Will Your Sleep Improve if You Take Melatonin Tablets Regularly?

The twenty-fifth and last variable that I tested in 2017 to examine its impact on sleep is melatonin. I will see if taking melatonin every night for a week can have a substantial effect on my sleep quality. 

I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective melatonin can be for improving sleep.

HOW COULD MELATONIN IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?

Melatonin is naturally produced in the body. It is considered the sleep hormone, and it usually begins to be released about two hours before we normally fall asleep at night.

If you are young and healthy, there is a good chance that your brain already produces enough melatonin. In this case, adding melatonin in tablet form may not make much of a difference to your sleep at all.

As people age, sometimes they don’t produce enough melatonin naturally, so taking pills can help them to sleep better. It’s also really good if you have a delayed circadian rhythm (internal body clock) and want to bring your sleep times forward, or if you have jet lag and again want to sleep at times that are more appropriate for your new timezone.

By combining melatonin at the right time with light exposure at the right time, people can shift their internal body clock by as much as two hours every day. Bigger doses may make you feel sleepier, but doses as small as 2mg still have phase shifting properties, meaning they can help you to fall asleep earlier at night.

Melatonin can be bought over the counter in the US, and this is what I did while I was there to try it out. In Australia, you need a prescription, and this can be provided by your GP.

THE EXPERIMENT

addiction chemistry close up colors 

For the first week, I took melatonin tablets 90-120 minutes before I wanted to sleep. This was as early as 8pm on the Friday, and as late as 11pm on the Saturday.

For the second week, I took no melatonin tablets, and have not taken any since then either.

Let’s see if the melatonin pills had any impact on my sleep for the week…

THE OUTCOME

sleep diary episode 25 - melatonin.jpg

Comparison: Melatonin vs No melatonin

Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. No melatonin – 0.86 per night
    2. Melatonin – 1 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. No melatonin – 7 hours 49 minutes
    2. Melatonin – 7 hours 28 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. Melatonin – 10:59 pm
    2. No melatonin – 10:38 pm
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. No melatonin – 7 hours 24 minutes
    2. Melatonin – 7 hours 4 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. Melatonin – 10.71 minutes
    2. No melatonin – 12.86 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. No melatonin – 12.14 minutes
    2. Melatonin – 13.57 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. Melatonin – 6:27 am
    2. No melatonin – 6:27 am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. No melatonin – 4.57/5
    2. Melatonin – 4.29/5
      • more is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. No melatonin – 94.67%
    2. Melatonin – 94.64%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

With a count of 6.5 points to 2.5 points, the no melatonin week was a generally better week of sleep than the week where I took melatonin tablets every night.

Both weeks were much better than the two weeks prior when I was experimenting with creativity before bed, but it’s hard to know if the second week was better because I had taken melatonin the week before it, or if it was better because I was on holidays and was more relaxed during the days as well as at night time.

I flew down to Tasmania on Boxing Day and spent a really nice week in a secluded spot right on the coast, so I do think this could have contributed to the better sleep I experienced in the second week.

This means that melatonin is potentially helpful, but other factors may play a bigger role than just taking a tablet if you want a consistently better night of sleep. 

IS TAKING MELATONIN REGULARLY A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

white and beige medicine

IS IT EFFECTIVE?

It depends. It has been shown to be effective for people with jet lag, delayed sleep phase disorder, astronauts in outer space, blind individuals and the elderly. For me, it did lead to better sleep than the two weeks before it, but not as good a sleep as the week after I stopped taking it.

I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy a 13/25.

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

It can, but you need a prescription for it in Australia from your GP, and then the tablets can get costly over time if you need to keep refilling your prescription. It’s much easier to take it in the US as they can be bought over the counter.

Once you have melatonin tablets, it still becomes important to know if you are taking the right medication for your sleep problem. A regular review by a sleep physician would help to ensure you are taking the right tablet at the right dose at the right time. This can be expensive, but it is important to ensure you are doing what is best for your sleep and overall health.

I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy a 15/25. 

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

Garfinkel, Laudon and Zisapel (1995) found that controlled-release melatonin can improve sleep quality in the elderly more than a placebo can. This helps to offset the decline in natural melatonin production, and is especially effective for elderly people who complain of insomnia (Garfinkel et al., 1995).

A 2005 meta-analysis by Brzezinski and colleagues found that across 17 studies, melatonin reduced time taken to fall asleep by 4 minutes, increased sleep efficiency by 2.2%, and increased total sleep time by 12.8 minutes. For people with insomnia and no other medical conditions, the improvements in sleep efficiency and total sleep time can be even greater (Brzezinski et al., 2005).

A more recent meta-analysis showed the strongest benefits for melatonin in individuals with delayed sleep phase disorder, primary insomnia and blind patients (Auld, Maschauer, Morrison, Skene & Riha, 2017).

As Gandhi and colleagues (2015) said, melatonin is required for effective sleep regulation. For a lot of people, this occurs internally at the right times. Where it doesn’t, external melatonin given at the right time can help.

I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 40/50.

Overall, taking melatonin tablets regularly at night as a way to sleep better gets a score of 13/25 + 15/25 + 40/50 =

68/100: Credit

dingzeyu-li-773

WHAT I RECOMMEND

First, get some morning sunlight if you are wanting to go to bed a bit earlier at night. Even 30 minutes shortly after you wake up can help you to feel more energetic during the day and get to bed earlier at night.

Avoid any devices that emit blue-light in the last two hours before bed. If it’s a phone or a tablet and you want/have to be on it, but it on night mode under the brightness and display in your general settings. If it is your computer and you want/have to be on it, download f.lux and have it installed on your computer. If it is the TV and you want/have to watch it, buy a pair of blue-light blocking glasses and put them on in the past two hours before sleep. There are even new lights that you can have installed in your house that become more orange/red in colour the closer it gets to bedtime. All of these things are likely to assist you more than melatonin tablets.

If you have tried all of the above strategies and you are still not sleeping at the times you want to, see your doctor or get a referral to see a sleep physician. They will tell you if melatonin is likely to be helpful for you, how much to take, and when to take it.

Thanks for reading and coming along on my sleep experiment journey for all of 2017. If you would like a personalised sleep report and individualised recommendations on the five best things that you could do to improve your sleep, please check out our services.

Would Being More Creative Improve Your Sleep?

The twenty-fourth variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine their impact on sleep is creativity. I will see if using mindfulness colouring books, doing jigsaw puzzles or playing on DJ decks can have a substantial effect on sleep quality. 

I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective creativity in the evening can be for improving sleep.

HOW COULD CREATIVITY IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?

Creativity is something kids seem to do naturally when they are younger. However, Sir Ken Robinson believes that schools kill our creativity:

What if we could get back to our playful youths, and enjoy simply doing something fun or creative at night? Would it help us to feel more relaxed, and as a result sleep better?

 

THE EXPERIMENT

woman pouring down a brown paintFor the first week, I did a mindfulness colouring book for at least 30 minutes in the evening of the first three night, a jigsaw puzzle for at least 30 minutes for the middle two nights, and played on my DJ decks for at least 30 minutes for the last two nights.

For the second week, I did no creative activities before bed, but tried to keep everything else as consistent as possible to the first week.

Let’s see if the three different creative outlets had any impact on my sleep for the week…

THE OUTCOME

sleep diary episode 24 - creative outlets.jpg

Comparison: Creativity vs No creativity

Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. No creativity – 1.14 per night
    2. Creativity – 1.57 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. Creativity – 7 hours 43 minutes
    2. No creativity – 7 hours 30 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. No creativity – 10:39 pm
    2. Creativity – 10:16 am
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. Creativity – 6 hours 56 minutes
    2. No creativity – 6 hours 52 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. No creativity – 14.29 minutes
    2. Creativity – 17.86 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. No creativity – 23.57 minutes
    2. Creativity – 28.57 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. No creativity – 6:09 am
    2. Creativity – 5:59 am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. No creativity – 4.29/5
    2. Creativity – 4/5
      • more is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. No creativity – 91.59%
    2. Creativity – 89.97%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

With a count of 7 points to 2 points, the no creativity week was a generally better week of sleep than the week after spending at least 30 minutes doing something creative before bed. This is not promising for creativity overall as a strategy, but let’s look at them individually.

The DJing was super fun, but probably a bit too energising and led to me staying up a lot later on those nights and not sleeping as well.

I found the mindful colouring books a bit annoying, as colouring or drawing has never really been my forte, and probably brought up some unpleasant memories from when I was young. My sleep was worse on those nights as a result.

