Hacking Sleep

How much sleep is actually necessary for us? That must depend on how old you are, right? Have you ever wondered why you sleep for an adequate amount of time some nights, and still feel tired, or sluggish? What if there was a way we could “hack” our sleep?

The answer lies within the quality, not quantity of sleep we receive each night. Although doctors have emphasized the importance of getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night for many years, our energy levels, metabolic levels and numerous other factors of health are strongly related with the quality of sleep. In order to hack our sleep, we need to first address one of the main barriers that prevents us from doing so, TECHNOLOGY. We are constantly stimulated by our gadgets and “glowing objects” as Dave Asprey from Bulletproof Executive, describes it. Recent studies are now showing the decline in our bodies to produce melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone when we use our iPhones, tablets or other smartphones close to bedtime. Additionally, this disrupts our REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep in which we actively dream. A person in REM sleep experiences alpha, theta and beta waves, which are coherent with high-level, active concentration thinking. Therefore, the more REM sleep we experience, in contrast to light or Non-REM sleep, the better off we will be! This is not just in terms of physical health, but also emotional and mainly psychological health. If we want to hack our sleep, we can do something that naturally causes our brains to produce melatonin before going to bed, such as reading a good book or doing some calm, meditative state yoga. Also, you can tune into some soothing music or even play it!

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The Soul of a Doctor

During the past week, I became very interested in reading a book about how medical students deal with their first encounters with patients and what they experience being so close to the life-and-death situation. This book was called, “The Soul of a Doctor,” by Susan Pories MD, Sachin H. Jain, Gordon Harper MD, and Jerome E. Groopman MD. It essentially is a compilation of essays written by fellow students of Harvard Medical School, divided into four sections: Communication, Empathy, Easing Suffering and Loss, and Finding a Better Way. It targets aspiring medical and pre-medical students to capture moments in the lives of actual medical students who have to assess all these patients, ranging from slightly ill to terminally ill.

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In the Foreword of the novel, Jerome E. Groopman, MD, makes a connection between the themes in literature to medicine. He describes that in literature, there’s a person that goes on a journey and that there is a stranger that comes to town. Likewise, in medicine, the person is the patient, accompanied by the doctor and the stranger is the illness that disrupts the equilibrium of life. Similarly, Sachin H. Jain makes a connection between the political science phenomenon of “social criticism” described by Micheal Walzer and the medical student in his Introduction of the novel. He states that the ideal social critic is someone who is embedded in society but is still able to apply external values to critiquing it. This is a crucial aspect to incorporate into medicine as well. He explains how the medical students are knowledgable about medicine but are still idealistic and have not yet been changed by the “norms of practice.” Another words, the medical student has a fresh perspective about the world of medicine and healing and is not affected by the habits other doctors may have. That is why the medical student may be able to effectively reflect on the health care system and uncover defects. That is why we want to hear from THEM in this book!

Delving into the first main concept of the book, Communication, a medical student named Amanda A. Munoz describes her worried patient and the little that doctors do to support. She talks about how the ideal patient-dcotor relationship is taught in classrooms and shown on videotapes in medical school, but it’s very hard to maintain that when everything is so fast-paced. A lot of times, doctors tend to place their efficiency, interests and performance over the patient’s feelings and questions. That in turn, leads to bad communication! This part of the book really stuck out to me because I always thought of the doctor actually comforting the patient and assessing their question(s) but never did I realize, that not all doctors think it’s necessary to do that!

The second concept discussed was Empathy, and in this section of the book,  a medical student named Rajesh G. Shah discussed how doctors can sometimes let their nature of prejudice get in the way of connecting with their patients and actually addressing their needs. Doctors may have preconceived notions about disorders such as anxiety and don’t consider it as a real, inhibiting condition, but when they actually see it occur in individuals, that completely changes their perspective. In this way, Rajesh G. Shah connected with his patient by learning from her condition and assessing her needs.

The third part of the book, Easing Suffering and Loss included numerous scenarios in which patients were extremely ill and perhaps living the last moments of their life, with only their doctors and a few loved ones. The important issue discussed in this section was that when doctors know that their patient doesn’t have much time, how can they ease suffering and loss? How can doctors assure their patients that they have been given the best care they can possibly recieve? How can doctors inform the loved ones that someone so close to them is going to die inevitably? These were some important questions that really got me thinking about how close one can get to the realm of mortality in the medical field.

