‘Sleep Should Be Prescribed’: What Those Late Nights Out Could Be Costing You

A leading neuroscientist on why sleep deprivation is increasing our risk of cancer, heart attack, and Alzheimer’s – and what you can do about it.

Matthew Walker has learned to dread the question “What do you do?” At parties, it signals the end of his evening; thereafter, his new acquaintance will inevitably cling to him like ivy. On an aeroplane, it usually means that while everyone else watches movies or reads a thriller, he will find himself running an hours-long salon for the benefit of passengers and crew alike. “I’ve begun to lie,” he says. “Seriously. I just tell people I’m a dolphin trainer. It’s better for everyone.”

Walker is a sleep scientist. To be specific, he is the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, a research institute whose goal – possibly unachievable – is to understand everything about sleep’s impact on us, from birth to death, in sickness and health. No wonder, then, that people long for his counsel. As the line between work and leisure grows ever more blurred, rare is the person who doesn’t worry about their sleep. But even as we contemplate the shadows beneath our eyes, most of us don’t know the half of it – and perhaps this is the real reason he has stopped telling strangers how he makes his living. When Walker talks about sleep he can’t, in all conscience, limit himself to whispering comforting nothings about camomile tea and warm baths. It’s his conviction that we are in the midst of a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic”, the consequences of which are far graver than any of us could imagine. This situation, he believes, is only likely to change if government gets involved.

Walker has spent the last four and a half years writing Why We Sleep, a complex but urgent book that examines the effects of this epidemic close up, the idea being that once people know of the powerful links between sleep loss and, among other things, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health, they will try harder to get the recommended eight hours a night (sleep deprivation, amazing as this may sound to Donald Trump types, constitutes anything less than seven hours). But, in the end, the individual can achieve only so much. Walker wants major institutions and law-makers to take up his ideas, too. “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation,” he says. “It sinks down into every possible nook and cranny. And yet no one is doing anything about it. Things have to change: in the workplace and our communities, our homes and families. But when did you ever see an NHS poster urging sleep on people? When did a doctor prescribe, not sleeping pills, but sleep itself? It needs to be prioritised, even incentivised. Sleep loss costs the UK economy over £30bn a year in lost revenue, or 2% of GDP. I could double the NHS budget if only they would institute policies to mandate or powerfully encourage sleep.”

Why, exactly, are we so sleep-deprived? What has happened over the course of the last 75 years? In 1942, less than 8% of the population was trying to survive on six hours or less sleep a night; in 2017, almost one in two people is. The reasons are seemingly obvious. “First, we electrified the night,” Walker says. “Light is a profound degrader of our sleep. Second, there is the issue of work: not only the porous borders between when you start and finish, but longer commuter times, too. No one wants to give up time with their family or entertainment, so they give up sleep instead. And anxiety plays a part. We’re a lonelier, more depressed society. Alcohol and caffeine are more widely available. All these are the enemies of sleep.”

But Walker believes, too, that in the developed world sleep is strongly associated with weakness, even shame. “We have stigmatised sleep with the label of laziness. We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we’re getting. It’s a badge of honour. When I give lectures, people will wait behind until there is no one around and then tell me quietly: ‘I seem to be one of those people who need eight or nine hours’ sleep.’ It’s embarrassing to say it in public. They would rather wait 45 minutes for the confessional. They’re convinced that they’re abnormal, and why wouldn’t they be? We chastise people for sleeping what are, after all, only sufficient amounts. We think of them as slothful. No one would look at an infant baby asleep, and say ‘What a lazy baby!’ We know sleeping is non-negotiable for a baby. But that notion is quickly abandoned [as we grow up]. Humans are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent reason.” In case you’re wondering, the number of people who can survive on five hours of sleep or less without any impairment, expressed as a percent of the population and rounded to a whole number, is zero.

The world of sleep science is still relatively small. But it is growing exponentially, thanks both to demand (the multifarious and growing pressures caused by the epidemic) and to new technology (such as electrical and magnetic brain stimulators), which enables researchers to have what Walker describes as “VIP access” to the sleeping brain. Walker, who is 44 and was born in Liverpool, has been in the field for more than 20 years, having published his first research paper at the age of just 21. “I would love to tell you that I was fascinated by conscious states from childhood,” he says. “But in truth, it was accidental.” He started out studying for a medical degree in Nottingham. But having discovered that doctoring wasn’t for him – he was more enthralled by questions than by answers – he switched to neuroscience, and after graduation, began a PhD in neurophysiology supported by the Medical Research Council. It was while working on this that he stumbled into the realm of sleep.