The one promising finding, and something that is worth looking at over a longer period of time for me is doing a jigsaw puzzle. By finding one that wasn’t too challenging and completing it by the second evening, I found it pretty relaxing and slept very soundly once I was asleep.

IS CREATIVITY A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

blue and purple color pencils

IS IT EFFECTIVE?

It wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be for you. Doing jigsaw puzzles was a fun way to unwind at the end of the day, and I ended up sleeping better on those two nights. Mixing music was not as relaxing even though it was fun, and colouring annoyed me.

I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy a 12/25.

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

It definitely can. Just find something that you would enjoy doing and that you find relaxing, and then give it a go. This might be writing a story, knitting, colouring, drawing, painting etc. Once you have bought the materials, give it a go for 30 minutes each night pre bed and see if it helps you. If you can find something that you can do with someone else, even better.

I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy a 20/25. 

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

There is a lot of evidence that sleep can improve creativity the next day, with certain smells present during sleep further enhancing this creative potential (Ritter, Strick, Bos, Van Baaren & Dijksterhuis, 2012).

A more recent study even found that an abusive supervisor at work can reduce employee creativity by contributing to emotional exhaustion and sleep deprivation in the employee (Han, Harms & Bai, 2017).

I couldn’t find much evidence going in the other direction, however. One study looked at individuals higher in visual creativity, and found that it was associated with worse sleep quality, more disturbed sleep and increased daytime dysfunction (Ram-Vlasov, Tzischinsky, Green & Shoat, 2016). Higher verbal creativity was associated with more sleep overall and a delayed circadian phase (Ram-Vlasov et al., 2016). This doesn’t tell us what comes first, but creativity may not be the solution to better sleep.

I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 20/50.

Overall, engaging in creative outlets before bed as a way to wind down and sleep better gets a score of 12/25 + 20/25 + 20/50 =

52/100: Pass

top angle photo of child holding pencil while drawing female angel playing wind instrument

WHAT I RECOMMEND

Find something that helps you to switch off from work at the end of a busy day, not worry about sleep that night, and feel nice and relaxed and sleepy before you go to bed. If this is a creative outlet and it helps you to wind down and sleep well, then go for it. If it is something fun that you can do with your partner, housemates or family, even better.

If creativity doesn’t help, just move onto your next experiment and strategy that might assist your sleep. I’d recommend reading, music or meditation, but there are plenty of other strategies too.

Thanks for reading! If you would like a personalised sleep report and the five best things that you could do to best improve your sleep, please check out our services.

Can Doing Yoga or Pilates Regularly Assist Sleep?

The twenty-third variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine their impact on sleep is yoga and pilates. I will see if doing yoga or pilates in the early evening can have a substantial effect on sleep quality. 

I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective yoga and pilates can be for improving sleep.

HOW COULD YOGA AND/OR PILATES IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?

When I was a teenager, I remember thinking yoga was just for new age hippies. I stayed as far away from it as I possibly could. The funny thing is that it actually could have helped me a lot. I was a super stressed kid who generally worried about things and was way too hard on himself. Taking an hour out of my day to reconnect with my body and calm down would have done me wonders if only I gave it a shot. Instead, it wasn’t until I was 29 when I first tried it.

Of all the types of yoga, Bikram or hot yoga is probably the toughest I’ve tried. I was exhausted and dehydrated after the 90-minute session, and generally more relaxed, but mostly just relieved that the session was done. Yin yoga is the most relaxing that I have tried, and I even fell asleep for a little bit during a session the last time I tried it.

My first exposure was to pilates was a little earlier – probably 25. My mother bought a reformer machine after seeing it on a late night infomercial (she doesn’t sleep too well at times). I ended up using the machine more than she did, and found that it really did improve my core strength and reduce my lower back pain. I’m not too sure if it helped my sleep though.

THE EXPERIMENT

For the first week, I was in the USA visiting friends and did 30-minutes of yoga for the first four days in the late afternoon/early evening and 30 minutes of floor pilates for the next 3 days in the late afternoon/early evening.

For the second week, I flew back from the USA to Melbourne and did no yoga or pilates for the week.

Let’s see if the yoga or pilates sessions had any impact on my sleep for the week…

THE OUTCOME

Comparison: Yoga or Pilates vs No treatment

Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. Yoga/Pilates – 1.29 per night
    2. No treatment – 2.2 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. No treatment – 7 hours 29 minutes
    2. Yoga/Pilates – 7 hours 19 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. Yoga/Pilates – 10:57 pm
    2. No treatment – 10:01 pm
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. Yoga/Pilates – 6 hours 46 minutes
    2. No treatment – 6 hours 42 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. No treatment – 10 minutes
    2. Yoga/Pilates – 12.86 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. Yoga/Pilates – 20 minutes
    2. No treatment – 37 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. No treatment – 7:16 am
    2. Yoga/Pilates – 5:30 am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. Yoga/Pilates – 4.29/5
    2. No treatment – 3.6/5
      • more is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. Yoga/Pilates – 92.51%
    2. No treatment – 89.53%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

With a count of 7 points to 2 points, the week where I did yoga and pilates was better than the week of no interventions.

The most significant asterisk with this two weeks is me being on holidays for the first week in the USA, then flying back to Melbourne, and then going back to work for 3 of the 5 days in the second week. Coming back to work after a holiday usually means more stress, and flying back from the US usually means jetlag. Me having an average wake-time of 5:30am the second week is a good indicator of the jet lag I was experiencing, as this is much earlier than I would typically get out of bed in the morning.

Yoga and pilates seemed to improve my sleep, but it also could have been me taking things a little slower and relaxing while I was on holidays, plus I was enjoying spending time with American friends that I hadn’t seen for a while. It’s hard to know what led to the improvements in comparison to the week after.

IS DOING YOGA OR PILATES A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

IS IT EFFECTIVE?

It seems to be. Like I said, being on holidays, having a less hectic day and in general feeling less stressed during the first week could have led to the better sleep, The regular yoga and pilates did seem to help me to tune into what I was feeling in my body, and this led to a bit better sleep that night.

I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy an 18/25.

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

Yes. Especially if you just type in yoga or pilates workout on youtube and you have access to a smartphone, it doesn’t cost anything and only requires 30 minutes a day. If you wanted to go to classes on a regular basis instead, it would become expensive and time-consuming quickly. This makes it a little bit less accessible than some other strategies.

I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy a 17/25. 

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

Yoga was shown to improve sleep quality, sleep efficiency, the time taken to get to sleep, total sleep time, fatigue, overall well-being, depression, anger, stress and vitality, as well as improved physical, emotional and social functioning in older adults (Halpern et al., 2014). It can also improve depression, posture and sleep quality in children with cerebral palsy (Gokcek et al., 2017).

A meta-analysis of eight English-language pilates studies showed that pilates produces a significant reduction in depression, anxiety and fatigue and significantly increases feelings of energy (Fleming & Herring, 2018). A 2014 study by Ashrafinia and colleagues found that 8 weeks of pilates 30-minutes a day, 5 days a week in postpartum women led to improved sleep quality, reduced sleep latency and improved functioning during the day. It can also enhance the quality of sleep in individuals with chronic heart failure (Naqadeh, 2017).

I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 37/50.

Overall, using yoga or pilates as a strategy to sleep better gets a score of 18/25 + 17/25 + 37/50 =

72/100: Distinction

WHAT I RECOMMEND

Yoga and pilates both have a wide array of benefits for individuals who engage in these practices on a regular basis. If you haven’t tried them yet, and you struggle from pain, fatigue, reduced energy, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress or sleep problems, give it a go for a month if you can, and see what type of difference it can make in your life.

Yoga and pilates are not the most recommended treatments for sleep difficulties or insomnia, but they can help by getting us to tune in and connect with what we feel in our body, which can lower our arousal levels and lead to better sleep at night.

For me, pilates using a reformer machine is fantastic, and yin yoga is super relaxing. Don’t be put off like I was when I was young. If you can go in with an open mind, there is a good chance that it could help you in some way.

Thanks for reading! If you would like a personalised sleep report and the five best things that you could do to best improve your sleep, please check out our services.

Could Sensory Deprivation Float Tanks Help Your Sleep?

The twenty-second variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine their impact on sleep is float tanks. I will see if having two sensory deprivation floats in a week can have a substantial effect on sleep quality. 

I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective float sessions can be in improving sleep.

HOW COULD FLOAT TANKS IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?

Float tanks are a bit of a new health craze. My sister and her partner first bought me a float as a gift voucher for Christmas in 2015, which I used at the Elevation float centre in Hawthorn East in March 2016. Based on this first experience, I found it quite weird but also very relaxing, although I’m not sure if everyone with claustrophobia would agree with me.

