The Wonderful Power of a Nap

Life has its way of wearing us down. From the hyper-connectivity social media frenzy to the busybody work days we put ourselves through; seldom do we have time to sit back and recharge. Since we often sleep-procrastinate mainly because of our fear of missing out, it’s hard to ever catch up on the unpaid sleep debt. Telling ourselves, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is good enough to accelerate our demise. Sleep is crucial; it essentially keeps our bodies stable and repairs our system, internally and externally. However, some of our livelihoods prevent of us from getting adequate sleep time, so we constantly put it off — unaware of the noxious effects that’s being placed upon us for every minute lost. Recently, napping has been proven to increase memory and restore an insufficient night’s sleep.

Fortunately, researchers at Sorbonne university in Paris found that just a 30-minute nap can reverse the deleterious effects of a short night’s sleep. The study was conducted on 11 healthy men between the ages of 25 and 32. The first night, all participants had a sufficient 8 hours of sleep. The second night, participants were limited to two hours of sleep. Upon waking up, researchers took samples of the participants urine and saliva to get a grasp of how the lack of sleep affected their hormonal levels. What researchers found was a major increase in norepinephrine — a stress hormone that raises blood sugar, heart rate, and blood pressure. Subsequently, the subjects napped for just 30 minutes and the results showed that all norepinephrine levels were returned to normal. This evinces the special restorative power of a day time power nap and how your brain recognizes that it must get the most of the abbreviated sleep session.

Another study conducted in Germany revealed that napping for 45 to 60 minutes can boost memory. Participants had to learn pairs of unconnected words and thereafter some were allowed to nap while others stayed up and watched a DVD. Those who napped were remarkably better at retrieving information. The brain’s region of memory — the hippocampus — seemed to be heightened after a nap.

Going forward, it would be wise of companies who push a lot of monotonous, mind-numbing tedium on employees to implement a nap period for better business. Google and technology-based companies have already added this to their work schedule to get the best of our their workers. Schools may soon do the same, so that students can be better apt to learning things in the allotted 8-9 hour school day rather than bringing work home to a distraction-filled environment. Napping can also increase alertness and we all know how many accidents occur because of a lack of sleep. If you’re feeling lethargic and sleepy, your brain might be directing you in the direction that will save your life. Nap your way to better productivity.

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The Future of Artificial Intelligence

We’ve all pondered the future — a utopia filled with autonomy and convenience at our finger tips — with impunity. Many contemporary pessimists believe that implementing artificial intelligence, which, in this case, may self-replicate itself into “artificial super-intelligence” might just leave humanity vulnerable. Such qualms present themselves in irrational, yet understandable ways. For example, eminent thinkers Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk believe, aside from climate change, that the future of AI is grim because robots may end up reconfiguring themselves at an ever-increasing rate; far superior to what any human mind could process in a short period of time. Much akin to the movies I Robot and 2001: A Space odyssey, these thoughts have been infused into our minds and now rattle our brains. Could AI really pose such a dire threat to humanity or are we being unrealistic about it?

As sentient beings who are constrained by emotion, it’s hard to fathom how an autonomous system may be able to supersede us, consciously. I mean, it took evolution millions of years to construct this faulty anatomy we are endowed with; and unfortunately, we are fraught with biological problems throughout life. Thus, building a super-computer machine who doesn’t have to be bounded by withering cells and a fickle brain could easily out-think and out-perform us in no time.

We already have cars that drive themselves and IBM’s Watson that can compile millions of pages of information and piece together a normal answer through hints and clues as it once did against Jeopardy’s most brilliant contestants. That said, super-AI is essentially right around the corner.

The effect of AI on the economy will be substantial. Many menial jobs may be supplanted by robots who will do the job more efficiently and effectively. This could put a giant chasm in our financial distribution; where the divide between the poor and the rich grows alarmingly more distant. But, economists and mathematicians speculate that these problems can be solved by adjusting taxes and being monetarily cautious. The good thing about technology and humanity is that we find a way to coexist without stepping on each other’s toes. We’ve feared many things during our progress as humans, but we always seem to push the envelope without tearing the paper.

