There is a grouping of nerves in the hypothalamus gland, directly behind our eyes, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, that is hypersensitive to light. These nerves are responsible for sending signals to the pineal gland, where melatonin, amongst other hormones, is produced. This is the master clock, so to speak, which regulates the other internal clocks throughout our bodies. Regulating Circadian Rhythm When our circadian rhythm is interrupted or mismatched due to an external factor, we become more susceptible to illness. Doctors now associate certain diseases with what they call, chronic misalignment, a longterm imbalance between our circadian rhythm and daily routine. This means that if we are constantly messing with our sleep cycle due to changes in time zones, drugs and alcohol, or other sleep disturbances, we could be doing damage in the long run. The importance of maintaining a regular sleep cycle is paramount to our health and can undoubtedly lead to a longer, healthier life. Despite the common misconception that a night cap might help you sleep better, alcohol consumption has been shown to reduce the amount of time spent in REM sleep, which is essential to brain function and memory. When we sleep, our bodies carry out a number of regenerative functions from rebuilding muscle tissue, to compartmentalizing and processing the day’s events. When that REM sleep is interrupted, memory loss can ensue. Maybe this is why things might seem a little blurry the next day or the previous night’s events aren’t as easily recalled. This disturbance in the circadian rhythm might also be the cause behind hangover symptoms. As it turns out, after a night of drinking you’re probably just tired. 1/4 Another impediment to maintaining a consistent circadian rhythm is adjusting to different time zones. For those who travel often for work, even only a few hours’ time change can mess with your sleeping patterns, a.k.a. jet lag. Generally speaking, it takes about a day for every hour of change for your body to adjust its circadian rhythm. Researchers have found that the change in time zones can provide a significant advantage to sports teams traveling west to east when playing games after 8 p.m. EST. Because in the U.S., the internal clocks of a team on the west coast are 3 hours behind those on the east coast, so a game being played after 8 p.m. is tantamount to west coast players playing in the late afternoon or early evening — a time when circadian performance is at its peak. Our circadian rhythms are so sensitive that daylight savings time changes of just an hour have been linked with increased rates of heart attack and vehicular accidents. Aside from mere drowsiness, this is partially attributed to a hindrance of certain chemicals that are crucial to immune functions. When we sleep, the body heals itself and inflammatory responses go up. This is likely due to the fact that it focuses energy toward fighting bacteria and infection rather than other bodily functions, so when we don’t allow for that restorative process there is a greater likelihood of getting sick. How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm Part of the reason it can be difficult to fall asleep at night is because of our extreme photosensitivity. Even average room light can trick our brain into suppressing the release of melatonin, not to mention our constant exposure to artificial light from the screens of 2/4 electronics. But even if you make an effort the following night to go to bed early and limit exposure to light in the hour before bed, the SCN can remember the time it triggered melatonin secretion from the past few days. So, it really takes an effort of developing a strict routine in order to sustain a rhythm. How to Reset Circadian Rhythm Here are some methods to readjust your circadian rhythm, or shift it toward a more desirable schedule that fits your lifestyle. Expose yourself to sunlight or blue light. During the time you want to be awake, get as much sunlight as possible, and if sunlight isn’t available, expose yourself to shortwavelength blue light. Going without food for an extended period of time can reset the circadian rhythm because it tailors itself to your metabolism. A Harvard study found that for animals, if food was only available during a sleep cycle, their circadian rhythms adjusted to be awake then, and sleep when it wasn’t available. This is likely the case for humans as well, so if we adjust our dietary habits to align with the time we sleep, we might be able to hack the system. Try not to sleep in on the weekends or vary your sleep/wake pattern significantly. A drastic change one night might not have an effect, but consecutive nights of variance in your sleep schedule might lead to that social jet lag on Monday. 3/4 Limit your exposure to electronics and the bright light produced by screens. If you must use your phone or computer before bed, there are apps that block or reduce melatonin-inhibiting blue light. Eat properly. This seems to be a no-brainer, but eating well and at the right hours is essential to attaining a regular circadian rhythm. It’s debatable whether eating just before bed is actually bad for you, but if you fluctuate your dinner schedule it can mess with your rhythm. Also consuming foods with high levels of sugar or caffeine before bed isn’t ideal As we learn more about how this bodily function works, it should lead to better science that helps us get the rest we need. Whether through methods of sleep hacking or just conscious discipline, we can fight back against lethargy. 4/4
What is digital self-harm?Digital self- harm (also called self-trolling, self-cyberbullying, and cyber self-harm: Winterman, 2013) can be defined as “the anonymous online posting, sending, or otherwise sharing of hurtful content about oneself” (Patchin, 2017). It gained global attention in August of 2013 when fourteen-year-old Hannah Smith from England hanged herself, having been reportedly harassed online for months prior to her death. Her bereaved father asked for an investigation of the cyberbullying that apparently drove her to suicide. The shocking finding of the investigators was that Hannah herself had posted the cruel messages on social media (Kheriaty, 2018).
Three years prior, in 2010, Danah Boyd, the principal researcher at Microsoft, coined the term “digital self-harm”. While she acknowledged that the majority of hurtful anonymous messages online were probably not self-generated, she declared that “the fact that it exists at all should be a warning to us all” (Boyd, in The Cybersmile Foundation, n.d.). So how common was this newly-noticed phenomenon; was this just a one-off, unusual case?
