Wellness: June 2008 Archives
10 tips for a great night’s rest
According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 70 million Americans report they have trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep every night. Have we become a nation of the eternally drowsy?
With hectic schedules and a variety of life commitments, women are living more versatile lives. But this new dynamic might be one of the reasons that 67 percent of them claim they experience a sleep problem three or more times a week.
“Researchers have determined that insufficient sleep can cause serious medical problems - high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and depression, to begin with,” says Ellen Michaud, author of Sleep to Be Sexy, Smart and Slim. “While it is often easier to look to various medications for sleep assistance, it is in the examining and making of changes to your sleep habits where you can really make the difference.”
Michaud’s book is a collection of easy-to-implement, doctor-tested tips, tricks and strategies for women to achieve better sleep throughout their lifetime. Here are some ideas to help you start sleeping better and living healthier:
1. Don’t check your email before bed.
Researchers at Stanford University have found that the light from your monitor right before bed is enough to reset your whole wake/sleep cycle—and postpone the onset of sleepiness by 3 hours.
2. Ditch the lights.
Hall nightlights and clock radios with lighted displays can be misinterpreted by your brain as a signal you should wake up. Darkness inhibits the brain’s biological clock and encourages you to sleep sounder, for longer periods of time.
3. Skip the murder thrillers.
Stephen King novels and other thriller-type books are not good to read before bed. No one sleeps when their mind is wondering at every creak and noise in the house.
4. Forget the late-night news.
Since most 10 and 11pm newscasts tend to feature negative, often shocking content, it will do more to agitate you than help you to relax. After 30 or 60 minutes of watching people get hurt, it’s unlikely you are going to drift into a peaceful sleep
5. Keep a “worry” book close.
“Put a ‘worry book’ beside your bed,” suggests UCLA’s Dr. Yan-Go. When you wake and start worrying, jot down everything you’re thinking and any strategies you’ve thought of that will solve the problems. Then put the book back and rest easy knowing you will deal with those items in the morning.
6. Wear socks to bed.
“There’s no solid explanation for it, but studies have found that wearing socks to bed helps you sleep,” comments Michaud. “It may be that warming your feet and legs allows your internal body temperature to drop.”
7. Drink water.
Water is a great thing to drink for overall health. Be sure to avoid coffee, hot chocolate or tea within 6 to 10 hours of bed. Caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine, a chemical produced by your brain that makes you sleepy.
8. Take milk and (low-fat) cookies to bed.
The tryptophan in milk will help you feel sleepy, but you need some carbs to get it where you want it to go in your brain, says Mary Susan Esther, MD, and president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
9. Create a sleep schedule.
Keeping a consistent sleep schedule every day of the week helps to train the brain and body to relax during those designated times. Talk with your family or mate about your sleep needs and how you can work as a team to make sure everyone is getting the sleep they need.
10. Use aromatherapy.
“Try taking a warm bath before bed and using aromas that calm the senses, such as lavender and vanilla,” suggests Michaud. “Before you go to bed, a quick spritz of soothing lavender water on your pillows will help calm your exhausted mind.”
Sleep to Be Sexy, Smart and Slim has more than 400 sure-fire strategies for banishing insomnia, including specific tips regarding allergies, biological changes, family stressors, depression and more.
Courtesy of ARA Content
The practice of mindfulness being present for your life
By Diane E. Lykes, LCSW
“Our true home is in the present moment.
To live in the present moment is a miracle”. Thich Nhat Hanh
Years ago at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, led a group of 100 people on what appeared to be a simple walk through a garden. Omega co-founder Dr. Stephan Rechtschaffen observed Hanh: “the way that he was walking made it seem that with each step he was kissing the earth. He was totally present, obviously immersed only in the act of walking. I could almost feel him savoring each moment, feel the sensation of grass on sole, feel the way his body seemed at one with each moment. He was present in that walk. At that moment, nothing else mattered; he was living only in the now.”
A derivative of Buddhist teachings originating more than 2,500 years ago, “mindfulness” refers to being aware of and paying attention to the moment in which we find ourselves. Our past is gone, our future is not yet here, and what exists between them is the present moment.