“I was looking at the brainwave patterns of people with different forms of dementia, but I was failing miserably at finding any difference between them,” he recalls now. One night, however, he read a scientific paper that changed everything. It described which parts of the brain were being attacked by these different types of dementia: “Some were attacking parts of the brain that had to do with controlled sleep, while other types left those sleep centres unaffected. I realised my mistake. I had been measuring the brainwave activity of my patients while they were awake, when I should have been doing so while they were asleep.” Over the next six months, Walker taught himself how to set up a sleep laboratory and, sure enough, the recordings he made in it subsequently spoke loudly of a clear difference between patients. Sleep, it seemed, could be a new early diagnostic litmus test for different subtypes of dementia.

After this, sleep became his obsession. “Only then did I ask: what is this thing called sleep, and what does it do? I was always curious, annoyingly so, but when I started to read about sleep, I would look up and hours would have gone by. No one could answer the simple question: why do we sleep? That seemed to me to be the greatest scientific mystery. I was going to attack it, and I was going to do that in two years. But I was naive. I didn’t realise that some of the greatest scientific minds had been trying to do the same thing for their entire careers. That was two decades ago, and I’m still cracking away.” After gaining his doctorate, he moved to the US. Formerly a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, he is now professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California.

Does his obsession extend to the bedroom? Does he take his own advice when it comes to sleep? “Yes. I give myself a non-negotiable eight-hour sleep opportunity every night, and I keep very regular hours: if there is one thing I tell people, it’s to go to bed and to wake up at the same time every day, no matter what. I take my sleep incredibly seriously because I have seen the evidence. Once you know that after just one night of only four or five hours’ sleep, your natural killer cells – the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day – drop by 70%, or that a lack of sleep is linked to cancer of the bowel, prostate and breast, or even just that the World Health Organisation has classed any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen, how could you do anything else?”

There is, however, a sting in the tale. Should his eyelids fail to close, Walker admits that he can be a touch “Woody Allen-neurotic”. When, for instance, he came to London over the summer, he found himself jet-lagged and wide awake in his hotel room at two o’clock in the morning. His problem then, as always in these situations, was that he knew too much. His brain began to race. “I thought: my orexin isn’t being turned off, the sensory gate of my thalamus is wedged open, my dorsolateral prefrontal cortex won’t shut down, and my melatonin surge won’t happen for another seven hours.” What did he do? In the end, it seems, even world experts in sleep act just like the rest of us when struck by the curse of insomnia. He turned on a light and read for a while.

Will Why We Sleep have the impact its author hopes? I’m not sure: the science bits, it must be said, require some concentration. But what I can tell you is that it had a powerful effect on me. After reading it, I was absolutely determined to go to bed earlier – a regime to which I am sticking determinedly. In a way, I was prepared for this. I first encountered Walker some months ago, when he spoke at an event at Somerset House in London, and he struck me then as both passionate and convincing (our later interview takes place via Skype from the basement of his “sleep centre”, a spot which, with its bedrooms off a long corridor, apparently resembles the ward of a private hospital). But in another way, it was unexpected. I am mostly immune to health advice. Inside my head, there is always a voice that says “just enjoy life while it lasts”.

The evidence Walker presents, however, is enough to send anyone early to bed. It’s no kind of choice at all. Without sleep, there is low energy and disease. With sleep, there is vitality and health. More than 20 large scale epidemiological studies all report the same clear relationship: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. To take just one example, adults aged 45 years or older who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime, as compared with those sleeping seven or eight hours a night (part of the reason for this has to do with blood pressure: even just one night of modest sleep reduction will speed the rate of a person’s heart, hour upon hour, and significantly increase their blood pressure).