The last section, Finding a Better Way, was mainly about the importance of ingenuity in medicine and started off with a remarkable quote by W.E.B. DuBois: “Education must not simply teach work- It must teach Life.” This quote is really significant because being pre-med and medical students, we can learn from older fellows, residents, and attendings, not just how to efficiently complete our tasks, but also to apply our knowledge to all aspects of our work and eventually form a bond with the patient we are dealing with. That is typically what, “The Soul of a Doctor” should constitute of. I know for some of us, it is way too early to even think about how patients should be treated or how their problems should be considered, but perhaps an important message to learn from this book would be this:

It is important to do the very best YOU can to provide the very best for the person YOU are caring for!

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a glimpse of what medicine today is really like and whether it is what they want to go into. If you are interested in checking out other books relating to the medical field, look over to the right in my goodreads section!

The Powerful Impact of Arts in our Education

As high school students, a lot of times, we don’t really have the motivation to complete our school work, because we may prioritize other things like social media over our academic requirements. However, this isn’t just a phase that we go through. It’s more of a state of mind that remains for a very long time, if it is not addressed soon enough. The main issue here is with our schools that institutionalize us so much to follow the norms that we just don’t ever get out of our heads. This causes us to lose our creative energy and waste time.

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There is a solution to this, though. Recent studies have shown significant academic improvement linked to participating in the arts, whether that be in painting, drawing, writing poetry, playing and producing music, or even inventing something. According to the Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition published by Harvard University, “an interest in a performing art leads to a high state of motivation that produces the sustained attention necessary to improve performance and the training of attention that leads to improvement in other domains of cognition.” Also, there are links between musical training and the ability to manipulate information in both working and long-term memory. The arts are clearly something we need to invest our time into, so we can gain all that creative energy to apply to our subjects in school.

Nowadays, pop culture and social media has made it really difficult to truly appreciate and delve into the fine arts, although many people still do. Taking a break from the loud, disruptive world to admire a work of art, or practice a musical piece is definitely worth the time. Even on a weekday when there are a bunch of assignments piled up, the brain needs time to unwind and rejuvenate itself for the following days. Aesthetics are definitely the solution to having more creativity, and juxtaposing ideas into a more sensible approach. So, I encourage you to find something you are truly passionate about, besides the academic pursuits, and rekindle it.

Creative ignition: A recap of Session 7 of TED2015

TED Blog

Bill T Jones, Joshua Roman, and Somi perform at TED2015 - Truth and Dare, Session 7. Photo: Bret Hartman/TED Bill T. Jones performs a collaborative improv with music from cellist Joshua Roman and vocalist Somi, at TED2015: Truth and Dare, Session 7. Photo: Bret Hartman/TED

Where does creativity come from? In Session 7 of TED2015, we explore its bounds in design, art, dance, music, data visualizations and urban planning.

Stay beginners. “As humans, we get used to everyday things really fast,” says iPod originator Tony Fadell. It’s simple habituation – and it happens all the time. Take the sticker on a piece of fruit. When you first have to pick that little sticker off an apple and flick it off your finger, it’s annoying. The second, third time – annoying. But by the tenth time, you don’t even notice. It’s the job of designers to notice “those idiotic things we do every day” – and to try and fix them. “It’s easy to solve a problem that almost everyone sees,”…

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Integrating the Arts into Medicine

We all are well aware that going into the medical field is not a cake-walk. The transition from being a pre-med, to a medical student, and residency is fairly tough. Even though the process sounds tedious and stressful, there are ways people have hacked the system by enjoying the journey, rather than just quickly trying to get it over with. These people, that enjoy the ride, indulge in creativity and expand their perceptions to formulate new ideas and possibilities. There would be no innovation or progress in the medical field if it weren’t for people who wondered about why they were doing what they were doing and how they could have done it different to make it more efficient. Luckily, there are still so many doctors who haven’t lost touch with their child-like state of wonder and are inclined in the arts, which is, essentially, a median for creativity.

Timeline of Major Breakthroughs in Medicine:

800 – Indian doctors were grafting skin from one part of the body to another

1600– Italian surgeon reconstructed ears and noses out of pieces of human skin

1954– first successful kidney transplant

1950s-1960s– studies conducted on how body rejects or tolerates foreign tissue , era of widespread organ transplantation began

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The Human Heart from the original Gray’s Anatomy 

On the Art of Medicine podcast, a doctor from Mount Sinai School of Medicine was interviewed about how the arts have a strong correlation with anatomy. The doctor described her passion for art as a high school student but also for the sciences. This is a conflicting decision that many students in high school encounter because there are academically inclined kids who think they could excel in the sciences, but also want to pursue the arts. This lady shared how she got over the conflict by double majoring at Cornell, and taking art courses along with her prerequisites at the same time. However, she still did not feel connected to her purpose yet. Later on though, she pursued a project in which she got to illustrate anatomical drawings of fish and different animals so she could study how dissections would be done. Although this is an example of veterinary medicine, it ties into how the arts can be incorporated into anatomy in general. In fact, studying drawings of animals could even help develop models for human treatments. She also mentioned how someone who’s pursuing the arts alone may be constrained by finances whereas someone who’s strictly focusing on completing the medical steps may be restricted in terms of creativity. That’s how she came to a consensus of having the arts inculcated into anatomy, which ties into medicine directly. That’s why the Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray is actually helpful for medical students. Students can look at the visual representations and make different connections about structures of the human body.

