The Secret to Getting Good Sleep

Now I’m not particularly athletically inclined, try as I might, but the one thing that I could win at is getting good sleep. Of course practice makes perfect, but a few tips on how to fall asleep faster and sleep better can really make all the difference…

 

First of all, what should you be aiming for? It varies, but in general teenagers need around 9 hours and adults need about 8 hours. That’s the first step to winning; make sure you actually give your body enough time to grow, repair and everything else mentioned in my previous post, ‘The Science Behind Sleep’.

The next key aspects are the two R’s: regularity and routine. If you regularly go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday, your internal body clock will become ‘synchronised’ with your timings which will promote better sleep. And when I say everyday, I mean it! Weekend lie-ins can skew this schedule so try to wake up as close to your regular time as you can. This may seem like a real sacrifice but if you are able to improve your sleep quality and get enough sleep on weekdays, then weekend lie-ins will become redundant anyway.

Establishing a nightly routine before bed will indicate to your body that it’s time to wind down. Your routine could consist of a warm bath, relaxation exercises like yoga and reading a book or listening to music. Watching TV or using electronics, however, could hinder your sleep as the blue-wavelength light of bright screens can trick your body into thinking it’s daytime. This in turn causes hormones involved with falling asleep to be delayed. Therefore it is recommended you avoid such screens in the last 30 minutes before bed.

Make sure your sleeping environment is optimal with a comfortable mattress and pillow. The room should be dark, quiet, cool (between 18-24°C) and relaxing. Your diet should also work to your advantage when it comes to falling asleep. Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine in the hours before sleep, and limit alcohol intake as too much alcohol before bed can disrupt sleep later at night.

Stress not only spoils the daytime, but can also cause insomnia by keeping you distracted and awake at night. It is important that you find ways to manage stress. The most obvious way of doing this would be to remove yourself from whatever is causing the stress but I’m well aware that it is not always that simple. Take basic steps to ensure at least some stress is relieved by being organised, allowing yourself to take breaks, eating well and doing exercise. Also, make time for hobbies and being with friends and do not be afraid to talk about your problems. Another good tip is to write a to-do list of what needs to be done the next day before you go to bed.

As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise daily can promote sleep as well as the numerous other health benefits to exercising, although in general you should avoid strenuous exercise close to bedtime. Finally, try to cap daytime sleeping to a maximum of 30 minutes. Even if you haven’t gotten enough sleep in the night, a daytime nap cannot make up for that. That said, a power nap between 20-30 minutes in the afternoon can improve alertness and mood.

 

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The Science Behind Sleep

UntitledWe spend about a third of our lives sleeping, and many aspects of it remains a mystery to scientists but what they do know is that it is very important in brain development, muscle repair, memory consolidation and growth.

Historically, sleep was thought to be a way of conserving energy however the energy actually saved is minimal and sleeping for 8 hours only actually saves about 50kcal- the same amount of energy as a slice of toast! Another theory is that the sleep period keeps animals safe at a time of day most dangerous in terms of predator encounters. However, the lack of consciousness and response to stimuli leaves sleeping animals vulnerable so this theory is also not very strong.

The more widely accepted theory is that physical restoration occurs during sleep. During REM sleep, the majority of what happens is brain repair, restoration and development whilst non-REM sleep is mainly devoted for body repair and restoration. Many studies also show how sleep improves long-term memory processing and converting short-term memories into long term.

 

Sleep is generally split into REM and Non-REM (NREM), in which the NREM is sub-split into 3/4 other stages. NREM makes up about 75% of sleep whilst REM has the rest- in adult. Infants spend closer to 50% of sleep time in REM.

Stage 1 of NREM is Light Sleep, a state between asleep and awake. In light sleep muscle activity slows down, breathing and heart rate begins to slow down and people can be easily awoken. In stage 2, sometimes known as True Sleep, breathing and heart rate are regular, body temperature drops (by about 1o) and awareness of surroundings begins to fade. A sleeper spends more time in stage 2 than in any other.

Stages 3 and 4 are often lumped together as Deep Sleep. Breathing and heart rate reaches their lowest levels and responsiveness to the environment reduces even further. There is no eye movement or muscle activity and most of the information processing and memory consolidation takes place in deep sleep- although it does to some extent happen in stage 2 and REM. Stage 3/4 is where tissue growth and repair happens and hormones like growth hormone is released. Children may experience night terrors, bed-wetting or sleep walking during deep sleep.

