Wednesday, 25 September 2013

#2013NLS - Stress, Affect and Sleep

Today I'm at the NeuroLeadership Summit in London - the 9th they've organised but the first in the UK.  We've got 148 people here - 78 from UK - others from Europe and further afield.

I attended the US one via video link last year and am really pleased to be attending this one in person.

We started with a quick introduction from David Rock and then a great session from Matthew Lieberman on the social landscape - you can see my post on this at Social Advantage.

And we are continuing with a session from Jessica Payne on developing leadership stamina - to be able to lead effectively, and over the long term.  The session was moderated by Lynne Chambers at Rolls Royce.

Jessica's inputs on this were based on her MPG model:


Moderate stress

Stress is good for us, but we don't have to run away from or fight sabre toothed tigres any more.   But we put ourselves under high levels of stress everyday.

If you deliver a negative performance review, constructively with right facial emotions you get a better cortisol response than if you say something positive but look critical.

Chronic levels of stress / PTSD causes high levels of cortisol and a shortened hippocampus.  Stress kills brain cells.  It impacts both memory and cognition.

The hippocampus is more important for neutral memories but the amygdala is for negative ones.  The amygdala takes over in high stress situations. So stress enhances negative emotional memories - something to avoid.

We need to pay more attention to our parasympathetic system which helps us regulate our fight or flight response.

Tune up responses to stress through:

  • Social support and connectedness
  • Optimism
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Relaxation training and meditation (progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga, periods of rest or you time - I take long baths!)


Positive affect

Positive mood has a big impact on things like problem solving.  Brain activates just before you solve a problem - again impacted by positive affect.

  • Use support and connectedness
  • - Use your positive, energising social resources - you're not a silo!
  • Master emotion regulation strategies
  • - Labelling - just by labelling what you're feeling you tend to moderate your responses to it.
  • - Reappraisal of the situation
  • - Being in the moment (breathe!)


Good sleep

Sleep is more effective than drugs etc, and free as well.  But needs discipline.

If you're sleep deprived you might as well be drunk, but it's not as much fun.  You may feel you're fine, but you will be suffering.  Sleep is beneficial for all types of health but particularly for cognitive health.  It really is for our minds and brains.  It's not a single thing but a collection of diverse states of consciousness each with a different purpose - coming up with insights, inferences etc.

The key is deep / slow-wave / grade III / IV sleep early on in the night which is key for deep recall. Dreams occur in REM sleep later in the night - often crazy but potentially useful (eg Kekule's dream about benzene).  The sleeping brain is highly active - more active in REM sleep than some period of wakefulness.  These include those areas of the brain which are critical to perform at work - so we should care much more about our sleep than most of us do.

The first thing that is impacted is our emotions.  For example we only remember negative images not positive or neutral.  Why do we get so messed up and dysregulated?  Sleep deprivation is a big stressor - why it is often used in torture.

  • Take an extra 20 minutes
  • Power of power naps (I do! - one of the benefits of working at home!)
  • Sleep 'proxies' (benefit of going 'offline', eg relaxing, 3 minute meditations etc)
  • Know how much you need! (normally distributed around 8 hours but ranges from 4 to 12)


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