A lack of sleep also appears to hijack the body’s effective control of blood sugar, the cells of the sleep-deprived appearing, in experiments, to become less responsive to insulin, and thus to cause a prediabetic state of hyperglycaemia. When your sleep becomes short, moreover, you are susceptible to weight gain. Among the reasons for this are the fact that inadequate sleep decreases levels of the satiety-signalling hormone, leptin, and increases levels of the hunger-signalling hormone, ghrelin. “I’m not going to say that the obesity crisis is caused by the sleep-loss epidemic alone,” says Walker. “It’s not. However, processed food and sedentary lifestyles do not adequately explain its rise. Something is missing. It’s now clear that sleep is that third ingredient.” Tiredness, of course, also affects motivation.

Sleep has a powerful effect on the immune system, which is why, when we have flu, our first instinct is to go to bed: our body is trying to sleep itself well. Reduce sleep even for a single night, and your resilience is drastically reduced. If you are tired, you are more likely to catch a cold. The well-rested also respond better to the flu vaccine. As Walker has already said, more gravely, studies show that short sleep can affect our cancer-fighting immune cells. A number of epidemiological studies have reported that night-time shift work and the disruption to circadian sleep and rhythms that it causes increase the odds of developing cancers including breast, prostate, endometrium and colon.

Getting too little sleep across the adult lifespan will significantly raise your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The reasons for this are difficult to summarise, but in essence it has to do with the amyloid deposits (a toxin protein) that accumulate in the brains of those suffering from the disease, killing the surrounding cells. During deep sleep, such deposits are effectively cleaned from the brain. What occurs in an Alzheimer’s patient is a kind of vicious circle. Without sufficient sleep, these plaques build up, especially in the brain’s deep-sleep-generating regions, attacking and degrading them. The loss of deep sleep caused by this assault therefore lessens our ability to remove them from the brain at night. More amyloid, less deep sleep; less deep sleep, more amyloid, and so on. (In his book, Walker notes “unscientifically” that he has always found it curious that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, both of whom were vocal about how little sleep they needed, both went on to develop the disease; it is, moreover, a myth that older adults need less sleep.) Away from dementia, sleep aids our ability to make new memories, and restores our capacity for learning.

And then there is sleep’s effect on mental health. When your mother told you that everything would look better in the morning, she was wise. Walker’s book includes a long section on dreams (which, says Walker, contrary to Dr Freud, cannot be analysed). Here he details the various ways in which the dream state connects to creativity. He also suggests that dreaming is a soothing balm. If we sleep to remember (see above), then we also sleep to forget. Deep sleep – the part when we begin to dream – is a therapeutic state during which we cast off the emotional charge of our experiences, making them easier to bear. Sleep, or a lack of it, also affects our mood more generally. Brain scans carried out by Walker revealed a 60% amplification in the reactivity of the amygdala – a key spot for triggering anger and rage – in those who were sleep-deprived. In children, sleeplessness has been linked to aggression and bullying; in adolescents, to suicidal thoughts. Insufficient sleep is also associated with relapse in addiction disorders. A prevailing view in psychiatry is that mental disorders cause sleep disruption. But Walker believes it is, in fact, a two-way street. Regulated sleep can improve the health of, for instance, those with bipolar disorder.

I’ve mentioned deep sleep in this (too brief) summary several times. What is it, exactly? We sleep in 90-minute cycles, and it’s only towards the end of each one of these that we go into deep sleep. Each cycle comprises two kinds of sleep. First, there is NREM sleep (non-rapid eye movement sleep); this is then followed by REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. When Walker talks about these cycles, which still have their mysteries, his voice changes. He sounds bewitched, almost dazed.

“During NREM sleep, your brain goes into this incredible synchronised pattern of rhythmic chanting,” he says. “There’s a remarkable unity across the surface of the brain, like a deep, slow mantra. Researchers were once fooled that this state was similar to a coma. But nothing could be further from the truth. Vast amounts of memory processing is going on. To produce these brainwaves, hundreds of thousands of cells all sing together, and then go silent, and on and on. Meanwhile, your body settles into this lovely low state of energy, the best blood-pressure medicine you could ever hope for. REM sleep, on the other hand, is sometimes known as paradoxical sleep, because the brain patterns are identical to when you’re awake. It’s an incredibly active brain state. Your heart and nervous system go through spurts of activity: we’re still not exactly sure why.”