The universal concept of the arts in medicine lies in the idea that one can look at a study, project or assignment with a fresh perspective, and begin to discover new possibilities. That is why medical schools like Mount Sinai value this concept so much and represent it with some of the most renowned physicians in the world.

So, the next time you contemplate the whole medical school process, think about it as a journey to experience with an open mind. That way, medicine will rather be a very interesting ride!

Check out Mount Sinai School of Medicine: http://icahn.mssm.edu/

Art of Medicine Podcast (also available on iTunes for free: http://www.theartofmedicinepodcast.com/podcast-archive/ 

New Year, New Perspective

It’s a brand new year again, and all of a sudden, everyone is reflecting on what resolutions they need to make, in order to change themselves for the better this year. With this new year, I hope to bring new perspectives into the picture so life isn’t just filled with the same boring information again. It needs to rather be complete with creative energy, or a sense of purpose and direction. TheMedAspirations is meant for young people who aspire to become a great physician later on, but there’s more to the path of going to medical school than just studying the coursework and taking the MCAT. After all, medical schools are not just interested in how much someone has done to improve their application, but instead how they have learned from their failures and experiences. Medical schools need students who not only excel in academia, but also in other aspects of human life. In this new year, we can bring together new perspectives and step out of our comfort zone to discover new, innovative ideas. So, I’ve compiled a list of things that would be nice to implement in 2015.

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1) Watch a TED Talk at least once a week.

The reason I say this is because, TED is all about ideas worth spreading, and I believe it’s important to keep yourself constantly stimulated with new information and data because neurogenesis will occur more effectively and cognition will naturally increase. If we remain confined to our comfort zones, our brains have already mapped the next step. Our life is no longer spontaneous or filled with wonder, and we can no longer expand our perceptual vastness. The result is hedonic adaptation, which we want to avoid here.

2) Take Walks Outside, they are NOT a waste of time.

If you’ve ever experienced the “mind-fog” or when you can’t think clearly because you feel so burdened by all the things going on around you, take a walk outside. A recent study conducted by Stanford shows that creative thinking actually improves by walking or pacing outside. Catch some fresh air, and rejuvenate yourself!

3) Take 20 minutes out of each day to invest in a new, creative project.

It can be anywhere from drawing, painting, playing an instrument, writing lyrics to building a robot or machine using scrap material. Regardless of what your talent is, invest time and energy in it every day, and the outcome will be delectable. It doesn’t matter how busy you are, if people like Mark Zuckerberg or Arinanna Huffington can do it, you definitely can.

4) Spend time with your loved ones each day.

This one is kind of common sense, because evolution has proved that human beings have a stronger mental health when they are with people they love. Studies have shown that releasing oxytocin, a.k.a. the love hormone could potentially ward off brain disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and depression. Surround yourself with the people you love and those who imbue you. It’s as simple as that.

5) Remove FOMO: Fear of missing out.

I’ve seen passionate people, who compromise their passion to join another group that they think is superior to what they are a part of. However, like Joseph Campbell says, “Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid. Doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” Human beings hold themselves back from their true potential by joining others groups because of the “FOMO.” Like the brilliant philosopher Rumi says, “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”

These are just some strong ideas I had this New Year. Perhaps this was more philosophical than intended, but I’ve learnt from the successful people who have actually made it through life thriving.

Happy New Year!

Link to article in E-Newspaper Issue (Page 13): http://issuu.com/indoamericannews/docs/e-newspaper01092015

The Upstreamist Approach to Health Care

Recently, I was watching this TED Talk by Dr. Rishi Manchanda, which emphasized the importance of asking patients about their living conditions and overall environment, because many of these factors can affect their health. He called this approach the “upstreamist” way of thinking and now it serves health care in such a beneficial way.

As we come to think of it now, people are more concerned with receiving immediate care for their illnesses than actually taking the time to dig deeper into the root cause of the problem. Although factors like genetics play a huge role in illnesses, there are also many environmental triggers involved. Check out the “Upstreamist” website and the TED Talk on it. It will definitely make an impact on how you view the medical field.

http://www.upstreamists.org

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