7 Life Lessons That We Can Learn From Hollywood Movies

I was recently reading a book titled ‘Writing Screenplays that Sell’ by Michael Hauge and was fascinated to see how psychologically informed screenwriters need to be to create engaging stories with meaningful plots and entertaining characters.

Although Hollywood sometimes gets bad press for promoting materialistic and unrealistic goals for the audience, I do believe that some valuable life lessons can be learnt from dissecting the common elements of screenplays that result in successful movies.

Here are eight insights that I believe are important:

#1 – Be the hero of your story

Every movie has a hero that we identify with and develop empathy for. Screenwriters do this deliberately because we are likely to care more about the story and become involved in the movie if it focuses on one character and their perspective and challenges more than the other characters.

In real life, the person whose perspective we are able to most tune into is ourselves, and we feel the emotional impact of our experiences whether we like it or not (even though a lot of people try to tune these out). It, therefore, makes a lot of sense to ensure that we are the hero of our own life.

Unless you believe in reincarnation, it is generally accepted that we only have one life. Once we become adults, no one else is entirely responsible for the direction that our life goes in except for us. We are the screenwriters, directors and the main character in our story – unless we give that power up to somebody else. This is a scary thought, but also a potentially liberating one.

Although there are limitations to our abilities and dreams and it is essential to have realistic expectations, there are too many people that I see that put up roadblocks and barriers where they don’t need to be.

So if we are free to do what we want with our lives, and responsible for how they turn out, what do we want to do? Live the life that someone else wants or expects of us, or follow our dreams and hopefully achieve our goals.

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#2 – Challenge yourself if you would like to grow

Screenwriters are taught that a movie should start slowly, and build pace as the film progresses through increasing the magnitude and difficulty of challenges that the hero faces until the climax of the film. A resolution is then typically achieved, and all of the loose ends are tied up before the movie concludes with the hero being a much better person than they were at the beginning of the film. It is from overcoming bigger and bigger adversity throughout the film that the hero develops and grows. Without challenges or difficulties to master, this growth and character development would not be possible, and people would find the movie dull or boring.

In real life, I see a lot of clients who want a life free of challenge. They strive for a life of inner peace without stress or anxiety and believe that this can be achieved by consistently remaining in their comfort zone. In their comfort zone, they do the same thing each day, don’t take any risks and generally feel okay. A lot of them will tell you that something is missing, however.

We need to push beyond what feels comfortable to grow, and with this comes a certain amount of stress and anxiety. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can be a good indication that you are sufficiently challenging yourself so long as you are not feeling completely overwhelmed. Just remember to start small with tasks that feel a little scary but are also achievable, and as you build up confidence move onto more significant challenges. As long as the challenges are consistent with changes that you would like to bring about in your life, you will feel more energetic and alive than you ever could by remaining in your comfort zone. Even if you don’t succeed.

The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

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#3 – Conflict leads to more intense emotional experiences

Screenwriters are taught to create conflict in every scene where possible, usually by having two characters in the scene who have different views and objectives. This is because conflict creates emotional involvement far more than general exposition ever could, leading to a more engaged audience.

In real life, especially in relationships, this isn’t always a good thing. We might feel a more significant attraction or more intense emotional experience with someone who is actually opposed to us in what they want. I see it all the time when individuals who are anxiously attached (like being close to their partner and worry when they are apart) end up in relationships with individuals who are avoidantly attached (like their independence and autonomy and then feel trapped and smothered if they are too close). Each time it leads to an emotional rollercoaster ride, with lots of conflicts, big ups and downs, and greater emotional involvement. It keeps both parties occupied and interested, but will do more harm than good in the end.

Finding someone who wants the same things that we do may be less exciting initially, but can also lead to greater satisfaction and well-being in the long run. Be aware of the emotional trap, and use your head as well as your heart when determining if a relationship is suitable for you.

#4 – Have clearly defined goals

All heroes will have the primary goal or external motivation that they will pursue throughout the film. Screenwriters are encouraged to make this evident to the audience so that they will cheer on the hero as they make their journey through their challenges in pursuit of their goal. In a horror movie, it may be to escape from or kill the bad guy. In a heist movie, it may be to steal the money and get away with it. In a romantic comedy, it is to win the affection of the love interest. In a coming of age story it is to learn something, and in a sports movie, it is to win.

In real life, it is essential to think of the big picture at times, and ask yourself where you would like to be in 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 years from now? How would you want to be spending your days? Whether it is owning a business, buying a house, getting married, having children or running a marathon, these external, observable goals help keep us motivated and focused on our destination, or where we would like to see ourselves in the future. Once these goals have been achieved, they can be ticked off the list. It then becomes vital to elicit and develop further goals to pursue.

Believe big. The size of your success is determined by the size of your belief. Think little goals and expect little achievements. Think big goals and win big success. Remember this too! Big ideas and big plans and often easier – certainly no more difficult – than small ideas and small plans.” — David Schwartz

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#5 – Understand why you want to achieve these goals – clarify your values

It may not always be explicitly stated, but a hero in a movie will still have an internal motivation or reason why they are pursuing a goal, otherwise, it wouldn’t be worth them overcoming all of the obstacles that they face to achieve the goal at the end of the movie.

Two people may want to buy a house or run a marathon, but their reasons for doing so could be completely different. One home-buyer may want security and a place to call home, whereas the other person is wanting to make their parents and family proud of them (to gain love, approval or acceptance). One marathon runner may decide to enter the race to become healthier and lose weight, whereas another may do it to spend more time with their friend or partner that loves running (for greater connection or intimacy).

Values, unlike goals, can never be ticked off the list, but are guiding principles that can either be followed or not from moment to moment or day to day. If honesty is an essential value to you, you can be honest whenever you tell the truth, and dishonest whenever you lie. By living honestly, you will be feeling more fulfilled, and by being dishonest, you will likely feel dissatisfied or guilty. Firstly clarify which values are most important to you, and then set short, medium and long-term goals that are consistent with the guiding principles that you choose. 

To be truly rich, regardless of his fortune or lack of it, a man must live by his own values. If those values are not personally meaningful, then no amount of money gained can hide the emptiness of life without them.” — John Paul Getty

#6 – Have mentors that can help you to achieve your goals

Screenwriters call these characters reflections, and they are there to help the hero to learn and grow along with their journey towards their ultimate goal. This is Robin Williams to Matt Damon in ‘Good Will Hunting’, Mr Miyagi to Daniel-son in ‘The Karate Kid’, and Morgan Freeman in most movies (‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘Bruce Almighty’, ‘The Dark Knight’). They usually don’t have a big character arc themselves, because they are already evolved in the areas that the hero is trying to improve. This is how they can know what the right thing to do is and help guide the hero on their path.

In real life, it is important to have mentors or people that have done what you would like to do, that you can turn to for help when you get stuck, have questions, or need advice. By seeking support through individuals who are more knowledgeable and experienced in the areas that you are hoping to build skills, it is possible to learn from their insights and mistakes without having to repeat them yourself, leading to a more effective learning and growth process. If they are able to be honest and direct in their feedback of your strengths and weaknesses, they can also help you to see the real you and guide you towards what is right, authentic and true, even if you don’t exactly want to hear it. Mentors can be friends or relatives, or can even be paid for or hired too. It is why people have psychologists, personal trainers and life coaches. It is also why I obtain regular external supervision so that I can keep improving towards becoming the best psychologist that I can be.

The way for you to be happy and successful, to get more of the things you really want in life, is to study and emulate those who have already done what you want to do and achieved the results you want to achieve.” — Brian Tracy. 

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#7 – It is our actions that define who we become

In his book ‘Story’, Robert McKee, a famous screenwriter, says that the hero’s character is truly revealed not in the scenes when everything is relaxed and calm, but in the choices that they make when the going gets tough and they are under pressure. The greater the pressure, the more revealing the scene is of the hero’s essential nature. Notice it is not their intentions, or things that they may speak about doing earlier in the film, but what they actually do when it really counts.

How will you react in the most significant moments in your life? With courage and persistence in spite of fear or challenge, or with avoidance, excuses or procrastination? With compassion, generosity and respect, or criticalness, selfishness and contempt? Will you talk about all of the great things you want to do or the things that you could have been, or focus on what you can still do and get out there and do it? It doesn’t just have to be big moments either.

Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great” –Orison Swett Marden

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Would a Regular Massage During the Day Improve Your Sleep at Night?

The nineteenth variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine its impact on sleep is massage. I will see if having three deep tissue massages 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 massage can be for improving sleep.

HOW COULD MASSAGE IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?

For most people, massages are both a relaxing and an indulgent activity that helps them to enjoy life and look after their health. I personally don’t like to be touched that much, but I do like the after-effects of a good deep tissue massage. I usually do feel more energetic, focused, relaxed and in less pain than I was beforehand

I wasn’t sure if massages would help me sleep better at night, but a few of my clients said that it helped them, and I thought that this would be an excellent excuse to get multiple massages in a week to see what I could find out.

THE EXPERIMENT

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For the first week, I did some form of exercise every day but didn’t get any massage or do any stretching following a game, swim or work out.

For the second week, I got three 60-minute deep tissue massages on the Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the late afternoon/early evening.