Does the 90-minute cycle mean that so-called power naps are worthless? “They can take the edge off basic sleepiness. But you need 90 minutes to get to deep sleep, and one cycle isn’t enough to do all the work. You need four or five cycles to get all the benefit.” Is it possible to have too much sleep? This is unclear. “There is no good evidence at the moment. But I do think 14 hours is too much. Too much water can kill you, and too much food, and I think ultimately the same will prove to be true for sleep.” How is it possible to tell if a person is sleep-deprived? Walker thinks we should trust our instincts. Those who would sleep on if their alarm clock was turned off are simply not getting enough. Ditto those who need caffeine in the afternoon to stay awake. “I see it all the time,” he says. “I get on a flight at 10am when people should be at peak alert, and I look around, and half of the plane has immediately fallen asleep.”

So what can the individual do? First, they should avoid pulling “all-nighters”, at their desks or on the dancefloor. After being awake for 19 hours, you’re as cognitively impaired as someone who is drunk. Second, they should start thinking about sleep as a kind of work, like going to the gym (with the key difference that it is both free and, if you’re me, enjoyable). “People use alarms to wake up,” Walker says. “So why don’t we have a bedtime alarm to tell us we’ve got half an hour, that we should start cycling down?” We should start thinking of midnight more in terms of its original meaning: as the middle of the night. Schools should consider later starts for students; such delays correlate with improved IQs. Companies should think about rewarding sleep. Productivity will rise, and motivation, creativity and even levels of honesty will be improved. Sleep can be measured using tracking devices, and some far-sighted companies in the US already give employees time off if they clock enough of it. Sleeping pills, by the way, are to be avoided. Among other things, they can have a deleterious effect on memory.

Those who are focused on so-called “clean” sleep are determined to outlaw mobiles and computers from the bedroom – and quite right, too, given the effect of LED-emitting devices on melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. Ultimately, though, Walker believes that technology will be sleep’s saviour. “There is going to be a revolution in the quantified self in industrial nations,” he says. “We will know everything about our bodies from one day to the next in high fidelity. That will be a seismic shift, and we will then start to develop methods by which we can amplify different components of human sleep, and do that from the bedside. Sleep will come to be seen as a preventive medicine.”

What questions does Walker still most want to answer? For a while, he is quiet. “It’s so difficult,” he says, with a sigh. “There are so many. I would still like to know where we go, psychologically and physiologically, when we dream. Dreaming is the second state of human consciousness, and we have only scratched the surface so far. But I would also like to find out when sleep emerged. I like to posit a ridiculous theory, which is: perhaps sleep did not evolve. Perhaps it was the thing from which wakefulness emerged.” He laughs. “If I could have some kind of medical Tardis and go back in time to look at that, well, I would sleep better at night.”

• Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker is published by Allen Lane.

Sleep in numbers

■ Two-thirds of adults in developed nations fail to obtain the nightly eight hours of sleep recommended by the World Health Organisation.

■ An adult sleeping only 6.75 hours a night would be predicted to live only to their early 60s without medical intervention.

■ A 2013 study reported that men who slept too little had a sperm count 29% lower than those who regularly get a full and restful night’s sleep.

■ If you drive a car when you have had less than five hours’ sleep, you are 4.3 times more likely to be involved in a crash. If you drive having had four hours, you are 11.5 times more likely to be involved in an accident.

■ A hot bath aids sleep not because it makes you warm, but because your dilated blood vessels radiate inner heat, and your core body temperature drops. To successfully initiate sleep, your core temperature needs to drop about 1C.

■ The time taken to reach physical exhaustion by athletes who obtain anything less than eight hours of sleep, and especially less than six hours, drops by 10-30%.

■ There are now more than 100 diagnosed sleep disorders, of which insomnia is the most common.

■ Morning types, who prefer to awake at or around dawn, make up about 40% of the population. Evening types, who prefer to go to bed late and wake up late, account for about 30%. The remaining 30% lie somewhere in between.

The Guardian |

  • Rachel Cooke

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/sleep-should-be-prescribed-what-those-late-nights-out-could-be-costing-you?utm_source=pocket-newtab

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Photo finish Friday (and haiku): “Shadows”

Light bends, shadows fall

World is canvas for us all

Painting winter’s world.

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Haiku to you Thursday: “Resting birthday”

Frosting in the fridge. /

Cake unfinished on counter. /

Resting birthday.

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The Single Reason Why People Can’t Write, According to a Harvard Psychologist

This common affliction is behind so much unclear and confusing writing in the world today.