Following Deep Sleep we move into REM which stands for Rapid Eye Movement. These side-to-side eye movements are intermittent and considered to be due to images seen internally during dreaming. The majority of dreams happen during REM although scientists do not know why we dream. Unlike in NREM, heart rate and blood pressure increases and breathing becomes faster and irregular. What’s more, most muscles become temporarily paralyzed during REM as brain impulses which control movement are suppressed. This is called atonia, and is thought to prevent us from acting out our dreams and possibly hurting ourselves. This theory was developed by Michel Jouvet who stopped this atonia from occurring in an experiment on cats, and consequently observed that the cats would physically run, jump and stalk prey during their dreams.

The first occurrence of REM lasts for around 90 minutes before the whole cycle begins again. Recurrence of REM becomes longer whilst periods of deep sleep become shorter over the course of the night.

 

So that’s what happens each night when you fall asleep, it’s not as simple as just ‘being unconscious’ as your body takes that opportunity to store memories, heal and dream. Watch this space for a follow up post on how to get that much needed sleep!

 

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Does the 5-second rule really work?

I’m sure you’re familiar with and maybe even ‘daring’ enough to use the 5-second rule, but a news article this week has brought this question to my attention as Professor Anthony Hilton has decreed that it’s indeed true, to a degree. For those of you who actually don’t know what it is, the 5-second rule suggests that if food is dropped on the floor, it can still be eaten if it is picked up within a window of 5 seconds.

 

Notably since 2003, scientists have been making attempts to prove or disprove this theory with Jillian Clarke starting the proceedings by proving that foods will be contaminated- even with brief exposure- to a floor inoculated with E.coli. She did, however, also find that there was little evidence that public floors are in fact contaminated. In 2006, another study found that bacteria could thrive under dry conditions for over a month and that contamination does increase as the food is left on the floor for longer.

Researchers at Rutgers University tested extensively using different surfaces and foods with a total of 2,560 measurements to find that wet foods pick up more contaminants than dry, and that carpet is surprisingly a better surface than steel or tile when it comes to transference of bacteria. Lead researcher Professor Schaffner states, “Bacteria can contaminate instantaneously” and the evidence agrees, but does that answer the question?

As previously mentioned, Anthony Hilton at Aston University led a study in 2014 which found much the same as Schaffner’s yet suggests such results support the 5-second claim. Whilst he accepts that bacteria is inevitably picked up and that eating food from the floor is never “entirely risk-free”, he also points out that the research shows food is unlikely to pick up harmful bacteria from the few seconds spent on the floor. Furthermore, he has said there should be little concern about food that has touched the floor for such a short time. I think that this conclusion rings true with more of the general public than the latter, with 79% of 2000 people admitting to eating food that had fallen on the floor.

 

My view is that most people do not truly believe zero bacteria is picked up in those precious 5 seconds, but assume that the amount is negligible and neither numerous nor dangerous enough to cause any harm. The science does show that the longer food is on the floor, the more bacteria is picked up and in those first 5 seconds any harm from said bacteria is unlikely. Therefore, I would argue that the 5-second rule does work, but really it is up to personal preference and circumstance. But if you’ve dropped a slice of watermelon (made up of 97% water) on a visibly dirty tile, I’d say give it a miss- it’s just common sense…

 

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The Immeasurable Weight of Music

Piano

I feel confident in saying that music is part of everyone’s lives and for many it plays a big part. Playing, producing and writing music brings enjoyment to those who do it and to those who listen and there are so many different types that you are sure to love at least one. I’m sure everyone has heard the theory ‘Mozart makes you smarter’ but there are actually a multitude of proven effects that music has on your brain and body, and I’d like to fill you in on them…

 

Medically, music can be used as it’s own form of treatment as it can reduce pain, blood pressure and boost immunity. Listening to music has been known to reduce pain from a range of conditions including arthritis. Part of this could be thanks to the endorphin release caused by music which counteracts the pain, but another fact is that music distracts and relaxes patients thus making the pain less predominant in the patient’s mind. This tends to work best if the patient listens to their own preferred music, whatever that may be, meanwhile playing relaxing or classical music is necessary to reduce blood pressure as well as slow breathing and heart rate.

Research shows that listening to music with a repeated 10-second rhythm results in a lower blood pressure. Examples of such music include Beethoven’s symphony no. 9 adagio from the 3rd movement or Schubert’s Ave Maria in Latin (translations change the pace and rhythm). Other research shows that by playing such music for 30 minutes everyday, people with high blood pressure can ‘train themselves’ to have a lower blood pressure. In this case, using rock, pop or faster classical music has no effect on blood pressure, and could even cause an increase. Whilst you may be unexcited at the prospect of having to listen to classical music, this would make further introduction of music therapy in medicine very simple as it wouldn’t need to be tailored to each patient.

Studies also show that listening to music can boost your immune system. Scientists found that after listening to 50 minutes of happy dance music, the levels of antibodies in the 300 test subjects had increased and cortisol levels (which can weaken the immune system) had decreased. However, the researchers didn’t test the affect of different music genres on immunity, so listening to your favourite music (if it’s not dance) could boost immunity just as much as dance music might.

 

Now here’s a fun tip which might’ve been handy to my mum 16 years ago, as it could’ve saved her quite a few sleepless nights. Playing music to your babies before and after childbirth could make them fall asleep in those testing first weeks. In 2001 the University of Leicester’s Music Research Group followed a group of mothers who played the same piece of music to their babies during the last trimester, and found that the babies could recognise that same music up to 12 months after being born. As a result when mothers played the music, the babies would fall asleep faster and sleep longer than babies who didn’t hear music.

As for intelligence, scientists aren’t 100% sure that ‘Mozart makes babies smarter’ but music does have the power to enhance reading and literacy skills, mathematical abilities, emotional intelligence, creativity and memory. Music with a 60bpm beat pattern, such as Mozart and Baroque music, activates both sides of the brain. This maximises learning and your ability to absorb information. Plus, listening to the same music that you learnt/revised with (or ‘playing’ the songs in your head) helps you to recall information- although this only works if the music doesn’t have words.

Learning to play music can be even more beneficial, as there is evidence that musicians develop a better memory than non-musicians and when playing music both sides of your brain is engaged, making the brain more capable of processing information. One study showed that children that had been learning to play an instrument for three or more years performed better in fine motor skills and nonverbal reasoning. What’s more, a recent study at the University of Montreal has revealed that musicians have faster reaction times, performing on average 30% better than non-musicians. This leads us to believe that people that have played an instrument for a long enough time may be safer drivers due to these faster reactions. That said, another study has been done to show that when people listen to their choice of music as opposed to silence, drivers make more mistakes and drive more aggressively so perhaps music lovers don’t have the upper hand on the road.

Now, back to the listening of music. Anyone with writer’s block might want to try listening to music at a moderate noise level to improve creativity. The volume is important because the ambient noise increases processing difficulty, which stimulates our brains to think more abstract and creatively.  However in high noise levels, creative thinking is impaired and we struggle to process information.

Alternatively, you can crank up both the volume and tempo when trying to get a good workout. Music improves athletic performance by combatting fatigue, and improving motor coordination. In the same way that music can distract you from chronic pain, it also helps reduce the feeling of fatigue so that you can push through the pain and exercise longer and harder.

And after an optimal workout, you can use music to beat insomnia with Bach. Many people suffering from insomnia find that Bach music helps them, and research shows that just 45 minutes of relaxing music before bed can make for a restful night. Why? Relaxing music reduces sympathetic nervous system activity, decreases anxiety, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate and promotes relaxation of tense muscles.

 

I’m sure that everyone knows of Albert Einstein to some degree, but a perhaps less well known fact is that music was the key that helped Einstein unlock that potential. Having done poorly at school and being advised to take a manual labour job, Einstein’s parents bought him a violin and Einstein himself claimed that the reason he was so smart was because he played the violin. He loved the music of Mozart and Bach the most, and a friend of his said that the way Einstein figured out his problems and equations was by improvising on the violin. I think that puts the power of music into some perspective, and is pretty inspiring.

To finish, whilst most studies look at the benefits of listening to classical music in particular, I would say that every music genre can be valued for it’s positive effects on listeners, even if it’s effects are as seemingly simple as making someone happy.

 

In addition to this week’s blog, I’ve also put together a table of supposed traits linked to different music genre fans. I’m curious to see if this information is any good, so why not compare yourself to your ‘assigned’ traits and comment to let me know if it’s accurate or not?

Self-esteem

Creative

Outgoing

Gentle

At ease

Hard-working

Pop

⬆︎

⬇︎

⬆︎

⬆︎

⬇︎

⬆︎

Rock

⬇︎

⬆︎

⬇︎

⬆︎

⬆︎

⬇︎

Soul

⬆︎

⬆︎

⬆︎

⬆︎

⬆︎

Indie

⬇︎

⬆︎

⬇︎

⬇︎

Classical

⬆︎

⬆︎

⬇︎

⬆︎

Jazz/Blues

⬆︎

⬆︎

⬆︎

⬆︎

⬆︎

Dance

⬆︎

⬆︎

⬇︎

Opera

⬆︎

⬆︎

⬆︎

Country

⬆︎

⬆︎

Rap

⬆︎

⬆︎

 

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The Key to Success

DSC_0262

So I have been pretty successful in my GCSEs, and since then people like to ask me what I did and what they can do to get the grades they need. And to be honest, I tend to start with the fact that there is no secret. Everyone learns and thinks in different ways so there isn’t a ‘right’ way to revise really.

 

Nevertheless, I am going to share with you my key to success or, should I say, keys…

Firstly, outlook is important. The tips mentioned later work best only if this fundamental concept is grasped. Anyone revising, or just generally studying, should not be doing the work for the sake of it or because their teacher has set it. You need to try to understand the reason that you do every piece of work, be it to increase knowledge, consolidate understanding, practice exam technique or develop analytical thinking. If you can see the reason behind everything and stop thinking of homework or revision as a ‘chore’ then your work will reflect that, and be of a better quality because you want it to be!

Of course, the fact that you’re reading this probably means that I’m preaching to the converted but here’s something that might not be so obvious- you need to want to work hard. How? Find something that motivates you, set yourself both long and short term goals to keep you focussed and on the ball. For example, my short term goal involved my GCSE grades and my long term goal is to become a doctor, a really fantastic one at that! If you don’t have something to motivate you then it is all too easy to procrastinate or burn out.

 

Speaking of burning out, endless revision will not help. You need to be smart about how you revise, make sure that it actually benefits you in some way and if it doesn’t, then change tactics! Remember: it’s quality not quantity. Take a bit of time working out what form of revision works for you best, be it visual, kinetic or auditory learning. I find that it was a mixture for me, but by the time I started the exam season I knew the exact revision regime that would produce my best results.

Another thing is to make sure that you’re body is ready to learn. Don’t revise until the wee hours, make sure you get some sleep! We are recommended to have 8 hours of good sleep and if we don’t get it, our ability to concentrate and perform tasks requiring complex thinking is hindered. Not to mention, excessive sleepiness impairs memory so if you’re trying to remember facts for a test, better get some rest! Furthermore, eating well is also important as studies show an association between having a healthy breakfast and educational performance.

 

So, don’t overdo it. But don’t become idle either. The single most important thing when it comes to success is not natural ability (at least, not in my opinion), it’s about working hard. What’s special about that? Everyone around will no doubt be working hard during exam season but I’m not talking about working a week before a test, a month or two months before a test. You should be working as soon as you’re taught the material right up to the exam. Not loads! Bear in mind what I’ve said in the previous paragraph. It may be confusing but let me put it this way: think of it as a long term investment. If you put a little bit of work in regularly over a long period of time, the return will be better than if you cram last minute. My GCSEs were in June 2016, but I began my revision in September 2015. I only did, say, half an hour everyday but that built up so that when it came to the exam period I didn’t need to cram. Another analogy would be running. I completed my GCSEs marathon-style going slow but steady and spreading the work out thinly across 9-10 months as opposed to sprinting in the last month. It meant I could remain stress-free in May whilst everyone panicked around me, and in the end my work paid off because the marathon way really does work better.

 

So those are my three master keys to the chest of gold that is success. My final offer to you, or reward for making it this far into the blog(!) is a bit of revision material. For my GCSEs I had a very clear method of revision:

  1. Write flashcards for my subjects
  2. Revise flashcards
  3. Complete past papers

The making of the flashcards is what I was doing in September right up to June, whilst the last two steps were introduced around Easter time. Since then, some specifications have changed but despite that, these flashcards would still be a useful revision resource for GCSE and preparation for the BMAT so that’s exactly what I’m giving you!

 

Here are links to find and use all the flashcards that I myself have made on the app or website Brainscape, free and to A* standard. Granted, there are a few typos in there are given the changes to the spec for GCSEs taken in 2017 I wouldn’t use them as a sole revision resource but they are good to jog your memory and a perfect stepping stone to get you revising.

 

Good luck, and I hope this has been useful!

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Biology- https://www.brainscape.com/packs/6435118/invitation?referrer=1665765

 

Chemistry- https://www.brainscape.com/packs/6349164/invitation?referrer=1665765

 

Physics- https://www.brainscape.com/packs/6245361/invitation?referrer=1665765

 

Geography- https://www.brainscape.com/packs/6283631/invitation?referrer=1665765

 

History- https://www.brainscape.com/packs/6700501/invitation?referrer=1665765

 

(and just in case..)

 

Music- https://www.brainscape.com/packs/6740060/invitation?referrer=1665765

 

RS- https://www.brainscape.com/packs/6718999/invitation?referrer=1665765

 

Hi all!

Hi all!

My name is Iqra Shahid. I’m a year 12 student from Leeds. I’m am currently taking Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology for A-level and aspire to go to Oxford University to study medicine.

In this blog I want to inform, analyse, evaluate and debate about both current and historical topics in medicine as well as keeping all of you up to date with my journey into medicine, and as a part of the workforce.

So, happy reading! I hope to bring informative, interesting and useful posts to you all very soon!

Remember to rate and share for me!