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    Self-Optimization — mental performance

    Achieving Flow State: A State of Peak Performance & Happiness

    Achieving Flow State: A State of Peak Performance & Happiness

    What is Flow?

    The state of flow takes place when a person’s attention is so immersed in a given activity, that his sense of self-awareness is lost for some time, replaced by a union of consciousness between the subject and the activity itself. 

    This absorption into the activity is so complete, that everything else which is going on around the person, is completely blocked out. The person’s attention has withdrawn, or ‘disengaged’ from the outside world and all thoughts which are unrelated to the activity.

    The entire person, both body and mind, are fully invested in the activity. Achieving this state of flow enhances the performance of the activity, while creating a sense of genuine satisfaction and happiness. 

    A ten-year study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute research organization, a division of the McKinsey & Co. management consulting firm, showed that executives found themselves 500% more effective when in a state of flow.

    The experience of flow is actually fairly common and is something which every person has experienced, although some people seem to achieve it easier. After experiencing flow, some have used the popular expression, “I was in the zone”. Older hipsters might remember the expression, “I was in the groove”. 

    Unraveling The Mystery of Flow

    A popular 1990 book entitled, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, by Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is gaining a resurgence of interest amongst active people who are looking to enhance their levels of performance and life satisfaction. For those unfamiliar with Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, and Hungarian surnames, a phonetic clue to his first and last name is: “me-high, cheek-sent-me-high”.  

    Csikszentmihalyi is considered to be a co-founder of a branch of psychology known as positive psychology, which explores the phenomenon of human happiness and its causes. His journey to positive psychology began while, as a young man in Switzerland, he attended a lecture by the famous Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung. 

    He was so impressed by what he learned that he began studying all of Jung’s published works. This ultimately led him to emigrate to the United States where he took up the study of psychology at the University of Chicago. Today, he is the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University.

    In his book, Csikszentmihalyi has identified eight characteristics of flow:

    1. Complete concentration on the task;
    2. Goals and anticipated reward are clear;
    3. Disorientation with the sense of time;
    4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
    5. Performing the activity seems effortless;
    6. There is a balance between the activity’s challenge and a person’s abilities;
    7. The action itself and the person’s awareness are merged;
    8. There is a feeling of control over the activity.

    How to Get Into the Flow State

    Naturally, those who have studied Csikszentmihalyi’s work have become interested in the flow experience, particularly how to enter flow state.

    Being in flow state requires a high level of concentration and focused attention. But there are other factors which help determine whether or not a flow state experience is feasible. 

    The activity in which a person is engaged must be a familiar activity. Getting into flow necessitates moving the intellect out of the way. 

    When we engage in a new, or relatively unfamiliar activity, our left-brain hemisphere and our intellect are both engaged, because we have to ‘think’ our way through the activity. We are not yet adept enough in it to do it spontaneously and effortlessly. 

    So, along with the activity being one in which we are already somewhat proficient, there are other factors which can help.

    1. There is a specific goal or outcome from the activity that we strive to achieve.
    2. It is an activity that we enjoy or are passionate about.
    3. The activity offers a challenge, but a realistic challenge.
    4. The activity offers an opportunity for us to expand our skill level.

    flow state chart

    Balancing Challenge and Skill Level

    There is an important balance which must be struck between challenge and skill level. If the challenge is too far beyond one’s level of skills, he becomes anxious and stressed. His mind becomes diverted and he can’t relax and let go. Conversely, when his level of skill exceeds the extent of the challenge, he becomes bored and distracted.

    The optimal relationship between challenge and skill lies somewhere in the middle, where there is sufficient challenge to attract one’s focus, but not so much that the level of challenge creates a distraction.

    Activities That Can Lead to Flow

    There are many types of activities we can engage in which can offer opportunities to achieve flow. Some of the more obvious examples involve athletic, physical, and recreational activities.

    Surfing

    A surfer, for example, who has surfed for many years and who has achieved a level of proficiency in his surfing, can easily experience the flow state.

    There is nothing there but him and the ocean. His physical movements, which are needed to balance and position himself on the board as he adjusts to the movement of the water, are all spontaneous, reactionary, and intuitive. His ‘muscle memory’ takes over, and he goes on autopilot.

    Each wave is unique so each wave offers him a new challenge. This is one reason why surfers love to surf, because it is an easy way to achieve flow.

    Surfing leads to happiness because it lends itself to experiencing flow.

    Art & Music

    Arts, like music, also provide opportunities to achieve flow.

    An improvisational musician, one who plays spontaneously by ear, has already mastered the technical skills of the instrument. When he plays, he goes into the same autopilot that the surfer does.

