Are you feeling moody? Anxious? Depressed? Trouble sleeping? Sluggish or overactive digestion and bowel movements? Low libido/sexual desire? Poor concentration?
There is common thread running through these symptoms: a lack of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is one of more than 40 neurotransmitters found throughout the nervous system. It is intimately tied to our sense of well-being.
Ah Shakespeare. Sweet dreams, the ultimate good night’s sleep, something we all treasure. Dreams are just one part of our nighttime journey. Besides dreams, what else goes on while we sleep?
There is a kind of circadian rhythm dance of light and darkness that goes on within neuron centers inthe hypothalamus, thalamus, the brain stem, and the forebrain which produce both wakefulness and the need for sleep.
We have light sensitive neurons in the hypothalamus which produce neuro-chemicals that promote wakefulness. The longer we are awake, and as the day goes on, different neurons within the hypothalamus produce neuroactive chemicals, known as somnogens, that promote sleep. Somnogens accumulate during the day, promote drowsiness, and prepare the brain to sleep.
Eventually somnogens take over and we sleep. There are many different somnogens involved in sleep. The most studied somnogen is adenosine. It is interesting to note that caffeine (not just from coffee) blocks adenosine receptors, which is why caffeine helps to keep us awake.
Many people have heard of the somnogen Melatonin. It is often used as a helpful, natural aid to falling asleep. Two other very important neurochemicals are GABA and galanin. Both GABA and galanin are produced by neurons in the hypothalamus and are distributed throughout the brain. They inhibit all wake-promoting areas of the brain.
Stages of Our Sleep
Galanin is very important in learning and memory. It is during sleep that memories are laid down, another reason sleep is so important to learning.
So our neurochemicals have done their job and now we are asleep. Actually, sleeping is not just one simple activity. Sleep happens in cycles of about 90 minutes each. During these cycles, brain wave activity changes and activity in both brain and body also changes.
When we think about getting enough sleep, we also need to realize it is important to have enough complete sleep cycles. The quality of our sleep is just as important as how long we are sleeping and whether we constantly awaken or enjoy several uninterrupted sleep cycles.
Sleep Scientists Divide Sleep Cycles in Two Major Groups
Rapid Eye Movement (REM)
Non- Rapid Eye Movement (NREM).
NREM has three stages: N1, N2 and N3
N1 is our time of drowsiness and transition from being awake to falling asleep. This is that phase when we sometimes have sensations of falling or our limbs might jerk or we experience restless legs. Our brain wave activity is moving from Beta waves of 12 to 38 HZ, our waking active brain activity, to Alpha waves of 8 to 12 HZ, our calming, relaxing brain wave activity, on to Theta waves of 3 to 8 HZ. In this stage, we are not fully asleep, yet not fully awake. Our attention to outside stimuli diminishes. Our brains create a mixture of both Theta and Alpha as we drift from drowsiness of N1 into the next stage, N2.
In N2 we are in the most prominent sleep stage. We are deeply asleep and our brain waves consist of varying levels of the Theta wave frequency. We are not dreaming and we are not yet into our deepest sleep. Our brain activity becomes limited as we move into deep sleep.
It is during this phase of sleep, and the deeper stages of N2, that our body detoxifies, cells repair, divide, grow and develop, cell waste products are removed, and children actually grow. Our bodies are relaxed and waste products are sent to the kidneys and on to the bladder. That’s why we need to go to the bathroom as soon as we awaken, or sometimes during the night.
N3 is our Delta wave sleep of .5 to 3 HZ. We are now deeply asleep. All systems of the brain involved with wakefulness have been inhibited. Most neurons are quiet, except for specific neurons designed to inhibit wakefulness. This stage usually occurs within 15 to 45 minutes after the onset of sleep. The duration of deep slow wave sleep depends upon age. The older we are, the less time spent in this stage. Babies and young children spend the most time in Delta wave sleep.
Finally, we have REM sleep. This is a unique brain wave pattern all it’s own. This is the stage where we experience dreams. During REM sleep, our thalamus and cortical areas become active and our eyes move rapidly. Heart rate and breathing increase. Neurons are triggered in the brainstem and down the spinal cord, which produce paralysis of our muscles and limbs to prevent us from acting out our dreams.