On the elevation website, they state that floats can create relaxation, reduce pain, improve mood, increase focus and creativity, lower blood pressure, reduce stress and improve sleep. This may be due to the magnesium absorption from all the Epsom salts, or it could be the calming effect.

With how busy most people are these days, and how connected people are to the world with technology, taking an hour out to give the senses a rest and not be contactable by anyone could be a nice escape. I think if a float session does successfully reduce someone’s arousal levels, they could sleep better that night. What I’m not sure of is if these benefits can last beyond a day. I’m interested to find out.

THE EXPERIMENT

c01_jd_03jun_float2-640x480
Photo Courtesy of Sanjevani Integrative Medicine Health Lifestyle Center.

For the first week, I did no active intervention for my sleep and did not have any float sessions.

For the second week, I had two floats during the day. One on Sunday and one on Wednesday.

Let’s see if the two floats any impact on my sleep for the week…

THE OUTCOME

sleep diary episode 22 - float tank.jpg

Comparison: No float vs Float

Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. Float – 1.14 per night
    2. No float – 1.43 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. No float – 7 hours 29 minutes
    2. Float – 7 hours 07 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. No float – 11:00 pm
    2. No treatment – 9:39 pm
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. No float – 6 hours 50 minutes
    2. Float – 6 hours 26 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. Float – 12.86 minutes
    2. No float – 14.29 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. No float – 24.29 minutes
    2. Float – 28.57 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. No float – 6:29 am
    2. Float – 4:46 am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. Float – 3.86/5
    2. No float – 3.71/5
      • more is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. No float – 91.41%
    2. Float – 90.30%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

With a count of 6 points to 3 points, the no treatment week was a generally better week of sleep than the week after I had two floats.

Similar to the massage experiment that I did, a float session seemed to help me feel more relaxed and sleep better than I otherwise would have that night. However, the improvements did not seem to carry over too much to the rest of the week.

A possible or likely confounding variable was that I flew to the USA on the Saturday morning of the second week and was more stressed trying to get everything ready for this trip. Just because the floats lost this time, does not mean that I think they are harmful to peoples sleep.

IS GETTING REGULAR SENSORY DEPRIVATION FLOATS A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

I-sopod_Flotation_Tank

IS IT EFFECTIVE?

Not really. I definitely slept better on the night after my first float, and fell asleep earlier than usual, obtained 7 hours and 45 minutes of sleep and didn’t wake up at all. My next two nights weren’t good at all though, so unless you can afford to and want to book in floats very regularly, it’s not a very effective long-term strategy for improving your sleep.

I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy a 12/25.

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

It can, but it would be expensive and not very practical. It also wouldn’t be great for people that don’t like confined spaces. I don’t even know if it healthy to be exposed to that much Epsom salts on a regular basis either, but if you are doing it occasionally I think it’s okay.

I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy an 8/25. 

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

In 1994, Schulz and Kaspar found that a 60-minute float didn’t change hormonal concentrations, but it did increase subjective levels of euphoria and relaxation in comparison to 60-minutes of lying on a bed.

 

I couldn’t find anything on sleep in particular, but a 2018 study by Feinstein and colleagues found that a 60-minute float-REST session produced significant reductions from before the session to after it in anxiety, stress, pain, muscle tension and depression in 50 participants with diagnosed anxiety (46 who also had depression). They also found increases in feelings of relaxation, serenity, happiness and overall well-being. However, these symptoms were not reassessed again later in the day, before bed, or on subsequent days, indicating that the improvements may only be transitory (Feinstein et al., 2018).

I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 25/50.

Overall, getting regular sensory deprivation floats as a way to consistently improve your sleep gets a score of 12/25 + 8/25 + 25/50 =

45/100: Fail

man and woman swimming in the sea near brown cliff

WHAT I RECOMMEND

If you want to try a few float sessions, go for it. The amount of things that it can potentially help with means that they are worth a try. I didn’t notice any long-term benefits, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any for you.

If it is summer and you want to float, head down to the beach. If you can do this in the morning and with friends, you get the benefits of vitamin D, the salt from the ocean and the benefits of disconnecting from technology and socialising with your friends. It’s also more physically active than a float tank, which is good for your health too.

If you are low in magnesium, health foods provide magnesium sprays and tablets, and you could even run your own bath with some Epsom salts in it.

If you need to cut down your screen time, try the mobile app ‘Moment’ or the computer plug-in ‘Freedom’.

If you want to learn how to switch off and calm your mind, learn some various strategies to wind down and relax, from meditation to deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Writing down your thoughts and plans can also help.

Thanks for reading! If you would like a personalised sleep report and the five best things that you could do to best improve your sleep, please check out our services.

Do Hot Baths, Steam Rooms or Saunas Improve Sleep Quality?

The twenty-first variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine its impact on sleep is heat and water. I will see if having a sauna, spa or steam session in the evening could assist sleep quality.

I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective saunas, steam rooms and hot baths can be for improving sleep.

bathroom bathtub ceramic clean

HOW COULD HEAT OR WATER IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?

Saunas, steam rooms, hot baths and spas or jacuzzis are used in almost every culture around the world. Which method people use the most varies, but they are often seen as a positive activity for health. This may be the cleansing nature of the task, the relaxation they provide, or even the social or spiritual elements.

I’m not sure if there has been many studies looking directly into the positive benefits these activities can have on sleep, but I do know of a number of clients I see who have a warm bath to unwind and relax at the end of a tough day, in the hope that it may lead to a better night’s sleep for them. I wonder if it will do the same for me.

estonian-saunas-685204-unsplash

THE EXPERIMENT

I am pretty lucky to live in an apartment complex with a steam room, sauna and spa bath or jacuzzi as part of our facilities. This made it pretty easy to test if these activities could assist my sleep.

For the first four nights, I used the steam room for 30-minutes between 9:00 and 9:30pm.

For the middle five nights, I used the sauna for 30-minutes between 9:00 and 9:30pm.

For the last five nights, I used the hot spa with jets for 30-minutes between 9:00 and 9:30pm

Let’s see which intervention had the most positive impact on my sleep…

THE OUTCOME

sleep diary episode 21 - sauna:steam:spa.jpg

Comparison: Steam room vs Sauna vs Spa

Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. Sauna – 0.2 per night
    2. Spa – 0.4 per night
    3. Steam room – 1.75 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. Steam room – 7 hours 47 minutes
    2. Spa – 7 hours 15 minutes
    3. Sauna – 7 hours 0 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. Sauna – 11:14 pm
    2. Spa – 10:53 pm
    3. Steam room – 10:15 pm
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. Steam room – 7 hours 16 minutes
    2. Spa – 6 hours 57 minutes
    3. Sauna – 6 hours 44 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. Steam room – 10 minutes
    2. Spa – 13 minutes
    3. Sauna – 14 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. Sauna – 2 minutes
    2. Spa – 5 minutes
    3. Steam room – 21.75 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. Sauna – 6:19 am
    2. Spa – 6:08 am
    3. Steam room – 6:03 am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. Sauna – 5/5
    2. Spa – 4.6/5
    3. Steam room – 4.25/5
      • more is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. Sauna – 96.14%
    2. Spa – 95.86%
    3. Steam room – 93.31%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

The sauna won 6 categories, and the steam room won 3. Interestingly, the spa with jets did not win any category, but it also wasn’t the worst in any category either.

The sleep quality of 5/5 after the sauna was the best it had been for the entire year, which was quite surprising. I barely woke up at all but didn’t get as much sleep as I did in the other conditions.

IS HAVING A SAUNA OR STEAM OR HOT BATH A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

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IS IT EFFECTIVE?

Yes. With only a half an hour of time in the sauna, steam room or spa about 60-90 minutes before bed, I fell asleep early and quickly and slept well throughout the night. For me, I’d be happy to keep doing any of the three strategies when I felt like it as an excellent way to relax, tune into my body and be mindful in the evening, with the sauna being the most effective. Doing it too closely to bed may not be as helpful as it can take a while to cool down, but the drop in body temperature can also bring on sleepiness and result in faster sleep onset.

I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy a 22/25.

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

This would depend on accessibility. For me, it was easy to apply as I had all three options in my apartment complex. Going to a sauna or steam room could become expensive if you had to pay for it every time, however, and may not be accessible either. If people have a hot bath at home, that could be just as good. A hot shower would be available to most people, but I am not sure if that is as effective.

I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy a 16/25. 

