April 22, 2014

Health in College Part 2: Sleep!

'Ello there, hope you had a wonderful Easter Sunday! Welcome to the second week of our Health in College series! We did a little bit of reflection on body image last week and today I wanted to talk about something that affects most--if not all--of the college students I know. Catching those Zzzz's.

If only we could all sleep like babies!
Sleep is one topic that interests me a lot. The neurobiological responses that occur during sleep are weird; dreams are bizarre and for me having a dream is entertaining and suspenseful like reading an adventure novel since I'm a lucid dreamer; and we don't even know why we need sleep or how sleep heals the body after demanding days--I think that just makes sleep mind-boggling in and of itself.

For those of you who don't empathize with my conviction that sleep as one of the most complex and fascinating topics in psychology, this video is for you:

Anyhow, I saw one of those memes that said "If you are in college getting more than eight hours of sleep a night, you're doing something wrong." This seemed kind of silly to me because college isn't about staying up all night--it's about learning, spending time with friends, discovering yourself, making new memories, and of course earning your degree. I guess it's fair to say that if a person sleeps all day every day, then that person won't be successful with accomplishing everything she or he needs to do. However, I'd say that there's a certain threshold you can reach that would make having less sleep impact your performance negatively.

As a lot of you probably already know, I believe that each person should do what's best for herself or himself. It's hard to know the right amount of time you should be sleeping, because each of our bodies functions differently, but I happened to do some of research that is helpful for getting enough sleep. So all I can really do now is compile some options for getting a healthy amount of sleep and feeling more alert and upbeat during all the activities and events that happen throughout the busy day. I hope you find something that fits you. Basically, research on REM sleep has made it possible for ordinary people to drastically reduce the amount of sleep that we need--possibly to only two hours every twenty-four hours!

I. The Monophasic Cycle
This was the first sleep schedule I was exposed to. It's the most standard/common one, so I won't spend a ton of time on it. Basically, there are 24 hours in a day and a well-balanced lifestyle will divide those hours into three portions: one for work, one for play, and one for sleep.  Research shows that it's best to get around 7-10 hours of sleep a night because it gives people the right amount of REM cycles. This is probably the most common one and is easiest when it comes to planning things. But some science has been done to find alternatives for those who don't have as much time to sleep, and these are discussed below.

II. The Byphasic Cycle
Basically, you sleep for five hours a night and then take a twenty-minute-long nap sometime after lunch. I personally used this schedule first semester of college because I had several classes that started at 8:00 and would usually not go to bed until 1:00 or 2:00 (AM) doing work and spending time with friends or Skyping or whatever. Now-a-days I alternate between the byphasic and monophasic cycles because my schedule is different and allows me to get to bed early some nights.


III. Napping Cycles
There are a couple other cycles that essentially consist of not having a main block allotted for sleep and instead focus on taking several naps throughout the day. I'm kind of scared of trying these ones for a couple reasons. Firstly, I spend a lot of time on the computer, and looking at the screen that much makes it difficult to fall asleep, and I feel like the whole nap time would be spent trying to fall asleep. Secondly, these cycles are based on staying in the lighter stages of sleep, so I question if these cycles would be healthy in the long-term, since I personally believe that deep sleep is important for the body to recharge. (I don't know anyone who's done this cycle for their whole life, if reported benefits are unique to the few people who try them, etc. The woes that come with uncertainty!) Thirdly, if you miss a nap then you'll be in big trouble, so these sleep schedules require very careful and strict planning; this can be a problem especially with busy days. Fourthly, I like my warm and comfy bed.

But it looks like several people have used these, and if you're interested in trying them out, here they are:
  1. The Dymaxion Cycle: Four 30-minute long naps a day, five hours apart. 
  2. The Uberman Cycle: Six 20-minute-long naps a day, each three hours apart.
Maybe I'll try each of these out for a week or two and report back to you guys in the future. If you would like to learn more details on each type of sleep cycle and see pie graphs, follow the link to Collective Evolution's article Alternative Sleep Cycles: 7-10 hours are not needed.

Have you ever tried any of these schedules? Do you think you're getting the right amount of sleep? Let me know in the comments below!

I wish I could write a whole series just on sleep, but this is all for today. To see Part 1 of this series (on Body Image!) click here. And to make sure you receive updates on the next parts of the series, please follow me on Twitter or Bloglovin'! (Or subscribe by email on the right sidebar!) Thank you for reading and I'll see you around next week.

Take care,
-Riley XO

April 15, 2014

Health in College Part 1: Body Image

Hello there! Has everything been going well for you? I hope it has. Last night, two special friends and I stayed up super late studying for a Chemistry exam and on the way back to our dorm we saw the blood moon! Did any of you see it too?