    His intuitive skills take over and he gets lost in his performance. All that exists for him in this state is his instrument and the sounds.

    Even an orchestral performer, who plays off of a written musical score, can experience flow, as long as he already knows the music by heart, and he is challenged by it in some way.

    Video Games

    Mundane activities, like playing video games, also offer opportunities to experience the flow state. A player, who is skilled at the game, gets lost in the activity.

    His muscle memory takes over. His vision and his corresponding, responsive hand movements all happen automatically. He is fully absorbed in the game, and nothing outside of the game itself exists for him, while playing. The big pay-off for video game enthusiasts is flow.

    Nootropics and Flow

    One question regarding flow which has arisen is; “to what extent can our foods and food supplementation enhance our ability to enter the flow state?”

    Nootropics are a class of natural and synthetic substances that are used to enhance cognitive function, especially the ability to concentrate and focus. They are also used to boost memory, creativity, intelligence, and motivation.

    Caffeine, Rhodiola rosea, Ginkgo biloba, and Bacopa monnieri are four of the many nootropic compounds that have been shown to improve concentration levels and cotnigive function. 

    We formulated one of our flagship nootropics, metaFOCUS around helping individuals get into flow state. It has been shown to increase mental clarity, improve our speed and ability to process information, and to augment our ability to enter the flow state.

    The product has been especially designed to assist someone engaged in any strenuous or highly-concentrated activity. This includes athletics, physical recreation, bodybuilding, physical labor, artistic activities like music and dance, studying, and intellectual work.

    The metaFOCUS Formulation

    B-Vitamins – A growing body of research supports the relationship between B-Vitamin supplementation and cognitive enhancement. metaFOCUS contains B5, B6, B9, and B12.

    Acetyl-L-Carnitine – L-Carnitine is an important amino acid, produced in the kidney and liver, important in heart and brain function. It acts as an anti-oxidant within the brain. Research has linked l-Carnitine to enhanced mental focus and cognitive function.

    Artichoke extract – Artichoke contains a phytochemical, ‘cynarin’, that possesses a variety of pharmacological features including free-radical scavenging and antioxidant activity. It is believed that cynarin acts as a potential chemo-preventive against genotoxic agents in the brain.

    DL-Phenylalanine – L-Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid found in a variety of foods. It acts as a neurotransmitter and is a precursor to some vital biological molecules including tyrosine and epinephrine (adrenaline).

    Alpha-Lipoic Acid – Alpha-Lipoic Acid is an organic molecule found in human cells, and is involved in transforming nutrients into energy. Supplementation with Alpha-Lipoic Acid has been shown to boost physical energy and mental focus. It has also been shown to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

    Cognizin®Cognizin® has been shown to support healthy, functioning neurons, even helping to repair damaged neurons. One research study supports the ‘neuroprotective’ activity of Cognizin®:

    The role of Cognizin® in cognitive impairment

    “Cognizin® appears to be a promising agent to improve cognitive impairment, especially of vascular origin. In fact, it appears as a supplement with the ability to promote "safe" neuroprotection, capable of enhancing endogenous protection.”

    Phosphatidylserine – Phosphatidylserine is a type of fat compound called a phospholipid, which can be found in your brain. Numerous research studies have linked phosphatidylserine to brain health and cognitive enhancement. One study concluded;

    “Phosphatidylserine…safely slows, halts, or reverses biochemical alterations and structural deterioration in nerve cells. It supports human cognitive functions, including the formation of short-term memory, the consolidation of long-term memory, the ability to create new memories, the ability to retrieve memories, the ability to learn and recall information, the ability to focus attention and concentrate, the ability to reason and solve problems, language skills, and the ability to communicate. It also supports locomotor functions, especially rapid reactions and reflexes.”

    Ginkgo biloba extract – It has long been known that Ginkgo biloba has brain-boosting qualities. One research study demonstrated its efficacy in treating young people with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The study concluded: "Ginkgo biloba is an effective complementary treatment for ADHD. [SOURCE]

    Coleus Forskohlii extract - A study conducted by the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that Coleus forskohlii significantly enhanced weight loss. It has also been shown to increase strength and work intensity.

    A molecule within Forskolin, known as cAMP, has been shown to regulate alertness and productivity, as do L-phenylalanine and Acetyl-l-Carnitine. 

    So, can a nootropic supplement, like metaFOCUS, help us get into the flow state? It definitely can.

    The supplement was formulated to aid in concentration and focus, both of which are essential components of flow. metaFOCUS can enhance day-to-day activities, such as, work, recreation, study, and athletics. 