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

A 1985 study by Bunnell and Horvath woke up 10 participants during the middle of their sleep and put them in hot water for 30-minutes before allowing them to go back to sleep. Their core body temperature returned back to normal within 60-minutes. Interestingly, their REM sleep or time taken to get back to sleep was no different than the group that was woken without the hot water immersion. They did have a deeper sleep in their subsequent sleep, especially the second cycle of sleep once they fell back to sleep (Bunnell & Horvath, 1985).

A follow-up study published in 1988 compared people who immersed themselves in hot water (41 degrees) for an hour in the morning, afternoon, early evening, and late evening (Bunnell, Agnew, Horvath, Jopson & Wills, 1988). They found that late evening immersion, which finished just before bedtime resulted in more deep sleep in the first sleep cycle that night. The early evening exposure had a quicker sleep onset time and more deep sleep in the second to fourth sleep cycles that night (Bunnell, Agnew, Horvath, Jopson & Wills, 1988).

A 2018 systematic review by Hussain and Cohen looked at 40 studies on the benefits of dry sauna bathing, including 13 randomised control trials. The majority of the studies reported beneficial health effects, with limited data suggesting a positive impact on sleep.

I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 30/50.

Overall, using a sauna, steam room or hot bath before bed as a way to wind down and sleep better gets a score of 22/25 + 16/25 + 30/50 =

68/100: Credit

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WHAT I RECOMMEND

If you have a bathtub at home, having a 30-minute to 60-minute bath in the early evening or late evening is likely to help you get more deep sleep that night. It could assist in reducing your arousal levels or by producing a drop in your body temperature before sleep. Saunas, spas or steam rooms are what I experimented with and found them all helpful, but there isn’t a heap of evidence suggesting that they are useful for sleep.

Like all of my recommendations, try the technique out for yourself if you think it would help, see if it does work for you, and then if it is easy to build into your regular daily routine, see if it can become a helpful habit for you over time. Don’t try to change everything at once. Start with one thing, see if it works, and then move onto the next thing if it does not.

Thanks for reading! If you would like a personalised sleep report and the five best things that you could do to best improve your sleep, please check out our services.

Shame and Guilt: Which One is Helpful, and How Can We Effectively Manage These Difficult Emotions?

What are shame and guilt?

In the fascinating and comprehensive book ‘Shame and Guilt’ by June Tangney and Ronda Dearing, they describe shame and guilt as universal human emotions that are functionally important at both an individual and a relationship level.

Features shared by shame and guilt (Tangney & Dearing, 2002):

Shame and guilt are both very private and personal emotions, in that they are predominantly internal experiences that are more difficult to observe or measure than a lot of the other universal emotions, such as anger, sadness or joy.

Yet they are also social emotions, in that our experience of these emotions develops during some of our earliest interpersonal skills with our family and those closest to us.

Both shame and guilt can be classed as “moral” emotions, in that our experience of them can hopefully propel us to act more morally.

They are both closely linked with how we see ourselves about others, and they continue to profoundly influence our behaviour in interpersonal situations throughout our lives, especially in contexts involving perceived transgressions, mistakes or moral failures.

Shame and guilt both involve becoming self-conscious following a personal transgression and evaluating our behaviour about our perceived self, familial and societal norms. Based on this evaluation and what we internally attribute the violation to, we then render judgment of our behaviour and potentially internal sanctions towards ourselves if we deem the behaviour to be morally or socially unacceptable.

Although Philosophers and Psychoanalysts have been theorising about shame and guilt for over a century, it is only really since the late 1980s that Psychologists have begun to systematically research and examine the nature of shame and guilt and the implications that these emotions and experiences have. As well as being difficult to directly observe, many people tend not to have a clear understanding of the differences between shame and guilt.

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Features where shame and guilt differ (Tangney & Dearing, 2002):
  1. Focus of evaluation
    • With shame, the focus of evaluation is on the global self (e.g., “I am horrible!“)
    • With guilt, the focus of evaluation is on the specific behaviour (e.g., “What I did was horrible!“)
  2. Degree of distress
    • With shame, the degree of distress is generally much higher than it is with guilt, with greater pain being experienced
    • With guilt, the degree of distress is generally much lower than it is with shame, with less pain being experienced
  3. Phenomenological experience
    • With shame, people tend to shrink and feel worthless, powerless and small
    • With guilt, people tend to feel tense, remorseful, and regretful
  4. Operation of “self.”
    • With shame, the self-becomes split into an “observing self” and an “observer self.”
    • With guilt, a unified self-remains intact
  5. Impact on “self.”
    • With shame, the self becomes impaired by a global devaluation (because of the focus of evaluation on the global self)
    • With guilt, the self is unimpaired by a global devaluation (because the focus of evaluation is on the specific behaviour)
  6. Concern vis-a-vis the “other.”
    • With shame, one becomes concerned with an internalized others’ evaluation of the self
    • With guilt, one becomes concerned with the effect that their specific behaviour has had on others
  7. Counterfactual processes
    • With shame, one tries to mentally undo the undesirable aspects of the self that have become apparent through denial, defensiveness, blaming others or aggression
    • With guilt, one tries to mentally undo the undesirable aspects of their behaviour through being moral, caring, socially responsible and constructive
  8. Motivational features
    • With shame, the desire is to hide, escape, or strike back
    • With guilt, the desire is to confess, apologize, or repair

 

How to measure Shame and Guilt

Before I explain the research findings on shame and guilt in further detail, I challenge you to take the TOSCA (Test of Self-Conscious Affect) – Version 3 to determine if you are more prone to shame, guilt or blaming others across various work and social situations.

When I took it, it was interesting to see that my results were:

I seldom blame others.”

I use guilt self-talk an average amount.”

and

I use shame self-talk an average amount.”

It was nice to see that I do not blame others when I realise that I have made a mistake and that I am often accountable and responsible for my actions. However, it does seem that I tend to punish myself too much following a transgression, especially when it comes to killing a small animal while driving or having a dog run away when I was supposed to be looking after it while my friend was on vacation. But what do these findings mean for real life?

The TOSCA has been used widely in studies on shame and guilt since 1989 and defines guilt as a more adaptive response to a situation where the focus is on the desire to repair or right the specific wrong that has been caused. Shame is seen as a less adaptive response where the attention is on a global negative self-evaluation without any reparation generally being taken.

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Research Findings on Shame and Guilt

Research findings using the TOSCA have found that “Shame and guilt have important and quite different implications for interpersonal relationships.” Based on their 12 years of research, Tangney and Dearing (2002) have found that:

Individuals who are prone to shame:

  • Are more likely to shift the blame to others for adverse events through humiliating others, bullying, and violence.
  • Are more likely to experience bitterness, resentment and a seething kind of anger and hostility towards others and the world. They are also inclined to express their anger in aggressive and non-constructive ways, particularly in close interpersonal relationships. The shame-anger dynamic may help explain what occurs in many domestic violence incidents.
  • Are less likely to be empathetic, as the global self-focus of shame impedes sensitivity and impairs the connection with others.
  • Are more likely to be vulnerable to a range of psychological difficulties through internalising the shame, including depression, low self-worth, self-loathing, eating disorders, and addiction.
  • Are more likely to be suspended from high school, use illicit drugs, engage in unsafe sex practices, abuse their spouses and attempt suicide (when individuals were first assessed in fifth-grade and then followed up on years later).

Individuals who are prone to guilt:

  • Are more likely to understand, empathise and connect with others.
  • Are more likely to accept responsibility for their transgressions.
  • Are less likely to be angry, hostile and aggressive. When individuals do experience anger, they are more likely to express what they feel in a direct, assertive and constructive way.
  • Are less likely to experience psychopathology, as long as the guilt is “shame-free.”
  • Are more likely to apply to college, engage in community service, begin drinking alcohol at a later age, and use birth control (when individuals were first assessed in fifth-grade and then followed up on years later). They were also less likely to try heroin, driving while intoxicated, and be arrested or convicted of a crime.

Is guilt always a helpful emotion?

No. Two maladaptive forms of guilt (Kim, Thibodeau & Jorgensen, 2011) have since been found to be correlated with depressive symptoms to a similar degree to what shame is. These are contextual- maladaptive guilt, which involves an “exaggerated responsibility for uncontrollable events,” and generalised guilt, which involves “free-floating guilt that is unrelated to any specific context” (Kim, Thibodeau & Jorgensen, 2011). This excessive or inappropriate guilt would not be helpful to experience on a regular basis.

 

What Can We Do?