REM sleep occurs about 80 to 85 minutes into the sleep cycle. REM sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation, the synthesis and organization of cognition, and mood regulation. Everyone dreams, we usually don’t remember them unless they wake us.
More About Sleep Yet to Come
Sleep and dreaming are essential to good health and clarity of thought. In the final segment of this series, I’ll discuss insomnia and tips for getting a restful, restorative night’s sleep.
Sleep is essential for our bodies to function. It is during sleep that the body removes toxins, and our cells divide, grow, and repair. Without sleep our brains cannot create new neurons, make connections between neurons, and lay down memories. Sleep affects every tissue and system of the body and is crucial to brain function.
Sleep and arousal are dependent upon circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the cycle of day and night, light and dark, and changing season resulting from the earth’s rotation. Deep within the brain are several structures that are responsible for falling asleep and waking. Light and darkness are the triggers that begin a series of events that bring on sleep and help us to awaken.
In addition to being tuned into environmental circadian rhythm, we also have our personal circadian rhythm and our personal internal clock, our chronotype. Whether you are a morning bird or a night owl is actually a genetic trait.
Morning people wake naturally, often not needing an alarm. They love mornings, enjoy breakfast, feel less fatigue during the day, and go to bed early. They often find it difficult staying up for late night parties and outings. Night people frequently have difficulty waking and usually need that alarm, often hitting the snooze button. They like to stay up late and sleep in. Getting up and going in the morning takes them a while. They make great night shift workers because it fits right in with their natural rhythm.
Our sleep/arousal cycle is controlled by several structures located deep within the brain. The hypothalamus, a peanut-sized structure deep within the brain is our internal master clock. The hypothalamus regulates our sleep/arousal patterns, body temperature, hormone release from the pituitary gland, hunger and thirst, sexual behavior and reproduction, and even moods and behavior.
Inside the hypothalamus is a cluster of thousands of nerve cells that receive information about light exposure directly from the retina of our eyes. The brain stem, a structure at the base of the brain that is the beginning of the spinal cord, communicates with the hypothalamus to control transitions between sleep and arousal.
Both the brain stem and the hypothalamus have sleep-promoting cells which produce a chemical called GABA in response to decreasing light and approaching darkness to help us fall asleep. GABA inhibits our level of arousal.
When darkness approaches, the light-sensitive cells within the hypothalamus communicate with pineal gland, a tiny, pea-shaped structure located deep within the brain. The pineal gland then releases melatonin, which increases sleepiness and helps us fall asleep.
Once we are asleep, we experience several stages of brain activity, known as the sleep cycle. In addition to the hypothalamus and the brain stem, several other structures of the brain are involved with the regulation of our sleep cycles and are active during sleep.
Check back shortly to read part 3 of my series on sleep. I will discuss the stages of sleep and the parts of the brain involved. So, stay tuned!
Part One in a 5-Part Series Have you ever heard someone say:
“I would give anything if I could just get a good night’s sleep.” Or “I just don’t know why I can’t get to sleep.” Or “It seems I just lie awake and can’t stop thinking about stuff.”
Everyone is talking about sleep. Nearly everyday, a news article or internet post appears about the topic. My own research about sleep is eye-opening. So, for the next few blogs, I want to share some of my lessons learned.
Restful, refreshing sleep is undoubtedly one of life’s great pleasures. But we have become a nation of sleep-deprived adults, teenagers, and children. We can’t get to sleep because we’re stressed out and we’re stressed out because we can’t sleep.
Lack of sleep is not just stressful. Scientific research links poor sleep to depression, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, increased colds, poor work performance, work related accidents, and even Type 2 Diabetes.
Why do we struggle to sleep? After all, sleeping is a natural activity. We were born to sleep. It’s written in our DNA. So, sleeping should be a simple biological function. We get tired, we go to sleep. Babies do it all the time.
In actuality, falling asleep and staying asleep are part of a complex symphony of physical and environmental conditions working in harmony. Several different stages of sleep and many different structures within the brain contribute to sleep.
It all begins with something called circadian rhythms. The world runs on circadian rhythms. These are natural periods of light and dark, day and night, and changing seasons, resulting from the rotation of the earth.
