Can A Nap Boost Your Brain Health?

Yes! Research has shown that catching a few Zzzzz during the day can be good for your brain.

A number of famous names are notable for their love of napping.

Sir Winston Churchill managed on just four hours sleep a night during World War Two — but insisted on a two hour nap in the afternoon.

Albert Einstein reportedly slept for 10 hours a night, plus daytime naps.

The Kardashians also manage to nap with their young family, though that might have been pre-Kanye’s erratic behaviour in the media.

There’s also scientific from Harvard Medical School supporting the belief that having a nap can give our brains some much needed downtime.

When Greece started phasing out its siesta in the 1990s, and keeping stores open longer during the day, researchers from Harvard University’s School of Public Health attempted to quantify the impacts of this cultural change. Though none of the participants had a history of heart disease or stroke when the study began, by the end of the six-year period, those who had stopped taking their regular siesta suffered a 37% increased risk of death from heart disease compared to those who didn’t.

A growing number of businesses are recognising what research has long conveyed: daytime napping may come with big advantages — both psychological and professional.

In recent years in the US, Google, Uber, Nike NASA and Zappos all offer some form of napping benefits.

Napping Types

Planned napping (also called preparatory napping) involves taking a nap before you actually get sleepy. 

You may use this technique when you know that you will be up later than your normal bed time or as a mechanism to ward off getting tired earlier.

Emergency napping occurs when you are suddenly very tired and cannot continue with the activity you were originally engaged in. 

This type of nap can be used to combat drowsy driving or fatigue while using heavy and dangerous machinery.

Habitual napping is practiced when a person takes a nap at the same time each day. 

Young children may fall into the land of nod  about the same time each afternoon or an adult might take a short siesta after lunch each day.

Benefits

A little nap can help restore energy, alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. 

A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%.

Naps can increase alertness in the period directly following the nap and may extend alertness a few hours later in the day.

Napping has psychological benefits – a nap can be a little luxury, a break from the routine and it can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and help you feel rejuvenated.

Timing is Key

One of the keys to “power napping”, or “cat napping”  or  taking a “disco nap” is to keep them short. If you benefit from napping there is almost no length of nap that is too short. However, an extended nap can leave you feeling groggy and ‘jetlagged’ as well as possibly upsetting your night time sleep.

Many experts say 10 to 20 minutes is the ideal duration to bolster energy and heighten alertness. Setting an alarm for this length of time is recommended to get the best benefit from your daytime downtime.

Another idea is using the Calm App which has specially selected Nap settings to help you gently fall asleep and stir from slumber naturally.https://www.calm.com/breathe

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell

How to de- stress

Stress is very common at the moment with so much uncertainty and a lack of control so it’s no wonder that we are frazzled and left feeling exhausted.

Many people are on the redundancy rollercoaster too, which can understandably hit confidence, sap energy and create worries about finances and the future.

Redundancy is hard at the best of times, and add in the global pandemic which we’re currently navigating and its no wonder stress is on the rise.

Stress takes its toll on our body and brain health and when our energy levels are running low and there’s a feeling of fatigue with the mundanity of day to day living as we tentatively move to the new normal, 

our mechanism for handling stress is probably lest robust than we’d like it to be. It’s important to learn how to identify and manage symptoms of stress. 

These symptoms manifest in different ways and can include over eating, drinking too much, a feeling of lethargy, disturbed sleep, general lowness and irritability. 

In order to reduce the stress on our bodies and our mental wellbeing and brain health it’s worth asking yourself the following questions and pin pointing what you can change.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What is the main source of your worry?

How is this manifesting itself?

Are you overthinking situations?

Is there someone you can talk to? ( A problem shared is a problem halved )

What can I do today to positively impact my future? ( Go for a walk, do your CV, phone a friend )

Are you taking care of my emotional, spiritual and physical needs?

Are you eating properly?

Are you sleeping well?

And the most simplest one we neglect – are you drinking enough water?

Once you know the answers it may help give you some clarity as to how to tackle your stresses – whatever the source or sources of the issue is.

To help alleviate stress there are a number of things you can do:

Breathe deep

Eat well balanced meals

Avoid nicotine and caffeine stimulants

Watch your alcohol intake

Take breaks from your routine

Get enough sleep

Connect with your friends and family

One final thought I will leave you with – the Serenity Prayer has been put to good use ion late by friends whom take comfort in its wording when you feel its all a bit too much:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Magnesium – why you need this in your life.

Modern life is particularly draining at the moment and sometimes we need a little help keeping calm, focussed and on the ball.

Brain fog can come on when we’re not firing on all cylinders.  A good balanced diet, quality sleep, which is restorative and being mindful can help. 

One other consideration is are you getting enough Magnesium?

Low Magnesium levels can contribute to a number of conditions including anxiety, low mood, headaches and poor quality of sleep.

Magnesium also plays an important  role in managing blood sugar levels and our blood pressure, muscle and nerve transmission, the transport of other nutrients, and the all important immune system support.

Magnesium supplement usage has almost doubled in the UK since 2016 according to the 2019 Health of the Nation Survey released by the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association. 

All adults need around 375mg of magnesium everyday, as a deficiency can lead to palpitations, or even low blood sugar.

The average intake of magnesium from food is around 280mg each day.

Foods to consider adding to your diet include:

Peanut butter

Almonds

Cashew nuts

Salmon

Bananas

Spinach 

Nuts, especially almonds and cashews 

Wholegrain bread

Avocado

Tofu 

If you’re struggling with sleep, have you considered magnesium as a supplement?

You can also obtain magnesium by absorption through the skin by soaking in a bath containing magnesium salt flakes.

This is super relaxing and a great way to wind down before going to bed and will promote a good night’s sleep. 

I’ve recommended magnesium supplements to my patients who suffer from particularly bad PMT and also to help with diabetes management.

As always, if you have any concerns or questions about supplements, please speak to your GP who can advise you.

Find out more on the scientific research into the benefits of magnesium here.

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Is lack of sleep causing you stress?

Three solutions to help you get some shut eye.

According to the UK Sleep Council working from home is having a negative impact on our sleep.

This is due to working longer hours, juggling childcare, looking after our parents and the demarcation lines of when work begins and ends becoming blurred.

There’s also the emotional stress of dealing with the fallout of a global pandemic.

Help is at hand though and this is without sleeping pills or over the counter sleeping aids.

Magnesium

The role that magnesium places in a good night’s sleep is often overlooked.

Responsible for over 300 processes in the body and it prepares the mind and body for sleep as well as never relaxation, energy maintenance and heart function.

You can take a supplement and also bathe in Epsom salts and of course you can ensure that your diet is topped up with magnesium rich foods which include

seeds, whole grains, bananas, dark chocolate and leafy green vegetables.

The science part is that Magnesium helps by maintaining healthy levels of GABA which is a sleep inducing neurotransmitter.

Magnesium relaxes by promoting the release of muscle aches and removes tension from the body helps us to sleep more soundly.

Cherries

Cherries are naturally rich in melatonin, the sleep hormone which helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. 

If you don’t feel tired enough to sleep in the evenings, try eating cherries a couple of hours before bed or, even better, drinking cherry juice.

Valerian

Valerian helps to boost production of GABA, which as we know is a calming brain chemical that promotes sleep. 

Valerian has been shown to help people fall asleep more quickly, reduce restless sleep, increase sleep amounts and improve symptoms of insomnia. 

As always with supplements if you’re unsure check with your GP.

Visit out earlier blogs on more tips on sleep and you can visit this site for more tips on sleep satisfaction.

Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Anxious about getting back to work in the new normal?

Whilst the Sunday Scaries used to be limited to the end of the weekend feeling, we are now in a whole new world when it comes to the prospect of returning to work and what that means in terms of our mental and physical health. Self care and awareness of our own worries has never been more important. 

How to support your mental health in the new normal:

  1. Acknowledge that these are times like no other. This is hard and difficult and not something we have faced in a scale such as this before. Recognising the challenges and that it’s ok to feel worried or anxious about about going back to the work place is important. Somedays will be easier than others. Talk about it. We are all in the same boat of not knowing what the future will clearly look like so talking about our fears and how it is affecting us is an important tool in managing how we feel. If your fears or anxieties are having an impact on your day to day function talk to you doctor as it may be a sign of something m 
  1. In practical terms, make a list of specific concerns to discuss with your line manager or HR team
  1. Self care has never been more important. Many day to day things impact our mood and how we feel and at times like these the effects of these can be heightened. Simple examples include caffeine intake and hydration. 
  1. Stay present- literally no one knows what is coming with this, we’ve seem experts all over the world go back and forth with ‘the science’ and what our options are. That in itself is anxiety inducing. We need to focus on the here and know and work hard to take each day as it comes. Look out for your mind racing or taking you to the ‘what if’ place and try to reel yourself back in to the current moment. What you are doing now, what you want to achieve today and focus on that
  1. Sleep-if we are not sleeping well it is very hard to have good mental health. Sleep has been hard for many in lock down so if that’s still an issue for you or someone you care about work on it. Look at your daily routine, eat early, minimise caffeine, alcohol ensure you are getting some exercise and exposure to day light during the day 
  1. Positive mental health champion- be a positivity ambassador. If you think you are coping well be aware of those around you that may not and look at ways you support team members. Whether its a 5 minute dance off or a walk around the office, or even just an extra wee tea break those few minutes can help both you and others feel better. 
  1. On line resources- reliable resources can help with movement, healthy recipe suggestions, relaxation, exercise or sleep. Set your favourites and stick to these.  Having a select few reduces the desire to mindlessly scroll through pages and pages of recipes or exercise tips which can fuel anxious thoughts . 

 

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell

How to sleep in a heatwave

How to sleep in a heatwave: the science says to drink this hot drink before bed in hot weather

There’s nothing worse than not getting a good night’s sleep and at the moment with the UK temperatures hitting the high notes, it can be tricky to get a proper night’s rest.


We’ve pulled together a list of tips on how to ensure you enjoy some quality rest. 


Why is sleep SO important? Sleep is super important for brain health, our immune system and our mental wellbeing. You can read more on this in our blog post on why sleep is so important for brain health.Sleep is also very important for our memory.


Avoid exercise in the evening
Exercising too close to bedtime raises the body’s core temperature, which makes sleeping in hot weather even more difficult. IAlternatively, opt for exercise first thing in the morning to kick start your metabolism.


Opt for cotton nightwear and sheetsDitch polyester for cotton nightwear. Cotton’s breathability due to the natural fibres, help allow air to move freely and circulate through the fabric, which helps to keep you cooler through the night. 


Have a warm bedtime drink
Sounds contradictory to have a warm drink does cool you down- you can read more on the science behind it here.


Drink milk A bedtime milk drink contains tryptophan, an amino acid which helps you produce serotonin and melatonin, hormones that help you to sleep. If you’re dairy-free, almond milk is thought to have , serious insomnia-busting properties: it’s rich in B vitamins, zinc calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. All of these vitamins and minerals can help regulate brain activity, relax the muscles and increase the secretion of sleep-inducing compounds like melatonin.

Don’t have a cold shower Keep your evening shower tepid to lower your body temperature. If you opt for a freezing cold one your body will react to the sudden change in temperature by preserving heat.

Boost your fan If you’ve fan, fill up a large water bottle with water, freeze it then put it in front of the fan. Chilled breeze guaranteed.


Leave your feet out
An old fashioned tip which works! Our hands and feet are key to keeping cool, so keep your feet out.

A face cloth My parents used to put a cold flannel face cloth on my forehead and as a GP I’ve used this trick on my son. Wet it, pop it into the freezer for an hour and put it on your feet or your forehead.

Sleep well,

Dr Clara Russell

How does the New Normal feel for you?

As we slowly start to emerge from lockdown, how can we rebuild confidence, positivity and support our mental wellbeing ?

As a GP and a Mum and wife, I know only too well the anxiety we can face when we are about to take on the ‘new normal’.
It’s fair to say the global Covid-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our life, the world over and  we’re all experiencing unprecedented challenges – both personal and professional. Our way of work, how we see our families,  shop, socialise, and go about our daily lives has been deconstructed as we’ve been forced into a new way of living.

It’s no surprise then that our confidence levels have taken a knock, whether its how you feel about you mental wellness, your body-image, social distancing with long overdue family, or rising to challenges if you’re back to work. 
It’s a very uncertain time for many, with research from BUPA Health clinics says 65 per cent of Brits are anxious about returning to the workplace.


Here are some tips if you’re anxious about the ’new normal’ :

Good habits

Confidence is a habit and like any habit, if we don’t keep it up we lose it. Add in the stress of coming out of lockdown with fears around what life is going to look like, and it makes sense that many of us will be feeling more than a little unsteady at the moment, and that is ok to feel this way.

Hark back to more confident times

Think back to a time when you felt most at ease – confident in your abilities and the person that you are. Ponder on what it was about this situation that made you feel this way. Was it surrounding yourself with supportive people, or getting lost in something you really care about? As you start to ease yourself back to normal, try to recreate these moments.

Positive Affirmations

Think about what it is that you want to achieve, or the qualities and things that you need to remind yourself about.

I am strong and confident

I am worthy of love

 I am worthy of respect

I am capable of overcoming the challenges that come my way

I believe in my ability to achieve my personal and professional goals

I am enough

Dress the part

What makes you feel good? Is there an item of clothing that has the power to make you feel confident and strong?friends and family? Maybe there’s a colour or print that perfectly captures your energy, and the energy that you want to give out into the world. Find what it is, and strut your stuff.

Go easy on yourself

Don’t push too hard or have too high expectations to begin with. This is new territory for most of us and setting unrealistic goals won’t help.Keep your intentions positive and be mindful when you can – thinking neither of the past or the future, try to just be in the moment and accepting of what is right now.

You’ve got this.

Good luck and Keep Well

Dr Clara Russell

Anyone for a Round?

“The more I practise, the luckier I get” Gary Player

With summer here and lockdown restrictions being lifted in outdoor sports, now might be a good time to head to your local golf course and play a round.Golf is good not only for your physical health but your mental and brain health too. 

Heart health Any form of physical exercise helps to get the blood pumping to your heart and whilst you’re golfing and walking, carrying your bag and swinging your clubs, this activity increases your heart rate and blood flow. This in turn can mean risk of a stroke and diabetes are reduced, and there can be positive effects on reducing blood pressure and harmful cholesterol, especially if you’re able to combine this with a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

Fresh Air One of the biggest health benefits of golfing comes from being out in the fresh air and green spaces. Fresh air increases the flow of oxygen in your body and this improves your health in many ways, for example, giving a boost to your digestive system. Fresh air and more oxygen can also aid your auto-immune system, giving your white blood cells the energy they need to help them fight germs and bacteria.

Vitamin D One of the most important vitamins in the body, vitamin D is produced by your skin when is exposed to strong sunlight. More vitamin D means helps regulate calcium, which in turn leads to healthier and stronger bones. 

Live longer A Swedish study by the Karolinska Institutet and headed up by Professor Anders Ahlbom, found that people who play golf have a 40% lower death rate, which corresponds to a 5-year increase in life expectancy. 


Brain stimulation Regular daily walks strengthens the brain’s memory circuits and by keeping active you make sure your brain has a good, strong blood supply, which is essential to help it function better now and in future.


Weight loss An 18-hole round easily exceeds 10 000 steps, especially when you walk and don’t use a golf cart, so helpful in managing weight loss when coupled with a healthy diet.

Reduces stress The feel good pleasure of walking in the fresh air, socialising with fellow golfers, with the added mental challenge of playing this kind of sport ensures the release of endorphins, the natural mood-enhancing chemicals in your brain, which make can make you feel happy and relaxed.


Improved sleep Exercise and fresh air are a powerful combination for improved sleep. Walking the course will give you a good workout. Regular exercise helps you sleep faster and remain in a deep sleep for longer. Sleep helps your muscles rest and repair

Keep well, Dr Clara Russell

4 ways what we eat can affect our sleep

Sleep is one of the most important things we can do to look after out brain health. Not only does regular quality sleep help us feel better in ourselves, it is also important for our memory and immune system. 

What we eat can affect our sleep

Both what we eat and drink and when we consume certain foods can impact both our ability to sleep and quality of sleep thereafter. 

If you are having difficulty sleeping, or waking up feeling unrested after ‘a good nights sleep’, it might be worth thinking about what you eat and drink in the hours running up to bedtime. 

1)Increase Melatonin rich foods

 Melatonin is a hormone released in the early evening usually to trigger our brain and body to start to prepare itself for sleep. Releasing enough melatonin and also this happening at the appropriate time is part of our natural routine that helps us sleep. 

In some countries melatonin can be purchased over the counter as a sleep aid and can be prescribed for certain age groups here in the UK. But tablets are not the only way to increase our natural production of melatonin. 

Sleep tip: Certain foods are known to help with melatonin release including cherries, oranges, grapes and tomatoes. Oats, nuts and seeds are non fruit options that will help with our natural melatonin production which not only helps us fall asleep at the right time  but can also improve sleep quality and improve overall energy. 

2)Caffeine

The worlds favourite stimulant, caffeine is consumed by most adults several times every day. Caffeine can boost our mood, energy levels and aid concentration. 

Too much caffeine and our sleep can be affected. Caffeine has a half life of up to 8 hours- meaning it still exerts effects on your metabolism during this time. Which is why the latte you had at 4pm or cups of tea after dinner can impact on your ability to fall asleep and also the quality of your sleep. 

Sleep tip: Stop caffeine after 2pm to ensure  a better nights sleep 

2) Spicy food– 

Food rich in spices close to bed time can cause stomach irritation which can affect our ability to sleep peacefully. But that isn’t the only reason spicy food can interrupt our zzzz – an ingredient found in spicy food, capsaicin, is thought to raise body temperature which can disrupt our sleep pattern. *

Sleep tip: Enjoy your spicy food earlier in the day 

4)Fatty foods

Food heavy in saturated fats can lead to longer sleep but quantity isn’t always quality. 

From studies looking at animals following a high fat diet they found these rats were more likely to be sluggish and lacking in energy despite the longer sleep duration**. Whilst animal studies have their limits, heading to bed after a big plate of fast food can certainly disrupt our sleep pattern. On top of this, digesting foods rich in saturated fad or additives can be harsh on our stomach which can also prevent us from getting a good nights rest. 

Keep Well,

Dr Clara Russell 

*https://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/17/health/17real.html

** https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/mnt/releases/247645#1

Why a good night’s sleep can help your memory

What goes on in our brains when the lights are out

Sleep is essential for rest and repair of our bodies and minds. It is also vital for our immune system and broken non restful sleep and impact on our bodies ability to deal with disease. 

What happens when we sleep?

When we sleep our brain takes on a life of its own. Moving between the different stages of sleep including non REM and REM sleep our brain is processing what has happened in the previous day, or days. Our brain is managing memories and moving them into long term storage and also processing ‘a deep clean’- a benefit of sleep that is becoming increasingly of interest regarding risk for Alzheimers Disease. 

Dealing with emotions 

Whilst we are in REM sleep we have dreams that we may or may nor remember the following day, 

This REM stage of sleep also helps us process our feelings.  Research has shown that people who had their REM phase of sleep disrupted were still being annoyed by challenging events that had happened in the previous day. This was compared to those who had slept better who were more able to get some perspective on the emotions that had gone on before and therefore less irritable. I think we can all relate to that feeling!***

Anxiety

Poor sleep can also impact on our anxiety levels – a study in the US showed that one night’s poor sleep can increase anxiety levels up to 30% in some. 

‘A Deep Clean’? 

The non REM phase of sleep is where a lots of the hard work goes on. Reach has shown that during this stage of sleep, slow waves of fluid actually wash over the brain. 

Why does this matter ? This fluid clears the so called metabolic build up. Within this there are some proteins that are known to be associated with Alzheimers disease including Tau and beta amyloid

This cannot happen in our brains whilst we are awake as our neurons ( brain cells) are firing in different ways and all nutrients and oxygen are needed to help them do this. Essentially they are busy with the day job. *

Magic moments 

I always used to think that sleeping gave the brain a chance to switch off but this is totally not what is going on! 

Filing away memories is another key thing that happens whilst we are in the land of nod. Without enough sleep, our brains don’t get a proper chance to store what we have experienced. Research has showed that remembering something that has happened, even a small thing,  weeks or months later is easier for your brain if you have been sleeping well **

A good nights sleep is important for so many reasons four our brain health and overall well being

Simple ways to help get a good nights sleep:

  1. Regular Routine- not just for kids, we thrive on a sleep routine
  2. Keep your room dark and cool- cosy is a nice idea but having your bedroom too warm is a common reason for a disrupted sleep 
  3. Avoid caffeine after mid afternoon- yes even an afternoon cup of tea can impact our ability to fall asleep if we ares sensitive to it. 
  4. Eat early- going to bed whilst still digesting your evening meal or snacks can make it harder to us to sleep properly and get the rest we need
  5. Avoid screens in the evenings – especially at the moment, the stress and anxiety caused by late night scrolling is a real threat to getting a full nights rest and recharge. Blue light from our screens also confuses our natural melatonin production and confuses us as to when it is night time. 

Keep well, 

Dr Clara Russell 

*https://www.wired.com/story/scientists-now-know-how-sleep-cleans-toxins-from-the-brain/

**https://news.mit.edu/2009/memories-0624

***https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychiatry-and-sleep/201908/sleep-and-memory-how-they-work-together