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A. Manage guilt effectively

With guilt, the steps for dealing with the emotion are pretty straightforward:

  1. Has a transgression occurred where you have not lived up to your own (or an internalised other’s) moral standards?
  2. Can you make up for this transgression in any way?
    • By taking responsibility for your action?
    • By fixing the mistake or cleaning up the mess?
    • By genuinely apologising and showing remorse for your actions?
    • By understanding and empathising with the person if they have been hurt?
  3. How can you learn from the mistake so that you are less likely to repeat the same transgression again in the future?
  4. What plan can you put in place so that you are less likely to repeat the same transgression again in the future?

If you are feeling guilty for having a particular thought, please try to understand that we cannot control what ideas will pop into our consciousness. What we can control is how we interpret or respond to the ideas that do arise. Considering that we have at least 10,000 thoughts a day, it is implausible that all of these thoughts are going to be positive, happy, kind, pro-social thoughts.

If it is just a thought, no transgression has occurred, and there is no need to feel guilty, no matter how antisocial, nasty, blasphemous or taboo these thoughts may seem. We can never be charged in a court of law for impure thoughts, and we do not need to put ourselves on trial either. Even psychologically healthy people have weird or unsettling thoughts, as evidenced by this list of common intrusive thoughts (Purdon & Clark, 1992). It is our actions that define our character and how we are seen by others, not our thoughts, so the above steps only need to be worked through when our efforts do not live up to the person that we would like to be.

Once these steps have been worked through, there are no additional benefits that can be achieved by continuing to feel guilty, punishing yourself for your transgression, or not forgiving yourself for your actions. Everyone makes mistakes. What is important is that we utilise guilt as an indicator that we have not been living consistently with our most important values, and then practice these steps so that we can do something about it and have a plan to get back on track.

If you continue to feel guilty after this, try to accept how you are feeling and make room for the emotional experience. Then try to change your focus to whatever is most important to you in the present moment. This could be the sport or computer game that you are playing or connecting with others if you are out socialising. By asking yourself “What’s Most Important Right Now?” it becomes a lot easier to get out of a cycle of ruminating about what you have done and feeling guilty for it.

B. Encourage parents, teachers, bosses, managers, coaches, and mentors to help others to learn from their behavioural mistakes so that they can improve and maintain a positive sense of self, rather than criticising who they are or shaming them for doing something wrong

We must educate people in these roles about the differences between shame and guilt, and let them know that even if using shame seems to be effective in changing behaviour in the short-term, it can have devastating long-term consequences. This is both regarding their relationship and the mental health and behaviour of the person who has been shamed.

Shaming children is especially dangerous and tends to show them that their love, worth and approval is conditional. As a result of being shamed, children will eventually give up, become rebellious, try to be perfect, or subjugate their own needs and try to please others to maintain their fragile sense of being loveable, good enough or worthy.

Once people become knowledgeable about focusing on the specific behaviour rather than the person as a whole, it can enhance their sensitivity and effectiveness in all relationships.

C. Develop a Growth Mindset

I have previously spoken about mindsets, as researched by Carol Dweck, in my accountability post. One thing I really noticed when examining the difference between shame and guilt is the similarities between shame and a fixed mindset, and guilt and a growth mindset. Watch the quick 3-minute video below on mindsets to see if you can look at the similarities:

Both guilt and a growth mindset are focused on improving following setbacks, rather than remaining stuck, giving up or blaming someone else for your shortcomings. Research indicates that a growth mindset can be cultivated over time. The similarities between guilt and a growth mindset suggest that it is also possible to change from being more shame-prone to being more guilt-prone. As you become more guilt-prone, you will begin to learn from your experiences and continue to grow without being held back by the transgressions that you have made in the past.

D.  Embrace your imperfections, allow yourself to be vulnerable, and share your feelings of shame with those that have earned the right to hear your story

In “The Gifts of Imperfection’, Brene Brown defines shame as the following:

“shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

Brene has found that shame needs the three ingredients of secrecy, silence, and judgment for it to grow and spiral out of control in our lives. She also believes that we all experience shame to some degree and that even though we are afraid to talk about what we are ashamed of, it is actually by talking about our shame that we are least likely to be controlled by it.

“If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way – especially shame, fear and vulnerability” — Brene Brown

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How to become more Shame Resilient (Brown, 2010):

  1. Understand shame.
  2. Recognise what triggers shame for you, both externally (e.g., other people’s critical messages) and internally (e.g., your own unrealistic expectations).
  3. Check to see if these criticisms or expectations are realistic or accurate.
  4. Realise that being imperfect does not mean the same as being inadequate or unworthy of love.
  5. Reach out to people who have earned the right to hear your shame experiences.
  6. Talk about what makes you feel ashamed and whatever else you may be feeling about the experience.
  7. Ask for the type of support that you need from them. This could be some kind words or reassurance. It could be something that they can do for you (even if it is just turn up and listen). It could be some hand holding, back rubbing, or a hug. Or it could be some quality time, something to cheer you up, or a fun outing to help you to change focus and move on.

Once our previously shameful experiences are out in the open, we begin to own our story and realise that we are loveable and worthy, just the way we are. Although it is easier to experience this if our closest relationships provide us with unconditional acceptance, love, and belonging, we really only need one person that we can open to for shame to reduce and improve. If there is no one in your life that you would feel comfortable talking to about your shame, then a Psychologist that you feel safe with can definitely help.

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Money and Happiness: How to spend for optimal benefits

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Not all the best things in life are free

I was on holidays in Queenstown, New Zealand earlier this year, and was amazed at how beautiful the scenery was. I was also amazed by how many experiences were on offer for people visiting or living there…

On my first day in Queenstown, I walked into the town and immediately saw brochures for the speedboats, canyon swings, skydiving, mountain biking, snowboarding and heli-skiing in several shop windows.

I began hiking up a mountain, and suddenly someone whirred by me through the trees on a zip line travelling at 70km/h. It looked scary, but also exhilarating.

Further up the hill, I came across a luge track where families and friends were roaring down the mountain in their carts, smiling and laughing and generally having a great time while taking in the breathtaking views. I saw people bungee jumping from a platform off the side of the mountain, and just above that were people paragliding down to the valley floor.

I don’t recall seeing many unhappy faces that day, and most people were fully engaged in the moment and what they were doing, something that is crucial for optimal well-being.

All of these activities, apart from hiking and taking in the scenery, did come at a considerable cost, however. Including the several days of skiing that I did afterwards at the surrounding Alpine Resorts.

Treblecone

If I had taken more money with me on that trip to New Zealand, I would have been able to experience a more extensive array of potentially fun activities. As long as I did enjoy these activities, I do believe that they would have contributed to a higher level of happiness. But…

Can money ever buy us happiness?

Anyone who says that money can’t buy us happiness is looking at it too simplistically. I’ve seen too many clients that are financially stressed to know that a significant gift of money at their time of need would be a massive assistance to them. It would reduce their stress and hopefully increase their level of financial security, happiness and overall well-being. Right?

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By looking at past lottery winners, we are able to see that winning a large sum of money does immediately increase happiness. However, 12 months later the lottery winner has already typically returned back to their pre-win levels of joy, and are sometimes feeling even worse.

Furthermore, even people who have up to 10 million dollars of net worth often don’t feel financially secure, and still believe that if they had more money, then they would feel more secure, happier and more able to buy all of the things that they wanted.

It seems that it almost doesn’t matter how much money we have. Most people will continue to feel financially insecure and typically strive to make more money than they have currently. But is this the best way?

Another interesting study found that beyond a certain amount of money (approximately $70,000 annually), an increase in salary does not typically lead to any greater overall emotional or physical well-being. It seems that we do need to have enough money to look after our basic needs (food, shelter, water, safety etc.) and have a little bit of leisure or fun. However, making more money than this doesn’t seem to hold the answer to happiness, especially if we spend it in the ways that the majority of people do…

Why does more money not equal more happiness?

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I believe that the traps of Materialism and Capitalism are to blame, especially in Western culture. We are taught that working hard, making lots of money, and buying lots of stuff is the secret to happiness and success. This equation is just a myth however, and it is required for consumerism to flourish. Consumerism prioritises the short-term functioning and growth of a society above individual functioning or what is best over a long-term basis. It drives us to believe that we need stuff in order to be happy, and this is often at the expense of things that we really do need in our lives to flourish.

So what can we do about it?

In the excellent book “Stuffocation” by James Wallman, he makes the case that, as a direct result of our consumer lifestyle, we are now inundated with too much stuff, which is complicating our lives and stressing us out. This stress is now offsetting any of the benefits that come from the stuff that we buy. So should we throw everything out?