    Flow and Classical Yoga: West meets East

    There isn’t anything new about flow, even though a contemporary scholar, Csikszentmihalyi, has expounded on the subject. What is new is how the recognition of flow is being presented to people now, in the twenty-first century, by a modern psychologist.

    Csikszentmihalyi has simply observed a natural human experience of consciousness which already existed. He also articulated his observations in a smart and very practical way through his book. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi recognized that when a person is in the state of flow, his performance is enhanced and the experience tends to produce happiness.

    If an individual could somehow live his entire life like this, in a perpetual state of flow, he would become a highly productive individual, and he would have achieved that cherished, and somewhat elusive human objective; happiness.

    A Brief History of Yoga

    Ancient Indian sages understood flow in the context of yoga and their spiritual endeavors. Yoga, when used in this context, refers to ‘Classical Yoga’, also known as ‘Ashtang Yoga’.

    Today, here in America in the twenty-first century, when we hear the word ‘yoga’, we think of a room full of (mostly) females with little rolled-up mats and tight pants. When considering flow in relation to Classical Yoga, we would have to agree with Solomon, that there is “nothing new under the sun”. 

    Modern, Western yoga bears little resemblance to Classical Yoga. Classical yoga is actually more akin to what we today would call meditation. The goal of the practice of yoga is to achieve Samadhi; to merge the lower self with the Higher self, or God. 

    Classical yoga is expounded upon in the Yoga Sutras, one of six components to the Vedas, perhaps humanity’s oldest collection of philosophical literature.  

    The Yoga Sutras were written around 600 BCE by a great yogic master named Patanjali. It provides a framework of eight components, or ‘branches’, upon which a multitude of styles and applications of yoga can be, and have been, established. 

    Four of these eight components of Classical Yoga are in play when we experience flow. 

    1. Pratyahara
    2. Dharana
    3. Dhyana
    4. Samadhi

    Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the Senses

    Pratyahara is the process of withdrawing the attention from outside, and diverting it inwardly, to experience the cosmic realms. 

    In flow, the attention is withdrawn from thoughts and actions which are not involved in the subject activity.

    Dharana: Concentration of the Mind

    Dharana is the concentrated focus of the attention. 

    In yoga, there are many possible targets for the attention, depending on the style of meditation that the person is practicing. In flow, the attention is focused and fully absorbed in the activity itself.

    Dhyana: Contemplative Concentration

    Dhyana is the ensuing experience of the concentrated attention, moving forward in time.

    In yoga, it is contemplation or meditation. In flow, this relates to the performance of the activity, once fully absorbed concentration is achieved.

    Samadhi: Higher State of Consciousness

    Samadhi is the complete loss of self, a timeless state where the contemplator is merged with the contemplated. It is a state where the witness (awareness), that which is being witnessed, and the process of witnessing (awareness) are unified as one.

    Flow is a type of samadhi. It is a distant cousin, but it is related. The principal difference is that true Samadhi can only be experienced in a relaxed, motionless state. Flow is a state akin to Samadhi, but it is experienced in an awakened state of action and movement.

    Concentration - The Key to Flow State

    The principal element in both flow and yoga is the attention itself. The attention is the most significant, and most powerful component of our consciousness.

    It is the essence of our life energy. It is who and what we are. When we concentrate ourselves in our attention, everything is possible. Everything is better, enhanced.

    The headquarters of the attention is in the forehead, between and slightly behind our eyebrows. Yogis call this point the sixth chakra, or ‘ajna’ chakra (or third eye). It shares the same physical space with the pineal gland within the brain. 

    Indian sages claim that the attention is the outward expression of the human soul. It is the essence of life and of consciousness. They also claim that the attention has a quality, which is bliss. 

    In flow, we are in a state of concentrated attention, and this is why we experience happiness, because the essential nature of attention itself is bliss.

    14 Productivity Hacks to Optimize Your Workflow

    14 Productivity Hacks to Optimize Your Workflow

    At the end of your day, do you feel like you could have gotten more done? Maybe you could have completed more tasks if you cut out distractions or implemented efficiency tactics.

    After a long day’s work, you should feel satisfied; a sense of accomplishment and completion. These feelings can become the norm through a few productivity tools and hacks.

    Most of us are well-trained and skilled in our job duties and tasks, so we normally don’t bother to explore ways to improve our productivity, although some of the things we do could be done better.

    You can use these productivity tools to enhance your ability to get more done throughout the day.

    Focus on One Task at a Time

    This is sometimes known as the Pomodoro System or Pomodoro Technique. It consists of breaking down your tasks into 25-minute intervals and taking short breaks in between tasks. In this way, you concentrate on one task. You abandon the idea of multitasking. You are focused on the singular task at hand and completely in the zone.

