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How Rethinking the Bedroom Can Lead to Better Quality Sleep

When it comes to sleep quality, there are dozens of factors that matter. From what you eat and how you manage your stress level to biological factors and even weather, there are many independent variables involved. But one of the most important – and one that you have total control over – is the bedroom environment. By optimizing the different elements inside your bedroom, you can create an environment that’s highly conducive to sleep and restoration.

Sleeping Surface

Let’s start with the element that your body comes into contact with the most: the mattress, pillow, and bedding. If you don’t get this aspect of your bedroom environment right, nothing else really matters. Signs and symptoms of a poor sleeping surface include:

  • Dust mites
  • Body pain
  • Deformation of the mattress (sagging)
  • Hygiene issues (like mold and mildew)
  • Allergies
  • Joint soreness
  • Lack of sleep

As for the mattress, every body type is different. Some people like an extremely firm mattress, while others prefer something with some more bounce. The only way to get a mattress that’s right for you is to try out some different options. (And if you have the budget, springing for an adjustable mattress is the best course of action.)

Your pillow selection is also important. You need to buy one that’s right for your body type and sleep needs. A pillow that’s too low leaves a kink in the neck; a pillow that’s too high props the head up but quickly becomes uncomfortable; and a pillow that’s just right aligns the neck for optimal support and comfort. An adjustable loft pillow makes it possible to optimize the pillow to the individual’s body type.

As for bedding, you want something that’s breathable and soft on the skin. Some people prefer the comfort of a weighted blanket, while others like down comforters with a bit more fluff. Again, it’s all up to you. The important thing is that you don’t just go with generic selections. By tailoring your mattress, pillow, and bedding to your needs, you’ll enjoy better quality sleep more of the time.

Temperature

While sleep researchers fail to agree upon an exact temperature, it’s pretty clear that ambient room temperature has a direct impact on quality of sleep.

Evidence suggests that anything above 75 degrees Fahrenheit and below 54 degrees will disrupt sleep. The exact number in between depends on a lot of factors, including your body type and personal preferences.

As a general rule of thumb, keep your room slightly cooler than comfortable and then use blankets and comforters to maximize your body heat and keep you warm. The right combination of air conditioning, heat, fans, and humidifiers will also help you sleep better. The best way to find your ideal temperature is through trial and error.

Lighting

Light is very underrated in terms of how it impacts sleep quality. Through your sense of sight, the brain absorbs information about light in the surrounding environment. This information is then used to regulate your internal sleep-wake cycle. As lighting subsides and darkness ensues, your body is encouraged to release hormones like melatonin, which bring on sleepiness. When lighting returns, melatonin levels bottom out and you become more wakeful and alert.

If you maintain an irregular sleep schedule, or if outside light sources like streetlights compromise your bedroom’s darkness, blackout curtains can help restore the proper balance. If you’re worried about the room being too dark in the morning, a sunrise alarm clock could help your body wake up at the right time.

Sound

Though some people seem to be more susceptible to noise than others, research indicates that noise levels as low as 40 decibels can keep us awake at night. That means everything from your next-door neighbor’s sound system to the dripping faucet in the nearby bathroom can rob you of precious sleep.

If you’re the type of person who finds it difficult to sleep through noises – quiet or loud – you may want to invest in a white noise machine. (A simple box fan is also effective.) If you live on a busy street with lots of noise from traffic, soundproof windowpanes would be a worthwhile upgrade.

Room Aesthetics

Research shows that people whose rooms are painted blue tend to sleep longer than those who fall asleep in rooms with different wall colors. The technical explanation is that our eyes have specialized receptors – called ganglion cells – that are most sensitive to blue. When you’re exposed to blue, your blood pressure is reduced, your heart rate goes down, and you feel a greater sense of relaxation. These all positively impact your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep longer.

How’s Your Sleep Environment?

