as headaches and high blood pressure, and more rarely, can result in a heart attack or stroke, even among young people.

Studies have also found that long-term stress can weaken the immune system over time, leaving students susceptible to viral infections. Since stress also slows non-vital functions like digestion, it can contribute to a variety of digestive disorders and to the accumulation of body fat, as well as cravings for typically unhealthy foods like salt and sugar. Chronic stress can also wreak havoc on students’ mental health, increasing feelings of anger, fear, and paranoia, and can lead to anxiety disorders and depression.

How much Stress is too Much?

So if it’s normal and necessary to feel a certain level of stress every day, how do we know if what we’re experiencing is too much? The following are six telltale signs that your stress might be out of the normal range:

  1. You’re experiencing difficulty concentrating. Overwhelming feelings of stress or anxiety are preventing you from buckling down on the tasks you need to get done. Not being able to complete the tasks you need to get done causes you further stress, and this vicious cycle prevents you from getting the relief you need.
  2. You’re increasingly agitated and have a shorter temper. Stress is disrupting your social life and you find that your more easily annoyed by your friends and family. Even small requests or annoyances that wouldn’t have fazed you in the slightest now cause you to snap at your loved ones or strangers.
  3. Your eating habits have changed. Where your eating used to be controlled and moderate, you are now ‘stress eating,’ or seeking short term relief in the form of a bag of chips or box of cookies. Alternatively, food just looks unappetizing to you now; stress has caused a constant and faint nauseating feeling in your stomach and thought of eating anything is unpleasant.
  4. You’re getting more headaches and getting sick more frequently. You’re more susceptible to headaches than you used to be, and you might have a nagging cold that just won’t go away.
  5. Nothing feels easy or fun for you anymore. Life has become a series of deadlines and commitments, and it feels as though you’re trudging through your days. The feeling of overwhelmedness that you used to get just before a tight deadline are prolonged and now feel like a fixture of everyday life. It is affecting your social life, and things you used to enjoy are tinged with thoughts of stress or anxiety.
  6. Your sleeping habits have changed. You’re constantly exhausted by long days at school and work, but assignments, deadlines, and other issues are racing through your head and keeping you up when it’s finally time to sleep. You may be too anxious to fall asleep, and even if you do manage to get your eight hours, you still feel under-rested and exhausted during the day.
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8 Tips to Help Manage Stress in College

If you’ve identified that you’re feeling more stress than what’s normal, then you’re probably next wondering what it is you can do about it. Even if you don’t feel that your stress levels are out of hand, the following techniques can help keep those feelings in check and ensure that your college experience is a healthy and happy one. Here are 8 tips to help you manage your stress through long days of working and studying:

  1. Acknowledge and Identify the Sources of Stress: Sometimes there are so many things going on — school, work, extracurriculars, and a complicated social life — that you’re not exactly sure how to pinpoint the sources of stress in your life. Try writing down exactly when and by what you feel your stress is being triggered. Maybe you feel that your peers you are getting by more easily, and maybe you don’t feel that you’re measuring up? Or is it that you have too many commitments and too little time? Or perhaps that you feel that however much you study for a test, it doesn’t seem to yield the grades that you’d hoped for. Writing down exactly what you think causes your feelings of stress is the first step to being able to manage it.
  2. Get some Sleep: Feelings of stress and inability to sleep can create a rather vicious cycle, in which inability to sleep causes you more stress, and more stress increasingly prevents you from getting the rest you need. Breaking the cycle may be easier than you think. First, try creating some distance between your work and the time you go to bed. Give your mind and body some time to wind down after a hard day’s work or study, and commit yourself to a regular sleep schedule. At a certain point, the benefit to your grade that you’ll get from completing a homework assignment isn’t worth the damage it might do by reducing your cognition in class tomorrow. Getting proper sleep will sometimes be a better long term investment for your academic success than staying up all night to finish. Research is clear that a lack of sleep can impair memory and reasoning abilities, so cutting into your sleep will only make academic commitments more difficult to fulfill. The more clear-minded you feel, the more efficiently you’ll be able to get through your work and stress less. If you’re having trouble sleeping, check out Spire’s posts on how to fix your sleep cycle and some meditations for insomnia.
  3. Get Some Exercise: Finding the time and energy to exercise while you’re stressed out over a deadline might feel impossible, but you won’t regret it once you get up and moving. Exercise helps use up built up energy caused by sustained stress, and it works to release endorphins — your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters — as well as improve sleep, improve alertness and concentration, and enhance your cognitive functions. Regular exercise can also boost your self-confidence and make you feel more prepared for the challenges ahead. Finally, exercise is extremely effective at combating general anxiety, therefore decreasing stress.
  4. Eat Healthy (and Avoid Giving into Unhealthy Cravings): When you’re feeling stressed out, sluggish, and short on time, turning to junk food and caffeine might seem like an easy and quick solution. It is important to know that while caffeine provides your mind with short-term feelings of wakefulness, it can also elevate your body’s stress response. And while students may think to turn to alcohol and junk food to help alleviate stressful feelings, the short-term relaxation from alcohol or large quantities of unhealthy foods are vastly outweighed by their adverse health effects. Following a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains will help your body feel at its top shape, strengthen your immune system, and may alleviate physical stress on your body.How To Manage Stress in College 3
  5. Breathe and Practice Meditation: You might feel that your mind and body are racing from the moment you wake up to the moment you got to sleep. Finding time to practice meditation and breathing techniques can help you calm your body and mind. These techniques have been shown to provide number of emotional benefits, and can help you actively manage your stress and anxiety. Meditation and mindful breathing in the morning and/or night could help bring you a sense of calm and peace before and after tackling a fast-paced and stressful day. Here are some handy meditations to help you get started right away.
  6. Find an outlet : Find a non-academic activity that brings you joy or calm, and make time for it. This could be baking with friends, joining intramural sports teams, or finding another hobby or social club that you do just for the fun of it. Remembering that there is life and happiness outside of school can help alleviate some of the intense pressure you feel from your studies, and doing something that you’re passionate about can help combat feelings of stress and anxiety. We recommend trying out yoga.
  7. Seek help: If self-help strategies don’t seem to reduce your levels of stress, it might be time to seek help. Often, talking out your feelings of stress or overwhelmedness can help reduce those feelings. Turn to friends and family if you need a comforting presence to turn to. If you feel that you are struggling with a specific course or topic, try sitting down and talking with your professor. Schools also often have resources to connect you with a mental health worker on or off campus.
  8. Think Positively, and Remember that There is Life after School: It’s important to recognize the role that your thoughts and expectations play in causing you stress. While your final exams may sometimes feel like a life or death situation (we’ve all been there!), try to remember that your success in school or the grade you get in one course doesn’t define the person you are and represents only a narrow definition of academic potential and intelligence.

College is can be an exhilarating time in a person’s life, and it shouldn’t be mired by overstress. Putting aside a few hours a week or month towards stress relief can ensure that college students are getting good grades and enjoying the special time that is college. For frequent reminders and support, you can try Spire, which seamlessly integrates into busy student life to provide constant stress relief.

10 Major Signs of Sleep Deprivation (And How To Fix It)

Everyone has heard the gospel of getting six to eight hours of sleep. Unfortunately, sometimes the demands of life overwhelm the demands of good advice and good-natured health practitioners. A work deadline, a feverish toddler, or a newly-developed obsession with an addictive computer game has kept you awake for the larger chunk of those “six to eight” hours.

For many people in America, these interruptions are part of daily life. There simply are not enough hours in the day for the 68% of Americans who sleep less than 8 hours on weekdays. Insufficient sleep can contribute to a number of long term adverse effects, as the Naval Health Research Center outlines:

  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Prematurely aging skin
  • Increased susceptibility to cardiovascular disease
  • Weakened immune system

In 2015, a group at the University of Pittsburgh showed that there is a link between a disruption in your sleep cycle and known metabolic risk factors for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Accidents related to sleep deprivation are common, and have a fatality rate and injury severity level similar to alcohol-related crashes. In other words: sleep deprivation is a serious health risk.

Before getting into a problematic situation, it’s important to recognize when you’re losing too much sleep. This article will outline the major signs of sleep deprivation that you need to look out for and address before the night is out.