    You also have a sense of urgency when you’re on the clock and you forget trying to fine-tune your work. Stress levels are also reduced because you focus on one task at a time instead of trying to get everything done at once.

    Mobile Apps for Increasing Productivity

    There are a variety of apps on the market that can increase your productivity, whether for handling your emails, notes, financials, reading, etc., and many are free to download. For example, there are apps for grocery shopping, writing, notes, banking, and other mundane tasks.

    You can really take advantage of technology to increase productivity whether you’re in the office or somewhere else.

    Here is a list of some free apps to explore, which can increase your productivity:

    • ‘Todoist’ - a great to-do list manager
    • ‘Keeper’ - a password manager
    • ‘Shoeboxed’ - for expense tracking
    • ‘Evernote’ – Evernote is essentially a second brain. You can record ALL of your notes on Evernote, whether it’s a thought you’ve been pondering, or notes on a book you’ve been reading, or perhaps for one you’re thinking about writing.

    The “Two-Minute” Do-It-Now Rule

    There are many tasks that pop-up during your day and they eventually begin to stack up.

    Before you decide whether or not to complete a task, ask yourself, “Can it be completed in two minutes?” If it can be completed in two minutes or less, do it now! If the task will take longer than two minutes, add it to your to-do list but make sure to prioritize it appropriately.

    Write Down Your Most Important Tasks

    Eliminate ambiguity in your workday. Ambiguity can be a productivity killer and a time waster. It has become increasingly important, in an age of perpetual distraction, to prioritize the most important tasks. Take some time in the morning to decide which tasks are the most important ones to your overall vision and address those first.

    This practice will help you overcome procrastination and take things off your mind while taking action on a more consistent basis.

    Create a Schedule to Check Emails

    It’s easy to get sidetracked checking your emails dozens of times a day, especially if you have multiple email addresses. Turn off your email notifications because if you log-in to your email, you’ll end up not only responding to one email but many emails and then you’ll begin organizing them. Instead, choose only a few, specific times each day.

    I recommend checking your email once in the morning, again before lunch, and another toward the end of your workday.

    Eliminate Website Distractions

    There are many websites on the internet that are so, so interesting, but very distracting.

    These sites can ruin your productivity. Block those sites on your work computer to increase your productivity level. You can find an effective website blocker if you simply “google it.”

    Practice Saying “No”

    For many people, it is difficult to say “no” to requests from certain people. Some people want to use or manipulate others. You must practice saying “no” sometimes. Otherwise, these people will kill your productivity.

    You can simply let people know that “you’re too busy now and that you’ll let them know if you can get to it later,” as an example.

    Listen to Music

    You can increase your focus, concentration, and productivity level by listening to certain types of music. It takes some experimentation to figure out what music works best for you since people react differently to different types of music.

    There are apps available that provide music that has been scientifically proven to increase productivity. One such example is Brain.fm.

    Use a Password Manager

    It’s easy to become overwhelmed trying to remember our passwords for the various sites we peruse.

    Download a password manager program like LastPass which will remember but encrypt your passwords to keep them safe. This way you can simply log-in without entering your password each time.

    Yoga or Meditate Each Morning

    Meditation is about concentrating or focusing on one thing and blocking out all distractions.

    Studies have shown that both meditation and yoga can decrease stress, enhance creativity, increase focus, and improve memory.

    You can begin by meditating or doing yoga for a few minutes each morning. As your practice becomes more routine, you can lengthen the duration of each practice.

    Natural Sunlight, Indoors and Outdoors

    Open your blinds first thing in the morning to get started with some healthy natural light.

    Natural light will improve your mood and your outlook throughout the day. You’ll find yourself being more productive while performing everyday tasks. Sunshine has been shown to facilitate better sleep and an overall better quality of life.

    If you live in an area with limited sunlight, remember to take a vitamin-D supplement. Studies show that only about 10 minutes of direct sunlight are needed for your daily dose.

    Read What Inspires You

    A great way to begin your productive day is to read something, or write something about a subject that you are keenly interested in or passionate about.

    You should choose something that you’re curious about and something which can possibly give you talking points with others throughout the day. Inspirational passages can give us the strength we need each and every morning to get through even the most difficult of times and encourage us to push forward when challenges arise.

    But don’t spend the entire day reading or writing. Invest 15-20 minutes and move on to the next task.

    Other Productivity Tools and Hacks

    • Don’t forget to put your laptop away for a few hours a day, if possible.
    • Take time to rest your body and mind.
    • Track your time and tasks with an app.
    • Intentionally plan your day in the morning.
    • Wake up a little earlier to get the most out of your morning between 6-9am.
    • Alter your environment a bit.