Wallman does explore Minimalism as a possible solution to our Stuffocation but doesn’t believe that it is the antidote, because it is purely defined by what materialism isn’t – real freedom can only come from doing what is right for us, not doing the opposite of what is wrong – it is too confining.

We could all just quit our jobs too, and stop making money, but the financial debt would catch up to us pretty quickly unless we somehow learned to become entirely self-sufficient and live off the land. Some people and communities are able to do this, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

Working less may definitely help, and Sweden has recently led the way with this by shortening their work days down to 6 hours. Many people complain about being time poor, and reducing how much time we spend at work would increase the amount of time available for people to use in whichever way they find most meaningful. This could be time with family, friends, engaging in exercise or hobbies, or taking some more time out to reflect and relax. We could cut down through improving productivity or efficiency (books like the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey or ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen could help) or cut down our commitments. Our productivity does decline dramatically if we are doing more than 9 hours of work per day or more than 48 hours per week, so this should be a useful guide for what is the maximum amount of hours that we should work for optimal happiness.

Once you have the extra time, it’s still about making sure that you spend your money in ways that will give you the biggest bang for your buck…

How to spend money in ways that can increase happiness

(1) buy more experiences and less material objects – Wallman believes that Experientialism is the true antidote to Materialism and Consumerism. We need to invest money on experiences, and not on stuff. We need to be able to engage in these experiences. They also need to be things that are accessible or that we can afford to do on a regular basis if it is going to have a large impact on our overall well-being. If you have to invest in stuff, buy stuff that will make life easier for you, so that you can have more of the experiences that you would like, and less of the experiences that you don’t.

(2) make sure that you are buying things for the right reason – A car or even a ride on lawnmower can be a way to make things easier or to have an enjoyable experience, or it can just be more stuff. We need to determine why we are wanting to buy something, and if it is about impressing others (showing our status) rather than for our own enjoyment, it probably won’t lead to long-lasting happiness.

(3) buy more frequent and smaller pleasures, rather than less frequent and larger ones – People are relatively insensitive to the price of an object, and if we buy less expensive things, we get a similar pay-off or reward (in happiness terms) for a much smaller cost. The less expensive things we buy, the less that we need to work and save, and the less credit card debt that we’ll have. With the Australian Securities and Investment Commission stating that Australians owe nearly $32 billion in credit card debt, or over $4,300 each, this is advice that a lot of us could take on.

(4) avoid credit card debt and overpriced insurance – Have you ever noticed that all of the big buildings in cities tend to belong to either banks or insurance companies. There is a reason for this. They prey on our cognitive biases and utilise effective marketing strategies to get us to buy things now and pay them for it later. The average Australian is paying over $725 of interest annually on the $4,300 that they owe on their credit card at an interest rate between 15 and 20%.  If we pay only the minimum repayments, whether it is a credit card or a home loan, it will take a long time to actually pay it off and cost you a lot more money in interest. So spending more to reduce our interest, or getting a debit card rather than a credit card will help us to not waste money for nothing in return except for immediate gratification. With extended warranties and no excess insurance, we will have to pay a premium for “peace of mind”, so it’s important to work out if that peace is worth the extra cost for you. Insurance works like the lottery – we always think “what if it happened to me?” and forget about the actual probability of these events occurring.

(5) delay gratification by booking ahead – With more expensive experiences, the further we can plan these in advance the better it is for us, because not only do we get the experience, but also the anticipation and excitement leading up to it to. So the next time you want to be spontaneous and book a concert ticket or holiday, book it for 6 months in advance, and thank me for the increased happiness later.

(6) use your money to give to or help out others – There was a study where they gave individuals $20 and half of them were asked to spend it on themselves and the other half were asked to give it away. They then tracked the happiness of these groups over a period of time. Whilst the happiness levels were similar between the two groups immediately after the event, the happiness levels of the group who gave the money away were significantly higher only two weeks later. Giving to others really does make a difference, both to them as well as to you. This is a nice message to keep in mind with Christmas around the corner.

If you are interested in other ways to increase happiness through spending, please check out the fascinating article titled ‘If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right’ by Elizabeth Dunn, Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson.

Dr Damon Ashworth
Clinical Psychologist

Can Music Help You to Relax at Night and Sleep Better?

The twentieth variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine its impact on sleep is music. I will see if listening to music before bed can help me to wind down and feel sleepy earlier, and if listening once I am in bed helps me to get off to sleep quicker. 

I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective music can be for improving sleep.

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HOW COULD MUSIC IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?

For most people, listening to some form of music is a very positive experience. The type of music and the way that they listen to it varies a lot from person to person, but it really can help people to feel more energised, perform better at work, in sport or at the gym. High tempo music is excellent for that, and I couldn’t imagine how different an F45 session would feel without dance, pop or hip-hop music pumping out of the speakers.

At the other end of the spectrum, slow, relaxing music, instrumental music and nature sounds have been generally connected with calming feelings and environments. I know a few people personally who swear by listening to classical music while they are writing or studying. A look at the favorite playlists on Spotify at night time also indicates that classical and piano music is utilised by a lot of people to try and wind down and relax at night in the hope of getting a better night’s sleep.

THE EXPERIMENT

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For the first week, I listened to classical or instrumental music (no vocals) for 30-minutes before bed for the first four nights and then switched to calming music involving lyrics for the next three nights. I did not listen to any music in bed.

For the second week, I did not listen to any music before bed, but used white noise in bed with a 30-minute timer for the first three nights (a setting on the relax melodies app), and listened to nature sounds using the relax melodies app in bed with a 30-minute time for the next four nights.

Let’s see which strategy had the best impact on my sleep for the two weeks…

THE OUTCOME

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Comparison: Classical Music vs Lyrical Music vs White Noise vs Relaxing Melodies

Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. Lyrical music – 0.33 per night
    2. White noise – 1 per night
    3. Nature sounds – 1.25 per night
    4. Classical music – 1.25 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. Lyrical music – 7 hours 55 minutes
    2. Nature sounds – 8 hours 25 minutes
    3. White noise – 7 hours 27 minutes
    4. Classical music – 7 hours 25 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. Classical music – 11:01 pm
    2. White noise – 10:50 pm
    3. Nature sounds – 10:11pm
    4. Lyrical music – 9:55pm
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. Lyrical music – 7 hours 38 minutes
    2. Nature sounds – 7 hours 55 minutes
    3. Classical music – 7 hours 00 minutes
    4. White noise – 6 hours 54 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. Classical music – 8.75 minutes
    2. Nature sounds – 8.75 minutes
    3. Lyrical music – 10 minutes
    4. White noise – 20 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. Lyrical music – 6.67 minutes
    2. White noise – 13.33 minutes
    3. Classical music – 16.65 minutes
    4. Nature sounds – 21.67 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. Nature sounds – 6:36 am
    2. Classical music – 6:26 am
    3. White noise – 6:17 am
    4. Lyrical music – 5:50am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. Lyrical music – 4.67/5
    2. Nature sounds – 4.5/5
    3. White noise – 4.33/5
    4. Classical music – 4/5
      • more is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. Lyrical music – 96.49%
    2. Classical music – 94.38%
    3. Nature sounds – 93.48%
    4. White noise – 92.54%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

With a count of 6 points for lyrical music, 2 for classical music, 1 for nature sounds, and 0 for white noise, listening to lyrical music that I found relaxing for 30 minutes before bed was the best overall strategy for my sleep, with better sleep efficiency, sleep quality, more sleep, less awakenings and less time awake during the night.

The worst strategy was listening to white noise for 30-minutes in bed. This makes sense, as I found it the most annoying one to try, but I had heard some good things from other people, so I’m glad I gave it a go. Listening to nature sounds in bed was more effective than white noise for helping me get off to sleep and sleeping longer each night.

 

IS LISTENING TO MUSIC A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

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IS IT EFFECTIVE?

Yes, I believe so. Listening to relaxing lyrical music before bed led to an excellent sleep quality of 4.67/5 and a sleep efficiency of 96.49%. Classical music before bed led to worse sleep quality, maybe because of the lack of words which led to more space for me to think about things. It still wasn’t too bad though, and listening to nature sounds in bed was good also. White noise was not too helpful for me.

I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy a 20/25.

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

Easily. If you have a smartphone, computer or cd player, you can listen to music either before bed or in bed. In bed, it may be harder to listen, especially if you have a partner who doesn’t want you to listen to something. Headphones could help in these situations, and I used to do this quite a bit back when I travelled the world for 8 months back in 2009. It doubled as a noise blocker in the various hostels we stayed in.

I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy an 18/25. 