All living organisms, from bacteria to plants, to animals, and to humans. Circadian rhythms govern us all. In fact, circadian rhythms influence sleep/arousal cycles, hormone release, eating, digestion, behavior, migration patterns, and even sexual activity.
Humans, like all other vertebrates (animals with backbones), have biological, internal master clocks similar and related to the environmental circadian rhythm. Our internal master clocks form our own personal circadian rhythm. They regulate our sleep/arousal cycles, bodily functions and even moods and behaviors.
Located deep within the brain is our master clock, which is located in a peanut-sized area known as the hypothalamus.
In addition to the hypothalamus, several structures within the brain contribute to the regulation of our sleep/arousal cycle. In the next blog, I will discuss some brain anatomy and physiology involved with the sleep/arousal cycle.
I hope you stay tuned and watch for my next installment.
As mentioned earlier, a significant aspect of self-mothering is self-reflection, becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings on a deeper level. Journaling and meditation go hand in hand to help us develop the habit of being still and listening.
Some people love to journal. They’ve been pouring their heart out, solving problems, complaining and expressing gratitude in writing for years. Other people have tried to keep a journal, find it tedious or just don’t keep it up, or have used it occasionally to remember a special trip or period in their life. Then there are those who have never journaled and find the thought foreign and unappealing.
Personally, I fall into the second group. I am aware that keeping a journal is a powerful tool toward self-discovery, yet, I have never been able to get started and stick with it. However, I have recently discovered a different kind of journal. It is a five-year journal.
A five-year journal allows you to write just a very few lines about your day, a thought, an experience, or an event. It only takes a few minutes at bedtime and there is no pressure. There are no year dates, only a page for each day of the year and each page has five sections of a few lines each. So, the first year, you write the year date and a few lines, then the next year you go back to the same day and can see what you wrote the year before as you begin to describe your current day for the new year.
At the end of the day, you write what has happened. There need be nothing more than that to get you thinking and listening to yourself. As I began to write my few lines, I discovered I often wanted to say something else, but didn’t have any more room for that day. So, I began to write those few extra things into another journal. Suddenly, I was journaling and enjoying the process.
If you have never journaled, or have never been consistent, using a five-year journal could be your gateway to writing and investigating your thoughts and feelings.
In addition to writing our thoughts on a regular basis, meditation is the most ancient practice of self-discovery. The earliest written records of meditation come from Hindu writings 1500 years before Christ. In addition to Hindu traditions, many other religious traditions have included some form of meditation. Meditation was introduced to the United States following World War II, by soldiers who encountered it while serving in the Pacific Theater.
Regardless of which tradition practices meditation, the purpose of meditation is to quiet the mind, become still emotionally and physically, and become open to inspiration and the energies of the universe.
Today we often hear the term “Mindfulness” to describe becoming still and quieting our minds so we can become more fully aware of who we are and where our thoughts lead us. Whether you call it mindfulness or meditation, the result of the practice is a calmer, more relaxed state of being, that often leads to personal insight and personal growth.
Finding time for yourself to learn who you are is a great gift. It is an ultimate expression of self-mothering.
There are online courses and centers all over the country where one can learn the art of mindfulness and meditation. All you have to do is Google. I encourage you to search the internet to find books, centers, courses, DVD’s, and/or CD’s that appeal to you. The practice of meditation will change your life.
To end this series, I am including a list of references to help you in your search toward self-love, self-mothering, and better health.
To mother is to nurture, to give freely of love and support with the only reward sought that of seeing your loved ones standing straight and tall and always facing the sun. The interesting thing about mothering, is that it does not require giving birth. Mothering can be done by either sex, whether married or single, childless or having several children.
Even more intriguing, it is possible to mother ourselves. So, what does that look like? Well, the first step is to observe ourselves and become aware of how we treat ourselves. Listen to how we talk to ourselves. Become aware of our train of thought.
Thoughts have energy, thoughts become actions. Negative thoughts create illness, both in our own bodies and in the world. Negative thoughts destroy self-worth and prevent us from achieving our true potential. We need to notice the influences around us and consider whether there are negative or positive influences in our lives.
Like thoughts resonate with like thoughts. We actually become the company we keep because we share energy with those around us. When we become aware of our own thoughts and energies, we also become attuned to the energies of those around us. We begin to recognize positive and negative influences and make choices accordingly.
