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.
Are you quarantined due to Covid-19? Perhaps you have lost your job or maybe all you do is go from home to work and back, in order to protect yourself and family. Have you been out of contact with friends and loved ones due to Covid-19?
Are you concerned about friends or family members who are currently ill with Covid-19? Have you lost loved ones to this terrible disease?
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are designed to attack and kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, in the process of doing so, healthy cells are also often attacked and killed. This is one of the reasons these therapies often create unwanted side effects.
During and after chemotherapy treatment, many cancer patients experience feelings of brain fog, fuzzy thinking, or memory difficulties known as chemo brain. Frequently, the effects of chemo brain continue long after the chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment has ended.
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!
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.
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.
Loving ourselves requires thinking about what we eat and how it affects our health and well-being. We are inundated with foods that have been designed for maximum shelf life and maximum taste appeal. Many of these foods contain ingredients that have been genetically modified for any number of different reasons: promote faster growth; resistance to disease; contain chemicals to control insects; create sweeter taste; or to insure longer shelf life.
Processed foods are chemically manufactured using refined ingredients, artificial additives, and high levels of sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup. They are foods engineered to appeal to our natural affinity for sweet, salty and fat, resulting in overconsumption.
Processed foods contain preservatives, colorants, and chemically created flavors and textures. Because processed foods have been engineered to appeal to our taste buds, they are extremely rewarding and can become highly addictive. They often contain refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and are low in fiber and nutrients.
A word about artificial sweeteners: DON’T! We should always avoid putting things into our bodies that were chemically created and have nothing to do with natural processes.
The scientific evidence is clear: plant-based, unprocessed, natural whole food diets have been proven to promote health, prevent disease, and even reverse conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
A plant-based diet consists of emphasis on eating a variety of vegetables and fruits that are supplemented with whole grains, beans and legumes. Animal products, including dairy, if eaten at all, are a very minor part of this way of eating.
The most important aspect of plant-based eating is that it is not a “diet” in the traditional sense. It is a lifestyle choice. The concept of a vegetarian lifestyle, has been talked about for more than 80 years. Robert Bootzin, widely known as Gypsy Boots, was the first person to bring public attention to the importance of organic food, vegetarian eating and fitness. He is actually reported to have opened the very first health food store in the country.
An interesting fact about Gypsy Boots is that in the 1950’s, he was considered a kook, a weirdo, with strange ideas. We now can see he was a leader, so far ahead of his time that people could not understand the truth and wisdom of his teachings. Today, being vegetarian, using organic produce, and exercising to stay fit is a way of life embraced by millions of people. The best part about this lifestyle is that it has been proven by scientific investigation to produce optimal health and prevent disease.
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.