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

A 2008 study showed that 45-minutes of listening to classical music at bedtime for 3-weeks led to significantly improved sleep quality. This also led to a significant drop in depressive symptoms across the 3 weeks. Groups who listened to 45-minutes of audiobooks at bedtime did not show the same statistical improvements in sleep and depression severity (Harmat, Takacs & Bodizs, 2008).

A Taiwanese study found similar improvements in older adults (aged 60-83) across 3 weeks (Lai & Good, 2006). Five types of Western music and a kind of Chinese music were compared, 45-minutes of all kinds of music at bedtime led to better sleep quality, sleep efficiency, longer sleep, and less dysfunction during the day. More encouragingly, sleep kept improving with each week of treatment, indicating increasing effectiveness with time (Lai & Good, 2006).

A more recent study also found that 2-weeks of listening to music at home led to better sleep quality, stress and anxiety in 61 pregnant women in comparison to a control group (Yu-Hsiang, ChihChen, Chen-Hsiang & Chung-Hey, 2016).

I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 35/50.

Overall, using music as a way to wind down and sleep better gets a score of 20/25 + 18/25 + 35/50 =

73/100: Distinction

photography of woman listening to music

WHAT I RECOMMEND

Listening to music before bed could help if you find this an effective way to relax and wind down at night. It could also help to listen to it in bed for the first 30-45 minutes of the night, as this may help you to keep your mind off your worries, help your arousal levels remain low, and help you to have a better quality of sleep.

If you are interested, try what I have, and experiment with different types of music, both before bed and in bed, and see what helps you to have a better night’s sleep. If none of them helps, just move on to a different strategy. What works for you may be different to everyone else. The key is to see if it helps you to stay relaxed and calm at night time. If it does, go to bed once you are sleepy, then allow sleep to come. The more you try to force sleep, the less likely it is to occur.

Thanks for reading! If you would like a personalised sleep report and the five best things that you could do to best improve your sleep, please check out our services.

How High is Your Physical Intelligence?

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Physical intelligence is concerned with how different elements of our environment interact with our senses to influence or distort our perceptions, judgments, and emotions, which then affect our behaviours.

In her excellent book ‘Sensation’, Thalma Lobel has neatly summarised all of the important findings that have accumulated so far in the emerging field of physical intelligence, or ’embodied cognition’.

Like emotional intelligence, physical intelligence appears to be something that can be developed and improved over time. It firstly requires an understanding of the biases inherent in the interaction between our sensory-motor experiences and the physical environment. It then needs an excellent present moment awareness of these biases so that our judgment and actions are adaptive rather than reactive.

Let’s have a look at how high your physical intelligence is and quick ways that you could improve it:

1. Temperature

Q: Should you offer someone a warm or a cold drink when you first meet them if you are trying to make a good first impression?

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In 2008, Williams and Bargh recruited 41 students at Yale and had the experimenter ask half of them to hold a hot cup of coffee for them on the way to the laboratory so that they could ask them a few questions and write down the responses on a clipboard. The other participants were asked to hold an iced coffee for comparison. They then went to the lab and were all given the same description of a fictitious person and asked to rate this person on a list of additional traits that weren’t included in the report. Participants who held the hot cup of coffee, even for a few seconds, rated the fictitious person as significantly more generous and caring than those who held the ice coffee, even though the participants were not even aware that the cup holding was part of the experiment.

Subsequent studies have supported this finding in showing that giving someone a physically warm drink contributes to them perceiving you or others to be emotionally warmer, which would usually lead to a better first impression.

Q: Can being treated ‘coldly’ by others lead to a room actually feeling colder?

Interestingly, our perception of temperature can change depending on how we are treated or what we are thinking about. When we are treated kindly by others, room temperature is typically reported to be higher than it actually is. Conversely, even thinking of an incident of social exclusion led to the same room being perceived as 2.6 degrees cooler than a group that was asked to consider of an occurrence of social inclusion (21.4 degrees vs 24 degrees). The way to mitigate this and the feeling of pain that someone experiences following social exclusion? A warm object or drink.

2. Weight

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Q: Do secrets physically weigh us down?

In 2003, Profitt and colleagues discovered that when we are carrying a heavy weight, we perceive a hill to be steeper and the distance of something to be further than if we are unencumbered by any weight. Seems pretty straightforward, seeing that carrying a heavy backpack would require more effort, and our brain wouldn’t want us to take it as far so that it could conserve energy.

Interestingly, Slepian and colleagues took this a step further in 2012 and found that carrying or thinking about a big secret can lead to similar findings as carrying something heavier. By instructing participants to think about a meaningful personal secret, they too perceived a hill to be steeper, and overshot a target with a beanbag (because they perceived the target to be further away), in comparison to a control group that was instructed to think about something trivial. So yes, secrets can literally weigh us down and make us feel like everything requires more energy and effort, especially physical tasks like climbing the stairs with groceries or helping someone to move house.

If we want to reduce the physical burden that secrets have on us, we need to express them and get them “off our shoulders”. Research shows that writing about traumatic experiences or sharing things that we are ashamed of with others that we trust (or a professional such as a psychologist) really does unburden us and make us feel lighter and better going forward.

3. Texture

Q: If your opening a new office or business, do you get the trendy but hard chairs or the traditional but soft chairs?

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The texture of materials matter. Soft or fluffy texture often helps people to relax more, be more flexible and feel more comfortable, whereas hard, rough or uncomfortable textures lead people to feel more tense, rigid or uptight.

Wooden, plastic or metal chairs may look great in a new restaurant, but may not be so good if it leads to the waiting staff being interpreted as less friendly. Even if the soft and comfy chairs are more expensive, the long-term benefits are likely to be worth it, especially with all of the internet reviews these days. It may just be the difference between a 4-star and a 5-star review.

There are situations where you may want to be ‘hard’, such as a lawyer who needs to be assertive and firm to negotiate a tough deal. If that’s the case, bring out the impressively looking but terribly uncomfortable chairs. Also, turn up the air-conditioning, and offer them a glass of icy cold water (see #1).

4. Colour

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Q: Can the colour of a team’s uniform impact how many fouls referees call in a game of sport?

Unfortunately, yes. In a 1988 study, Frank and Gilovich presented two identical videos of a football game to both college football fans and professional referees. In one video, the primary team wore a white uniform, and in the other video, the primary team wore a black uniform. The videos were otherwise identical. Both the fans and the refs were asked to comment on how aggressively the teams were playing and how many penalties they would award. The results were staggering, with the black team receiving significantly more fouls and being perceived as more aggressive by refs and fans alike, even though the only difference was the colour of the uniform.

Q: What colour is best to wear to a job interview then?

The colour that probably makes the most significant statement, particularly in the area of power and dominance, is red. It’s why Tiger Woods always used to wear red shirts on the final day of competition back when he was on top of the world and winning all of his majors. The colour red has been studied thoroughly and has been shown to significantly diminish performance and motivation in others when they see it.

Red is also the colour that politicians wear when they want to appear strong and powerful. Research findings have linked red with a perception of higher status and success in males, and a higher attractiveness in females. Keep an eye out for the tie colour the next time you see a male politician in the media. When they want to seem kind and caring, they tend to wear baby blue, and on Election Day or when they want to display conviction or strength, it will be red.

So if it’s a business or leadership or management interview, red or black is likely to be the best colour to wear. If it’s a role in a helping profession where a softer side is more desired, light blue or white may be better for an interview.

5. Cleanliness

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Q: Who is more likely to lie – someone who is about to shower, or someone who has just finished?

If you want to find out the truth from someone, don’t ask them straight after a shower. The person being questioned will find it much easier to stretch the truth when they are feeling clean, as they have a “clean conscience”. Just after a workout and before a shower they may feel sweaty, dirty or ‘unclean’, and therefore will find it less easy to tell a fib. Go for a run or to the gym or play sport together, and then ask away.

Q: What about willingness to help others – someone who has just washed their hands, or someone who hasn’t?

In 2006, Zhong and Liljenquist instructed student participants to recall an unethical deed in writing. Half of the group were told to use an antiseptic wipe to clean their hands after typing their act on a computer, whereas the other group were not given the option to wash their hands. They were all then asked to volunteer by participating in another student’s research project without receiving any compensation. An extra 33 percent of participants in the no cleansing group agreed to volunteer for the additional study than in the group who cleaned their hands with the wipe (74% compared to 41%).

Follow-up studies also found a higher tolerance of other dubious acts, including cheating, following any actions that led to people feeling cleaner. The more that an individual feels that their physical slate is clean, the greater room they have to accommodate for things that feel morally dirty.