    There are many ways to increase productivity. Mold your productivity-enhancing activities according to what works with your body, mind, and schedule. Utilize the above productivity tools and hacks on a regular basis and you’ll see your productivity skyrocket.

    Feed Your Brain With Nootropics

    One of the most powerful and efficient tools for maintaining a high level of productivity is with a nootropic supplement like metaBRAIN.

    metaBRAIN is a three-supplement box designed for peak mental performance. The three supplements are centered around focus, memory, and drive, formulated with a total of 31 powerhouse nootropic ingredients.

    We created metaBRAIN® for the high-achiever like you looking to perform and feel their best each day. Whether you're an entrepreneur, college student, athlete, or professional gamer—metaBRAIN® can be the edge to dominate your competition, excel in your field, and take your life to the next level.

    12 Habits to Create Your Optimal Morning Routine

    12 Habits to Create Your Optimal Morning Routine

    Taking charge of your life begins with establishing your best morning. 

    Some people wake up groggy and sleep too long. Others wake up, eagerly anticipating the promise of a new day. 

    They exercise, read something inspirational, or they eat a healthy breakfast. 

    Set a routine for yourself and follow it like a ritual. 

    Stick to it. Conquer your morning. Take charge of your life.

    Here are some great, effective ways to have an optimal morning routine and set the stage for the rest of your day:

    Supercharge with Coffee

    Drinking coffee before a morning workout will increase your performance. It also increases adrenal levels in the blood. Your adrenals activate your body’s fight or flight response, which helps prepare you for physical exercise. 

    One of our favorite ways to prepare coffee is to mix it in with a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of coconut oil. This keeps the appetite under control before and during your workout, while it increases the coffee’s caffeine absorption.

    Coffee also helps you focus on the tasks at-hand and stay mentally alert throughout the day. Studies have shown that a moderate amount of coffee, between 2-4 cups a day, can have numerous benefits [1], [2], [3]:

    • Coffee antioxidants help eliminate free radicals which damage cells
    • Coffee may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and lower the risk of dementia 
    • Coffee has been shown to improve mood and reduce the risk of depression  

    Give yourself 30 minutes after your cup of coffee and then witness your increase in productivity. 

    Take Nootropic Supplements

    Taking metaFOCUS as part of your morning routine will help prepare your brain for a day of maximum concentration, mental energy, and productivity. Later in the day, perhaps after lunch, you can recharge your body and mind with metaDRIVE.

    Stretch in the Mornings

    Daily stretching can improve your posture, reduce aches and pains, increase blood flow, and increase energy. 

    If you work at a computer most of the day, your posture is suffering. Stretching will increase energy by loosening up your tight muscles, keeping you flexible and preparing you for an active day. As we sleep, the body is static. Stretching in the morning warms up your joints and eases aches and stiffness. 

    Meditate

    Regular morning meditation is an important habit to form. Consistent meditation has been shown to have many benefits such as improved concentration, emotional intelligence, and reduced stress.

    One of the most common ways to get started with meditation is through guided meditations centered around mindfulness of breath. Essentially you focus on the sensations in your nostrils as the breath goes in and out. In the beginning, you will probably have what’s known as the “monkey-mind.” 

    Thoughts will distract you from concentrating on the breath but as you keep bringing your attention back to the breath each time it happens, your mind will continue to strengthen.

    If you find yourself dozing off because you meditate immediately after waking up, try drinking some tea or coffee before doing so.

    Experiment with different methods and find what works best for you and your body. Don’t force yourself to sit for longer than necessary. Allow your body to adjust to the natural progression of your meditation. Start with just a few minutes a day and build up, but the most important thing is to be consistent.

    A morning meditation routine of just 10-15 minutes per day has been shown to have lasting benefits after a couple weeks. 

    Plan Your Next Day Before Going to Bed

    You don’t want to interfere with your morning routine, so prepare for the next day by organizing your clothes and your lunch items. 

    Don’t leave important decisions for the morning. Make them the night before when your mind is clear.

    Don’t Pick Up Your Phone

    Don’t get seduced by your phone or your laptop in the morning. Begin your day with positive activities. 

    Focus on preparing yourself to be energized and productive. The news, your email, and social media accounts can all wait. 

    Don’t be a slave to your phone. Turn it off from time to time or put it on Do Not Disturb, especially in the morning. Begin your day being mindful and present.

    How Important is Breakfast?

    Some experts say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You should eat a good, nutritious breakfast. But there are others who claim that fasting first thing in the morning helps give you more energy and clarity.