Well, as some of you may know, I was at Taekwondo Collegiate Nationals  a couple weeks ago, so I've been thinking a lot about fitness and health lately. And it's been a while since I've done a series, so that little light bulb flashed in my brain and I thought, "Why not do a series on health? Whoa!" (Okay, so I'll admit that was a bit of an exaggeration, but I'm still pretty excited to share some of my fitness routines and ideas with you all.) Let's get started!

Today I wanted to focus on body image, which is one of the trickier things to deal with in college. I personally believe that I have never put so much thought into my physical health until I got to university. To be honest, I think a large part of it has to do with the double-edged presence of dining halls and the college culture. I've had a relatively excellent experience with dining halls at my school because there is a huge variety of options and it is literally a source of pride for our campus. However, it's bad because there is nobody limiting you. Like a lot of college freshmen, there is a transition from eating mom's home-cooked meals every night, with the occasional excursion to a restaurant, to being in a buffet atmosphere for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You really learn to control how much you're eating and make smart decisions about what you're putting into your body. People who don't make the right choices of how much and what food they're eating end up having, as one would naturally assume, unhealthy eating habits.

And as for "college culture"...

I'm not going to talk about how sex culture affects body image in college because it honestly varies between campuses and even friend groups. But as for the overall "college culture," there is the general belief that your college years mark the prime of your life. This is the last chance for kids to be kids. The time to make mistakes, the time just before metabolism starts slowing down, the time to party, hang out with friends, to laugh and live. So with this comes the pressure to also look the part of a college student. People at "the prime of life" are supposed to be healthy, strong, and fit.

I believe that the college student's body image is formed by these pressures.

It is important to have a good body image because having a misconstrued body image can be detrimental to self esteem.

So what makes a good body image?

The media sends us a clear message, but the message makes us insecure. It makes us insecure because the media shows only one image that all people should project. Men should have washboard abs, a broad chest, strong jawline, muscular shoulders, and height. Women should have luscious hair, the right curves in the right places, flat stomachs, and glowing skin. White hairs, wrinkles, and fat are abominations that everyone must be rid of. You see, society doesn't help us find a good body image because society only has one body image. Society doesn't account for the fact that there are billions of people here, and none of them fit perfectly into the box that they've constructed. People don't fit into boxes. We are meant to be free, to explore, to do things.

We need to find the good body image by looking into ourselves, because body image is unique to each of us.

The human body is like a vessel. 

You wouldn't have much fun on a cruise ship if it wasn't beautiful on the outside in--or if it didn't even have functional parts. There are certain things that the cruise ship needs in order to make it a cruise ship, to make it float and do its job: music, food, sleeping areas, a well-functioning engine, rudders, etc. However, if the ship is too decked out, it wouldn't even be able to leave the dock!

Image from bangkok-cuises.com

This is how our bodies are too. Not caring about what we eat, throwing proper hygiene out the window,  and avoiding exercise is like using a bad quality of oil, not cleaning the pools, and not checking up on the engine to ensure proper function. And on the flip side, if we are too concerned with maintenance, what fun is it if we don't have the time to do anything else? Balance is key when it comes to health (and many more things too--but those discussions will just have to be saved for future posts).

One part of body image comes from loving myself and knowing that I am blessed to be who I am. Another part of it comes from setting goals--not only that, but it actually comes from the progress I experience as I'm moving toward my goals.

Let's do some reflection with our lives and start finding a positive body image that is our own.

Ask yourself these questions:
  • What do I want to do with my life? - Do I want to go hiking, swimming, and dancing during the weekends? Do I want to live longer with less concern about getting sick when you're older? Do I want to make new friends by joining a team? Did I know that healthy people tend to be happier too?
  • How good of physical shape must I be in in order to accomplish my goals? 
  • What can I do to reach this physical shape that I must be in? - How many times can I go to the gym in a week? What makes a good, balanced diet? How much sleep am I getting? What can I do to maximize my time and health?
The next posts in this series will serve to address these questions and promote healthy habits. I hope you'll find them motivating and helpful as we go through the weeks. My vision for this series is to help us recognize the beauty we each have and work to preserve this beauty. Health and happiness are beautiful things, don't you think? 

If you have any insights or suggestions of things you would like to see, please email me or leave a comment below!

Take care,
-Riley XO

April 8, 2014

No Mirrors Challenge!

Greetings, person of the Internet! A while ago, my Genders Studies professor encouraged us to go without either technology or mirrors for a week. Since staying in contact with my friends and family was important to me, I chose to forgo looking at my reflection. It sounds sort of silly at first, I know. But in the end, I ended up taking a lot more out of it than I expected to. It was surprising how much I look at my own reflection and how difficult it turned out to be! Today, I will be sharing some of the takeaways I got from this experience. (Warning: At the end, you too will be challenged to try a mirror fast.)