Consciousness is a sticky subject because it is highly subjective and brain-based. So, if in time these robots do experience life as we do, they will be highly susceptible to rotten emotions such as envy, hatred, deceit, and jealousy. When these emotions go unnoticed in AI, we could be in for a world of trouble. But who says we have to let these robots get to the same level as us, sentimentally? We could easily put boundaries on their expansiveness and override such self-multiplying type of advancement. Even if they somehow do figure out a way to become nearly all-powerful that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll become villainous or malicious. Since humans think like humans, we get a false view that distorts our reality by thinking every organism has to be exactly like us. That’s astoundingly untrue, we are what we are because we are made by building blocks that allow us to be what we are. Robots don’t have to operate on the same bandwidth as us.

Ultimately, I think AI will facilitate humanity in the work area and thus catapult our technology to even greater heights. I’m an optimist: scientists and engineers are wise enough to modify and predict any shortcomings in AI before they transpire. AI won’t destroy us because we won’t let them. There will be ample codes and algorithmic functions that could destruct such a hostile group of robots if need be. Super-AI I’m a bit more weary about because depending on the technological ramifications, this typer of hyper-robot could completely predict how we would look to control it which could open a can of worms. But for now, and in the near future, be jubilant and embrace artificial intelligence! We’ll be completely safe from any unfeeling machines that want to impose their will on the human civilization.

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The Future of Selfies

In a distant, alternate universe, Tami has just snapped and shared her 10,000th selfie. She becomes the first person to do so in a mere 5 years. Tami is lauded by the entire planet; as fans fantasize about being able to achieve such a feat, they begin to try to mimic her perfection. Tami, a 25-year-old self-employed model, feels highly empowered by giving people a chance to witness her unprecedented beauty. Tabloids swoon over catching her in the act of posing for a selfie. She’s a role model. A saint. A woman of valor with a smug attitude that everyone ought to aspire to have. She has told people that her narcissism and self-righteousness can be further extended and she therefore plans on upping her selfie capturing to uncharted heights. Her fans abound, and people can’t wait to see more of her. The future looks bright…

Suppose such a universe did exist; hey, it might be imperceptible and right in our backyard! I doubt it, but selfies have transformed the way you and I perceive each other. The images reflect a “me-first” connotation in an increasingly “me-first” society. We all witness people who post endless photos of themselves in a mild-mannered way. These people are harmless; they’re just presenting the fruits of their labor. It’s good to have confidence and a bit of egotism, which can fuel you to do bigger and better things, but when these habits become visceral compulsions—the need to post pictures of yourself—you need to lighten the load.

Selfies have become commonplace in society. We see them being snapped everywhere from funerals to doctor offices. Think of how rare it was to get a picture of someone back in the AOL instant-messaging days; you would have salivated just to see one selfie taken by the woman or man with whom you were in conversation. But now that technology continues to increase at an alarming rate, we have the resources to present ourselves in a plethora of different ways, and at the most unceremonious times.

Apps like Instagram and Snapchat encourage you to post as much as you can of whatever you want, and the most important “whatever” is yourself. So we are left with people posting the same selfies unendingly, because “it’s not nice to criticize people” and the apps essentially provoke you to share instantaneously. Just remember: anything done in moderation is fine, but, usually, familiarity breeds contempt. Too much of anything gets old really quickly. People who have that mysterious mystique about them tend to keep the audience on their toes.

Let me drop a term I learned in economics some years back that has stuck with me: the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. This basically states that the more you have of a good, the less you desire it the next time. It applies to many things in life: food, music, SELFIES, etc. That said, the more often you post selfies, the less your audience is enraptured by each successive picture, given the short lapse of time in between them. This is not only directed at women; men tend to turn the camera on themselves a lot nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I think most selfies that people take are appealing and worth viewing, but they can quickly become redundant.