Steven Pinker

Author and psychologist Steven Pinker. Getty Images

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-single-reason-why-people-can-t-write-according-to-a-harvard-psychologist?utm_source=pocket-newtab

“Why is so much writing so hard to understand? Why must a typical reader struggle to follow an academic article, the fine print on a tax return, or the instructions for setting up a wireless home network?”

These are questions Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker asks in his book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. They’re questions I’ve often encountered –and attempted to tackle– throughout my career as a business writer and editor. Whenever I see writing that is loaded with jargon, clichés, technical terms, and abbreviations, two questions come immediately to mind. First, what is the writer trying to say, exactly? And second, how can the writer convey her ideas more clearly, without having to lean on language that confuses the reader?

For Pinker, the root cause of so much bad writing is what he calls “the Curse of Knowledge”, which he defines as “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose.”

“Every human pastime –music, cooking, sports, art, theoretical physics –develops an argot to spare its enthusiasts from having to say or type a long-winded description every time they refer to a familiar concept in each other’s company. The problem is that as we become proficient at our job or hobby we come to use these catchwords so often that they flow out of our fingers automatically, and we forget that our readers may not be members of the clubhouse in which we learned them.”

People in business seem particularly prone to this “affliction.” You could argue that business has developed its own entirely unique dialect of English. People are exposed to an alphabet soup of terms and acronyms at business school, which they then put into use in their day-to-day interactions once they enter the working world.

And what starts out as a means of facilitating verbal communication between people becomes the primary mode with which people communicate their ideas in writing, from email to chat apps to business proposals and presentations.

“How can we lift the curse of knowledge?” asks Pinker. “A considerate writer will…cultivate the habit of adding a few words of explanation to common technical terms, as in ‘Arabidopsis, a flowering mustard plant,’ rather than the bare ‘Arabidopsis.’ It’s not just an act of magnanimity: A writer who explains technical terms can multiply her readership a thousandfold at the cost of a handful of characters, the literary equivalent of picking up hundred-dollar bills on the sidewalk.”

“Readers will also thank a writer for the copious use of for example, as in, and such as, because an explanation without an example is little better than no explanation at all.”

Whenever I write a sentence that makes me pause and wonder about what it means, I assume that other readers might react in the same way. If a sentence is not clear to me, it might not be clear to others. It’s an approach that I recommend to anyone who is trying to improve his own writing.

Before hitting publish and sending your writing out to the world, it’s better to be honest with yourself about how much your reader is likely to understand a given passage or sentence. Before you commit your writing to print– or to the internet– take a few moments to make sure that what you write is clear and understandable by as many of your intended readers as possible.

As Richard Feynman, the Nobel prize-winning physicist, once wrote, “If you ever hear yourself saying, ‘I think I understand this,’ that means you don’t.”

Glenn Leibowitz

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cARtOONSdAY: “mAJOR iSSUE”

JURY OF ENGLISH MAJORS
pUNISHMENT cOULD BE sEVERE.

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Monday morning writing joke: “It ain’t write, I tell you”

Two writers went to the same doctor’s office on the same day. She told each one he didn’t have long to live.

“It’s awful,” said the first writer. “I’m right in the middle of a novel and she’s only given me six months to live. I’ll never get it finished. What about you?”

“It’s awful for me, too,” said the second writer. “She gave me three years to live.”

“Three years!” the first writer said. “Three years! What’s so awful about that?”

“I write short stories,” the second writer said. “And I’m fresh out of ideas.”

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How To Actually Concentrate

It’s not easy, but you can do it.

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/how-to-actually-concentrate?utm_source=pocket-newtab

NYLON |

  • Carolyn Yates

Ever have those trains of thought that just… wait, what were we talking about, again? Staying focused can be hard, especially in an age when there are tons of distractions around you. So, whether it’s something you don’t really want to have to pay attention to—like work; or something you do—like talking to a friend in a crowded bar—sometimes it’s just plain hard to concentrate on what’s happening right in front of you.

Jumping to other stimuli—like someone looking at you, or your phone buzzing—can give you a dopamine push, which is one reason it can be so appealing. But another is that, when multitasking is the norm, it’s hard to stop doing it. “We have trained ourselves to be constantly distracted and multitasking, so even though we may have a project in front of us, or we may be talking to someone, our minds have been trained to look to other things,” says Natalie Bell, a mindfulness coach based in Los Angeles.

