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health

How to get good sleep

How to get good sleep

The subject of sleep has been coming up a lot in my client sessions recently. Getting enough quality sleep is such a crucial part of healing that I felt compelled to pull together my favorite tricks for a good night’s rest. These are mostly geared towards falling asleep. If you’re having issues staying asleep, or you’re waking up a lot, definitely consult a professional. It could be a endocrine or adrenal issue, sleep apnea, or something else that requires medical attention. If you have a sleep disorder, you can do all the right things and still not sleep well so definitely get some support. To read more about the science of sleep and sleep disorders, check out the National Sleep Foundation.

Try these to get yourself in the mood for sleepy time:

  1. Take chamomile as a tea or tincture. A lot of people assume it’s not enough but don’t knock it ‘til you try it. If one does not do the trick, brew two tea bags at a time and let it steep for 3-5 minutes.

  2. Journal before bed to get all your remaining thoughts from the day out of your mind. It does not have to be long to be effective. You might also keep a gratitude journal, which has been proven to help with falling asleep. In general, keeping a pad of paper or a journal by your bed is useful to write down ideas or to-do list items that come up, or to write about your dreams in the morning. Keeping a dream journal can be very illuminating. (It may be too wooey for you, but if you’re struggling with sometime, ask God, the Universe, the spirits, or whatever you like, for answers in your dreams and notice what comes up!)

  3. Practice yoga nidra. Also known as yogic sleep, yoga nidra is the state between sleeping and waking. Listening to a yoga nidra recording before bed can get you in a state of deep relaxation so it’s easier to transition from a crazy day into sleepy time. As a bonus, it can also help with anxiety and PTSD. There are tons of guided yoga nidra recordings and videos out there but I recommend starting with Insight Timer. It’s a free app with yoga nidra recordings of all different lengths, among other guided meditations, music for meditation, etc. Practicing a few yin or restorative yoga poses can be really nice as well. Here’s a yin for sleep video to get you started.

  4. Stop using electronics one hour before bed. I know it’s hard, especially for the more tech loving folks, but I believe in you. (You might consider moving your Instagram, Tinder, or Facebook time to breakfast. And yes, you should also eat breakfast.) If possible, leave your phone outside your bedroom. If you’re not a doctor, a firefighter, or someone who must have a phone near the bed, get a fun alarm clock. If you Google “fun alarm clocks,”  you may be amazed by what’s out there. Get computers and modems out of your room too.  Reading is a great way to wind down but save your saucy page-turners for non-bedtime reading so you aren’t tempted to stay up past your bedtime.

  5. Make sure your bedroom is cool, between 60-67 degrees.

  6. Block out noise with a white noise machine, fan, or humidifier. Ear plugs are great but not ideal for daily use.

  7. Block out all light. Blackout curtains are great and eye masks are a good tool for sleeping away from home when you have less control of your surroundings. Ideally you don’t have any electronics in your room but if you have a humidifier or TV or anything that emits any kind of light, put a piece of tape or a sticky note over the light.

  8. Experiment with aromatherapy solutions. Rub vetiver essential oil into your feet. Keep a lavender sachet by your bed. If your nose gets really dry or stuffy at night, put an essential oil diffuser next to your bed so that the vapor rolls over you while you sleep. Fill it with lavender, frankincense, and eucalyptus essential oils. Myrrh, thyme, and oregano oils are good anti-microbials if you’re trying not to get sick, and tea tree oil is supposed to be great for a runny nose. I haven’t tried that one yet!

  9. Establish a calm bedtime routine you love. It doesn’t have to be long.

  10. Quit caffeine. More on that in this other post.

Are there other things that have really helped you? Please share in the comments below!

I struggled with sleep for years and tried a lot of different sleep aids before I realized that I was doing myself a lot of harm and looked for other solutions. I took muscle relaxers, cannabis, and some prescription drugs before I turned to over-the-counter supplements. As I learned, those aren’t always good either. After a couple years of taking melatonin every night a practitioner told me that in doing that your body can stop making it’s own melatonin. Oops! Then a rheumatologist with a fancy non-prescription drug database helped me see that I might have been aggravating a mild heart condition by taking L-theanine every night. I live and learn. Today I just take a tincture with valerian, passion flower, wild lettuce and indian pipe. It doesn’t knock me out but it does make me calm and supports everything else I’m doing to get in the sleepy zone. If you feel like you need sleep aids, don’t make the same mistake I did. Consult a professional, whether it’s an MD, a holistic practitioner or an herbalist to find something that’s safe for your body given the conditions it is working with.

Good luck out there and sleep well!

Want to change your life? Start with a gratitude practice

Want to change your life? Start with a gratitude practice

For folks who celebrate Thanksgiving, the holiday may include sharing what you are thankful or grateful for. But why limit this expression of gratitude for one annual holiday? Expressing gratitude regularly, especially daily, can have a huge impact on our lives. Specifically, the practice can improve our physical and mental health and allowing us to show up more consistently as kind, generous, and empathetic.