You might think you sleep okay, but it’s easy to be misled when you don’t know what you’re missing out on. If you constantly feel fatigued during the day, feel like you toss and turn at night, and/or have trouble getting up in the morning, you probably aren’t getting as much quality sleep as you need. And while there could be an underlying health condition to blame, you can almost certainly enhance your sleep quality with some simple tweaks to your bedroom environment. Give it a try and see what happens!

Could Biofeedback be the Answer to Your Chronic Health Issues? 

When it comes to chronic health issues – physical or cognitive – healing is something that often feels unattainable. But what if there were a science-backed therapeutic practice that could put you on the road to recovery?

Understanding Biofeedback Therapy

For the most part, you are in control of your body. If you approve of something, you slap your hands together to make a clapping sound. If you want to greet a new colleague, you extend your arm and latch onto the other person’s hand in a formal shake. If you want to walk upstairs, you lift one leg at a time. Each of these actions is controlled through your own willpower and physical effort.

But then there are other bodily functions that seem to be controlled involuntarily – elements like blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, breathing, and muscle tension. Each of these functions has a way of automatically responding to the environment around you without first checking to make sure it’s okay with you.

Biofeedback therapy is a mind-body technique that’s designed to help you gain additional control over involuntary functions like these. In doing so, it lessens the development and/or severity of undesirable conditions, such as chronic pain, high blood pressure, and headaches.

In a biofeedback session, which is led by a certified mental health counselor or therapist in a controlled environment, sensors are attached to the patient’s body and provide readings to a nearby monitoring device. They track information like heart rate, skin temperature, breathing, and perspiration.

With a real-time flow of accurate data, both the patient and therapist are able to see how certain thoughts and stimuli impact the aforementioned functions. From there, various therapeutic techniques – including both physical and cognitive – can be used to positively influence these elements. Targeted breathing exercises, for example, can lower heart rate and blood pressure.

The goal of biofeedback therapy is two-part:

  • The first step is to become aware of how your body responds. For example, you might not even know that you tense up when someone starts talking about finances and money, or that your heart rate increases when your spouse disagrees with you. Biofeedback therapy helps identify triggers and how your body responds.
  • It’s not enough to be aware of your triggers and what impact they have. Biofeedback therapy also provides practical techniques that can be used to address unwanted functions and restore mind-body wellness.

When a patient becomes aware of certain triggers and learns how to address unwanted side effects through very specific exercises, biofeedback therapy is considered a success. Sometimes this can take weeks or months of repeated sessions with a skilled therapist to accomplish.

3 Powerful Benefits

Now that we have an understanding of what biofeedback therapy is and how it works, let’s explore some of the top benefits:

  1. Lowers Stress and Anxiety

Millions of Americans suffer from chronic stress and anxiety on a daily basis – something that’s hard to ward off without a targeted plan that addresses the problem at its root.

“While our bodies are programmed with the fight-or-flight instinct in response to acute stress, studies show that when we experience constant stress it can wreak havoc on our minds and bodies in many ways,” Natalie Buchwald, LMHC from Manhattan Mental Health Counseling notes. “Learning new responses to stress can lead to reduced anxiety, better overall health and a calmer outlook.”

Biofeedback therapy is designed to help patients change how they respond to stressful thoughts and stimuli. Over time, relaxation techniques are shown to significantly reduce rates of chronic stress.

  1. Reduces Chronic Pain

According to the CDC, an estimated 20.4 percent of adult Americans have chronic pain, while 8 percent of the adult population has “high-impact” chronic pain. This includes everything from headaches to joint pain to nerve-related conditions like fibromyalgia.

While biofeedback therapy can’t address physical causes of chronic pain, it can address issues where the pain is brought on through the nervous system. Targeted techniques are able to help reduce muscle tension and other contributing factors.

  1. Addresses Urinary Incontinence

Interestingly enough, those suffering from an issue like urinary incontinence can actually benefit from regular biofeedback therapy sessions.

Women who use biofeedback therapy can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that control the emptying of their bladders. After a few sessions, many patients say they feel a less urgent need to urinate and have fewer accidents.