Distractibility can run deeper than habit. “You might be distracted because you have sensory problems or visual processing problems or slow processing or memory problems, and you can also have biochemical problems,” says Kelly Dorfman, a clinical nutritionist. “If your chemistry is out of balance, then your brain doesn’t work.” What you’re eating and when can impact that chemistry. Skipping meals, eating irritants, and not eating nutrient-rich foods can make it harder to concentrate. 

What’s going on around you and where you are right now as a person also matter. You might be more distracted in some environments, and less distracted in others. Or while working on certain tasks. Or while talking to different people. “It might have to do with something as simple as how much sleep you got, or what else is going on in your life. There are a lot of different factors. But being tuned into what your tendency is and what your current state of being is can go a long way to helping you make the adjustments you need to be able to focus on the things that are important,” says Natalie Houston, a productivity coach in the Boston area.

But it is possible to change your attention span. To get better at concentrating, start small.”Choose one point of focus or one task. Just choose one, putting all others to the side or shutting them down,” says Bell. If you’re working on one project, clear away materials that don’t have anything to do with it, like closing tabs, moving papers off of your desk, and putting down your phone. “A sense of more calm in the immediate visual environment helps you focus better,” says Houston.

Look at the rest of your environment, too: Does silence help you more? Or do you work better with ambient noise? Or maybe white noise? Or even music? How comfortable is your chair? Are you better at doing certain tasks in certain places? 

You can also train yourself to be more mindful by focusing on your breath in your body. Set a timer for three minutes and keep your attention on your breath as it goes in and out, and bring your mind back to your breath when it inevitably wanders. “Learning to refocus attention by using that kind of mindfulness technique can really help you to train your attention back to focus on one thing,” says Bell.

If focusing on your breath doesn’t work, try turning your awareness to the soles of your feet where they touch the floor. Or to the sensations of where you’re sitting. Or to your hands, as they rest against each other. “Try to use a sensory experience to help focus attention while you’re in the middle of something,” says Bell. “Any sensation can help you ground yourself.”

Being compassionate with yourself helps, too. If you’re distracted because of something going on internally or something bigger happening in your life, be kind to yourself and remind yourself that’s what’s going on. “There’s a saying in mindfulness, name it to tame it. If you can name a difficult experience, your brain can begin to regulate that feeling in your body,” says Bell. Share with someone around you if that’s an option, but if it’s not, talk to yourself like you’re your own supportive friend. Or put a hand over your heart or give yourself a hug. “Be there for yourself. Physical soothing touch releases oxytocin and other opiates in your bloodstream to counteract stress. So this is really powerful neuroscience,” says Bell.

If you’re distracted because you’re just really busy right now, keep a notepad nearby to jot down thoughts, so your brain doesn’t have to worry about remembering them. That way, “your brain can just relax, instead of tapping you on the shoulder every 10 minutes saying, ‘Don’t forget,’” says Houston. 

And don’t be afraid of getting distracted—because you’re going to get distracted. When that happens, notice it and gently bring your attention back. Remember, once you get used to mindfulness, it becomes way easier to practice it anywhere. “The more you do these practices, the more you train yourself to have that response. You need to remember that you can do these things,” says Bell.

But total mindfulness and balance are lies we tell ourselves in order to live. “It’s really important as an idea, and it’s also in some ways a fiction,” says Houston. Instead, “allowing for seasonal shifts helps us relax about the idea of feeling insufficient if we’re not living up to some kind of fictitious ideal of work-life balance that very few people really enact.” 

After all, distraction is a capitalist construct. “We live in a world where the financial interests of large corporations put a lot of effort into keeping us distracted. When we’re distracted, we spend more time online, we spend more time in front of advertisements, we spend more time in various states of trance, meaning eating, drinking, shopping, consuming our ways into distracting ourselves from the harder questions in our lives,” says Houston.

Break out of that by finding joy in smaller moments of focus, and then building. “We need to recondition ourselves to find a certain pleasure in focused attention. Which actually there is,” says Bell. “What we get from focusing our attention is a sense of calm in our mind and body.”

This article was originally published on August 16, 2017, by NYLON.

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