How does this work? Expressing gratitude helps us shift away from the negativity bias, or our brain’s natural tendency to focus more attention on bad thoughts, unfortunate circumstances, what we hate about people, etc. By regularly and consistently choosing to be grateful, you begin to experience life as abundant and you will see more of life’s gifts instead of life’s challenges. As Maria Nemeth explains in Unleashing the Energy of Money, when you experience life as abundant, you naturally want to give back to maintain the flow of giving and receiving. In this way, regularly expressing gratitude also makes you more generous.

According to a 2011 study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, writing down what you’re grateful for before bed can help you sleep better and longer. So between sleeping better and seeing life as abundant, establishing a gratitude routine can really support you in showing up as your best self. If writing in a journal isn’t your thing, ask someone in your life to be your gratitude buddy and see what it’s like to express gratitudes to each other once a day for 10 days in a row. You can do it in-person, on the phone, or even via text. The impact is the same. Then sit back and enjoy as you begin to see your life as lighter and brighter. :)

 

 

 

 

 

Why you should quit caffeine ASAP

Why you should quit caffeine ASAP

I used to say that I could not live without coffee, cheese, or alcohol.  “My mother is Belgian, these things are part of my heritage and I won’t give them up,” I said to anyone who suggested I try cutting them out of my diet. I gave up gluten in 2011 and that already felt like a huge sacrifice. Four years later, after doing an anti-inflammation elimination diet, I also gave up caffeine, alcohol and most dairy.  It turns out I CAN live without them, and quite well actually, you might even say better. I could write a book about the havoc all three can cause in your body but today I just want to share how much quitting caffeine helped me in my healing journey. 

I like to attend a few yoga workshops a year to get inspiration for my teaching and to deepen my own practice. The single best thing I ever got out of a yoga workshop actually wasn’t directly related to yoga though, it was Tommy Rosen’s advice to quit caffeine.  It was almost an aside, something he said offhandedly between telling his own story and taking us through poses. Something about the way he said “you should quit caffeine, it will change your life,” really stuck with me. His thing is yoga for recovery. That man was addicted to just about everything (caffeine likely the LEAST destructive) and yoga was the most powerful tool he found to get clean.

It took me a few years after the workshop to quit myself because my initial reaction was, “that’s nice but that’s not going to happen for me.” When I finally got too sick to work, it seemed like a good time to try. After all, without work, I didn’t have the pressure to “be on” all the time. Even then, I tapered down slowly and in the last month I was drinking just about a thimble’s worth of coffee one time in the morning. I’m not a cold-turkey kind of girl.

Once I got completely caffeine free I saw how right Tommy was. It really changed my life and marked a huge turning point in my healing journey. I saw that I had been hardcore using.  Coffee was my favorite drug for covering up my physical and emotional symptoms. I would regularly start to cry on my way to work, a natural reaction to chronic fatigue and overwhelm, and then my coffee would kick in and I felt human again. I was known to drink 48 oz of coffee to get through the day. I realized in retrospect that the biggest problem with that was how effectively it disconnected me from my body. By covering up most of the signals my body was giving me, like when to rest, what to eat and not eat, I was making all the underlying problems way worse. All the meditation and yoga in the world wouldn’t help me connect with my body as long as I was drinking that much coffee.

Like I said, it took me awhile, and the absence of caffeine necessitated some other lifestyle changes. I now have to take sleep more seriously, for example, and rest instead of powering through fatigue. And when I say “have to” I mean that I now choose to listen to my body over covering up the signals it is so kindly giving me. And the coolest thing is that overtime I have been rewarded for making that choice. Now I have more energy and mental clarity, things I previously thought I couldn’t have without coffee. If there is something I want to stay up late for, I can do it without any assistance.

Every once in awhile I think I’ll be okay having a little green tea but I find it’s never worth it. The consequences outweigh the short term happy feeling. I have better strategies for dealing energy dips. Sometimes naps are called for, and I took a lot of them for a long time, but now that I’m feeling better, I usually opt for a walk, vigorously shaking my arms for a minute, or taking viparita kirani at the wall. I was once told that taking viparita kirani for 20 minutes is as restful as two hours of sleep. It’s untraditional, but I often meditate in that position to combine two wellness practices in one. Other things that have been great about quitting coffee: I have way fewer headaches, almost no pain, and I save a ton of money!

If that is not enough to convince you, this little piece by Forbes writer Travis Bradbury succinctly outlines how caffeine can disrupt sleep and your emotional intelligence. 

All that said, caffeine is an important tool for some folks, like migraine sufferers. Cutting it out completely may not be the best solution for everyone.