It is a fact that anything the human mind can imagine can become reality. Look at all the wonderous things we have invented and accomplished. Everything began as a thought, an idea. What thoughts are affecting our lives? If we find we are surrounded by negativity, it might be time to seek a more positive and supportive environment to help change our own thoughts.
Next, look closely at how we behave toward ourselves, how we treat our bodies. Are we treating our bodies with respect? Do we engage in activities that are known to cause harm, illness, and even death? This does not imply that we must just sit in a corner and never taste life. We can all benefit from adventure and daring activities in our lives, but they can be done safely, without undo risk to ourselves or others.
Respecting our bodies also means balancing work with relaxation, getting enough sleep to refuel and rebuild the cells of our body and our brains. It means finding time to be still so we can find inspiration.
What about what we take into our bodies? Smoking, alcohol to excess, street drugs, overuse of prescription drugs, and diets of fast food, sugary drinks, candy, fatty foods, and junk food are all things scientifically proven to be harmful. Nicotine and sugar are highly addictive substances. They go right to the pleasure centers of the brain, in fact sugar has been found to be is as addictive as heroin. Sugar has no place in a healthy diet.
Overcoming addiction is not a self-help activity. It requires intense intervention, a support system, participation in a program to provide guidance and encouragement, and a deep commitment to become free. Although difficult and requiring lifelong commitment, escaping the chains of additiction can become one of the greatest triumphs of your life.
Check back in two weeks, when we will publish part two of this three-part series.
I am passionate about education. As a former special education teacher with more than 30 years of experience, I love helping children succeed. In order for kids to truly succeed, they must read. Yet, one in five children struggle with learning how to read due to dyslexia and other language learning difficulties.
In 1887, Dr. Rudolf Berlin, an ophthalmologist, coined the word “dyslexia” to describe adults who could not read the printed word despite the absences of visual abnormalities. He assumed, correctly, that the cause of this “word blindness” must be within the brain.
In the 1920’s, Dr. Samuel T. Orton studied children who had reading and language processing difficulties. He determined that their difficulties must lie within the brain. He worked to formulate a set of principles for teaching such children.
Anna Gillingham, a gifted educator and psychologist, who mastered language, began working with Dr. Orton to help him develop instructional materials and strategies. So began the Orton-Gillingham method, still considered the gold standard for teaching reading.
Fast forward to 2019. 132 years have passed since the word dyslexia entered our language. In those intervening years, the debate has raged as to the cause and cure for dyslexia. The debate is now over!
Thanks to MRI, combined with scientific investigation of methods for teaching reading, we know (unequivocally) that dyslexia results from a brain-based, neurological origin. And, most importantly, we know how to teach children with dyslexia to read.
The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) has determined that to achieve this vision of a classroom where every child reads, we must educate the TEACHERS. In this new century, the focus of IDA is to become part of every university that has an education strand and to provide curriculum and accreditation so that every teacher knows the structure of language and effective reading instruction.
Imagine a classroom where every child is successful, and every child can read. This is the goal of the IDA. For almost 100 years, IDA has been in the forefront of scientific research to discover and promote development of the most effective method for teaching children to read.
IDA is promoting a method of instruction, coined “Structured Literacy” which is even now being introduced and used in several universities. This approach not only benefits children who struggle with learning to read, but it is so fundamental and natural that every child can excel.
By donating to and being a member of IDA, you enable and support achieving the reality of our goal and our vision of EVERY CHILD READING.
We are a culture obsessed with finding the “next best thing.” And our diets are no exception. We’re constantly bombarded with new diet trends, “must-have” supplements, “miracle cures,” and “superfoods.” So, how will you recognize those things which are worth incorporating into your diet? In this blog post, I’m focusing on a diet which has stood the test of time — a plant-based diet, often used interchangeably with terms “vegetarian” or “vegan” diets. Note that my use of the word “diet.” This doesn’t reflect a fad, but rather a lifestyle.
Perhaps you’ve wondered what the difference is between a vegetarian and vegan diet?