Trying Biofeedback Therapy

Biofeedback therapy is something that every person can benefit from, regardless of what you’re struggling with. It’s a matter of slowing down, understanding your body, and learning new tactics to help influence what are traditionally thought of as “involuntarily” bodily functions.

Consider scheduling a session with a qualified therapist in your area.

How to Improve Your Safety While Driving (and Why You Should)

Young drivers often underestimate the dangers of being on the road, but despite improvements in road safety and vehicular design, car accidents remain the leading cause of death in the United States. There are situations that are practically unavoidable; for example, bus-related accidents are responsible for 12,000 injuries and 330 fatalities every year. But the vast majority of accidents can be prevented through attentiveness and proactive avoidance.

If you take the problem of road safety seriously, you can both reduce your risk of being involved in an accident and improve your chances of survival, should you become involved in one. The following strategies can help.

Never Drive Intoxicated (or Even Sleepy)

Despite universal public acknowledgment that drunk driving is a problem, people still drive drunk—and thousands of people die every day as a result. If you’re intoxicated, even slightly, it’s your responsibility not to drive. Stay overnight with a friend. Walk home. Get an Uber. Do whatever it takes—just don’t drive while intoxicated.

Similarly, people have a tendency to underestimate the impact that excessive drowsiness can have on their driving. If you’ve been cramming all night at the library, you might feel especially motivated to get home quickly, but if you fall asleep at the wheel, or drift even for a moment, the results could be deadly. Consider taking a nap before leaving or getting a ride from someone else.

Avoid Leaning on New Safety Features

Over the past two decades, car manufacturers have increasingly turned to better safety technologies to keep vehicular deaths and injuries low. Better airbags, antilock brakes, and even semi-autonomous features are now commonplace. Unfortunately, many drivers are using these features as an excuse to drive more recklessly; they feel safer, so they’re more willing to take risks while driving. No matter what type of vehicle you drive, it’s important that you realize your vulnerability, and drive in a way that reduces your risk.

Avoid Distractions and Take Distractions Seriously

It’s a bit of a stereotype that young people are distracted easily while driving, since distracted driving is also a problem in older individuals. But the bottom line is that distracted driving is one of the most common motivators for accidents in the United States.

When you’re driving a car at 60 mph, you’re traveling 88 feet per second. That means if you take your eyes off the road for just 1 second to glance at your phone, your car will travel 88 feet before you have a chance to react to whatever’s in front of you; that doesn’t even account for the increased distance it will take to come to a stop.

It’s important that you take distractions seriously, since even a temporary blip in your field of attention can result in a fatal crash. Turn off your digital devices and keep your eyes on the road.

Increase Following Distance

One of the best ways to increase your safety on the road is to increase your following distance. Increasing the distance between you and the vehicles in front of you gives you more time to react—and even a second or two of extra time is all it takes to comfortably come to a stop and avoid a collision if the driver in front of you acts erratically.

As an added bonus, higher following distances have a nice side effect of reducing the severity and frequency of traffic jams.

Understand and Adjust for Hazardous Conditions

The number and severity of car accidents both increase during hazardous conditions. Rain, snow, hail, ice, fog, and even construction can all make the roads more dangerous. In extreme cases, like whiteout blizzards, it’s best to avoid going out at all.

If you must drive, make sure you understand these conditions and adjust for them. For example, keeping your headlights (not high beams) on in fog can increase visibility, and slowing down while increasing following distance can help you keep control on icy roads.

Keep Your Car in Good Shape

Finally, make sure you keep your car in good condition. College students often forgo making repairs on their vehicles, either out of frugality or due to procrastination. However, any and all issues with your vehicle could increase your likelihood of being involved in a collision; even slight differences in your braking capacity, vehicular control, or performance could compromise your ability to respond to a sudden change in your environment. Take your vehicle in for routine maintenance periodically, changing the oil and rotating the tires, and keep an eye out for any problems so you can correct them before they get any worse.

There’s no such thing as a perfect driver, and there’s no way to reduce your risk of car accidents to zero. However, as a young driver, it’s entirely within your power to prevent and/or reduce the impact of most accidents you would otherwise encounter.