When your relationship is seemingly flawless and your partner starts taking selfies, consider that a massive red flag. Selfies are toxic for dating; they can tear down a good relationship faster than a wrecking ball against a Lego set. That is because a selfie is inherently attention-seeking, and creates a chasm of uncertainty and insecurity from your partner who values you the most. You show me a relationship that has a lot of selfie-posting from either ends, and I’ll show you a relationship that has a short lifespan.

Sometimes the prettiest females are the ones who don’t know they’re pretty; the under-the-radar, coy individuals who rarely dive into their egos. Studies have claimed that frequent selfie sharers have a dark underlying factor linked to narcissism and traits of psychopathy. These studies are still in their nascent stages, but evidence is being corroborated by many different outlets. Kim Kardashian is releasing a book titled selfish, which is a compilation of selfies throughout her “hardscrabble” life. This highfalutin tale will probably have a great effect on young, impressionable minds; and, maybe for the worse. I do commend Kim’s ability to promote her brand from a business standpoint, but maybe not in such a gaudy and dishonorable way.

Now, what will happen to future generations who embark in the realm of “selfiedom”? Will there be a backlash against selfies for fear that too much pretention might make one un-relatable to more modest people? It all remains to be seen. Moreover, these apps that unveil our privacy and give constant viewership to our friends and family will not dominate our life forever. There will always be something new and innovative waiting around the corner. Hopefully the avant-garde of that “something” will unshackle us from the depths of conceit in which we’ve been buried. Vanity can be inherent, but that doesn’t mean we should look away from things of great value in life.

In my estimation, extreme selfie shooting will eventually become a diagnosed disorder—a compulsion to exhibit oneself for the approval of others—that will inevitably wane through digital detox. All phones are equipped with cameras, but once we decide to spend less time on the phone because we’re literally wasting our lives away, we’ll naturally see a decline in selfies. Until that time, embrace the countless selfies that people share without any qualms. My advice is to post selfies that are original but to post them infrequently, so your onlookers will eagerly anticipate the next one. The visual aesthetics of a female are one of the greatest sights we can glance at, but we don’t need Tami’s reality to become our own.

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Exercise Your Way to a Better Brain

Motion is self-expanding. We can easily succumb to the nonchalance of sitting on a couch and watching endless hours of Netflix. However, a sedentary approach to life is a shortcut to an accelerated death. To grow and live long, we must stay in motion. Physical activity endeavors from Pilates to sports to yoga all contribute handsomely to enhancing your body not just physically, but mentally. All the small things add up in the end, but we can temporarily obviate our inevitable demise by expending more kinetic energy, daily. The benefits of the impacts that exercise places on your brain are enough to convince any sane person to get moving post-haste. The brain can atrophy (cerebral atrophy) just like muscles can with underuse.

Throughout life we are battered by pangs of distress, emotional despondency, injuries, illnesses, diseases, hapless happenings, brain cell deterioration, etc. Moreover, most of these maladies come at the expense of our own ignorance. We’re taught early in life how important physical activity is in gym class. Some of us adhere, some throw the information in the back of our cerebellum only to be retrieved when it’s too late; or when we’ve been perturbed by unsettling news that an impending problem with our body will soon be taking place.

One of my favorite platitudes that I can’t say enough, “The time is now,” really hits the nail on the head on why we shouldn’t delay the advancement of our mind & bodies because tomorrow is truly not guaranteed. I understand how easy it is to be lazy; the willingness to not unleash any energy seems like a quality that an obese society cherishes. There’s too many avenues of contentment and complacency that, and much to our own chagrin, end up withering us away — even unknowingly.

Neurobiologically, exercise releases cortisol — the stress hormone that increases fat and stifles memory consolidation — which is a major benefit to adapting to stressors that may offset your system’s homeostasis. Along with strengthening your immune system, exercise can increase euphoria and feelings of bliss by the production of endorphins. Hence the term “Runner’s high” that befalls you once you reach a plateau of running and the feeling of comfortability and oneness with the specific activity. Long walks stimulate creativity and de-stress you from whatever may be burdening you at the moment.

