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Blog posts of '2014' 'August'

Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Dreaming

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Facts You Probably Didn't Know About DreamingEvery night you venture from this world into an entirely different one where the rules of physics, time, and mortality may not apply. It sometimes doesn't help that while you're inhabiting this world, you are unable to exercise any control over your dream land. However, that can be part of the fun. Where does this all occur? In the mind, of course.

Dreams as a Means of Memory Processing

Sleep and dreaming helps your mind process, sort, and store each day's events. Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in integrative sleep and dream medicine at the University of Arizona, likens dreaming to being a digestive system for your brain. "At night, the brain metaphorically swallows, digests, and sifts through information, and, just like the gut, eliminates," he says. "What the brain keeps becomes a part of who we are. Dreaming, is like the brain's digestive system."

Dreams are often said to occur only during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycles of sleep. But according to Dr. Naiman, dreams actually happen all night long; it's just that you're more tuned in to them during the REM cycles. Interestingly, mammals, reptiles, and birds are the only animals that experience REM sleep.

The process of sleep also helps the brain rid itself of toxic proteins that may potentially affect neurological function. The brain has its own plumbing system—known as the glymphatic system—that carries waste material out of the brain nightly. During sleep, brain cells shrink, allowing fluids to wash out the brain.

Want to Remember Your Dreams?

Trying to remember some dreams can be like catching smoke with a butterfly net. Sometimes the more you chase after it the more elusive it can become. The best way to try and remember your dream is to wake up slowly, lying in bed for a few moments and staying with your grogginess. By contrast, getting jolted awake by your alarm or any sudden sound can cause you to immediately forget what you were just doing in your dream. The shock of going from one state of mind to the next can leave you with only the vague residual memory of your night's adventures.

People who tend to remember their dreams have been found to have more spontaneous brain activity in a part of the brain called the temporo-parietal junction, when compared to those who more easily forget their dreams. These differences in recalling dreams don't just occur during sleep; people who remember dreams also seem to be more sensitive to sounds while they're asleep, too.

The Connection from Dream Land to the Waking World

Your body reacts the same way in your dreams biologically as it does to reality, says Dr. Naiman. "The experience we have in the dream registers in the body and in the brain in almost exactly the same way," he says. "Your blood pressure or heart rate might spike, for example, like in a real-life stressful scenario, helping to cement those emotional experiences of the dream." Contrary to popular belief, dreams also register in real time and can span anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

The realistic feel of dreams can extend to your awake self. A 2014 study found that many bad dreams elicited feelings of worry, confusion, and guilt. However, dreams never feel "weird" no matter how preposterous the situation you're in. "It's only after you wake up and step into the waking world and look at the dream that it seems weird," Dr. Naiman says.

A Good Night's Rest for a Multitude of Benefits

A good night's sleep will take you to imaginative realms but also gives your brain time to digest, sift and sort through information, while leaving you well rested for the morning. Sleep is also connected to other bodily functions such as your immune system, blood pressure, and even weight. Getting the proper amount of sleep, and enjoying the fantastical world of your dreams can keep you living healthy and happy during the day.

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What Your Body Looks Like On Worry and Anxiety

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What Your Body Looks Like On Worry and AnxietyMost people think of stress as something that weighs heavily only on your mind and emotions. Its effects, however, can also produce a physical response in your body that can have far-reaching consequences on your overall health.

Your body contains many different organs and systems that work symbiotically to react to both short term and long term mood and anxiety. Learning exactly what those pangs of physical reactions are doing to your body and how to properly manage these situations can help you overcome the mental and physical challenges they present.

Spotting the First Signs

When high-stress situations occur, your brain chemistry and hormone production changes, causing a cascade of reactions down to the rest of your body. Your adrenal system kicks in and the hormone, cortisol, is produced, which has a variety of effects.

At the first sign of anxiety, your heart rate increases, breathing becomes rapid, and the lungs take in more oxygen. Blood flow may actually increase 300%–400% in order to prime the muscles, lungs, and brain. To cope with your body's increased oxygen demands, the spleen becomes more active and discharges more red and white blood cells.

If your voice suddenly becomes creaky or squeaky, or there's a tightness in your throat when you swallow, it's because the body is dispensing fluids from nonessential areas, such as your mouth, to more essential areas of the body, often leaving you with a dry throat. Blood flow gets redirected from the skin so that the supply can be concentrated on the heart and muscle tissues. This is why muscles tighten up, and your skin can feel cold and clammy.