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

THE OUTCOME

sleep diary episode 19 - massage

Comparison: Massage vs No Massage

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

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. No treatment – 1 per night
    2. Massage – 1.29 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. Massage – 7 hours 33 minutes
    2. No treatment – 7 hours 33 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. Massage – 10:51 pm
    2. No treatment – 12:15 am
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. Massage – 7 hours 9 minutes
    2. No treatment – 7 hours 9 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. Massage – 7.14 minutes
    2. No treatment – 10.71 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. No treatment – 13.57 minutes
    2. Massage – 16.43 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. No treatment – 7:51 am
    2. Massage – 6:24 am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. No treatment – 4.43/5
    2. Massage – 4.14/5
      • more is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. Massage – 94.70%
    2. No treatment – 94.70%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

With a count of 5.5 points to 3.5 points, the no treatment week was a generally better week of sleep than the week after I had three massages.

The massages definitely seemed to help on the days that I had them, but the improvements didn’t really generalise to subsequent nights. What was a lot better on the massage week was how early I went to sleep at night and got out of bed in the morning. This was surprising because massage shouldn’t lead to any changes in my biological clock as far as I know.

What getting a massage did seem to do was relax me a lot and reduce physical tension on the days I had one, and as a result fell asleep earlier and quicker at night-time. By going to bed earlier, I was then able to get out of bed earlier the next morning.

IS GETTING REGULAR MASSAGES A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

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IS IT EFFECTIVE?

It depends. It didn’t improve my sleep quality in comparison to regular exercise the week before. It did help me to fall asleep early and quickly though, which is good for people with sleep onset insomnia or people who want to sleep earlier so that they can get up earlier in the mornings. This would be especially helpful for people who always feel rushed in the morning, or for people who want to exercise or meditate in the morning before work.

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

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

It can, but it would get expensive very quickly. A 60-minute massage in the CBD in Melbourne ranges from $60 to $95 and can be even more at day spas. Becuase the improvements didn’t seem to last beyond that night for my sleep unless you have a partner who is good at giving massages and would mind giving you one every night, there are probably cheaper and more accessible strategies for you to use if you want to improve your sleep.

I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy a 10/25. 

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

Massage has been found to have sleep benefits in infants and toddlers with sleep onset problems, with 15 minutes of massage before bedtime over a month leading to less sleep delay behaviours and quicker times to sleep than infants and toddlers who were read bedtime stories (Field & Hernandez-Reif, 2001). They were also observed to be more alert and active during the day and had more positive moods by the end of the study than the children who were read bedtime stories  (Field & Hernandez-Reif, 2001).

A systematic review in 2000 by Richards, Gibson and Overton-McCoy looked at 22 articles on the impact of massage in acute and critical care. The most significant improvement was found in anxiety levels, with 80% reporting a significant reduction in perceived tension or anxiety scores. 70% of the original studies found that massage produced physiological relaxation, 30% found that it reduced pain, but the impact of massage on sleep was inconclusive (Richards, Gibson & Overton-McCoy, 2000).

I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 32/50.

Overall, using massages as a way to wind down and sleep better gets a score of 15/25 + 10/25 + 32/50 =

57/100: Pass

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WHAT I RECOMMEND

If you are feeling physically tense or carry a lot of stress in your body, shoulders or neck, getting a massage can feel great, help you relax and reduce your anxiety during the day. It may lead well to a shorter sleep onset and an earlier sleep time at night too and is better than reading a bedtime story for infants and young toddlers. It helped me get to bed earlier too, so if anxiety, physical tension, and falling asleep at the start of the night are a problem for you, getting a massage is definitely worth trying.

Hyper-arousal is a big factor in insomnia, so finding various ways to reduce your arousal levels is important if you want to improve your sleep. Massage is one way to do this, but there are cheaper and more accessible ways to do this too. Unless you do happen to live with someone who wants to help out by giving you a massage regularly in the evenings. Tell them The Sleep Detective said it would help, or take turns so that you can both benefit from the potential stress-reducing benefits of massage.

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.

The Need to Belong

Historically

Before the industrial revolution, humans lived in small groups that they were born into and had minimal interaction outside these groups for the duration of their lives.

Because humans were not great at surviving in the wild, we used our frontal lobes, communication skills and opposable thumbs to work together to build villages and castles that helped protect us from the outside elements, predators and other groups.

Humans realised that by bonding and working together, we were safer, more secure and less vulnerable than what we were alone. But for the group to work, specific rules or social mores needed to be created and followed, and everyone had to contribute or play their role if they wanted to benefit from the increased resources and protection that the group provided.

People who didn’t fit in or do their bit were at risk of being kicked out of the group, where they would have to fend for themselves or face the world on their own. This typically led to an early and untimely death at the hands of dehydration, starvation, extreme weather, predatory animals or other humans.

Based on the above story, it makes a lot of sense why evolution favoured fitting in and getting along with others over being authentic and true to ourselves. A potentially hefty price to pay, especially if you were very different from what the group wanted you to be, but definitely worth it if it was a matter of life or death.

 

Fast forward to the 21st century

We suddenly live in a much more mobile world, where it is possible to meet and interact with more people in a single afternoon than our ancestors may have encountered in their entire lifetime.

Groups and social hierarchies still exist, and in many ways are much more complicated than they have ever been. They are also more fluid, however, and people are now able to change their position in the hierarchy or even leave their group entirely or move to another country and start over again if they don’t get the benefits that they would like from them.

Being excluded from groups or rejected by others is generally no longer a matter of life or death either, especially once we become adults. So why does it still feel that way?

Since the industrial revolution, technology and society have changed so rapidly in the modern and post-modern world in comparison to how things were in the past that it has been impossible for evolution to keep up. The amount of information in the world used to double about every century. Some now say it is every thirteen months, and IBM said it could one day be as quick as every 12 hours. We are therefore still genetically programmed to fit in, rather than be our authentic selves, even when it isn’t in our best long-term interests.

We obey authority, even when it means causing harm to an innocent other (the infamous Stanley Milgram experiment):

We take on the roles that are given to us, and can become cruel and inhumane in the process (the infamous Robert Zimbardo prison experiment):

We also conform to the opinions of everyone else in the group, even when it is reasonably apparent that they are all wrong…

 

The Pressure to Conform

In the 1950s, Solomon Asch did a series of experiments looking at the power of social conformity. He brought male participants into the lab, and asked them to be part of “a simple perceptual experiment”. They were first instructed to look at a series of three different sized straight black lines on a card – a short line (A), a long line (B), and a medium length line (C).

He then randomly presented one of these three lines on cards for 18 trials and asked the participant as well as seven other individuals which line was shown – A, B or C.

Unbeknownst to the participant, the other seven individuals in the room who responded before him were confederates, or actors that were part of the experiment. For the first two trials, the confederates all gave the obviously correct answer, as would the participant, but on the third trial, and 11 out of the subsequent 15 trials, the confederates all gave the same incorrect answer.

How the participant answered on these incorrect trials indicated how much they had been affected by the influence of social conformity. Disturbingly, up to 75% of participants gave the same incorrect answer on at least one trial, with the majority experiencing a distortion of judgment over time, where they assumed that their perception must be wrong and the majority’s perception right. This was in sharp contrast to the results in the control group, where there was no pressure to conform, and the error rate was less than 1%, indicating that it was easy to determine which line was which.

Even with easy decisions, it is possible to begin to doubt ourselves quickly if what we believe goes against the opinions of the majority. We may also start to question our own perception and experiences. It’s, therefore, no wonder that so many people give up on what they may individually know or believe in so that they can fit in with the group. This doesn’t make it right, however. If who we are or what we think is different to the majority, what is the best thing to do?

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The Possible Solutions

#1 – Be true to yourself, never be afraid to say anything and always stand up for what you believe in.

While this may seem like the obvious solution, it does appear to be too idealistic and too simplistic. Speaking up, especially to the wrong type of authority figure (boss, teacher, parent, government official), puts us at risk of being punished or ostracised from the group each time we do it. Fortunately, we have the right to protest and say most things that we want to here in Australia, but each group still has its rules and social mores, and not following them can lead to exclusion and isolation. Sometimes speaking up is preferable, but it always comes with considerable risk and potentially significant consequences or emotional pain. What is important is that we try to reflect on things when we have time and try to make up our minds for ourselves on the issues that we care about. By doing this, we can hopefully remain secure and sure about what we believe in, and share our opinions in appropriate and safe settings.

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#2 – Don’t worry about the group and just live the life that makes you happy by yourself. 

As long as we have a place to live and an income for food and water and leisure activities, we might be able to get by okay with shutting most people out. This is definitely the path that some people take after they have gone through significant traumatic events, especially in the context of relationships. Maybe the pain of the social exclusion would lessen if it was self-imposed too, and some jobs require very little interaction with others.

In reality, though, we are social creatures, and being so isolated from others would likely take its toll over time. It’s why solitary confinement is used as a form of punishment and as a deterrent in prisons. There is also the endless amounts of research out there showing the beneficial aspects of social support for optimal physical and emotional health, especially after a traumatic physical or psychological event. Being around people that care about us and that we can talk to and share our thoughts and feelings with does seem to be required on some level.

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#3 – Find the right group where you are able to be as close to your authentic self as possible and are not only accepted by the group but loved and appreciated for this. 