Alzheimer’s, the terrible neurodegenerative disease that affects millions of people,  can be slowly prevented by increasing your movement. Scientists and psychologists have proven that a reduction of cognitive decline can be the result of implementing small, 20-30 minute routines into your daily regimen. Obesity is a big risk factor for Alzheimer’s, so continuing to shed body weight can stave off the eventual disease and lower the incidence rate.

Cognitive functioning and brain plasticity will be expanded 10-fold by instituting any form of aerobic exercise into your lifestyle. The brain will become sharper, motor skills will improve, brain fogginess will subside, the ability to learn new things will increase, and your memory will strengthen. These are advantageous points enough to keep you from ever wanting to take the escalator again.

As time progresses, we slowly lose more and more brain cells. We just aren’t made to last forever. Our bodies fade just as ink does on a sopping wet canvas. Death is inescapable, but we can decelerate the process by becoming more active. A civilization in motion is one that is highly prosperous and productive. Showing our kids the importance of ‘go-getter-ness’ and relaying the undeniable benefits of movement can take our planet to greater heights. As the battle with obesity and decline in brain functioning continues, understand that you choose whether or not you want to make yourself better. Be wise, get moving.

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5 Ways Your Brain Tricks You

Every decision we make goes through a bevy of obstacles before we reach the “final answer.” Our cognition is affected by everything from genes to mood to upbringing. We often think we are impartial in our steps to coming to a decision, but our brains sometimes will say otherwise. Here, I present five cognitive biases—an error in thinking, or a distortion of our perception of reality—that blur our views on things and allow us to be led astray by irrationality.

Confirmation Bias

This widely popular bias can be reinforced by any immediate search engine. Confirmation bias is the tendency to confirm whatever unsubstantiated, preconceived belief you have by only searching for information that bolsters your view and disregards disconfirming evidence. For example, on Twitter, there’s a “search” function, which allows you to type in queries on anything you want. So, if you want to confirm your bias that a movie is terrible, just type in the keywords “Godzilla” and “Terrible,” and you’ll find people agreeing with your bias, thus reinforcing your previously held notion. I find myself doing this time to time; it does offer up a pang of satisfaction.

Hindsight Bias

Ever get the feeling that you “knew it all along” after the occurrence of something has taken place? If so, you may be suffering from hindsight bias. It is an illusion that an event is more predictable after-the-fact rather than before. We often don’t “know it all along,” but since our brain tricks us, we selectively recall information that may have been slightly presented to us then we rearrange the narrative to make it seem like we did. This can oversimplify natural cause and effect properties, and create a chasm in understanding because it was so seemingly “predictable.”

Gambler’s Fallacy

When a person believes that the probability of an event happening again is decreased because it has already happened, it is a glitch in thinking. This fallacy is ubiquitous in casinos, and owners dupe gamblers by making them think that each spin at the roulette table is NOT independent of the previous spin, but that’s erroneous. When you witness black come out 60 times in a row, it does not mean that the chances of red coming out next are higher than the last spin. Why? Because each spin (or event) is independent, meaning the probabilities reset back to their normal standards. The chances of a coin being flipped heads or tails is always 50 percent, regardless of what has happened before.

Negativity Bias

The old platitude, “Bad news travels fast” fits perfectly with this bias. Negativity has a stronger impact on us than positive experiences. This can be seen as a defense mechanism to shield ourselves from future negative situations. Our amygdala—the fear center in our brain—has been honed to protect us from threats by inducing responses that increase our chemicals to preserve ourselves. All news outlets thrive off of bad news, and we seem to succumb to that because we get comfortable with thinking “that’s not us; I should be grateful.” Think about how negative comments stick with you much longer than positive ones. Evolutionarily speaking, negativity reminds us that we’re fragile and not perfect, so it keeps our heads up in times of hardship.