The 10 Major Signs of Sleep Deprivation

  1. Sleepiness: No surprises here. If you are getting enough quality sleep, you should feel calm and rested. The most important sign that you are not getting enough sleep is that you are feeling sleepy. This might express itself in waves of fatigue throughout the day, or a consistent drowsiness that affects all of your activities. It may also be that you find yourself nodding off during meetings or while riding on the bus. This is called micro sleep, which is when your brain unilaterally decides to put you to sleep.
  2. Hunger: Sleep deprivation can cause the body to release the hormone ghrelin, the hunger hormone.  Too much of the hormone causes you to crave fatty and sugary foods. Adversely, lack of sleep causes your body to release less leptin, which causes feelings of satiety. This causes your body to not properly interpret when you’ve eaten enough.  As a result, you may be craving and eating more food than usual. If you find that your portion sizes or meal frequency are higher than usual, it might be a result of sleep deprivation.
  3. Weight gain: Closely associated with increased hunger is increased weight gain. No mystery there. But if you haven’t been eating much more than usual, but still find that you are gaining weight, it may be due to sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep can directly impact your metabolism, slowing it down. A slower metabolism means it takes your body more time to burn the calories you take in. Research has shown that in the short and long terms, sleep deprivation causes weight gain and obesity.
  4. Inhibited Cognition: When you’re sleep deprived, your ability to concentrate, pay attention to detail and remember things clearly decreases. Sleep deprivation causes your body to release more cortisol, which can cause the hippocampus to shrink, impairing your memory and spatial navigation. The hippocampus is extremely susceptible to cortisol, making it more likely to cause issues for the state of your memory. Tasks which require sustained attention, such as repetitive tasks at work, show a marked decrease as sleep loss increases. If you find it hard to remember names, frequently forget about appointments you’ve made, or have a hard time focusing at work or school, chances are good that you are suffering from sleep deprivation.
  5. Mood swings: When a baby gets fussy, it often means it’s time for a nap. Adults are no different. A tired person is more irritable, brooding, and short-tempered. This may cause you to act more impulsively, taking on more risk than usual. Your ability to handle stress decreases, which can cause a whole host of issues, including digestive issues and a higher susceptibility to colds and fevers. Furthermore, since stress decreases your cognitive ability, you may find yourself reacting towards situations and people irrationally.
  6. Physical appearance: Sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on your overall appearance, and over an extended period of time, making you look older and generally unwell, causing breakouts, fine lines, bags, and other issues. The fact that sleep deprivation increases your chances of illness doesn’t help the cause. Sleep is when the body repairs itself, including fighting inflammation and repairing cells (including skin cells). If you find that the twinkle in your eye has dimmed, it’s time to consider keeping them shut for the next 8 hours.
  7. Psychiatric issues: Prolonged sleep deprivation may lead to serious psychiatric issues, including disorientation and hallucinations.  Disorientation is when a person loses track of time and space, not terribly different from dementia. Hallucinations are another sign of sleep deprivation. These are when your addled mind projects sensations (from voices to people or things) that aren’t real. This is a sign of serious sleep deprivation, where your mind is pushed to the very limits of its ability to function.
  8. Impaired motor skills: Being clumsy and tripping might make you feel like a klutz occasionally, but if its happening a few times a day, it may be due to a lack of sleep impacting your neurological functions. The lowered concentration and decreased reaction times make it difficult for your brain to be aware of your body’s location in any given space and the miscalculations present themselves as decreased motor skills. This can make you more prone to accidents such as dropping items and tripping, or something more severe, like falling down a flight of stairs. Sleep deprivation effects on motor skills and driving skills are equivalent to those generated by moderate alcohol consumption.
  9. Disrupted sleep cycle: Your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock running in the background of your brain and controls the cycles of alertness and sleepiness in your body at regular intervals. Within the sleep portion of the circadian rhythm cycle exists another type of cycle called the ‘ultradian rhythm’. Sleeping consists of several repetitive cycles or stages of approximately 90 minutes each, when the sleep shifts between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep. In REM sleep, a person is in a deep sleep and dreams, whereas is non-REM sleep, a person is in a lighter sleep and more prone to waking up. Each sleep stage in a particular sleep cycle fulfills a physiological and neurological function. Sleep deprivation disrupts the natural flow of the sleep cycle, which will primarily serve to exacerbate your sleeping issues. When your cycle is disrupted, you may find it very difficult to fall asleep at a normal time, and find yourself waking up at abnormal hours.
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How to Address Sleep Deprivation

The two main causes of sleep deprivation are stress and an inability to sleep properly. The first step to addressing sleep deprivation is setting limits on the demands on your time if at all possible. Cut back on work and family, hire help or recruit friends and family. Making time for sleep is the most important part of getting enough sleep to begin with.

If you’re looking to improve your sleep cycle, Spire blog has several excellent posts outlining tactics and techniques to help you sleep longer and better, including:

In terms of addressing stress, Spire is all about decreasing the stress in your life. Take a look at these great posts:

Going into bed feeling centered and calm is much more conducive to sleeping well than going to bed stressed and distracted. Using Spire can help you achieve this positive state of mind, and ensure that you are going to bed with a very sleep-friendly attitude. Once you implement these suggests, we are sure that you’ll be able to fix your sleep deprivation and feeling energetic, healthy and rested once again.