The studiesIn 2011, Dr. Elizabeth Englander, working from the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Centre (MARC), studied cyber self-harm among a sample of 617 university students and found that 9% had digitally self-harmed anonymously while they were in high school: 13% of boys and 8% of girls (Patchin, 2017; Winterman, 2013). Colleagues Dr. Sameer Hinduja and Dr. Justin Patchin, recognising that no research had been done on middle- and high-school students, organised a national sample of 5539 12 – 17-year-olds and asked about many aspects of their lives, including digital self-harm. Similarly to Englander’s study, they found that 6% had digitally self-harmed, with boys doing it more than girls. Of those who responded affirmatively to the statement, “I have anonymously cyberbullied myself”, 37% had done it a few times, and 18% said they had done it “many times” (Patchin, 2017; Kheriaty, 2018).
Who does it? The risk factorsThe Patchin & Hinduja study linked the following risk factors to engaging in digital self-harm:
A cry for helpAs we noted, those who are already feeling lonely or misunderstood, or who are showing other symptoms of depression, are more prone to self-troll. Girls, particularly, tended to engage digital self-harm because they were depressed (Martocci, 2017). Such teens responded to the survey with comments such as “Because I already felt bad and just wanted myself to feel worse”. Similarly, some claimed that they wanted attention (“Because I feel sad and needed attention from others”). These teens may be more at risk of suicide, such as Hannah Smith was.
To look coolBoys sometimes said that they self-bullied online as a joke, to be funny, making comments like: “I do not like hurting others, but it’s easy to make fun of myself. I was bored and did it to maybe make others laugh as a joke” (Kheriaty, 2018). Boyd has suggested that teens may try to influence their social status as someone who is popular enough to gain negative comments from jealous “haters”. In other words, being criticised in some schools is a sign of popularity. By posting and responding to negative anonymous questions, it is possible to look important by appearing to be “cool” enough to have nasty things said about you. In this situation, cyberbullying is considered a marker of social status, so in a strange way, digital self-harm can constitute a form of self-aggrandisement (The Cybersmile Foundation, n.d.; Kheriaty, 2018; Patchin, 2017).
Triggering complimentsThose who had low-self-esteem or worries about themselves might insult themselves anonymously in order to “fish” for compliments, provoking their friends into saying nice things in response to the negative commentary. Dr Emma Short, Co-Director of the Centre for Cyberstalking Research, says that research shows that, if someone posts a nasty comment online, 30% of people will join in with the bullying, but about 60% of people will attack the troll, defending the person the nasty comment is about. It is that defence that a lot of adolescents could be seeking (The Cybersmile Foundation, n.d.). In this camp were those who tried to gain the attention of adults and peers who would worry about them and “stick up” for them (Patchin, 2017; Winterman, 2013)). There were also those whose self-obsession was enhanced by online gossip. One person self-trolled “to see how people I know would react so I would know if they are talking about me behind my back”, with another doing it in order to “see how others saw me” (Kheriaty, 2018). Loosely associated with this category were those who digitally self-harmed for narcissistic attention-seeking: “so people could see that people bully me too and that I could be mean to other people because ‘people’ were mean to me” (Kheriaty, 2018).
Spotting digital self-harmGiven the seriousness of the issue, the fact that it appears to be on the rise (anecdotally), and the fact that it is anonymous, how do we identify those who are harming themselves in this way? The answers aren’t easy. Boyd notes that most adults want to blame the problem on technology, rather than recognising that young people are merely using technology to act out the social and emotional issues they already confront. Technology, says Boyd, is just a magnifier: making the good, the bad, and the ugly bigger and more visible (Winterman, 2013). Except that it’s not: visible, that is.
Part of the problem for those researching digital self-harm is that the behaviour is highly secretive because of the extreme sense of shame involved. Those who do it fear being found out; the humiliation of being exposed as sending abusive messages to oneself online is massive. Psychologist Dr Richard Graham, of London’s Tavistock and Portman National Health Service Foundation Trust, notes that a major driver for adolescents is to try to establish themselves as appearing mature and adult. Thus, to be exposed engaging in the childish actions of self-bullying is a constant fear, heightening the secrecy (Winterman, 2013). So what can parents and other concerned adults do?
Parents’ role in preventing digital self-harmWhat can you as a mental health helper advise parents to do if they suspect that their teenager is digitally self-harming? For a start, you can request that they take a deep breath and not engage the knee-jerk reaction of removing all technology! The other point to make to such a parent is that we need to focus on the reasons behind the behaviour, which were undoubtedly generated over a long period of time; thus, healing the need to engage in the behaviour may take some time, even if the teen can be removed from the technology that enables the behaviour. Here, then, are some things parents can initiate (mostly not short-term).
TRAUMA, NEUROSCIENCE AND THE EVOLVING THERAPY OF TRAUMATISED CHILDREN AND ADULTS WORKSHOP - SYDNEY, MARCH 2019
Click HERE to take the free test. You will need to register with VIA first.
Click link below to buy it at a discounted price!
Options and strategies for resolving BULLYING (Courtesy of Legaldate - property of Warringal Publications)
Click HERE to read about nine types of narcissists and how self love can undermine our relationships.
These are the six pillars that make up the resilience edge framework - Confidence, Adaptability, Positivity, Perspective, Mastery and Stamina. Developing your edge in a professional capacity will help you to stand out from the crowd and create your own unique professional image and personal brand!