    Drinking your coffee or tea with butter and coconut oil will help activate your brain into a ketogenic state without having a full meal.

    It will suppress your appetite throughout the morning, promote alertness, and help your brain function at peak levels. It will also help keep your weight in check for a longer period each morning.

    Music to Get You Pumped

    Listening to music in the morning helps you get inspired and motivated. 

    You can enjoy rising every morning to your favorite song on your phone by setting it as an alarm. It’s much better than waking up to an obnoxious buzzer or some broadcast of bad news. 

    Music in the morning will help set your mood for the rest of your day.  

    Water is Life

    Drink water and splash it on your face in the morning to rise with vigor and get your day going. 

    Everyone should drink up to 16oz. of water every morning, depending on your weight, to boost your metabolism, flush out toxins in your body, hydrate your body, and fuel your hungry brain. Your body slowly dehydrates when you sleep, so you need to restore that water loss when you wake up. 

    All of our body’s tissues need water, including our brains. When you don’t drink enough, you feel mentally fatigued and can have mood fluctuations. Drink water and start kicking butt from the second you wake up. 

    Get in Nature

    Get some air and enjoy nature in the morning to help gain a positive perspective on your day and center yourself. 

    If you have the luxury of living close to nature, go for a short walk. Breathe deeply and enjoy the clean morning air.

    Wake Up Early

    Take over the day by waking up early. Don’t hit the snooze button in the morning.

    Take charge of your day and get up with tenacity. Try waking up before sunrise, if possible, to jump-start your day. 

    Pre-dawn stillness and calm prepares you for kicking butt the rest of the day. It’s important to work with your sleep cycles as well. 

    Know your body and how much sleep you need to stay productive and in a healthy mood throughout the day. Don’t forget to stretch and drink water in the morning after you get up. 

    Focus Inwardly

    Try being a bit antisocial in the morning right after you wake. Journaling can be extremely therapeutic especially in the morning. Get all those thoughts out onto paper (or digital notes) so that you'll have a clear head when you get the day started.

    Make Your Morning Routine A Habit

    Find your best morning routine. Set a plan, experiment a bit, and make it a habit. This way you have consistent motivation throughout the day and you function optimally.

    Some people don’t have a lot of time in the morning, so you can experiment with adding some of these habits slowly to find your optimal routine.

    This will get you moving in the right direction by taking the bull by the horns. Set some time aside for yourself and start your day the optimal way.

    How to Sleep Better: A Guide for Insomniacs

    How to Sleep Better: A Guide for Insomniacs

    Sleep is a vital component of our daily lives.

    However, most individuals cannot pinpoint the key reason why it is important and thus, tend to engage in poor sleeping habits and patterns that eventually lead to ill health and general inefficiency. This is because sleep functions as the body’s safeguard that protects both our physical and mental well-being.

    Unfortunately, the current harsh economic climate often undermines the quantity and quality of sleep that we get on a daily basis.

    This has been attributed to the fact that most of us have to work particularly hard to meet our financial responsibilities and have to put in vast amounts of time at the workplace, and still keep up with our daily chores at home. 

    As a direct result, recent studies conducted on the impact of inadequate sleep indicate that over 30% of the adult U.S. population suffers from insomnia and 35% of adults don't get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.

    The Price of Poor Sleep

    It is worth noting that lack of adequate amounts of quality sleep tends to affect the way our bodies and brains function while we are awake. While one is asleep, both the body and brain both get some rest to prepare for the next day’s activities.

    The quality and quantity of sleep one obtains affects how well you can react, think, learn, and ultimately, interact with others because the act of sleeping works to reduce the hormones and chemicals that are commonly associated with increased stress.

    Sleeping naturally works to increase the human growth hormone, improves performance, and ultimately, enhances the brain’s and body’s recovery rate.

    It is, therefore, vital that individuals understand the importance of sleep in order to further learn how to optimize their sleep schedule to improve their mental and physical capabilities during the day.

    The Science of Optimizing Sleep: Getting Rid of Sleep Debt

    Feeling sleepy during the day is a sign that you are either not getting enough sleep (quantity) or not getting good quality sleep.

    Simply laying on your bed for a couple of hours with your eyes shut cannot fool your body into believing that it is rested. More often than not, most individuals are actually unaware of the fact that they are sleep deprived. 

    If you require an annoyingly loud alarm to ensure that you wake up on time, heavily rely on your alarm’s snooze button, feel sluggish throughout the day, or fall asleep soon after you go to bed (typically 5 minutes), chances are that you are suffering from sleep debt.

