Everyone needs sleep to function and to thrive. However, it can often feel hard to fall asleep, to stay asleep and to wake up feeling rested. There are many contributing factors to why you may struggle with good quality sleep.
In the fast pace busyness of daily life, the momentum of this busyness doesn't stop when your head finds the pillow. It takes time for the mind, body and nervous system to unwind.
While many folks unwind with some kind of screen watching activity, this is unlikely to help you trully and fully relax.
You may want to consider your caffeine, alcohol and sugar intake during the day and in the evening. Each of these may have an impact on your quality of sleep.
Check out a previous blog I wrote for tips on improving your sleep hygiene.
Stress, worry and other challenges often impact sleep as well. I invite you to reach out to connect about getting support for yourself.
May you have many opportunities for restful sleep.
There is a lot going on every day. Attention is often fragmented and there is a lot to track and take care of. It's important to take care of yourself in the midst of all that's happening in your life and the greater world. I don't mean in a massage/day spa sort of idea of self-care, although you may include something like that. What I am pointing toward is not indulgence. It is essential. These foundational aspects of self-care are crucial for well-being. They include sleep, nutrition, movement, and contemplation.
Over the next weeks, I'll write more about each one of them.
For the time being, whenever you feel "off," I invite you to check in with yourself about your sleep habits/quality of sleep, nutrition patterns, movement/exercise habits, and contemplation time (meditation, yoga, prayer, relaxation practices).
You're always aligned with something. Each choice you make brings you closer to or further away from your authentic self. The way you speak, how you spend your time, where you spend your money - each is a vote for something. A helpful piece in greater self-awareness around this is to investigate what you personal values are. These are not ideals to live up to. Rather, personal values are already within you, a bit below awareness, influencing what you do and how you are. When you bring these into conscious knowing, you can begin to notice when you move toward or away from your values. With this greater awareness, there is greater choice.
Check out a couple of resources below to help you determine what your values are:
"It’s really hard to be a person. Things happen to you all the time. And really, what keeps us going is kindness. That’s the way life is: terrible things happen, exciting things happen, a lot of things! And how to not get distracted to the point of forgetting what’s important—always—is not to get confused. When we get confused, we forget to be kind. If we’re not confused, we remember to be kind."
- Sylvia Boorstein
As you go through your day, consider moments when you can practice kindness - toward yourself, your loved ones, your coworkers, neighbors, folks you may encounter in a store and wherever else you may find yourself. It may look like an outward gesture of kindness, like saying "thank you" or making eye contact. It may be more subtle, like pausing and taking a conscious breath. It may be putting a hand on your heart and acknowledging that you're doing the best you can. It may be putting a hand on your heart and acknowledging that we are all doing the best we can.
Whether you’re working from home, it’s likely you’ve increased the amount of time you are spending in front of screens over the last year. It’s work access, social and family connection, political and civic engagement, and entertainment. It’s also very exhausting for the mind and the body.
Whenever possible, I invite you to take a short break from looking at a screen. When you do, try one (or more) of these to give your mind and body some rest and restoration:
Recently, I was interviewed for a video series on tips for parents of teens. I think anyone can benefit from these though. Check out the video:
So much of how we operate as human beings is habitual. There are habits of how you get ready in the morning, of your movement, of how and what you eat, of how you spend your free time, etc. You even have habits of thinking! Typically, you operate from these places of habit on autopilot, without much awareness.
Most people try to change their habits at one time or another. It goes something like this for many… At some point, it becomes apparent to you that a habit is not working anymore, or it's not aligned with how you want to live, or it’s getting in the way of you functioning well. You decide to change it. You try to eliminate it, and after a few days or a week, you discover that it’s quite challenging. Maybe you do okay for a day or two and then slip back into that familiar way of being. You feel frustrated and maybe even give up…. If this has been your experience, you’re not alone. It is often the case that when you want to change a habit, there is a sense of urgency, often followed by disappointment and frustration when things don’t go the way you want quickly.
When you set out to change a habit, it may be the case that you’ve taken on too big of a task at once. It can be quite helpful to create small (tiny, even) concrete steps to focus on as you move toward changing a behavior or a habit. Commit to each step for a month, maybe even two, or three. For changes to integrate and be sustainable, the brain and nervous system need a lot of practice and repetition. A lot. Once a step feels like it is integrated and close to autopilot, it may be time to move on to the next step, and so on. Tread lightly and patiently.
While you’re in the process of changing an unwanted habit, challenging feelings will likely come up. It is important to recognize these feelings when they arise and name them. Naming how we feel lessens the intensity of the feeling. You may also choose to take some full, deep breaths and feel your feet on the ground as you practice being with your feelings. Remember to be gentle with yourself. This habit had served a purpose.
Another aspect of habit change that’s important is to choose a wholesome habit to cultivate as you decrease an unwholesome/unwanted one. It’s valuable to add a habit that feels joyful, meaningful or helps you thrive. In the same spirit as changing an unwanted habit, when you choose a wholesome habit to develop, create small, concrete steps to follow. Take one step at a time and be patient.
Changing a habit on your own can feel challenging and overwhelming. I invite you to contact me for support. You don’t have to do this alone.
Well, this year has been quite a wild one so far. I hope you're taking good care of yourself.
Due to COVID-19, our lives have changed in many ways. Some of us have circumstances that allow us to work from home, and all of us are encouraged to limit our time outside of our homes this year. I've spent some of my shelter-in-place time reading books and listening to podcasts.
Here's a partial list of books and podcasts that I've found worthwhile:
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier
Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection by Sharon Salzberg
Your Undivided Attention
Being Well with Dr. Rick Hanson
The Science of Happiness
The Ezra Klein Show
May you continue to take good care and be as well as is possible during this challenging time.
This culture's focus on productivity and busyness seems to dismiss the value, necessity and benefit of solid, restful sleep.
Sleep is one of the foundations of well-being. Yet, many teenagers, young adults, and adults are sleeping far fewer hours than is recommended.
If you're feeling tired during the day, or are sleeping six or fewer hours a night, you may want to see a physician to make sure you're well medically. Also, consider choosing one of the tips* below to focus on for the next month so that you can potentially increase the quality of your sleep.
1. Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body's clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
3. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can't fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
4. Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
5. Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner's sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, "white noise" machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
6. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night.
7. Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
8. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
9. Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
10. If you can't sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.
11. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional. You may also benefit from recording your sleep in a sleep diary to help you better evaluate common patterns or issues you may see with your sleep or sleeping habits.
* Tips provided courtesy of the National Sleep Foundation
I had the pleasure and honor of being on my good friend's radio show, Radical Advice this week. The show is live on Tuesdays from 10:00a-12:00p on www.bff.fm and each episode is archived into the iTunes podcast app. Check out the episode, during which we practiced and talked about mindfulness, listened to some music and answered listeners' questions. Find this episode in the October 2017 archives in Itunes.