The beauty of our flexible society and the world these days is that we can move if needed, change jobs, let go of old friends and partners if they are not right for us, and seek out new ones that are a better fit. But what should we look for in our friends? How do we know if the group is right for us? How do we figure out if it is likely to have a positive impact on our physical and emotional well-being in the long run?

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In her book ‘Four Ways to Click: Rewire Your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships’, Amy Banks suggests seeking out people who CARE. With these individuals, you feel:

C – calm. You feel safe and secure being around them, sharing yourself with them and opening up to them.

A – accepted. You feel like they wholeheartedly accept you for who you really are, and you feel the same way with them. You may not always agree with everything that the other person does, but you still appreciate them for who they are.

R – resonant. You get each other. You are able to see how the other person thinks and feels, and can accurately reflect that back to them. You feel that you connect, click and are on the same wavelength.

E – energised. You feel energetic, motivated and maybe even inspired around each other. It is the opposite of a draining relationship.

If you currently don’t feel calm, accepted, resonant or energised with anyone, I highly recommend reading the book, as it suggests some strategies to help rewire your brain to make these types of relationships possible in time.

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Otto Rank, a one-time disciple of Freud, believed that “life is an ongoing struggle between the desire for autonomy and the desire for union“. Both are important, and how much you choose to give up one for the other needs to be considered and determined at various points throughout our lives.

Although some sacrifices do seem necessary, I’d like to hope that these days we are much closer to being able to have the capacity to be both our authentic selves and to truly connect with others. We just need to learn how to know ourselves and seek out the right people and groups to spend time with.

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Could Aromatherapy Improve Your Sleep?

The eighteenth variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine its impact on sleep is aromatherapy. I will see if candles or essential oils 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 aromatherapy can be for improving sleep.

HOW COULD AROMATHERAPY IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?

Aromatherapy is an alternative medicine practice that aims to utilise the healing power of various scents. Our olfactory (smelling) sense is meant to have the highest ability to trigger emotional experiences associated with specific memories. This means that logically it is easy to understand why many people believe that certain smells could lead to greater relaxation and a better night’s sleep if used in the last few hours before bed.

THE EXPERIMENT

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For the first week, I used soy-based, large non-toxic candles for four nights and essential oils for three nights. I put these on for at least two hours before going to bed in the living room each night. I also splashed a little bit of lavender on my pillow pre-sleep to see if there were any additional benefits by doing this.

For the second week, I made sure all of the lavender had been washed off my pillows and did not light any candles or have any oils burning in my apartment.

Let’s see if aromatherapy had any impact on my sleep…

THE OUTCOME

episode 18 sleep diary

Comparison: Aromatherapy vs No Aromatherapy

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

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. Aromatherapy – 1 per night
    2. No aromatherapy – 1.71 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. Aromatherapy – 7 hours 17 minutes
    2. No aromatherapy – 7 hours 13 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. Aromatherapy – 11:49pm
    2. No aromatherapy – 12:40am
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. Aromatherapy – 6 hours 48 minutes
    2. No aromatherapy – 6 hours 27 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. Aromatherapy – 12.14 minutes
    2. No aromatherapy – 12.14 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. Aromatherapy – 17.14 minutes
    2. No aromatherapy – 33.57 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. Aromatherapy – 7:16 am
    2. No aromatherapy – 7:53 am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. Aromatherapy – 4.29/5
    2. No aromatherapy – 3.86/5
      • more is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. Aromatherapy – 93.30%
    2. No aromatherapy – 89.44%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

With a count of 8.5 points to 0.5 points. This is one of my most surprising findings so far. I’ve never been a big believer in aromatherapy but based on this two weeks of data, it indeed did lead to better sleep in every single measure in comparison the week after. The one exception was time taken to fall asleep, which was 12.14 minutes per night in each condition.

I do think the scent was a helpful way to trigger my brain that it was time to wind down and relax for the day, and this probably changed my behaviour in the 2 hours before bed too in some slight ways. Unfortunately, I didn’t record what I did before bed and can’t remember back to then, but it really is a compelling victory for aromatherapy over nothing!

IS AROMATHERAPY A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

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IS IT EFFECTIVE?

It seems to be. At least it was for me. I’m not sure if it was because it triggered sweet memories of lavender heat packs from when I was younger, or if I relaxed more on those nights, but having some smells that were soothing and signalled that it was time to wind down did help me sleep better.

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

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

Yes. Just go out and buy some non-toxic candles or essential oils that remind you of nice or relaxing times. Then put them in a safe place where they aren’t likely to start a fire, and have them on once you get home from work or in the last few hours before going to bed. Just make sure you blow them out or turn them off before going to sleep.

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

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

Lavender has been studied the most and has been found to help with mild insomnia (Koulivand, Ghadiri & Gorgi, 2013), depression and anxiety, especially in women with postpartum depression (Conrad & Adams, 2012). Be wary of applying it or tea tree oils to your skin or your child’s skin regularly, as they can have estrogenic and antiandrogenic effects (Henley, Lipson, Korach & Bloch, 2007).

Inhaling citrus scents (the Japanese fruit yuzu) can decrease heart rate and improve heart rate variability, both signs of reduced stress. It can also improve mood, anxiety and fatigue for up to 35-minutes after you have inhaled the scent (Matsumoto, Kimura & Hayashi, 2016).

Five out of 6 studies into bergamot also found that it could reduce anxiety and stress (Navarra, Mannucci, Delbo & Calapai, 2015).

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

Overall, using aromatherapy oils or candles before bed as a way to wind down and sleep better gets a score of 20/25 + 20/25 + 28/50 =

68/100: Credit

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WHAT I RECOMMEND

If aromatherapy can help you to feel less stressed, less anxious and in a better mood before bed, this can’t be a bad thing. It’s not too expensive or intrusive, and relatively safe too as long as you aren’t applying it to your skin regularly (and blow out the candles if you leave the room or house).

By winding down before sleep, going to bed once you are sleepy and keeping your focus on something relaxing once you are in bed, you are giving yourself the best chance of having a good night’s sleep. Aromatherapy isn’t essential for this, but it can help if you’d like to give it a go and see if it works for you.

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

Dealing With Toxic People

What is a “toxic” person?

Sometimes in life, we come across people who defy our natural belief systems about how people “should be”. While we assume that most people follow the golden rule of “treat others the way that you would like to be treated”, there are definitely some individuals who are not guided by this principle and regularly break this rule.

These people may be considered “toxic” because their behaviours leave a trail of destruction behind them wherever they go. This is usually in the form of other people who are left feeling distressed, confused, isolated, trapped, depressed, angry, afraid, guilty, grieving, and potentially traumatised about how they have been treated. And that’s not to mention the financial, social, occupational or legal consequences that can arise from an interaction, encounter or a relationship with a toxic person.

A toxic person has no real concern for anyone apart from themselves, except for how other people could help or hinder them from being able to get what they want, physically or emotionally. The three main ways that they will try to emotionally manipulate others into doing what they would like are through a sense of fear, obligation, and guilt (FOG).

Anytime that you notice that FOG is being used against you to try and get you to do something you don’t want to do, look out. A loving person will encourage us to be the best that we can be. A toxic person will instead help us to be what they need us to be, which may be very different to what is actually in our best interests.

Worse still, toxic people will typically:

(a) not admit to having done anything wrong, even when presented with the facts,

(b) honestly believe that they haven’t done anything wrong or haven’t intended to do so, and instead blame you or someone else for how they felt or what they did, and

(c) try to convince others of their innocence too, even if this involves a real stretching of the truth or outright lying.

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Unfortunately, many of the clients that I see have been affected by toxic people, including:
  • The boss, who dangles the promise of pay raises and promotions over their employees to motivate them to reach a goal, and then once that goal is achieved takes the deal off the table
  • The boss, who forces his workers, often vulnerable immigrants on working visas, to work for less money than the minimum wage or to be on call and work overtime without any extra pay or time in lieu
  • The alcoholic father, who verbally and physically beats his wife and children
  • The competitive father, who is afraid of his children surpassing him and therefore won’t give them any praise or actively minimises their accomplishments
  • The narcissistic father, who views his children as an extension of himself and thus tries to live out his unfulfilled potential through them, often in regards to school, sports, and career
  • The narcissistic mother, who makes her children lie about their school grades or lie about where they live, who they are or what they do so that she looks better to her friends and family
  • The self-centred mother, who is afraid of her children no longer need her and therefore does whatever she can to prevent them from becoming independent. This might be doing all of the chores for them, to nitpicking and criticising their choices in jobs, partners and anything else that could reduce the amount of influence or power that she has over them
  • The abusive mother, who locks her children away in a room by themselves and beats or neglects them further whenever they do not comply with her wishes
  • The cheating girlfriend, who compulsively lies about her own behaviour and then is jealous of their partner talking to a girl and questions their fidelity and faithfulness
  • The hypocritical boyfriend, who disappears for days on end on drug binges, and then calls and messages his partner every five minutes when he knows that she is out having fun with her friends
  • The ex-partner, who earns a lot of money and still refuses to pay any child support or see the children so that they can get back at or hurt the other parent for leaving them
  • The self-centred friend, who consistently demands assistance with the ongoing crises they have in their life, and then is nowhere to be seen when their friends are in need of support

I have seen or heard about all of these traits in individuals through both my personal and professional life and this is barely scratching the surface. There are many other stories that I have heard that are even more severe, and it really is disheartening to think that there are people out there who are capable of committing such horrible acts on a regular basis without ever questioning their behaviour or feeling guilt.