To be honest, I didn't think that living without mirrors would be very difficult for me. I believe myself to focus on seeing inner beauty of the people around me, and since I try consistently to see beyond the physical appearance, this challenge seemed like cakewalk. Sure, it would be kind of awkward when I couldn't look straight forward while brushing my teeth or washing my hands, but it really was only a couple minutes of the day. When talking to my other classmates about how they coped with the mirror challenge, my reliance on mirrors was definitely not the same as theirs. I was literally shocked to hear that some girls would refuse to even leave the dorms when they felt like they could not control and monitor their own appearance. Soon after the first day, however, I started experiencing some version of stress over the challenge.

It wasn't only mirrors that I was supposed to avoid looking at, but pretty much everything that could give me a glimpse of my physical appearance: polished glass, computer/phone screens, windows, clear pools of water, etc.

Something inside of me changed. I felt out of sync with myself because I just didn't have any feedback about what I looked like. Mirrors helped me regulate what was going on in my body all the time. "You have some dark circles; a nap wouldn't be a bad idea. You look a little pale; let's get some juice," I would often say to myself as I washed my hands. It's easier to know how you feel when you can visualize how it is affecting you. Without this sort of sense of self-monitoring, I felt out of touch with myself. Isn't it strange how that turned out?

When I needed to avoid mirrors, I started to realize how often I look at myself, too. Even if it's merely a passing glance at my reflection on a shiny black car, I get a sense of self-affirmation when I see my reflection. I tell myself that I'm beautiful. I smile at myself on nice days and give myself pep-talks on hard ones. Treating yourself well is a must, and I hadn't realized until this mirror challenge that looking at yourself and knowing yourself goes into treating yourself well.

I've also learned to focus on looking at the right things. American society is so preoccupied with looks and appearances; a lot of people look in the mirror, but instead of seeing beauty and the capacity to create and love, see fine lines, wrinkles, flaws.

So, now that I am able to look at my reflection again, I feel very blessed to know what I look like and have started to love my facial features and expressions more than before. I don't mean it in a vain way--I mean it in the healthy way. (Would you rather go through life filled with self-loathing, or with a sense of sound self-love?) I think that, especially in this culture that we exist in, it is helpful to take away something first in order to appreciate it more later.

And now I encourage you, dear reader, to try it. Can you make it through a week without looking at your own reflection? How do you think mirrors have impacted your life? What will you learn?

If you do the mirrors challenge and reflect on it on your own blog, please share the link to your post in the comments below. And if you have any initial thoughts about what I've shared with you today, please let me know about them as well. Your opinions are so valuable to me!

Take care,
-Riley XO

April 1, 2014

Truth vs. Truths?

Happy April! Apologies for not writing to you last week. I was a college student on Spring Break and was busy conducting shenanigans. I was also training harder than I ever have in my life to be ready for a competition that is coming up this next weekend (and working ahead so that I won't fall terribly behind after missing two days of classes). It just hit me how quickly this school year is coming to a close. What incredible and insane time it has been! How has your year been so far? Let me know in the comments!

So I don't know if you're familiar with a philosopher named Nietzsche. I for one am not. But, today my Ethics professor introduced us to his thoughts and I just wanted to mull it all over for a bit. I remember learning a bit about Nietzsche when I studied Western Civilization. He is often portrayed as the pessimistic philosopher and is associated strongly with his words "God is dead" as well as nihilism.

A small taste of nihilism for you. And dat mustache doe!
To be honest, I expected the introduction to Nietzsche's philosophy to be more on the depressing than intriguing side--but this was not so!

Nietzsche actually made a point that piqued my interest. He was criticizing some of his philosophical predecessors, but what I thought was truly--well--true is that he states that a lot of the great philosophers had built their philosophies around what they had experienced in their lives. Essentially, what Aristotle, Epictetus, Mill, and others wrote was an "unconscious autobiography." For instance, Aristotle considered the right way to live as pursuing a life of study/reason. But, he himself was a philosopher--so of course he would think that studying was the highest good! Or Epictetus believed that happiness was only attainable by concerning oneself only with what one could control. You can't control others' actions, but you can control your own, so happiness can be found when your actions reflect solid morality and are done with dignity. However, Epictetus was a crippled slave. The only way he could find happiness was by accepting his situation and making the most out of what he could control.

Nietzsche argues that, contrary to many of his predecessors, there is not just One Truth, but many truths. What is true for you is shaped largely by what has happened to you. There could be an identical occurrence that happens to me and you--yet I could take away completely different lessons than the ones you discover. So does that make either one of our realities less accurate? Of course not--reality is subjective!

I just found this point so fascinating because it drove me to reflect on my beliefs, and to see how they match up with what has happened to me in my past and how I had learned to cope during the difficult times. And I wanted to share this with you, because a lot of what I write for this blog does in a sense represent my unconscious autobiography.

What are some of the things in your life that have affected your beliefs, or vice versa? Please share in the comments. I would love to hear what inspires and drives you--we can always grow and learn from each other by striking up a conversation in all that empty space below!

Take care,
-Riley XO

Hmmm, time to come up with a good prank to surprise my roommate!  :P

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