Never underestimate the risk or seriousness of auto accidents, and take your responsibility as a safe driver seriously. While you’re at it, wear your seatbelt at all times—just in case.

The Great Debate: Age, Plastic Surgery, And The Culture Of Beauty

Plastic surgery has always been contentious. Feminists have staged arguments over the ways that plastic surgery supports unrealistic beauty standards, psychologists have treated patients struggling with body dysmorphia and plastic surgery addiction, and unethical practitioners have left patients permanently disfigured. Even among those who think that plastic surgery is generally acceptable or even beneficial, though, there’s plenty of room for debate and one argument that rages surrounds this question: at what age is it appropriate for someone to have a cosmetic procedure done?

It’s Not Kid Stuff

When people debate the issue of age and plastic surgery, it’s not as though there are people out there suggesting surgeons perform rhinoplasty on twelve-year-old kids. In the rare cases that children receive plastic surgery, it’s generally either reconstructive or, occasionally, ear pinning, which is often done due to bullying. No, the real source of debate tends to be those 18 to 21-year-olds who get breast implants or other shaping procedures when they may not even be fully developed.

Concern about young people being influenced to have plastic surgery at a young age, or being overly exposed to unrealistic versions of bodies, Instagram recently announced that they would be banning advertisements for diet products and cosmetic surgery from reaching accounts belonging to minors. Indeed, as part of a broader critique of diet culture and images of unrealistic bodies, Instagram also announced a ban on any weight loss product featuring “miraculous claims” and offering an associated discount code. The bottom line for Instagram, and for many who take issue with early plastic surgery, is this problem of premature exposure and unrealistic expectations.

The Millennial Market

Once we move on from the youth market and their exposure to surgically modified images, we bump into millennials who, in terms of maturity, are certainly old enough to get plastic surgery, we discover something interesting. First, and practically speaking, there are a lot of aesthetic procedures that they may not need yet, such as facelifts.

The oldest millennials are just approaching 40, which is when one plastic surgery practice in Pittsburgh says people often begin considering such procedures. Though they might see some benefits, particularly if they hope to reduce the appearance of acne scars, really significant sagging and wrinkles likely haven’t started yet. They may not be “too young” for a facelift, but they’re not the ideal candidates.

A second consideration for plastic surgeons dealing with the millennial market – and one that’s more meaningful for practitioners than patients – is the overall increase in plastic surgery among this demographic. Why the jump? Many believe it’s because of the increased use of retouching technology and social media image filters. A growing number of millennials are also opting for fillers and other non-surgical procedures instead of surgery. These procedures are more affordable and the effects are temporary, but they also allow younger patients to put off more extreme surgical interventions.

Surgery In Decline?

If millennials are seeing an increase in plastic surgery, even if they may be younger than the majority of past patients, women – previously the main surgery demographic – are actually seeing a decline in facial procedures overall. And in a manifestation of just how complex new technology is, the same motivating factor behind the millennial surgery spike may be driving down women’s numbers overall.

Women are having fewer facial surgeries (and focusing on plastic surgery for other parts of the body) because they can just apply filters to facial images. There may not be filters for real life, but as long as photos look good, these would-be-patients are happy. Interestingly, men are actually having an increasing number of facial procedures since social media filters became a normal part of how people conceptualize their self-image.

Age, Social Media, And The Surgery Scene

In the great debate over plastic surgery and age, will Instagram’s ad bans help when filters are still readily available? It’s a complicated question and there’s not yet enough research to draw conclusions. Though some doctors ascribe to an unofficial diagnosis known as “Snapchat Dysmorphia” – in which patients try to replicate their filtered faces through surgery – it’s also possible that even younger groups who grew up with filters are less susceptible to their effects. On the other hand, this group may be even more attached to the idea that intervention, whether technological or biomedical, can give them the face they want. Only time will tell.

Young people today exist in a complex milieu that’s informed by philosophies like body positivity, but they also see themselves and their peers through a highly filtered, modified lens, and they’re the first generation to do so. While current trends among millennials may provide some insights into what’s next for plastic surgery and the great age debates, millennials may also represent a kind of calm before the storm.