Even though I have a better rational understanding of why this behaviour occurs through studying Psychology for the past 11 years, it still doesn’t make sense to me on an emotional level. I don’t get how someone can hurt the person that “they are meant to love” (societal expectations) and “say that they love” (individual expectations) when their behaviours are precisely the opposite.

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The reasons why someone might treat others in a harmful way include:
  1. They are psychologically very unwell and need to be properly treated and/or medicated. Consisting of the Axis I disorders, this includes severe Major Depressive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Eating Disorders, Substance Abuse Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, or Schizophrenia. Although these individuals can engage in toxic behaviours, if the symptoms of the psychological disorder are successfully managed or treated, the toxic behaviour is likely to significantly improve.
  2. They have a personality disorder and could improve their symptoms with appropriate treatment and management. Consisting of the Axis II disorders, including Borderline Personality Disorder (PD), Obsessive Compulsive PD, Antisocial PD, Avoidant PD, Dependent PD, Histrionic PD and Narcissistic PD. Research suggests that some of the symptoms of personality disorders can also be managed through treatment, such as Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) for Borderline PD. However, personality disorders are generally lifelong conditions that impact the individual across several different areas of their functioning, including their interpersonal effectiveness skills. Therefore the likelihood of toxic behaviour increases, especially with Narcissistic and Antisocial PDs.
  3. They are a Psychopath or a Deviant and are therefore unlikely to change, even with treatment. Sometimes known as ‘The Dark Triad’, Machiavellians, Narcissists and Psychopaths all share the common trait of lacking empathy for their victims or anyone that they take advantage of to get what they want. There is little evidence that treatment is ever successful with Psychopaths and people who are Sexual Deviants (e.g. serial offending Pedophiles), and sometimes the best thing that society can do is to lock up these individual’s in a maximum security prison to minimise the harm that they can inflict upon others. However, many Narcissists and Machiavellians (who believe that the ends justify the means) are unlikely to be arrested or incarcerated for their behaviours and are therefore most likely to be the toxic people that inflict the most damage on others without any remorse for what they do.

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How to Successfully Manage Toxic People

The following information borrows heavily from the non-PD toolbox at the website Out of the FOG. It is a website that I recommend for client’s when they are living with and/or having to deal with someone who is consistently acting in a toxic way towards them.

What NOT to do when dealing with toxic people:

  • Abuse Amnesia – Do not try to forget or suppress previous episodes of abuse or boundary violations that have been perpetrated by the toxic person.
  • Amateur Diagnosis – If you believe that the toxic person has a psychiatric diagnosis or personality disorder, do not share this information with them in the hope that this will improve the situation and/or the relationship.
  • Avoidance – Do not withdraw from other relationships to reduce their risk of exposure to the toxic person and the potential criticism and rejection that comes with this. Avoiding other people will only further isolate you from your support and positive relationships, which you will need if you have to regularly deal with a toxic person.
  • Circular Conversations – Do not engage in repetitive, cyclical arguments with toxic people that cover the same issues endlessly without any resolution. You are unlikely to get a different resolution using the same strategy that hasn’t worked in the past.
  • Denial – Do not try to deny that a toxic person is engaging in certain behaviours or that these behaviours are not having severe adverse consequences if they are. It will still be damaging you even if you are typically strong and resilient. It is essential to allow yourself to accept what is happening and how you feel so that you are more likely to do something about it.
  • Enabling – Do not try to absorb the abusive behaviour of the toxic person without challenging it or consistently enforcing personal boundaries. This will only “enable” them to continue the behaviour without any fear of repercussions.
  • Fix-It Syndrome – Do not try to take responsibility or compensate for the toxic person’s behaviours. Do not try to clean up their messes or fix the problems created by their actions. They need to be responsible for what they do if they are to learn from it.
  • Fleas – Do not try to imitate or emulate the toxic person’s behaviour or stoop to their level. This is tempting, but it is much better to act consistently with your values than “catch fleas” and act in a toxic way too. You will not have as much practice as them in doing what they do, and will often then get criticised by the toxic person and be told that you are the one with all of the problems if you try.
  • Lack of Boundaries –  Do not allow the toxic person to break the guidelines and limits for acceptable behaviour that you have set. They must be made clear and consistently reinforced, or the toxic person will usually keep pushing and escalating the situation until they get what they want from you without having to change their behaviour.
  • Imposed Isolation – Do not allow yourself to become isolated and cut off from your family and friends and other supports, even if the toxic person is trying to intimidate you or coerce you into doing this.
  • JADE – Do not try to justify, argue, defend or explain or it is likely to end in a circular conversation.
  • Learned Helplessness – Do not believe that you have no control over a situation. A toxic person will sometimes want you to think this, but there are always options and supports available if you wish to leave a situation or relationship involving a toxic person.
  • Obedience –  Do not just blindly follow what you are being told to do by a toxic person because you think it will lead to less confrontation. Decide if what they are asking from you is really in your best long-term interests, and delay giving an answer straight away so that you can have the time and space to think about it properly.
  • Rescuer Syndrome – Do not try to rescue the toxic person or compensate for their behavioural issues. The toxic person will only change when they are ready to, with the additional assistance of recommended treatments by qualified professionals.
  • Self-Doubt – Although it is difficult, try not to let what the toxic person says to you impact how you see yourself, your mental health or your moral compass. Believe in yourself, seek support, and query other friends or family about any doubts you have.

Although many people have tried these strategies, sometimes over and over again, they have been shown to be less effective than the strategies that are recommended.

What TO DO when dealing with toxic people:

  • The 3 “C’s” Rule – Do repeat this mantra when thinking about the toxic person and their behaviours: “I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it, and I can’t control it.”
  • The 51% Rule – Do consider your own needs just a little more than the toxic person (at least 51%) if you would like to be able to effectively help them.
  • The 50% Rule – Do realise that any relationship is about the dynamic between two people. Therefore, if we focus on our part in the relationship (the 50% of the relationship that we are responsible for), it can positively change the overall dynamic. Often much more than focusing on what the toxic person does (which is the 50% that is out of our control, and therefore not our responsibility).
  • Boundaries – Do set clear and consistent guidelines and limits (that are reasonable and safe) for acceptable behaviour with toxic people. Let them know how you will respond if they cross these boundaries and consistently reinforce these consequences when they do so.
  • Clean Up Rule – Do allow the toxic person to clean up their own messes and deal with the external consequences of their actions. You are only responsible for cleaning up your own messes, not theirs.
  • Emotional Intelligence – Do work on effectively understanding, recognising and regulating your own emotions, and develop empathy and social skills in dealing with the toxic person’s feelings without fixing their problems for them.
  • Get Support – Do find supportive people who are likely to be able to empathise with you and understand what you are going through. If they have an understanding of mental illness, personality disorders and toxic people, it will be more likely that they will be able to give you the support you need.
  • Journaling – Do write down whatever it is that you are thinking and feeling about the toxic person and your relationship or troubles with them. If you can do this without censoring yourself, taking a break or worrying about what you are writing, then it can be even more therapeutic. If you can keep this in a safe place, do so, otherwise delete it or dispose of it in a way that it is unlikely to be seen by the toxic person.
  • Make Good Choices – Do devote your energy focusing on what steps you can take that will help and that is under your control. This can reduce stress a lot.
  • Medium Chill – Do try to disengage through distraction, relaxation, meditation and other arousal reducing strategies if direct contact with the toxic person or their behaviours is unavoidable.
  • My Stuff/Your Stuff – Do clearly define and remind yourself what is your concern (“my stuff”) and what is actually the toxic person’s concern (“your stuff”), regardless of what they say to you.
  • No Contact – Do think about going “No Contact”, and cutting off all forms correspondence and contact with a toxic person if they are consistently not respecting your boundaries or being deterred by your other consequences. No one deserves to be abused, and this cannot take place if there is no communication.
  • Personal Safety – Do keep a list of actions that you can follow to prevent situations from escalating into verbal, emotional or physical abuse. This should be put in place as soon as any form of violence is likely to happen. First try to stop the conversation, secondly, try to leave the room or the area, and thirdly call the police.
  • Put Children First – Do make decisions based on what is in the best interests of the children. Their needs and especially their safety and protection from abuse must come first.
  • Therapy – Do seek help if you are struggling to protect yourself or emotionally detach from the toxic people in your life, or if you want to learn more about yourself or build up other skills and capacities in your life (assertiveness, self-esteem, compassion etc.).
  • Work on Yourself – Do allocate time, energy and focus for yourself so that you can restore a good sense of balance with work, leisure, personal growth and socialising regardless of what the toxic person does.

If you are interested in reading more about this, I recommend checking out the Out of the FOG website or reading the book ‘Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You’ by Susan Forward and Donna Frazier.

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

 

What Are the Secrets to Long-term Happiness, Health and Wellbeing?

Recently I’ve begun taking an interest in a field called public health. The World Health Organisation has defined public health as:

“The art and science of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts of society” — Acheson, 1988

As time has gone on, there have been some studies that have helped public health to become less of an art and more of a science.

