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Adrenalin junkies

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Forget jumping out of planes and engaging in extreme sports – eating lunch at your desk and running round at a million miles an hour may mean you are an adrenalin junkie. Matt Church joins Peter Switzer to discuss his views on how body chemistry can affect business performance.

“We think the adrenalin junkie is the extreme snow bunny jumping off cliffs and parachuting James Bond like into life,” he says. “It’s not. We’ve all got exactly the same amount of adrenalin everyday, it’s a finite amount.”

Church says adrenalin is a drug like a “high octane fuel”. Yes, it makes people confident and feel great, but the amount we have is limited to three hours a day.

“So, you skip breakfast, drive fast to work, drink five cups of coffee before 11am and you’ve run out,” he says adding that once this happens, people don’t fall in a heap, but their bodies begin to run on cortisol. This, he says, feels exactly the same until you stop and then it hits you like a Mack truck.

“You can keep going a hundred miles an hour, doing a million things at once, but if adrenalin is a free ride, and it’s like a beautiful drug, the cortisol kind of gives you the same positive effects while you’re busy, but can actually thicken up your blood,” he says.

Thick blood

Church gives the example of coming home after really busy day. When you go to sleep, you can sometimes feel your pulse in your head. Cortisol is the culprit.

“It’s simply because cortisol has thickened up your blood, the idea being that if you were cut in a fight with a sabre tooth tiger you don’t bleed out. It’s a defence mechanism,” he says. “I guess the problem with the way we live our lives now is all these tigers that we have, which are all mentally fabricated, still create the physical responses in our body.”

Under 25s are able to cope with it, but once people turn 40 or so, they have to develop new coping mechanisms as the adrenal glands get fatigued.

Good news

Adrenalin renews everyday and we each get three hours of it. Basically, it’s easy to get. But another drug, which Church says is “a little harder to get, but a lot more reliable”, is serotonin.

“It exists in your brain. It can take like three weeks to increase your levels,” he says. “With adrenalin, [if] you have a good night’s sleep, you’re all good. Serotonin, you’ve got to eat right, you’ve got to exercise. You’ve got to get a great sleep, a particularly deep sleep, not a shallow superficial sleep.”

The anti-depressant drug Prozac tries to increase serotonin in the brain. Church says that the World Health Organisation believes that by 2020, the number one condition in developing nations will be depression. In the target age groups, one in three people are on a medication for depression.

“30 per cent of the people on anti-depressant medication are in endogenously depressed. What that means is it was bequeathed to them; it was their DNA, their genetics,” he says. “But 70 per cent, we believe, are on it for lifestyle conditions. So what that means is it’s easier to take the pill than it is to go for a walk; it’s easier to take the pill than it is to choose a better meal.”

One of the key things for businesspeople is if they’re trying to “stay in a high performance state,” particularly in tough times, spending half an hour walking can help you perform better in the next 23½ hours.

“When you’re making decisions on adrenalin, you’re a speculator because you do not have the calm composure to consider … decisions,” he says.

Sleep better

Finding it difficult to sleep at night? Melatonin is the drug that helps people sleep.

If you can’t fall asleep, or sleep only for a couple of hours and then wake up and can’t fall asleep again, Church says you have to try and get more melatonin through the night and less in the morning.

“For a lot of us, it doesn’t kick in until one or 2am, so we’re not falling asleep,” he says. Then when it’s time to get up, we’ve got heaps of it in our brain and we can take three coffees before we’re awake.”

He says if people have sleep issues, they should walk around outside in the middle of the day; and keep their caffeine content under 300 milligrams. Church says a lot of people say they are going to drink tea to reduce caffeine, but it may not make much difference. A cup of tea has 50 milligrams of caffeine and an espresso shot has 60 milligrams.

“Just drink good coffee and have less than five before midday,” he says. “Caffeine has a half life of 12 hours. That means half of it is in your body 12 hours later. So it just kind of makes sense. If you want it, have it early.”

Sunlight is important too – if you don’t get enough of it and the brain won’t make it.

“The Inuit, which is the indigenous population of Alaska, have a condition called SADS,” he says. “It’s an acronym, Seasonal Affective Disorder Syndrome. Bottom line, they don’t get enough sun.”

So what are the keys to sleeping well?

-       Turn on the overhead fan at night

-       Keep it dark at night

-       Exercise through the day

-       Keep fluids up.

 “Get two to three litres of water by one pm,” he says. “You’ll wee all afternoon, but by doing that your core temperature drops, and what you actually do is have a deeper and more effective sleep. And as a result you’re going to be in serious trouble in the afternoon, but you’ve got to think of it as good productive trouble, because it gets you cooler.”
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Published on: Thursday, September 03, 2009

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