The Ingroup Bias

Everyone has had their “cliques” or “crews” back in the day. Remember thinking that your crew was better than any outside one? The ingroup bias is a condition in which you favor people that belong to your group over ones who don’t. This bias can be harmless when speaking of elementary school, but it can stir up hate and anguish toward others when infused in something like religion. Fundamental religion subscribers often take umbrage to people who oppose their beliefs and will act unscrupulously because “their” group is correct. This can undeniably distort our vision of what’s reasonable and what isn’t.

The next time you’re at an intersection of uncertainty, be wise; make sure to consider that your brain may be leaning toward a bias of which you are unaware.

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Figuring Out Your Body

Many people of all shapes & sizes ring in the new year with an immense amount of confidence. The idea of reforming one’s self and being able to examine how much potential one has can feel extremely uplifting. New Year’s resolutions vary from minute goals such as cursing less than normal to grandiose goals like partaking in an Ironman triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, all done successively without a break. But, the most troubling goal that people continually fall short of is weight loss. If you browse any library or Barnes & Noble, you’ll notice a plethora of books pertaining to the subject of “dieting.” Semantically, I try to avoid using the word diet, because it comes with an evanescent connotation. Dieters merely aspire to be lifestyle changers. The path to changing your body composition is no easy task, but the low-hanging fruit must be to understand how your anatomy works and how to do what’s best for your body.

In the past year, I’ve dropped 35 pounds. I’ll tell you this one thing: it was not easy; there were endless nights fraught with hunger pangs and cravings ad nauseam. My plight with weight loss was an ongoing battle with no armistice in sight. I was eternally at war with my mind – in the hope of improving my body, I began to introspect and outsmart myself. But why, all of a sudden, did I have the urge to succeed after many fruitless attempts at dropping weight?

During college, I had many schemes to trick my body into a skinnier physique: eating once a day, working out completely malnourished, drinking booze instead of edible food because “liquid calories can’t be that bad.” All these gimmicks worked, but only for a very short time. As my body would naturally return to homeostasis, I’d eventually be back up to my hefty weight – and with interest! I always thought of it as punishment for trying to cut corners instead of attacking the problem head on. College, in general, is a tough time to lose weight because partying and cheap food is ubiquitous around campus. One night of imbibing various alcoholic concoctions on top of late night eating will set you back a few days. Our bodies can’t overcome the consumed calories in such a short span of time. Having been a college running back, I still would always excuse my bad eating with “I’ll work it off at practice” which, of course, is a zero-sum ideology.

After college, year in and year out, I fought tirelessly. I would have glimpses of weight reduction, but once the friends called me to accompany them on a night out (which comes with a two-day package: the calorie consumption from the revelry that overflows into the following day with horrific, fatty-food cravings), everything would go straight out the window and into the dumpster.

As time progressed, I began to bury my head in articles and books on different ways to alter one’s body composition. From observing tons of workout techniques to noticing the worst times of day for my body to deal with food, I became health-conscious to the utmost degree. Booze is a weight loss impediment. The empty calories and chemical-altering aftereffects will leave you searching for harmful carbs as obsessively as a damn honey badger sniffs out its prey. By cutting down drinking, you’ll notice immediate physiological changes. No more brain fogs. No more eating voraciously as if you’re not in the driver’s seat of your body. No more being tired just enough to keep you from making it to the gym. Water is essential – dehydration thwarts all plans of muscular development and cardiovascular expansion. By lessening my alcohol consumption, I became reinvigorated and ambitious. I also implemented cardio in my weight lifting regimen, which consists of circuit training (3 different workouts then a brief break, repeat, etc.) At first, spending a couple hours in the gym for a session soon would lead to two-a-days. I became infatuated with sweating; a euphoric moisture pouring from my epidermis, which was evidence of the changes taking place anatomically.