Why is this practice so important? Living in such a fast paced, multi-tasking, 24/7 world has led many people to feel they are not fully experiencing their life. It may feel easier to “go through the motions” of our day, but this is not where our deepest fulfillment can be found. In order to feel fully alive, and experience all that life has to offer, we need to return to the present moment as often as we can. Here are some suggestions to do just that.
Mindfulness meditation. The practice of meditation is based on using the breath, an object, a sound or a visualization to increase awareness in the present moment. The benefits include reducing stress, promoting relaxation and enhancing personal and spiritual growth.
It is commonly thought that meditation means stopping all thoughts and resting your mind in a thoughtless place. Having many thoughts during meditation is generally expected. The goal of meditation is to gently bring your thoughts back to your breathing when you notice you are distracted.
There are many different types of meditation, but we will focus on the practice of “mindfulness meditation”, which comes out of traditional Buddhists practices. In this type of meditation, the meditator sits with eyes closed and focuses their attention on the sensations and movement of the breath for approximately 45-60 minutes at a time, once a day.
It may be overwhelming to think about sitting for this length of time so start small. Just allowing yourself 15 minutes each day will significantly affect how you feel.
Begin your meditation practice by sitting on a chair, a cushion or on the floor. Sitting upright is best in order to stay alert and resist the urge to fall asleep.
Simply watch the breath and silently repeat the word “rising” with the in-breath, and the word “falling” with the out-breath. Your mind will likely resist and your thoughts may begin to race. You may feel bored and have the strong urge to get up and get moving again. Don’t give up! Meditation takes practice and each session will produce a different experience.
In his classes, Dr. Rechtschaffen tells his students: “Sit quietly. Breath deeply. Watch your breath. Count your breath. Experience it. Come home to it. Sit and breathe and let time flow, with no engagement of your mind, no thoughts – just awareness. Take your time. Don’t run. Impatience signifies denial, boredom signals fear.”
Make time to be alone each day. Every human being on this earth needs time to themselves every single day. Parents often find this very difficult given all the demands on their time, but they also recognize that this is one of the things they long for most. Time to just “be”.
At preferably the same time each day (perhaps before your family wakes up in the morning or for 15 minutes in the evening) take time to do something for yourself or to just do nothing. Contemplate, write in a journal, read, sit in nature, enjoy a cup of tea—whatever makes you feel most in tuned to yourself and the most relaxed. All of these practices are restorative and provide more opportunities to be present in your life.
Experience the mundane. Zen philosophers often remark that we miss much of our life when we only focus on the “highlights” of our day rather than all the things that happen in between. It may be difficult to get excited about doing dishes, paying bills or driving to work, but these tasks are a part of our life.
If we can learn to be present for even the mundane, we can certainly learn to be present for the more enjoyable aspects of life. For example, the next time you eat an orange try enjoying the entire experience, from peeling the fruit to smelling the orange scent to fully tasting the citrus flavor in your mouth. Be present for the entire experience and it may be the best orange you ever had!
But don’t forget to be spontaneous: Appreciating the mundane parts of our day doesn’t mean we forget to break up our routine once in a while. A single act of spontaneity will bring us quickly into the present moment and create more joy in our life.
If you are finding your life full of only routines and scheduled appointments, considering shaking it up a bit and adding an unexpected day trip or a “scheduled” appointment in your work planner to take the afternoon off with no actual plan in place.
Get in your car or on your bike and ride away to wherever your spirit takes you.
On your path toward mindfulness you will find not only a greater appreciation for the world around you, but a greater connection to your true self. Deeper fulfillment and joy await you as you bring yourself into the present moment.
“We can just sit on the grass and open our eyes. The beautiful sunrise, the full moon, the orange, all these things reveal themselves to us when we are truly present. The blue sky is for us. The white clouds are for us, as are the trees, the children, the grass, and the loving faces of our dear ones.” –Thich Nhat Hanh
Diane Lykes is a Principal of Synergy Counseling Associates in Albany where she specializes in individual and couples counseling, educational training and clinical consultation. Synergy is a unique counseling practice providing compassionate, solution-oriented treatment for adults, children, adolescents and families. She can be reached at 466.3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org