My favourite two public health studies are:

  1. The Longevity Project (also known as ‘The Terman Study’)
  2. The Harvard Study of Adult Development (also known as ‘The Grant Study’)

What makes these studies exceptional is their duration (80+ years) and the willingness of their participants to continue to be regularly assessed throughout their entire lives. Called prospective longitudinal studies, they both give us a rare chance to actually see which factors contribute to later illness or long-term health and well-being.

I aim to share these groundbreaking findings with you.

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The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” — Isaac Asimov

 

1. The Longevity Project

Over 1,500 of the most promising and brightest boys and girls were initially recruited in 1921 by the Psychologist Lewis Terman. He died in 1956, but the study continued for decades afterwards. All participants were born around the year 1910 and were studied for over 80 years to figure out who would live the longest and why.

Although each of the children was considered to be potentially gifted at the time, not all of them lived long and happy lives. Fortunately, the extensive data of these subjects has been intensely assessed and analysed for over twenty years at The University of California, Riverside.

The significant findings of the study have been summarised in the 2011 book “The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long-Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study” by Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin. I listened to this audiobook recently, and was quite surprised with some of their key results:

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The 10 TRUTHS of Longevity:
  1. It is important to live honestly
    • “A key part of one of the healthy paths is called ‘The High Road.’ Such an individual has good friends, meaningful work and a happy, responsible marriage. The thoughtful planning and perseverance that such people invest in their careers and relationships promote long life naturally and automatically, even when challenges arise.”
  2. Do NOT send your children to school at an earlier age than their peers
    • “Starting formal schooling at a very early age turned out not to be a great idea for most. Children need unstructured play time, and they need to get along with their peers; starting out young seemed to alienate them.”
  3. Illness is NOT random
    • “Those that live longer are often healthier throughout their years and (managed to) avoid serious ailments altogether.”
    • “Those who are healthier tend to be happier, and those who are happier tend to be healthier.”
    • “It’s never too late to choose a healthier path. The first step is to throw away the lists and stop worrying about worrying.”
    • “Thinking of making changes as taking ‘steps’ is a grand strategy, You can’t change major things about yourself overnight. But making small changes, and repeating those steps, can eventually create that path to longer life.”
  4. Good marriages lead to better health, especially for men
    • “Marriage is only health-promoting for men who are well-suited to marriage and have a good marriage. For others, it is more complicated.”
    • “Women who stayed single, were widowed or got divorced often thrived more than women who were married to troublesome husbands.”
    • “Men who stayed divorced were at really high risk for premature mortality.”
  5. Divorce during childhood predicts early death in adulthood
    • “The single strongest social predictor is parental divorce, as it often pushes the child into many unhealthy directions, including heavier drinking and smoking, less education, lower career achievements and a greater risk of later divorce themselves.”pexels-photo-541518
  6. Follow the long-term recommendations that are right for you
    • “The long-lived did not find the secret to health in broccoli, medical tests, vitamins or jogging. Rather they were individuals with certain constellations of habits and patterns of living. Their personalities, career trajectories and social lives proved highly relevant to their long-term health, often in ways we did not expect.”
    • “You need to make changes that will be sustainable in the long term. We say, if you don’t like jogging, don’t jog! Instead, begin doing things that you really enjoy and can keep up, like a walk at lunchtime with a friend or vigorous gardening.”
    • “The usual piecemeal suggestions of relax, eat vegetables, lose weight and get married are lifesaving for some, but neither effective or economical for many.”
    • “Some of the minutiae of what people think will help us lead long, healthy lives, such as worrying about the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the foods we eat, actually are red herrings, distracting us from the major pathways. When we recognise the long-term healthy and unhealthy patterns in ourselves, we can begin to maximise the healthy patterns.”
  7. Conscientiousness is the most critical personality factor for longevity
    • “Conscientiousness is very important. Unconscientious boys, even bright ones, are more likely to grow up to have poor marriages, to smoke more, to drink more, achieve less education, be relatively unsuccessful at work, and die younger.”
    • “Conscientious people stay healthier and live longer for three reasons:
      1. They do more things to protect their health.
      2. They are biologically predisposed to be healthier, and
      3. They tend to end up in healthier situations and relationships.”
  8. Working hard can be useful for you
    • “Those who worked the hardest often lived the longest…especially if they were involved in meaningful careers and were dedicated to things and people beyond themselves.”
    • “It was clear that working hard to overcome adversity or biting off more than you can chew—and then chewing it—does not generally pose a health risk. Striving to accomplish your goals, setting new aims when milestones are reached, and staying engaged and productive is exactly what those heading to a long life tend to do. The long-lived didn’t shy away from hard work; the exact opposite seemed true.”
  9. Resilience is protective for health
    •  “Depending on the circumstances, a traumatic event such as parental divorce could actually contribute to a longer life, if the child learned to be resilient.”
    • “Resilience is important, and can be achieved via a sense of personal accomplishment, strength of character and maturity.”
    • “Combat veterans are less likely to live long lives, but surprisingly the psychological stress of war itself is not necessarily a major health threat. Rather, it is a cascade of unhealthy patterns that sometimes follows. Those who find meaning in a traumatic experience and are able to reestablish a sense of security about the world are usually the ones who return to a healthy pathway.”
  10. Human connection is important
    • “Having pets can improve well-being, but they do not help people live longer, and are not a substitute for friends.”
    • “People who feel loved and cared for report a better sense of well-being.”
    • “The clearest health benefit of social relationships comes from being involved with and helping others.”
    • “It is important to be well-integrated into your community.”
    • “Connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.”
    • “The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become — healthy or unhealthy.”

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2. The Harvard Study of Adult Development

The study began in 1938, and the goal of this longitudinal prospective study was to identify predictors of healthy ageing in real time. For 79 years, it has examined the lives of 268 physically and mentally healthy Harvard college sophomores from the classes of 1939-1944 until their death, including eventual US President John F. Kennedy. It has also incorporated many of their offspring as well as 456 disadvantaged inner-city youths who grew up in Boston between the years of 1940 to 1945.

Earlier this year, I listened to the 2012 audiobook by George Vaillant, titled “Triumphs of Experience.” He was the previous director of the study.

The primary research findings include:
  1. “Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.”
    • Alcoholism precedes marital difficulties and is the leading cause of divorce, with 57% of the divorces being traced to alcoholism.
    • Alcoholism can also lead to the later development of depression and neurosis.
    • Alcoholism is the most significant predictor of early death alongside cigarette smoking.
  2. “Above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t matter”
    • There is no significant difference in income earned by men with an IQ of 110-115 when compared with men who have an IQ higher than 150.
  3. “Ageing liberals have more sex.”
    • While political ideology has no significant impact on life satisfaction overall, the most liberal men continue to have an active sex life into their 80s, whereas conservative men are more likely to cease having sex by the age of 68.
  4. “For good or ill, the effects of childhood last a long time.”
    • A warm childhood relationship with the mother predicts greater financial earning later in life ($87,000 more in comparison to males who had uncaring mothers), greater effectiveness at work later in life, and a three times lower risk of dementia in old age.
    • A warm childhood relationship with the father predicts lower rates of anxiety and pessimism during adulthood, increased life satisfaction later in life, reduced difficulties in letting others get close and greater enjoyment of vacations throughout life.
  5. “It is not any one thing for good or ill—social advantage, abusive parents, physical weakness—that determines the way children adapt to life, but the quality of their total experience.”
    • This essentially means that what goes right during childhood tends to matter much more than what goes wrong.
    • If bad things happen, as long as they are outweighed by the good, you are more than likely to still turn out okay.
    • “Bleak childhoods were not always associated with bleak marriages.”
    • “Restorative marriages and maturing [psychological] defences” are “the soil out of which resilience and post-traumatic growth emerge.”
  6. “People really can change, and people really can grow. Childhood need be neither destiny nor doom.”
  7. Even the death of a parent was relatively unimportant predictively by the time the men were fifty; by the time they were eighty, men who had lost parents when young were as mentally and physically healthy as men whose parents had lovingly watched them graduate from high school.
  8. Prudence, forethought, willpower, and perseverance in junior high school were the best predictors of vocational success at age fifty.”
  9. “All of the fifty-five Best Outcomes had gotten married relatively early and stayed married for most of their adult lives. Proportionately three times as many of the Best Adjusted men enjoyed lifelong happy marriages as the Worst.” 
    • The effect of marriage was even starker for the inner-city men of the Glueck Study: “two-thirds of the never-married were in the bottom fifth in overall social relations, 57 percent were in the bottom fifth in income, and 71 percent were classified by the Study raters as mentally ill.”
    • “It turned out that happy marriages after eighty were not associated either with warm childhoods or with mature defences in early adulthood—that is, you don’t have to start out ‘all grown up’ to end up solidly married.”
  10. “It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives.” or in other words – “Happiness is love. Full stop.”
    • Spouses mutual dependence on each other was associated with happy and healthy marriages. At age eighty-five, 76% of the men still alive said that their marriages were happy.
    • “The majority of the men who flourished found love before thirty, and that was why they flourished.”

For more information, see the latest director of the study Robert Waldinger talk about the key findings from the Harvard Study of Adult Development. His TED talk has over 16 million views at this time of publication:

I hope that you find these highly significant findings as fascinating as I do. They really do highlight the benefits of investing in ambitious public health studies such as these two.