Cortisol also causes the liver produce more glucose, the main fuel your body uses for energy. For most people, excess glucose can be reabsorbed if it isn't used, but if you already have trouble balancing your blood sugar levels, excess glucose can make your levels spike even higher. And one of the more day-to-day effects of stress can be the compromising of your immune system. Once again, cortisol is the main culprit because it suppresses your immune system function, leaving you more susceptible to inflammation and infections.

The Body's Worries Over Time

One of the main concerns about anxiety is if it's constantly present. Besides causing an immediate physical reaction, the long-term effects can negatively influence other important areas of your health, leading to digestion problems, changes in metabolism, and increasing your chances of developing an ulcer. Studies have also linked it to weakened respiratory function.

Those who experience constant anxiety and periods of low moods are more at risk for heart-related concerns due to increased blood flow, higher blood pressure, and an increase in cortisol production. Cortisol is a means to increase blood flow to give you the energy needed to deal with the situation, however, too much of it can overwork the cardiovascular system, eventually weakening it.

Dealing with the Daily Distractions

You cannot completely avoid frustrating situations; it's a natural response of human nature. But there are some immediate and simple ways to deal with it.

Taking a few deep breaths or counting slowly to 10 when you start to feel anxious can help you control the immediate impact it can have on your day. According to the American Heart Association, 10 minutes of peace, quiet, and slow breathing can help you alleviate the influence of stress on your mind and allow your body to relax.

Positive reaffirmation can be beneficial to calming those moments where you feel overwhelmed. Similarly you can find solace throughout your day with common practices such as meditation, yoga, or exercise.

Remaining Aware of the Mind and Body

It's important to pay attention to how much stress you are dealing with in your life and take the appropriate action to avoid the negative health consequences. Give your mind and body the daily support you need so you can take on the task at hand and allowing yourself to maintain a healthy mind and body.

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Can Exercise Influence the Balance of Good Bacteria in Your Gut?

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Can Exercise Influence the Balance of Good Bacteria in Your Gut?Today more and more of what goes on in your stomach is being put under a microscope—in some cases quite literally. Gut health has been linked to many aspects of overall health, including your immune system, weight management, nutrition, and even mood. There’s much more going on in your gut than just the breaking down of food to extract the nutrients your body needs. Understanding how you can support your digestive system and your overall well-being with good bacteria can give you an added advantage to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

 

Making Way for the Good Bacteria

For most people, the mention of bacteria conjures pictures of harmful microbes that are associated with germs and sickness. However, there are actually millions of good bacteria, or probiotics, lining your colon that help your body digest nutrients. Probiotics also help battle bad bacteria that can wreak havoc on your immune system, energy levels, and overall health in general. While your diet is a large indicator of what your gut health can look like, a new study shows that even exercise can be beneficial in tipping the scales in the favor of the healthy flora your gut needs.

An Exercise in Better Gut Health

While diets can vary from person to person, researchers wanted to explore the degree to which exercise and diet in combination might be beneficial to the good bacteria count in your gut by observing several test groups. One test group consisted of rugby players due to their adherence to a more extreme diet and intense physical training. Athletes are prone to eating a more varied diet which would help enrich gut flora. The other control groups consisted of two groups of men: One group that had a normal body mass index (BMI) and engaged in periodic light exercise, while the second group were primarily sedentary and were considered overweight or obese. As one would expect, the group of athletes—due to their high level of activity and more varied diet, which included a higher protein intake—had not only more good gut bacteria, but also a variation in particular strains which has been linked to promoting healthy weight management and reduced risk of inflammation.

Food Quality Matters

Researchers and critics were quick to point out, that while these results do show a lot of promise, the link between exercise and healthy gut bacteria cannot be definitively proven from this study. Besides engaging in more physical activity, the athletes ate better-quality foods such as more fruits and vegetables compared to the sedentary test subjects who ate more snacks and processed foods. Diet, as many know, plays a major role in the health of your gut. Processed foods contain sugar, which can stimulate the growth of bad bacteria whereas fermented foods promote good bacteria growth. Health experts also caution against consuming too much protein if you aren’t a professional athlete because the metabolisms of athletes are very different from an average person’s.

Catering to Your Gut for Better Health

The study does make it clear though that sufficient levels of gut bacteria are crucial to overall health. People with more active lifestyles usually have a more varied, nutritious diet that supports healthy levels of gut bacteria, so even if the direct relationship between exercise and gut health hasn’t been established, it’s always a good idea to be physically active. Catering to your gut health with a balance of exercise, healthy eating, and probiotic supplementation is a great way to help the good bacteria in your digestive system gain the upper hand on gut health and lead to more optimal living.

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