I attribute much of my ‘getting-in-shape’ to the stairmaster. The machine is truly transformative and efficient. Since my intensity was increasing 4-fold, I had to figure out a way to mollify my insatiable appetite. This most definitely varies astronomically with people, genetically & biologically. Much of my weight gain was always amplified in the evening hours, when I would get struck by thoughts of sweets that only a crackhead could attest to. Rummaging through cabinets, at the moment, I was sure I had an undiagnosed case of “Night Eating Syndrome.” But all these issues were just bad habits that became enhanced over years of conditioning. If you do something long enough, your body will adapt to it and it will become automatic. Also, when you know you’re susceptible to eating untimely snacks, just banish them from your house. You’ll never have a strong enough hankering to get in your car at 4 am just for some Cool Ranch Doritos, well, unless you’re impaired.

When the weight started steadily dropping, I knew I couldn’t revert to my erstwhile behavior. By inculcating myself with health insights, I soon felt obliged to keep striving for less & less weight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect – I still eat unhealthy, but certainly not as much. I’m a sucker for pasta and sweets, but I’m keenly aware of when to eat them: earlier in the day, when my metabolism is still rapidly churning. The metabolism radius is what I call it – the 3-hour period of time that occurs before or after your workout that will basically eliminate what you ate.

My buddy Brandon Wilson – who lost more than 80 pounds all the while still eating voraciously – once told me, “You want to lose weight? Fall in love with exercise.” I echo those sentiments to this day. Exercise and nutritional intake equally play a role with losing weight, and you won’t get too far by adhering to one and neglecting the other.

That said, moving more and getting your body into a flow where everything becomes blissful with your neurotransmitters being fired off in all different directions is a habit that’ll create happiness and a long life. By slowly increasing your willpower from going a minute longer or a second faster will lend you excellent results. The brain is plastic – we have the ability to transform it into something better, stronger, smarter. Become aware of your proclivities and propensities. Fruits and fibers are vastly better than junk food and sodium. Just remember: There are no free lunches in life; everything comes with a cause & effect; a price tag; a consequence. Slow and steady wins the race. There’s no beating nature and there’s no easy way out, because the hard way is how we got here. Understand your body, for it is yours and you occupy it for only so long; appreciate it.

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Lack Of Sleep

Ever wonder what it’s like to wonder what it’s like to wonder? Yep. Another night passes where sleep seems esoteric; a complexed system where I can’t seem to grasp the nuances. Beleaguered by an endless thought-continuum, thinking has become tiresome, literally. This is the fifth night in a row where I’ve gotten less than 4 hours of sleep. Consequently, everything around me seems uncomfortable. My eyes are open but I’m not sure if they should be.

A lack of sleep comes at a heavy cost; you virtually constrict yourself of all your potential. Here’s some things I immediately felt upon waking up this morning: my heart felt to be in slight flutter, my attention span was short and scattered, my decision-making wasn’t as sharp as normal, and my appetite was extremely insatiable. These apparent changes in brain chemistry are hazardous, and can really decrease one’s mood or outlook on things. The old axiom: “sleep on it,” has a positive connotation that can really affect the way we choose to decide things. Essentially, our brains sift out toxins, consolidate important information, and prepare us for upcoming decisions that we may not have enough conscious time for. This brain is dutifully working even when our bodies aren’t. So why am I jumping through hoops?

Maybe I’m just ignorant. Maybe I understand the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation and am willing to live an enervated lifestyle. Maybe, us as a nation, love the thrill of doing things the last minute, so we sleep-procrastinate because we seek thrills and anything mundane will not be tolerated. Maybe the technology era has crushed all dreams of sleeping. Maybe my grammar & punctuation is objectionably bad while I’m typing this from an exhausted brain. Maybe we’ll change the status quo on sleep and continue to stumble through life from the vantage point of a foggy window.

We all know the importance of sleep. We all know that it can lead to many maladies and most frighteningly, death.
When will we regiment ourselves to routinely follow a “perfect night’s sleep” rubric. Maybe soon, but by then, I hope it’s not too late.