They also give us the best scientifically supported indicators yet of the paths that you want to go down or the changes that you need to make if you’re going to live a happy, healthy and long-life.

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

 

 

Are You Loving​ Your Loved Ones in the Ways They Want to be Loved?

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Where do we go wrong?

One of the saddest things I see time and time again in my work as a Clinical Psychologist is partners who both love each other and try their best to show this to each other, and yet neither of them feel loved and appreciated.

The same thing also happens frequently within families, either between parents and their children or between siblings.

In the excellent book, ‘Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well’ by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, they highlight nicely why this often occurs:

Firstly, we are aware of our thoughts, feelings and intentions behind whatever actions we do. The other person is not. All they can see is what we say, how we say it, and our behaviour or body language. Our body language has been shown to influence approximately 55% of how others interpret and find meaning in what we are saying to them, with 38% being how we say it, and only 7% what we actually say (Mehrabian,1971). Worse still, these non-verbal cues are generally out of our awareness, meaning we don’t see what they see either.

Secondly, we are not able to fully control how our message will be taken in and interpreted by the other person, no matter how precisely we choose our words or actions. This is because how someone understands what we say is based on their past experiences, core beliefs about others or our role (partner, sibling, parent or child), and their expectations and assumptions of what we are like or how we should be. This creates particular biases before we have even opened our mouth, and affects how they are impacted by what we do and say.

Lastly, if we make a mistake or an error or upset someone, we will usually attribute it to the context or situational factors rather than seeing it as something to do with our character (e.g. “I didn’t wash the dishes because I was running late for work”). Conversely, When others make a mistake or upset us, we often attribute it to a personality characteristic or an unchangeable flaw (e.g. “you didn’t wash the dishes because you are lazy and disrespectful”). What happens next is that we usually criticise their character, which they rightly become defensive over, and they try to explain the context, which we tell them is just an excuse. When our character is being criticised, the opposite happens, and we wonder how they can be so cruel and unforgiving (making further judgments about their character and personality). It’s no wonder that relationships are so tricky!

What can we do?

1. Develop Active Listening Skills

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Rather than assume the intent of others based on how they made us feel, it is much better to try and understand their perspective first and show this understanding through the skills of active listening, including:

  • clarifying: asking for more information on what they were talking about
    • “what did you mean by…?”,
    • “can you elaborate further on …?”
  • paraphrasing: repeating back what was said to you in another way
    • them: “it’s like 100 degrees outside!”
    • you: “it’s so hot!”
  • reflecting: showing that you understand how they felt
    • them: “I had nothing to do all weekend!”
    • you: “you must have been bored!”
  • summarising: especially if someone has been speaking for a few minutes on a topic
    • them: multiple stories about the various things that have gone wrong for them recently
    • you: “sounds like you’ve had a rough week!”

Some people will get annoyed if you don’t fully understand them or what they are feeling in the moment, but even this is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the other person and to get better attuned with how they think and feel going forward. Most people will appreciate the effort.

2. Follow the Three Principles of Humanistic Psychology

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Carl Rogers was a Humanistic Psychologist who believed that only three elements were essential for promoting growth and well-being in others. These were:

  • Unconditional Positive Regard: No matter what the other person does or doesn’t do, it is essential to separate the person from their actions, and continue to see the person positively. As a parent or a partner, it is more than okay to not accept or tolerate certain behaviours, but we need to show that we are unhappy with the behaviour rather than who they are. If it is someone that we love, our love for them should not diminish, because we can still see that they are a good person who sometimes does the wrong thing. If they can feel this, it will help them learn right from wrong going forward, rather than feeling like they have to be a certain way to be loved.
  • Empathic Attunement: It is important to really try to see the world in the way that the other person does, and understand how they view the particular situation and feel about it. If we can show this to them in a way that they feel it, they will know that we get it and will develop greater trust in opening up to us about other things going forward. They will also feel less alone and isolated and will be more responsive if we then suggest potential ways to help them out of a predicament. Without understanding first, any advice that is given usually falls flat and is not taken on at best, or is seen as uncaring and interfering at worst.
  • Congruency: It is essential to make sure that what we are expressing is consistent with how we feel (in a way that is appropriate to the other person or audience). Obviously, a parent who is upset at something that has happened in their life may not want to burden a child with their problems. However, it still better to say “Mummy is a little upset but she is going to be okay” rather than “nothing, everything is fine” when a child asks “what’s wrong mummy?” because they have accurately picked up on how you are feeling. Telling them something that is not congruent with how you feel will only confuse them and potentially make them doubt their perception and judgment going forward. The more congruent we are, the more trustworthy we are to others, and the less they have to worry about resentment building up or things being kept from them.

3. Practice Effective Communication

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As part of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Marsha Linehan teaches interpersonal effectiveness skills. She says that if we want to get an objective met when communicating, try the following four steps:

D – Describe the situation, and stick to facts, not judgments

(e.g.”When you are 30 minutes late”, not “When you are rude and don’t care!”).

E – Explain how you feel

(Emotions – e.g. “I feel hurt and upset!”. Not opinions – e.g. “I feel like you don’t care at all!”)

A – Ask for what you need or would prefer

(Behaviours – e.g. “I would prefer that if you are late next time that you either try to leave a bit earlier or text or call to let me know that you are running late”. Not feelings – e.g. “I would prefer if you actually cared about and loved me like you say you do”).

R – Reinforce the potential benefits to them, you and the relationship if they could do what you have asked

(e.g. “Then you won’t need to rush as much, you’ll be safer on the road getting here, I won’t worry as much, we won’t end up fighting, and we’ll be able to enjoy a great night out together!”).

You might be sceptical, but it really can work, and it does become more comfortable with practice.

4. Avoid the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse

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John Gottman, the legendary relationship researcher, claims that he can successfully predict with a 91% accuracy which couples will get divorced in the future after observing them for only five minutes. He says that if you want to avoid a later break-up (the apocalypse), it is essential to prevent the following four things (the four horsemen) that can significantly erode the goodwill of a relationship over time. These are:

  • Criticism: While it is essential to be able to make a complaint about a specific behaviour in a relationship (e.g. “you left the toilet seat up again”), a criticism about who the person is will never be helpful (e.g. “you’re such a slob!”).
  • Contempt: This includes anything that communicates disgust, resentment or looking down upon the other. This may be spoken through hostile humour such as sarcasm, cynicism or name-calling, or displayed through behaviours such as eye rolling, sneering or mocking laughter with the head tilted back. Building a culture of mutual respect and appreciation is the antidote to this.
  • Defensiveness: This is usually in response to criticisms or contempt, and each partner then feels that they are right and the other is wrong and the argument becomes about who is going to win. When each partner is trying to win an argument and blame the other, it is the relationship that suffers in the end. It’s much better to take responsibility for your part, and then work towards what will be best for both of you going forward.
  • Stonewalling: Eventually, after escalating conflict, one partner tries to tune out the other partner, disengaging from the communication or the relationship emotionally while remaining physically present. This is done more by males than females and is a way to calm themselves down when they are feeling emotionally overwhelmed and flooded. The result on the other partner is escalating distress, much like a baby who is suddenly cut off from being able to interact with their mother in the Stillface Experiment:

Letting your partner know that you are overwhelmed and need a 20-minute break but that you will definitely be back and will be happy to continue the discussion once you are feeling calmer is a much more effective way than just shutting off or shutting out the other person. It also leads to both of you feeling more in control and less distressed.

5. Find Out Their Primary and Secondary Love Languages

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Often people will express their love to others in the way that they would most want, rather than showing their love in the way that their partner, child, parent or sibling would want.

For example, a lot of fathers will try to show their love to their children by working hard, making lots of money, and providing financial security and stability for their future. What the child often wants is just to spend some time with their dad, playing at the park, kicking the football or playing video games together.

The most confusing scenario to me (that seems to happen way more than it should) is males, who are usually more visual than females, sending explicit pictures of themselves to their female partners because they would really like to receive a graphic image from their partner. They, therefore, assume that their partner would want the same. Meanwhile, their female partners, who are usually more sentimental than males, may actually prefer some flowers or a lovely card with a thoughtful handwritten message, but men don’t seem to understand this, because it’s typically not something that they would ever want to receive. Therefore they don’t see the point. Big mistake! Just ask Kevin James:

This is where understanding the five love languages, written about by Gary Chapman in various books, becomes very handy.

The first step, when trying to show someone that you care, is to figure out which love languages seem to mean the most to them. There is a questionnaire on the website http://www.5lovelanguages.com that you could ask the other person to complete if you are unsure what they value most and want to understand them better.