6. Posture and Confidence

Q: How can our physical space be utilised to feel more confident or powerful?

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If you want to feel more confident, try power posing. Stand over a table with both of your hands pressed down for one minute, or lean back in a chair with your legs up and hands back behind your head. Both have been shown to increase testosterone, which can lead to greater feelings of power, confidence and assertiveness.

Be careful of how you hold yourself in your space too. Arms crossed, shoulders hunched or head lowered indicate less confidence or friendliness, whereas standing up straight with an open posture and appropriate eye contact often represents someone who is welcoming and comfortable in their own space.

7. Physical Space and Creativity

Q: What are some easy ways to become more creative?

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  • Get a box, and put it next to you while you are brainstorming ideas. It will help you think more abstractly by “thinking outside the box” on a physical level.
  • Do everything with your opposite hand. You will be forced to pay more attention, and it will make you think about things differently.
  • Engage in your morning routine backwards.
  • Get out into nature, or look at a picture of nature.
  • Keep a cluttered or semi-cluttered desk. An environment that is too clean actually stifles creativity.
  • Work in an environment of approximately 70 decibels. This is the same volume that you would typically find in a local coffee shop, which is why some writers prefer to do their work there (I previously thought that they just wanted to look trendy).
  • If you want to come up with opposing ideas, or reasons why you shouldn’t do something, place the left-hand up high in the air, and say “on the one hand…”, then raise the right hand and lower the left hand and say “then on the other.” It may seem silly, but doing this physically actually does help us to think of more opposing points.

How it Works?

Physical intelligence, or embodied cognition, is all about how metaphors and abstract concepts are grounded in and related to our physical experiences.  We first learn how to interact with our world on a non-verbal, physical and sensory level before we develop an understanding on a verbal level of language and metaphor, which continues to become more developed and nuanced as we age. The language skills that we accumulate are built on top of and utilise our previous sensory and physical experiences and are therefore closely interlinked. It is why the same areas of the brain will light up in neuroimaging studies when we see the sentence “I had a rough day” as when we are touching a rough object. A different and unrelated area will light up when we see the sentence “I had a bad day” as to when we are touching a rough object, even though the two sentences (bad vs rough) have similar meanings.

Although some metaphors might now seem outdated, if they are things that most people had learned at some point when they were younger, they can be used to our advantage, depending on what we want to achieve.

Whether you want to be warmer, more trustworthy, flexible, powerful, confident or creative, we can utilise our physical intelligence to change our feelings, perceptions, and behaviours, and influence how others perceive us and react to us too.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Positive Psychology – The Secret to Optimal Well-being

For many years, Psychology, following in the footsteps of Medicine, was preoccupied with the alleviation of suffering. A worthy objective, but the treatments were focused on how to reduce depression or anxiety, not how to increase happiness. Does not feeling bad equate to the same thing as feeling good? If someone is no longer feeling sad, will they suddenly feel happy? Perhaps, but not necessarily.

This is where Positive Psychology came in…

Martin Seligman sometimes referred to as the father of Positive Psychology has written three major self-help books titled ‘Learned Optimism’, ‘Authentic Happiness’ and ‘Flourish’.

Seligman was initially interested in studying depression and ran some experiments at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1960s to develop a theory of learned helplessness. Initially, the dogs were given electric shocks at random intervals and were not given an opportunity to stop the shocks or escape the situation. After a while, even when the dogs were provided with a chance to stop or escape the shocks, he found that they would not do anything about it. The relevance to people with depression is that an individual in an aversive environment who learns that they are unable to change their outcome will continue to hold this belief even in situations where this isn’t the case. They won’t improve their situation, because they don’t think it will make a difference anyway. But what if it does?

‘Learned Optimism’ was seen as the antidote to learned helplessness, and focused on changing people’s outlooks and teaching them resiliency, so that they could better distinguish between things that can be changed and things that can’t be. By putting their energy into what they can do instead of blaming themselves for things that are out of their control, people start to develop a more internal rather than external locus of control. They then become more motivated to develop the knowledge and learn the skills to make the changes that they desire in their life. Regardless of what has happened in the past, having a slightly optimistic outlook on life has been shown to lead to better emotional and physical health, and helps people to persevere through the bad times, look after their health and put their best long-term interests first. Research has even shown that it can lead to a better survival rate following a heart attack.

In ‘Authentic Happiness’ Martin Seligman extended on these ideas and said that happiness was not just a matter of genes or good luck but could be sought out and created. The way to do this is through discovering our natural character strengths and virtues and trying to put these into action as much as possible.

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If you are interested in discovering what your natural character strengths are:

1. Please go to http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu and fill out the VIA Survey of Character Strengths.

2. Your Strengths will be ranked from first to last. Determine if your top 5 strengths are your key character strengths or virtues – you will know if the responses “feel right” to you. If a lower ranked item seems to be a better fit for you than any of your top 5, write down your new top 5.

3. Ask yourself, how much do you currently put these strengths into practice? In what ways do you apply them or live by them? If the love of learning or creativity are your highest ranked strengths, do any changes need to be made in your life so that you can experience these more (e.g. study a new course or take on another creative pursuit)?

4. If changes need to be made, set yourself some SMART (S – specific, M – measurable, A – attainable, R – realistic, T – timely) goals for how these virtues can be put into action. If these are your key character strengths and virtues, it is likely to lead to a higher overall sense of emotional well-being.

 

In ‘Flourish’, Seligman proposed that there are only five elements that are crucial for optimal psychological well-being, or for someone to flourish. He called this his PERMA model of well-being:

P – positive emotions – We all need love, joy, hope, compassion, gratitude, awe and excitement in our lives. What activities frequently bring about these emotions for you? Can they be sought out or can you engage in these activities on a more regular basis?

E – engagement – Sometimes referred to as ‘flow’, engagement is the state when we are no longer in our heads or consumed with worries but are completely immersed in whatever it is that we are doing. Through reading the book, ‘Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it became apparent to me that these engagement experiences can never be directly created but the conditions for them can. Typically, this can be achieved with activities that require some skill and are also challenging, but not overwhelming. For me, it is often when I am playing sport, in session with a client, or engaging in a creative pursuit. However, it is different for everyone and doesn’t always happen each time you do an activity. It is what athletes refer to when they are “in the zone” or what M. Scott Peck referred to when he spoke about how his best-selling book ‘The Road Less Traveled’ seemed to write itself. Mindfulness training, apart from all of its other benefits on stress, pain and prevention of depression relapse, can also lead to a higher likelihood of full engagement with a situation.

R – relationships that are positive – Whether we are extroverted or introverted, humans are still social creatures who seek to be understood and accepted for who we are, and have a sense of belonging with others. We also like to share experiences, as you will notice with any child who waits for their parents to look and see what they are doing before they engage in an action. It was the moral of the story in “Into the Wild”, the 2007 movie starring Emile Hirsch, where the main character wrote, “Happiness only real when shared”. But negative relationships also cause a lot of pain so the secret may be in how to seek out and foster the right connections (e.g. friends, partners), as well as how to improve the ones that we already have or may not be able to choose (e.g. family, bosses). If you are having problems with this area of your life, the book ‘The Relationship Cure’ by John Gottman is an excellent place to start, as is seeking out a trained relationship therapist.

M – meaning – It was Friedrich Nietzsche who first said: “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Viktor Frankl determined that this was also the case in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, where he found that purpose was required to withstand the daily atrocities that he faced each day as a Jewish prisoner of a German concentration camp during World War II. Frankl, a Psychiatrist, believed so much about the importance of meaning that he developed a treatment called Logotherapy, which focused on helping others to find meaning and dedicated the second half of his book towards this goal, as well as the psychotherapy that he engaged in for the rest of his career. There may or may not be a universal meaning of life, depending on your beliefs, but it is crucial for each individual to determine what is important to them. Where possible, it is then essential to try to live your life in that way, as long as it doesn’t break the laws of your society or cause harm to others. Values clarification exercises can assist with this.

A – achievement – People like to achieve things, to succeed, to win, for its own sake. It is why there are so many cheats for video games (and why they are built into them in the first place), as well as corruption in the corporate world and drug cheats in athletic competition. Many people will do what they can to win. Achievement can be winning something, but can also be gaining knowledge, building skills, or completing a task. By having three achievable goals each day, it would go along way towards improved well-being.

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There are other ways to improve each of the above aspects of well-being, and I will introduce these in future articles. For now, please check out the TED talks by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi if you would like to learn more:

Psychology is about more than the alleviation of suffering. It is about helping people to understand, grow, develop mastery and self-efficacy, and live the best life that they can!

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist