Month: July 2021




Science is constantly evolving, but when it comes to our brain health, there are some elements that we know have a serious impact on the health and longevity of one of our most important organs. Your brain health depends on five major lifestyle pillars: sleep, nutrition, physical activity, cognitive training, and stress management.

There is a caveat though: the pillars work best in conjunction with one another, and if one falls, the rest can follow, creating a tricky domino effect that can (and will) wreak havoc on the long-term health of your brain.

Below, I offer some insight into what the pillars are and why they all need to work together, based on the emerging scientific consensus on factors governing healthy brain aging.

Domino 1: You Need More Sleep, and Here’s How to Get It

First and foremost, we need to spend more time outside with natural light, and the best time is in the morning, when the clock housed in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus is calibrated and strengthened by light. That blue light, the most favourable, wakes us up and increases the strength of our circadian rhythm, which enables us to be more awake during the day and less awake at night.

This allows us to sleep better at night, one of the most important pillars to get right – and one of the most difficult in our society today. It’s reported that 51% of the global adult population doesn’t get enough sleep, an issue they often spend the weekend making up for (in general not a good idea, since one should strive for the same bedtime and waketime every day).

Not focussing on sleep as a top pillar can lead to the following:


When you don’t sleep well, your body craves quick energy in the form of sugars, unhealthy fats and carbs.

Less Exercise

When you’re tired, you don’t work out as much. It’s that simple.

Your Mental Health Suffers

When you are underslept, your cognitive capacity is reduced, and you’re more impulsive, making it harder to deal with stress and more likely for you to experience anxiety, which further affects your sleep in a recurring and vicious cycle.

Your Immune System Is Weakened

Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system, which is once again further exacerbated by all of the other complications of not getting good sleep.

What You Can Do to Improve Sleep

In a nutshell, your sleep needs to be a priority. If you are having trouble with sleep, one of the ways we recommend improving in this area at Synaptitude Brain Health, a fitness app for the brain, is by starting the process in the first few hours in the day. Decide one day to get up with the sun by exposing yourself to that light, even if you’re tired, and kickstart your day so that you can relaunch a more effective cycle. Rinse. Repeat.

Conversely, when you expose yourself to lots of blue light at night, you create a weird sense of jet lag and wake your brain up in what’s called “social jet lag,” or in other words, you send your internal clock into a tizzy.

There are two big regulators of sleep: how tired you are and your 24-hour clock. When it says it’s night time and you add blue light at the wrong time, then you have your sleep drive fighting with your clock, reducing your quality of sleep.

The biggest driver of your internal clock is light, but, yet again, other pillars contribute, including: meal times, meal quality, exercise times, and the quality – and type – of those workouts.

Domino 2: Keeping Fit at the Best Times of the Day

Exercise makes your circadian rhythms deeper and stronger, but the times to do exercise are also relevant:

1. In the morning (it works in a similar way as blue light),

2. In the middle of the day when it causes a temporary increase in your core body temperature heading into the daily peak at around 5 PM.

Have you heard the advice to never work out too close to bedtime? That rule exists because exercise at night acts like blue light, stimulating your brain for a full day ahead, and raising your core temperature when it is naturally falling. At Synaptitude, we do not recommend working out within 2-3 hours of bedtime if you’re struggling with quality sleep.

Finally, exercise is great as a mood enhancer that improves sleep quality, food choices, muscle composition, biochemical reactions specific to mood, and increases stress management abilities. Once again, the interactions between all of the pillars need to be addressed to create a positive synergistic effect leading to short- and long-term brain health.

Domino 3: Poor Stress Management Is One of Our Biggest Challenges Today

Our world, for better or worse, has become a much more stressful place. People who are stressed have sleep disorders, then they don’t exercise, they make bad food choices, and so goes the vicious cycle of the five pillars.

Often, people don’t realize how much external factors can increase our inability to handle stress. The hypothalamus, the part of our brain that reacts to stress, was designed ages ago to respond to a different list of threats than we face today.

Today, our brains react in the exact same way only to very different elements: lIfe is much faster, demands on people are much greater, and the truth of the matter is that we’re not all built to handle 80-hour work weeks with a constant onslaught of increasing pressures.

We are constantly bombarded with extreme positions, and even mainstream news media lead with polarizing and stress-inducing, negative, scary news items. These stressors are then compounded and amplified via social media. We just don’t get a break.

We’re being asked to try harder in every area of life, and many people don’t take the time off that they need – not just mentally but physically – in order to keep the body and brain functioning at its highest capacity.

The domino effect of the five pillars is ever present here. A stressed mind can’t eat well, sleep well, be challenged effectively or relax in the way it needs to. This both creates and exacerbates disease.

Domino 4: Socializing and Brain Training

When some of the cultures who experience the highest rates of longevity were studied to determine why they are able to live such healthy lives, one of the strongest elements was a culture of family and community. They spend a lot of time together, on walks, doing social activities and enjoying life with the support of family and friends.

It sounds so simple, but in reality, many positive biochemical reactions are borne from these interactions. Raising oxytocin and endorphin levels increase our ability to handle stress through emotional regulation, lessening the threat of anxiety and allowing us to eat, sleep and play better.

Socialization, learning new things not related to work or our day to day, such as languages and brain teasers, all of these elements create new neurons or strengthen existing ones, training our brain in the same way that physical exercise trains the muscles.

It always comes back to the five pillars.

Domino 5: You Are What You Eat, So Eat the Rainbow!

In the global hotspots where people tend to live longest, not only do they have significantly better sleep, exercise routines and less stressful lives, they have notably similar diets. Many of them tend to eat a Mediterranean-like diet, with plenty of fish, healthy fats like olive oils, and lots of fibre, including sweet potatoes.

This means they aren’t spiking their cortisol, a biochemical response that has an adverse effect on the hormones that control your mood. It also means they can exercise more, sleep more and live longer with a healthier, higher-functioning brain.

In other words, an apple a day – plus a variety of other fresh rainbow-hued foods – can keep the doctor away. Yet again Nutrition is just one of the 5 pillars, all of which impact and need each other to function.

Optimizing your functioning on these pillars acts as the best preventive medication in the world when it comes to overall health and longevity.

Sleep is a Foundation of Resilience

by Jodi Cohen

sleep is a foundation of resiliance

Sleep is one of the foundations for resilience.

Restful, restorative sleep has been shown to increase resilience, making it easier to cope with stress and regulate our emotions. Sleep even impacts how well your brain adapts and how you are able to process emotion.

More specifically, your brain cleans house while you are sleeping. During sleep the metabolic activity of your brain goes up about 10 times. Research shows that the neurons in the brain actually shrink by about 60% to make room for the movement of cerebrospinal fluid through our brain to remove toxins and deliver oxygen and nutrients.

This cleanup function strengthens and recharges your brain’s capacity for resilience, helping you adapt and change by building new connections which enhances your ability to regulate your emotions and behavior.

Sleep deprivation compromises your ability to focus, connect and make thoughtful decisions.  Resilience requires energy and poor sleep depletes your energy reserves.

When you don’t get enough sleep, small day-to-day stressors like coping with work pressure or relationship hiccups can feel more overwhelming. Simply put, when you are physically exhausted, you have less capacity for resilience.

How Sleep Makes You More Resilient

Sleep helps to enhance mental strength and resilience.  This is one reason it may feel easier to respond to life’s difficult times when you are rested.

Research shows that sleep enhances cognitive function. A study at UCLA has shown that sleep deprivation negatively impacts brain maintenance and repair and compromises mental acuity and optimal brain activity.  This impacts your ability to focus, slows your reaction time, compromises your ability to make decisions, to multi-task and store new memories.

The Better Sleep Council found that 79% of people would feel better and more prepared for the day with an extra hour of sleep. Sleeping only 6-7 hours, you are twice as likely to be involved in a car crash, and sleeping less than 5 hours increases your risk 4-5 times.

Additional research has found that continuity of sleep is important for memory consolidation.  This study found that during restorative sleep, important memories are consolidated and creativity is boosted as well.

Sleep also appears to restore our emotional brain circuits, supporting healthy levels of mood supporting hormones, including serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol, that affect your tools of resilience, including your thought, mood, and energy.

Your Prefrontal Cortex Needs Sleep to Function

Research correlates poor sleep with diminished function of the prefrontal cortex and finds “the prefrontal cortex is disproportionately negatively influenced when an individual is low in sleep quantity or experiences poor sleep quality.”

Your prefrontal cortex is foundational to resilience.  Your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain located behind your forehead, supports not only your “executive function” and your ability to organize, plan, and make decisions, but also your emotional intelligence, and your ability to understand, engage self-control and manage your emotional response.

Research on emotion and the prefrontal cortex finds that “the prefrontal cortex plays a critical role in the generation and regulation of emotion.” In other words, this region of the brain needs healthy stimulation and blood flow to support healthy emotional regulation and  value-based decision making, including the following nine emotionally supportive aspects of the prefrontal cortex identified by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel in his 2007 book The Mindful Brain.

When you are short of sleep, we have less glucose fueling the pre-frontal cortex, enhancing your resilience to handle both the expected and unexpected challenges of daily life.

Neurophysiological research indicates that resilience and self-regulation relies disproportionately on the prefrontal cortex to calm the amygdala ((which controls our perception of threat) regions of the brain.

Poor Sleep = Poor Glucose for Prefrontal Cortex Function = Compromised Resilience

According to the study: “Glucose fuels such brain activity in general  and has been linked specifically to self-regulation. Data indicates that decrements in glucose lead to impaired self-regulation, and restoration of glucose repairs self-regulation. Brain glucose is utilized throughout the day and replenished during sleep, as evidenced by neuro-imagery delineating a decrease in cerebral metabolism during sleep deprivation.   Indeed, sleep difficulties have been clearly linked with decrements in activity in the prefrontal cortex.”

Resilience and self-regulation relies disproportionately on the prefrontal cortex and amygdala regions of the brain.  If the prefrontal cortex is lacking energy and cannot suppress your perception of threat from the amygdala, your ability to tap into your higher cognitive function and resilience is compromised.

Poor sleep reduces connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex regions of the brain, resulting in lapses in attention, poor risk assessment, analysis and management (important for self-regulation as you choose among alternative strategies for goal-directed action).  The study noted that “avoiding choices where risks are disproportionately higher than rewards requires utilizing the prefrontal cortex.”

The Role of Sleep in Mental Health

Sleep and mental health are closely connected as sleep plays an essential role in helping you regulate your emotions, behavior, and mood.

In fact, it is not uncommon for those who struggle with mental health problems to also suffer from sleep challenges. Sleep deprivation definitely takes its toll on your mental health. For example, research has found that many as two thirds of patients suffering from clinical levels of anxiety or depression also suffer from insomnia.

The correlation between mental health and sleep problems is so common that research actually recognizes sleep challenges as a causal factor in the development of mental health disorders. For example, research found that insomnia more than doubles the risk of future depression and anxiety.  Similarly, chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population.

This could be attributed to the impact between sleep and resilience and sleep and memory.  More specifically, research on sleep-dependent emotional brain processing found that sleep helps with support healthy emotional-memory processing.  Poor sleep can contribute to anger, impatience, irritability, and lack of energy. As a result, poor sleep may make you more likely to remember negative events, and less able to focus on the positive.

Healthy sleep patterns are also associated with positive personality characteristics.  Research found that those who suffer from sleep challenges also report lower levels of optimism and self- esteem.

Essential Oils for Sleep

Essential Oils can help calm the mind and the body before bed to both fall asleep and stay asleep for 7-8 hours per night.  This allows the body to rest, regenerate, repair, detoxify, balance blood sugar levels, burn calories, support immune activity and reset our energy reserves.

Several calming and relaxing essential oils are known for their sedative properties that can help promote restful sleep.

Lavender essential oil is most often correlated with enhanced sleep. Research has shown that lavender may actually be able to alter brain waves and reduce stress.  For example, research has found that essential oils, like Lavender™, can bind to the receptors on your cells that receive your body’s calming neurotransmitter, Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), and help balance your brain’s level of excitation and inhibition which is vital for normal brain function and a healthy nervous system.

Lavender has also been found to relieve anxiety and calm your nerves. One study even suggested that lavender works as well as the anti-anxiety medication Lorazepam for calming anxiety. When your mind and body relax, it allows your pineal gland to release melatonin so you can easily drift off the sleep.

Scientists also concluded that inhaling Lavender essential oil can calm the nervous system and improve brain waves appropriate to a sleep state. “Lavender oil caused significant decreases of blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature, which indicated a decrease of autonomic arousal. In terms of mood responses.”

The study also found that lavender oil increased the power of theta (4-8 Hz) and alpha (8-13 Hz) brain activities that help promote sleep – improving sleep quality, and increase time spent in deep, slow-wave sleep.

Researchers monitoring sleep cycles with brain scans found that lavender increased slow-wave sleep, which helps slow your heartbeat and relax your muscles, which allows you to sleep more soundly.

A variety of issues may be impacting your ability to fall asleep and stay  asleep. Once you understand the root cause of your sleep challenges, it is easier to resolve them.

For Help Falling Asleep: Our body’s natural sleep/wake cycle known as the circadian rhythms are regulated by the sleep hormone, melatonin which has an antagonistic relationship with the stress hormone, cortisol.  Chronic and prolonged stress triggers the release of excess cortisol at night, driving down melatonin and making it difficult to fall asleep.  If you struggle to fall asleep due to stress or racing thoughts, consider Circadian Rhythm™, which triggers the pineal gland to naturally release melatonin.

For Help with Night Waking:  Waking up in the middle of the night can be attributed to detoxification, blood sugar or hormonal issues.

Blood Sugar Wake Ups:  Waking up and feeling so wide awake that you could go clean the kitchen can suggest blood sugar issues.  If blood sugar plummets during the night, the adrenal glands release adrenalin as an emergency blood sugar raising tactic. This adrenalin surge is what wakes you up.  The pancreas then has to kick into high gear to return blood sugar levels to normal.  Supporting the pancreas in this effort with Vibrant Blue Oils Pancreas™ blend helps  return the body to balance so you can fall back asleep.

Detoxification Wake Ups:   When you wake up between 1 a.m. – 3 a.m. but are still groggy enough to fall back to sleep, that is often because the Liver is overloaded.  During the night, the liver is busy rebuilding the body and cleansing it of accumulated toxins.  The liver is most active between 1 – 3 AM, often peaking at 3 AM.  When you awaken at this time, it is often a signal that the liver needs a little support.  Vibrant Blue Oils Liver™ blend applied before bed and during night waking can help you return to a restful slumber.

Other Essential Oils formulations that help support sleep include:

Sleep™ blend contains Spikenard which is known for its relaxing qualities.

The Calm™ blend and Lavender™ are also very relaxing and work well on small children, especially when added to a Healing bath before bed.

Featured Oils:

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