The next step is to disregard what you would want from them, and do what you think will make them the happiest, based on their love language preferences:

  • Words of Affirmation:
    • DO: Give them compliments, encouraging words, written cards or letters
    • DON’T: Give them undue criticism or emotionally harsh words
  • Quality Time:
    • DO: Give them your undivided attention, have one-on-one conversations without interruptions, do things together, take trips together, sit and talk
    • DON’T: Spend too much time with friends or groups (even if it’s together), neglect them or have long gaps of time between catch-ups and check-ins
  • Gifts:
    • DO: Give gifts, give time, remember special occasions, give small tokens of appreciation or love – show that you have put in the effort or thought in choosing
    • DON’T: Forget special events or anniversaries, or buy meaningless, generic or thoughtless gifts that show that you haven’t put in time or effort in choosing
  • Acts of Service:
    • DO: Assist with chores, make a checklist together, tick something off their to-do-list, fix something, ask “How can I help?” or “What can I do?”
    • DON’T: Overcommit to tasks that you won’t be able to complete, forget to follow through on something you have promised to do, fail to help.
  • Physical Touch:
    • DO: Sit close, hug, touch
    • DON’T: Withhold affection or threaten to do so, neglect, physically hit or abuse

 

By loving those that we love in the way that they want to be loved, there is a much higher chance that we will also feel loved and appreciated too, and the quality of our relationships is likely to improve immensely. Seeing that relationship warmth is the number one predictor of long-term health and happiness, making a few small changes in how we listen to, talk to and care for others could go a long way to improving the overall quality of our lives.

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

 

10 Things You Need to Know About Adverse Childhood Experiences

1. There are 10 categories of experience that are considered to have adverse consequences on the later development of children

These include:

  • Abuse:
    • Emotional
    • Physical
    • Sexual
  • Neglect:
    • Emotional
    • Physical
  • Household Dysfunction:
    • Domestic Violence
    • Substance Abuse
    • Mental Illness
    • Parental Separation/Divorce
    • Crime
2. It is possible to determine your own Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) score

The ACE score is a measure that has been designed to measure the cumulative nature of childhood distress. 

If you are interested in finding out your ACE score, please answer the following questionnaire from acestudy.org:

While you were growing up, during your first 18 years of life:

 

1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often

  • Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or
  • Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?

Yes? No?   If yes, enter 1 _____________

 

2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often

  • Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or
  • Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?

Yes? No?    If yes, enter 1 _____________

 

3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever

  • Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or
  • Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?

Yes? No?    If yes, enter 1 ____________

 

4. Did you often or very often feel that…

  • No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or
  • Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?

Yes? No?    If yes, enter 1 ___________

 

5. Did you often or very often feel that…

  • You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or
  • Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?

Yes? No?    If yes, enter 1 ___________

 

6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?

Yes? No?    If yes, enter 1 ___________

 

7. Was your mother or stepmother:

  • Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or 
  • Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or
  • Ever repeatedly hit at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife

Yes? No?    If yes, enter 1 ___________

 

8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?

Yes? No?    If yes, enter 1 ___________

 

9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?

Yes? No?    If yes enter 1 ___________

 

10. Did a household member go to prison?

Yes? No?     If yes enter 1 __________

Now add up your “Yes” answers: __________ This is your ACE Score.

3. Adverse childhood experiences are common

Of the 17,337 individuals surveyed, here is the prevalence of each possible adverse experience, from most to least, represented as a percentage:

  • Physical abuse towards the child – 28.3%
  • Substance abuse in the household – 26.9%
  • Parental separation/divorce – 23.3%
  • Sexual abuse toward the child – 20.7%
  • Mental Illness in the household – 19.4%
  • Emotional neglect towards the child – 14.8%
  • Domestic violence in the household – 12.7%
  • Emotional abuse towards the child – 10.6%
  • Physical neglect towards the child – 9.9%
  • Imprisoned household member – 4.7%

This graph from acestoohigh.com presents these percentages visually:

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4. It is more common to have an adverse childhood experience than to not have any

As shown in the graph from cdc.gov, 64% of the population surveyed experienced at least one adverse childhood experience(ACE), with the majority of those reporting at least one ACE reporting multiple ACEs.

Beyond the ACEs study, at least one in four children will suffer from physical, emotional or sexual abuse at some point during their childhoods, with one-in-seven children experiencing abuse or neglect in the past 12 months (Finklehor, Turner, Shattuck & Hamby, 2015).

5. Adverse childhood experiences are linked with a higher risk of many things in later life

This includes:

  • Alcohol abuse and dependence
  • Early smoking initiation and current smoking status
  • Illicit drug use
  • IV drug abuse
  • Obesity
  • Suicide attempts
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Hallucinations
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicide attempts
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Teen or unintended pregnancies
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Improper brain development
  • Impaired learning ability and general cognitive difficulties
  • Attention and memory difficulties
  • Visual and/or motor impairment
  • Lower language development
  • Impaired social and emotional skills
  • Poorer quality of life

Another long-term study indicated that approximately 80% of young adults who had previously been abused qualified for at least one psychiatric diagnosis at the age of 21 (Silverman, Reinherz & Gianconia, 1996). Neglected or abused children are also 59% more likely to be arrested during their childhood, 28% more likely to engage in criminal behaviour as adults, and 30% more likely to engage in violent crime as an adult (Widom & Maxfield, 2001).

The graph below from vetoviolence.cdc.gov shows the increased risk of many conditions in individuals who have previously had adverse childhood experiences:

ACE- Behavior and Health Effects

As you can see, there is a higher risk of experiencing these difficulties for individuals with ACEs. However, the prevalence rate is NOT 100% for any of the factors. The importance of this should not be understated…

Individuals who have had negative experiences during their childhood can still grow and flourish as adults, and can also be more resilient as a result of learning how to overcome significant challenges when they are younger.

A major longitudinal study even found that what goes right during childhood is often more important than what goes wrong, and having even one safe, stable and nurturing figure in a child’s life can reduce the later risk of psychological and physical health problems (Vaillant, 2015).

6. Adverse childhood experiences are linked with a higher risk of later disease and early mortality

This includes:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD)
  • Liver Disease
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
  • Lung Cancer
  • Death Before Age 65

As you can see in the table below from acestoohigh.com, individuals with an ACE score of 4 or more are at a significantly higher risk of developing later physical health conditions:

iowahealthcon

Abuse and neglect during childhood can also negatively impact the ability of individuals to efficiently establish and maintain healthy romantic adult relationships (Colman & Widom, 2004). As relationship warmth and social connection are vital protective factors for long-term health and happiness, many of these more significant risks could at least be partially explained by the higher risk of interpersonal conflict, disconnection and isolation.

7. The more adverse childhood experiences one has, the more significant likelihood they have of experiencing difficulties with their mental and physical health and overall well-being later in life

lasting-affects-all

A “dose-response reaction” exists with most risk factors and following conditions, in that the more adverse childhood experiences one has, the higher their risk is for adverse outcomes later in life, as shown in the above graphic from cdc.gov.

8. It is possible to conceptualise how these adverse childhood experiences lead to an early death

The ACE Pyramid from cdc.gov suggests that adverse childhood experiences contribute to premature death via four intermediate processes that develop in a sequential nature:

9. Reducing adverse experiences of childhood will significantly improve public health and reduce the burden that these issues have on individuals and the society

Childhood abuse and neglect are not just damaging to the individual. They also place a substantial financial strain on society, with an estimated total lifetime economic burden of approximately $124 billion (2010 dollars) in the US in 2008 (Fang, Brown, Florence & Mercy, 2012). This is similar to the financial burden of other public health issues, such as diabetes and stroke.

economic-toll.png

The main reasons for the increased economic burden are lost productivity, followed by increased medical costs, special education, child welfare and criminal justice costs (Fang, Brown, Florence & Mercy, 2012).

Even though it may be expensive to develop and implement programs that aim to prevent child neglect and abuse, the benefits of these programs, if valid, are very likely to outweigh the costs in the long-run.

10. We need to do something to address and lower the prevalence of ACEs in future generations

Creating safe, stable and nurturing environments (SSNREs) is the key to having a positive impact on reducing ACEs going forward.

The five best practices to do this is shown in the graph below:

CDC Recommendations The US Centers For Disease Control (CDC) also suggests:

  • Greater treatment for mental illness and substance abuse
  • More high-quality child care, and
  • More financial support for low-income families.

Conclusion

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Please help to get this information out there to as many people as possible. If you found something of value in this article, please share it or pass it onto whoever else may benefit too!

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

 

Does Sharing Your Bed With Someone Wreck Your Sleep Quality?

The seventeenth variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine its impact on sleep is sharing the bed with someone else. I will see if being if my sleep quality is better with or without a bed partner.

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 sleeping solo is at improving sleep quality.

HOW COULD SLEEPING NEXT TO SOMEONE IMPAIR YOUR SLEEP QUALITY?

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It’s amazing to me how many clients I see with sleeping difficulties who have partners that sleep brilliantly. They go to bed each night, and are faced with a partner who falls asleep as soon as they get to bed, remains asleep for the night, and then bounces out of bed refreshed the next morning.

Meanwhile, they report being up all night: awake, alert, worried and frustrated.

In some cases, their partner is too hot. At other times, they snore or make too much noise. Regardless of what their partner does, it only further escalates their distress that they are not sleeping well while their partner sleeps excellently, night after night.