While these two diets are similar, key differences exist. Modern vegetarians tend to consume dairy (lacto) and eggs (ovo), and some also include seafood (pescatarian). Vegans, on the other hand, do not consume or useany animal products. Veganism is a lifestyle, while vegetarianism is a diet. Read More
Our brainwaves change according to our physical activity, our mood, our thoughts and feelings, and whether we are awake or asleep. Like musicians playing their instruments during a symphony, our brainwaves work together in harmony.
That the brains of mammals produce electrical pulses has been known to science since 1875. Actual recordings of brain waves in an animal were made in 1912. Brain wave activity in the human brain has been studied since 1924, when the first recording of human brain wave activity was made.
Electricity is measured in units of frequency known as hertz. A hertz is defined as one cycle per second and is named for Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, the first person to provide conclusive proof of the existence of electromagnetic waves. An electroencephalograph machine (EEG) measures the brain’s electrical activity.
Brain wave activity originates with the electrical activity of individual neurons communicating together and is happening continuously throughout waking and sleeping. Although we now know the human brain produces seven different electrical brain wave patterns, four basic patterns are the most studied and the most understood.
Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Theta
All brain wave patterns are active all of the time. However, brain wave patterns vary and dominate depending on level of a person’s activity, concentration, or mood, and whether awake or asleep.
Beta is a fast wave. It varies between 12 to 38 hertz depending on our level of activity, concentration and focus, as well as our mood and level of excitement or anxiety. Beta is dominate during our waking hours. Important in activities of problem solving, judgment and decision making, beta waves are essential for healthy waking activity.
Alpha waves are also dominate during waking hours, but they are a slower wave of 8 to 12 hertz. Beta takes a lot of energy and the brain needs to relax intermittently. Alpha waves represent the brain’s relaxation or resting state. The brain constantly uses Alpha along with Beta. Alpha occurs when we close our eyes, think quiet thoughts, day dream, meditate, or feel calm. Alpha is important for overall mental coordination, mind/body integration, calmness and alertness, and integration of learning.
Theta waves are slow waves of 3 to 8 hertz. These dominate during sleep during deep meditation. Theta reveals our brains withdrawing from the external world to focus within. During Theta, learning and memory record. It is while in Theta that we experience our dreams. Theta is also a healing and regeneration state for the body.
Delta waves dominate during deep, dreamless sleep. They are slow waves of .5 to 3 hertz. Deep body regeneration and healing occur during Delta. There is complete disengagement from the external world as the brain and body go deeply inward. It is difficult to awaken a person from Delta sleep and children are almost impossible to waken from Delta.
As mentioned earlier, our brainwaves work together in harmony, but when there is a disruption of this harmonic condition, there is a disruption in brain function. Brain wave balance is critical to emotional and neurological health. Anxiety disorders, sleep problems, nightmares, autism, impulsive behavior, anger/aggression, depression, chronic nerve pain and spasticity reveal over-arousal of certain brain areas. Scientists attribute under-arousal of certain brain areas to attention deficit, chronic pain and insomnia.
Conditions as tic disorders, epilepsy, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, migraines, sleep apnea, teeth grinding, vertigo, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) reveal instabilities in brain rhythms. Traumatic brain injury(TBI) concussion, stroke, and coma all affect brain wave balance and brain function.
The brain is constantly changing and evolving; constantly creating new neurons. Neuroplasticity equals adaptability, growth and change. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to heal itself from injury. Due to advances in EEG technology, it is possible to provide feedback to the brain on whether brain waves are in sync.
During neurofeedback, technicians place electrodes on the scalp, attached to specialized EEG machines. These display images on computer screens and generate sounds to detect and measure different brainwaves. The images and sounds provide information, known as feedback, and allow the brain to learn to reharmonize the various brain waves and allow the brain to reregulate and return to harmonic balance.
Our brains determine our emotional states, our perceptions, and our reactions to the world around us. Our brains are complex, magnificent, and mysterious. We still have much to learn about who we are and how our brains work.
We are electrical beings. Our bodies produce electricity every second of every day. Our heart beats because of rhythmic, electrical pulses created by specialized cells located within the heart itself. The 100 billion neurons in our brain constantly create electrical pulses every second of every day.
Brain electricity is like a symphony. Our brain creates synchronized electrical pulses generated from masses of neurons communicating with each other. This electrical activity is known as brainwave activity.