Technology created a mirage and people will undoubtedly chase after it, leaving plastic surgeons holding a heavy burden that will challenge their individual skills and the industry as a whole.

WHO Now Recognizes Job Burnout as a Diagnosable Condition

The term “burnout” has been used for years to describe someone who feels stressed and stuck in their career. But it wasn’t until just a few months ago that the World Health Organization (WHO) became the first significant health organization to legitimize burnout by making it a diagnosable condition.

Job Burnout Gains Credibility

The WHO’s decision to add burnout to its International Classification of Diseases is an important step in the right direction. Here’s the definition they’re giving it:

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

For people who’ve never suffered from burnout, it might seem like an impractical or ridiculous diagnosis. However, it has a very tangible impact on job satisfaction, productivity, and profitability.

Research shows that burnout leads to somewhere between $125 billion and $190 billion in annual healthcare costs. On a micro scale, an employee who suffers from burnout may cost his employer up to 34 percent of his annual salary in lost productivity. Furthermore, it’s believed to be involved in 20 to 50 percent of organizational turnover.

With the WHO backing burnout and bringing legitimacy to the condition, it’s likely that other organizations – including the American Psychiatric Association – will follow suit. This will open the door for more dialogue and solutions.

Identifying and Overcoming Job Burnout

An employee is much more likely to experience burnout in situations where they have high expectations of themselves and/or fail to receive the proper recognition for their effort or results. Job burnout and low self-esteem often go hand in hand. However, even the most confident person can experience burnout if they’re in a job or role that’s not a good fit for their talents and interests.

The key to overcoming job burnout is to identify it early on and to be proactive in dealing with it. Here’s how experts in the field suggest approaching the issue:

  1. Acknowledge Burnout

As any therapist will tell you, the first step to tackling a problem is to admit that you have a problem in the first place.

Many people are in denial that they have burnout – or they’re afraid admitting it will show signs of weakness or inferiority. But burnout isn’t a referendum on your value as a professional. It’s the same as admitting you’re tired, stressed, or anxious.

When you admit that you’re burned out, it gives you the ability to pursue worthwhile solutions. It also provides avenues for other people to come along and provide support and encouragement.

  1. Talk to Your Employer

Don’t be afraid of speaking with your employer and letting them know how you’re feeling.

A good employer understands the seriousness of burnout and will work with you to help you overcome your feelings of boredom and “stuckness.” After all, they want to maximize your productivity in order to enhance profitability. (So speak now or forever hold your peace!)

  1. Attack Burnout From All Angles

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for burnout. In fact, it’s rare that just one change will make a difference. You need to address the issue from as many angles as possible.

Experts agree that it’s best to apply a multidisciplinary approach. This may include things like medical support, nutrition, exercise, yoga, and psychological and emotional therapy. When you address your situation from a holistic health perspective, it helps to reframe and reenergize.

  1. Get Serious About Relaxing

Many burnout sufferers grow exhausted of the grind, yet they never force themselves to slow down and relax. If you’re intent on escaping burnout and finding relief, you have to take relaxation more seriously.

If you’re working 10 hours per day and sleeping for another seven hours, that means you have just seven hours of time away from work each day. And if you consider that some of this time is dedicated to things like commuting, parenting, and household chores, you’re probably looking at less than three hours of true free time.

Whatever you do, make sure you aren’t working on your laptop or fielding phone calls during this brief window. Try reading (non work-related material), exercising, watching a movie, or going on dates with your significant other.

The Changing Face of the Workforce

By labeling job burnout as a diagnosable condition, the WHO has legitimized an issue that millions of people struggle with on an annual basis. The only question is, what do we do now?

The American workforce changes and evolves over time. As we move forward, it’ll be interesting to study how issues like job burnout impact productivity, output, and profitability for future generations. Solutions will certainly emerge, but it’ll be up to business owners, employees, and their families to decide which ones are feasible and which ones are inefficient.

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