What if they just decided to sleep in another room or another bed? Would it help their sleep, or is their partner’s sleep just something that they focus on too much? Let’s find out…

THE OUTCOME

episode 17 sleep diary

Comparison: Bed partner vs No bed partner

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

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. In bed alone – 1 per night
    2. Sharing bed – 1.29 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. Sharing bed – 7 hours 34 minutes
    2. In bed alone – 7 hours 33 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. In bed alone – 11:49pm
    2. Sharing bed  – 11:59pm
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. Sharing bed – 7 hours 3 minutes
    2. In bed alone – 7 hours 2 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. Sharing bed – 10.71 minutes
    2. In bed alone – 12.86 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. In bed alone – 17.86 minutes
    2. Sharing bed – 20.71 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. Sharing bed – 7:33 am
    2. In bed alone – 7:22 am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. In bed alone – 4.14/5

1. Sharing bed – 4.14/5

  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. In bed alone – 93.22%
    2. Sharing bed – 93.08%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

With a count of 4.5 points to 4.5 points, it is a tie! Being in bed alone led to fewer awakenings, less time awake during the night, an earlier bedtime, and a better sleep efficiency. Sharing a bed led to slightly more time in bed, more sleep time, a quicker sleep onset and a later rise time. The differences between the two conditions on all of these variables aren’t much, indicating that for me it didn’t make too much of a difference.

IS SLEEPING ALONE A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

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IS IT EFFECTIVE?

It depends on what you are like and what your partner is like. For me, as long as I go to bed at the right time for me instead of when my partner is ready for sleep, I will still fall asleep quickly and have a great night’s sleep.

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

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

If your partner’s obstructive sleep apnea. snoring, restless legs, sleepwalking, sleeptalking, night terrors or REM behavioural sleep disorder is impacting your sleep and you have another bed or bedroom that you can use, it is pretty easy to try this instead of driving yourself crazy trying to sleep next to them. More people sleep separately to their partner than most people realise, and if you are able to snuggle pre-bed and in the morning, and just retreat to different beds for sleep, are you really missing out on much?

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

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

Dittami and colleagues (2007) tracked 10 heterosexual couples over 28 nights and made sure that they slept at least 10 nights together and 10 nights apart during that period. Some interesting findings occurred, as sharing a bed with a partner had negative effects on sleep for women, but positive effects for men. Men slept worse by themselves and said that they slept better with their partners. Women reported better sleep when sharing a bed after sex, but their objective sleep measures showed worse sleep than when they were by themselves (Dittami et al., 2007).

A 2010 study by Hasler and Troxel found that when men reported better sleep the night before, they tended to have less conflict during the day with their partner. When women had less conflict during the day with their partner, they then tended to have better objective sleep that night (Hasler & Trowel, 2010). A male partner who sleeps well can positively influence his partner’s sleep, but he could improve his own sleep that night by trying to minimise how many negative interactions he has with his partner when he is sleep deprived or irritable (Hasler & Troxel, 2010).

A more recent study by Spiegelhalder and colleagues (2017) supported the findings that men may sleep better with a partner than alone, as they increased their total sleep time when with a partner, and reported a better quality of sleep too. Women’s sleep was no different alone or together, and it also didn’t seem to matter whether it was in their own sleeping environment or their partners (Speigelhalder et al., 2017).

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

Overall, sleeping alone as a way to sleep better gets a score of 13/25 + 15/25 + 25/50 =

53/100: Pass

 

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WHAT I RECOMMEND

If by sleeping in separate beds you can both get a good night’s sleep without feeling frustrated with each other, then it may be worth it. More people sleep separately to their partner than you might realise. If you snuggle together before you go to sleep and then climb into bed with one another once you wake up in the morning, are you really missing out on anything?

Alternatively, If your partner gets really upset by not sleeping together and you don’t mind sharing the bed with them, it is probably better to keep trying together until you get used to it. Conflict can negatively impact your sleep and subsequently your relationship, and sleeping together can lead to a greater perception of sleep quality and higher relationship satisfaction.

Either way, talk to your partner if it is becoming a problem, and do what is best for your relationship. Humans can adjust to most things over time. By persisting with something that is initially difficult and realising that it is getting easier with time, it can eventually get to the point where it’s your new normal. This can be the case for sleeping together or sleeping alone.

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

Do You Need to Buy a New Bed if You Want to Improve Your Sleep?

The sixteenth variable that I will be manipulating across a two week period to examine its impact on sleep is the comfort of the sleeping environment. I will see if sleeping in a bed is better for sleep quality than sleeping on the couch or sleeping on the floor. 

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 a comfortable bed is at improving sleep.

HOW COULD THE COMFORT OF WHERE YOU SLEEP IMPAIR YOUR SLEEP QUALITY?

If you look at all the bed advertisements out there, they will tell you that the best way to ensure a good night of sleep is to buy the best mattress that you can.

However, I have seen many clients who have spent thousands of dollars on new mattresses and pillows, and they still don’t seem to sleep any better.

I’m interested to see just how much of an impact the surface and comfort of what I sleep on has on my sleep quality. Whenever I go camping I usually tend to sleep well still, so maybe it doesn’t have as much of an impact on sleep as what the advertisers try to say.

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THE EXPERIMENT

For the first five nights, I decided to sleep where I normally do on my Queen Bed, which feels very comfortable to me and usually leads to a good night’s sleep.

For the middle five nights, I slept on the couch, which is long enough for me but isn’t too wide and also has variations in hardness and softness, and some gaps between each seat cushion.

For the last four nights, I slept on a carpeted floor with a sheet underneath me and a blanket on top. This was clearly the least comfortable option for me and the hardest surface.

Let’s see if what I slept on made a big difference to my sleep…

THE OUTCOME

episode 16 sleep diary

Comparison: Queen bed vs Couch vs Carpeted floor

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

  • The number of awakenings:
    1. Queen bed – 1 per night
    2. Couch – 1.4 per night
    3. Floor – 2 per night
      • less is better
  • Time in bed:
    1. Queen bed – 7 hours 45 minutes
    2. Floor – 7 hours 34 minutes
    3. Couch – 7 hours 21 minutes
      • 8 hours is ideal for me
  • Time to bed:
    1. Floor – 11:20pm
    2. Queen bed – 11:42pm
    3. Couch – 12:18pm
      • 11:30pm is ideal for me
  • Total sleep time:
    1. Queen bed – 7 hours 18 minutes
    2. Couch – 6 hours 46 minutes
    3. Floor – 6 hours 39 minutes
      • 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
  • Sleep onset latency:
    1. Queen bed – 10 minutes
    2. Couch – 15 minutes
    3.  Floor – 15 minutes
      • quicker is better
  • Wake after sleep onset:
    1. Queen bed – 17 minutes
    2. Couch – 20 minutes
    3.  Floor – 40 minutes
      • less is better
  • Rise time:
    1. Queen bed – 7:27 am
    2. Couch – 7:39 am
    3. Floor – 6:54 am
      • 7:30am is ideal for me
  • Sleep quality:
    1. Queen bed – 4.2/5
    2. Couch – 4.2/5
    3. Floor – 3.78/5
      • higher is better
  • Sleep efficiency:
    1. Queen bed – 94.19%
    2. Couch – 92.06%
    3. Floor – 87.89%
      • higher is better

AND THE WINNER IS…

With a count of 8 points to 1 points, sleeping on a Queen bed is substantially better for my sleep than sleeping on the couch or on the floor. My sleep quality on the queen bed was rated the same as sleeping on the couch, but I fell asleep quicker in bed, woke up less, spent less time awake during the night and had a sleep efficiency that was 2.13% better.

It actually made more of a difference to me than I expected. I’m not sure if that would be the same between a good enough mattress and an excellent mattress, however, but if a mattress company wanted to send me their mattress for free to compare, I’d be interested to explore the differences further.

IS BUYING A NEW BED A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?

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IS IT EFFECTIVE?

In comparison to the floor, definitely. In comparison to a comfortable couch, a little bit. Is a $10,000 mattress better than a $500 mattress, who knows? But beds do tend to contribute to better sleep than no beds.

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

CAN IT BE APPLIED?

Yes. But it can be super expensive to buy a new bed. If you already have a bed that isn’t too old or saggy and is reasonably comfortable, then there will be other things that you could do to improve your sleep that would cost less and potentially be more effective. If you do not have a bed or your current one is really old or causing you a lot of discomfort and pain, upgrading your bed may be worth it.

I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy an 11/25. 

IS IT SCIENTIFIC?

Tonetti, Martoni and Natale (2009) found that by giving 32 healthy people a new mattress, their subjective sleep quality did not seem to improve, but their objective sleep did, with the reduced time taken to get to sleep, improved sleep efficiency and reduced motor activity during the night. These improvements occurred in both the latex mattress group and the independent spring mattress group.

A follow-up study in 2011 by Tonetti and colleagues found that a Myform® mattress led to significant improvements in actigraphy recorded sleep onset latency and sleep efficiency when compared to a traditional spring mattress in 28 healthy volunteers. Both of these studies sound like they are funded by a mattress company, but they indicate that there is at least some support for more expensive mattresses over cheaper ones.

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

Overall, stimulus control as a way to sleep better gets a score of 15/25 + 11/25 + 30/50 =

56/100: Pass

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WHAT I RECOMMEND

Do not focus too much on the quality of your mattress. If it feels comfortable to you and does not cause you too much discomfort or pain, then you probably don’t need to change it.

It is important that we feel comfortable wherever we sleep, so if you do not, see if there is anything that you can change that won’t cost too much before investing in a new mattress. They can be really expensive and are not an empirically validated treatment for insomnia.

If you are concerned about your sleep, a referral to a sleep physician for a full assessment would be a much better place to start.

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