    Sleep debt refers to the difference between the length of time (quantity) of sleep your body requires each day and the actual number of hours of sleep that you get each day. Each time you sacrifice your sleeping time to perform any activity, you inadvertently add to the sleep debt you eventually have to pay in order to function at optimum levels. 

    Unfortunately, you cannot repay your sleep debt by sleeping in on your weekend days off, because one or two nights of solid sleep is not enough. Although, your body and brain may temporarily gain a boost of energy after your weekend of sleep, this energy will drop off as your work week progresses.

    Considering the negative impact that sleep deprivation has on both our mental and physical abilities, it is only logical that we learn a few tricks that will work to help us sleep faster in order to obtain longer sleeping hours. However, longer sleeping hours should not be the only element of sleep you should strive to obtain. The quality of sleep also plays a major role in how we tackle day-to-day stress. 

    After all, what is the use of a long, low-quality slumber that does not work to help the body and brain rest and recover from the entire day’s activities?

    Optimizing Your Sleep Schedule

    One of the most destructive misconceptions about sleep involves the amount of sleep time that a person requires to feel rested and refreshed. Although the most recommended length is between 6-8 hours each night, the truth is that you are the only person who can accurately judge how much time you need to spend sleeping in order to keep feeling refreshed, happy, and alert throughout the day.

    That noted, the best way to get rid of sleep debt is by optimizing your sleep schedule. This is a 3-phase process which requires dedication and patience to see results.

    Phase 1: Preparation

    Tips and habits that help you sleep better and longer

    During the preparation phase in optimizing your sleep schedule, you will learn the basic techniques that will help you develop pre-bedtime habits that will help you sleep faster and longer. 

    The Stages of Sleep

    According to sleep.org, there are four stages of sleep as well as a fifth one known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep:

    “Stage One: Within minutes (sometimes even within seconds!) of nodding off, your brain produces what are called alpha and theta waves and your eye movements slow down. This introduction to sleep is relatively brief, lasting up to seven minutes. Here, you are in light stage sleep, which means that you're somewhat alert and can be easily woken. It’s during this stage of sleep that people often indulge in brief “catnaps.”

    Stage Two: During this stage, which is also fairly light, the brain produces sudden increases in brain wave frequency known as sleep spindles. Then brain waves slow down. If you were to schedule a “power nap” you’d want to wake up after this stage of sleep.

    Stages Three & Four: This stage is the beginning of deep sleep, as the brain begins producing slower delta waves. You won't experience any eye movement or muscle activity. At this point, it becomes a little harder for you to be awakened, because your body becomes less responsive to outside stimuli. The brain produces even more delta waves and you move into an even deeper, more restorative stage of sleep next. It's most difficult to wake up during this stage. This is when the body repairs muscles and tissues, stimulates growth and development, boosts immune function, and builds up energy for the next day.

    Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep: You generally enter REM sleep about 90 minutes after initially falling asleep, and each REM stage can last up to an hour. An average adult has five to six REM cycles each night. During this final phase of sleep, your brain becomes more active. This is when most dreaming occurs, your eyes jerk quickly in different directions (hence, the name!), heart rate and blood pressure increase, and breathing becomes fast, irregular, and shallow. REM sleep plays an important role in learning and memory function, since this is when your brain consolidates and processes information from the day before so that it can be stored in your long-term memory.”

    Exercise Regularly

    According to research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, the aim of exercising is not to wear your body out in order to “crash sleep” afterwards. Instead, taking part in regular exercise, particularly in the afternoon, will greatly improve one’s sleep in the evening because your brain will have less trouble calming down.

    It is worth mentioning that exercising just before going to bed has the opposite effect because the exercise stimulates both your brain and body. Thus, if you cannot afford to engage in some afternoon exercises, it is advisable that you find time to do so in the morning.

    Reset Your Alarm Tone

    Most individuals who are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation heavily rely on incredibly loud alarm tones because they need a quick jolt to get them out of their slumber. Unfortunately, this only temporarily shocks the brain and body into action, and once this initial shock wears off, you will become groggy and tired. 

    Instead of using an annoying alarm tone, it is best to change your alarm tone to soothing music or sounds.

    This will make it easier for you to naturally and gradually wake up because your body and brain will take the necessary time to slowly adjust to the fact that it’s time to wake up.

    Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine and Nicotine Before Bed

    Although alcohol intake is noted to induce a relaxing feeling and assist in the process of falling asleep, the general consensus among sleep studies is that alcohol consumption before bed eventually wreaks havoc on your overall sleep cycle. As such, you are more likely to have a night full of restless sleep that is characterized by frequent moments of being awake.

