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Chuck, I have a Type A personality and pride myself on working long hours with little rest. My spouse told me my drive and lack of rest are making us both miserable. As a fellow Texan, tell me straight: Can hyper-drive lead to depression? – Ralph T., Amarillo, Texas
In my New Year’s series, I have been citing clinical evidence of how certain actions can decrease depression and increase the happiness in our lives. So far, I have mentioned these: Prioritize marriage and family over career and material success; don’t go it alone; practice small acts of kindness; belong to a faith community; eat well; move your body; and drink enough water.
This week, I want to highlight two more actions that can jump-start the joy in our lives. They are two of the most critical constituents for contentment. Having shown the power of physical activity in my most recent column, let me explain the power of rest and rejuvenation in this one.
Set aside daily time to recreate
Though we’re not created to be sedentary or lazy, we can’t live optimally without proper sleep and rest. In fact, if we don’t break apart from the tyranny of the urgent, we most assuredly will come apart.
Ray Williams – president of Ray Williams Associates, a company that provides leadership training and executive coaching services – recently explained in the Financial Post: “USA Today published a multi-year poll in 2008, to determine how people perceived time and their own use of it. The survey found that in each consecutive year since 1987, people reported being busier than the previous year, with 69 percent responding that they were either ‘busy,’ or ‘very busy,’ and only 8 percent saying they were ‘not very busy.’ Not surprisingly, women reported being busier than men, and those between ages 30 to 60 were the busiest. When the respondents were asked what they were sacrificing to their busyness, 56 percent cited sleep, 52 percent recreation, 51 percent hobbies, 44 percent friends and 30 percent family. The respondents also reported that in 1987, 50 percent said they ate at least one family meal a day; by 2008, that fell to 20 percent.”
Take a good look again at what we’re sacrificing: sleep, recreation, hobbies, friends and family. And we don’t think those simultaneously take a toll on our attitudes, happiness and quality of life?
But be careful here. Rest is not merely a change from employment busyness to household busyness. Nor is it always being idle or sitting around engaging in things that are ultimately detrimental to your mood or mojo.
Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the New York Times best-seller “The UltraMind Solution” explained: “The good news is that relaxing is good for your brain and can increase BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor, which affects the memory and mood center of the brain – the hippocampus). People who meditate regularly actually have increased brain size and cortical thickness, along with better mood and cognitive function.
“But drinking a beer, watching TV or practicing retail therapy in the mall won’t do the trick,” he continued. “You have to learn tools to actively relax such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, hypnosis, laughter therapy, biofeedback, making love, exercise and sleep.”
If you have a difficult time slowing down, I encourage a slow reading through the classic by Tim Hansel, “When I Relax I Feel Guilty.”
Get a sufficient amount of sleep every night
Sleep is the ultimate rest – or it should be – and its benefits are ginormous.
For a refresher, Dr. Mark Stibich studied sleep extensively and shared 10 benefits of a good night’s sleep: It reduces stress, reduces risks of depression, enhances alertness, bolsters memory, makes you smarter, reduces inflammation, may help you lose weight, keeps your heart healthy, helps the body make repairs and may even prevent cancer.
In his book “The Seven Pillars of Health,” Dr. Don Colbert says that getting an adequate amount of sleep is necessary if you expect to function properly and remain healthy. A good night’s sleep restores, repairs and rejuvenates the body. It is vital for the immune system and slows the aging process.
Most sleep experts and nutritionists say an adequate amount of sleep is generally between seven and nine hours per day. Of course, we always must keep in mind that major depression can lead to too much sleep. So discuss your particular mind’s and body’s needs with your physician or health practitioners.
So what are some nonprescriptive ways to get more sleep?
There are different natural alternatives and strategies, including exercising more regularly (which releases natural endorphins), learning to handle stress better, changing behaviors or life patterns, getting counseling and taking natural herbs such as melatonin.
A serotonin-producing, high-starch, high-tryptophan snack an hour before bedtime might also be a remedy for your sleeplessness, according to a 2007 Australian study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Carbohydrates (particularly complex ones) make the brain produce more serotonin – one of the most important brain chemicals for regulating good sleep patterns. Foods with ample amounts of complex carbohydrates include potatoes, corn, rice, legumes, bread, pasta and cereal.
Another way to boost serotonin levels is to eat foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, which include pumpkin seeds, eggs, turkey, chicken, milk and fish. Tryptophan also can be found in smaller amounts in peas and other legumes.
Benjamin Franklin was certainly right when he wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanack, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
(Next week, I will write about the last three of my “12 ways to live happier,” with the goal of creating a happier you in 2013!)
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.