    Caffeine lengthens your sleep cycle’s 2nd phase, or stage. This is great for naps, as the brain has adequate time to process the day’s events and reorganize itself. However, whilst the 2nd phase of sleep is lengthened, the 3rd and 4th phases are shortened.

    This has the negative effect of making you wake up feeling physically tired and sleepy.

    Nicotine is also noted to negatively affect one’s sleep cycle because it stimulates the brain’s cells and entirely prevents you from falling asleep.

    Phase 2: Create an Evening Ritual

    Get Rid of Attention-Grabbing Electronic Devices in the Bedroom

    Numerous studies conclude that attention-grabbing devices such as a cell phone, TV set, computer or laptop, work to harm your sleep cycle by negatively affecting the quality of sleep you achieve each night. This is because the light emitted from the device screens confuses the brain and tricks it into believing that it is daytime rather than night-time.

    Even if you are able to fall asleep with these devices on, your sleep quality will be compromised because the brain remains highly active and sensitive to your surroundings.

    Due to this increased activity, the restorative power that sleep has on the brain and body is lost because you can be easily roused from sleep, and your body tends to move around while you are asleep.

    Improve Your Evening Ritual

    The value of creating a calming evening ritual before going to bed must not be underestimated, as it is the key controlling factor that affects both sleep quality and quantity.

    The best evening rituals that are known to assist in the process of falling and staying asleep throughout the night include taking a relaxing bath and meditating when you get to bed.

    The best sleep-oriented meditation technique requires that you actively visualize a dream you would like to have that specific night. This meditation technique is highly effective in eliminating any negative thoughts that may unintentionally keep you awake for long periods of time.

    It helps to mitigate the effects of feelings of anxiety produced from negative thoughts and images that you may have experienced during the day. In addition, meditating using this sleep-oriented technique, reduces the likelihood of experiencing nightmares that abruptly interrupt sound sleep.

    Phase 3: It’s All About Timing

    Timing your sleeping hours is the most recommended method of permanently getting over any sleep debt that you may have accumulated over time. As such, one is advised to ensure that you wake up and fall asleep at the same time, or at least within the same hour, each day.

    Moreover, the entire concept of sleeping in on your weekend days off should be eliminated.

    Rather than continuing to sleep after your scheduled wake-up time, it is recommended that you wake up at the same time as you do on weekends and perform one or two light activities in the morning hours.

    After the activity/activities, you can take a one or two hour nap to get the extra hours of sleep your body craves. This will allow you to pay off some of your sleep debt without compromising the sleep/wake schedule (created in phase 1’s Timing process) that your body needs to slowly get rid of the accumulated effects of sleep deprivation.

    Bonus: Use Natural Sleep Remedies

    Melatonin

    This is a natural hormone which assists in the regulation of one’s sleep/wake cycle. It works by enhancing the quality of sleep you achieve and also assists those suffering from insomnia in the process of falling asleep.

    Chamomile Tea

    Chamomile extract is noted to have a tranquilizing effect on the body and the brain. It assists in the process of falling, and staying, asleep.

    Valerian Root

    This herb is noted to contain sedative properties that work to reduce the amount of time you need to fall asleep.

    L-Tryptophan

    L-Tryptophan has been well studied through the years with regards to its positive effect on mood and relaxation. Your body converts L-Tryptophan to serotonin through a complex process, ultimately improving your mood and positive outlook. L-Tryptophan has also been shown to improve memory, feelings of happiness before bed, and reducing stress, allowing you to get a better rest.

    L-Theanine

    As a natural, active component contained in Green Tea, L-Theanine promotes relaxation by reducing one’s stress and anxiety levels to prompt quick sleep at bedtime.

    Phase 4: Wake Up Refreshed and Alert

    The Benefits of Using Blue Light when Waking Up 

    Spending a lot of time sleeping does not necessarily mean that you will automatically wake up feeling fully rested and refreshed because this particular aspect of the sleep/wake cycle is determined by the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. Simply explained, when we see light in the morning, a signal is sent down the optic nerve to the brain’s suprachiasmatic nucleus where the ‘body clock’ is synchronized to early morning light to prompt the body to wake up. 

    Thus, waking up in a dark room does not trigger your body clock into acknowledging that it’s time to wake up and makes it hard for you to actually get out of bed.

    Blue Light in the Morning

    Combining a soothing alarm tone with a blue light wake-up lamp has been indicated to have a similar effect as taking a cup of coffee in the morning. This is because blue light triggers the hypothalamus into action and signifies daytime. It functions as a natural alarm that alerts the body that it is time to get out of the sleep state.

    Blue light not only improves alertness and your executive functioning, but it also enhances your cognitive ability throughout the day.