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Posts Tagged ‘insomnia’

  1. All Aboard for Slumber! How to Catch the Zzz’s You Need

    May 15, 2016 by Diane

    backpacker waiting for train

    You know how it is: after a string of sleepless nights you run to catch the train to slumber, but it takes off without you. Maybe you were caught up watching TV or surfing the ‘net. Maybe you were caught up in your own thoughts–about stress at work, the mounting debt, the kid who promised to be home at eleven and now it’s after midnight. Whatever the reason there you are, weighed down by your baggage, staring down a long empty track of sleeplessness.

    So you hoof it, straining to catch that train, painfully aware of every pebble and blade of grass underfoot; but no matter how hard you labor, the farther off it gets.

    Welcome to insomnia.

    Whether you struggle with it nightly or wrestle with it in spells, insomnia is a challenge not for the faint of heart. That long trudge through an even longer night causes muscle tension, increased stress hormones, impaired thinking, and a foul mood.

    But there is a way to get your sleep back on track. All you need is a ticket. And I’m here to tell you how to get it.

    Why me? Because I’m an expert insomniac. I’ve missed the train so many times I’ve started to blame the platform. I’ve read the books. I’ve taken the classes. And I’ve found a few techniques that got me back on the slumber train.

    Here are three tips to help you hop on board, too.

    According to Rachel Manber, Director of the Stanford Sleep Health and Insomnia Program, you need three things for a good night’s sleep: a strong sleep drive, a correctly timed circadian clock, and a calm mind.

    Build a strong sleep drive

    The sleep drive sends sleepiness signals to the brain. When the drive is strong, we spend more time in deep sleep. When the drive is weak, we toss and turn in bed, feeling tired but wired.

    How do we make it strong?

    First, set a regular bedtime and rising time and stick with it, no matter how little you slept the night before–even on weekends. If six a.m. is your wake-up call on work days, then it’s up-and-at-‘em at six a.m on your days off. When the alarm buzzes, get out of bed. Don’t linger. Don’t fall back asleep or lie there mentally writing up your to-do list for the day.

    Why is it so important to get out of bed? Because when you get up and start moving, you’re setting the sleep drive. And the longer you stay awake, the stronger the drive to sleep.

    But it’s Sunday, you say, what’s the harm in sleeping in?

    Well bucko, when you oversleep, you’ve essentially flown across country. You’ve developed jet-lag. You’ve taken the pressure off the sleep drive, and you’ve messed up your circadian clock. To keep the pressure on so you’re drowsy at bed-time, you’ve got to get up, stay up, and get moving.

    Set your circadian clock

    The circadian clock sends “wake up” signals to the brain in the morning, and “go to sleep” messages at night. When it’s in sync, you’re alert during the day, and sleepy at night.

    To regulate your circadian rhythm, you need a little hormone called melatonin. Our bodies manufacture it naturally, secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. But we often muck up our melatonin levels by staying up late under bright lights, or oversleeping in the morning.

    When the sun starts to rise, our melatonin levels drop, making us more alert. To help it drop, open the shades and look into the sun, or take a walk outdoors. If it’s dark outside when you rise, then use a light therapy box to mimic the sun. At the very least, turn on the overhead lights as you get ready for your day. You can buy inexpensive full spectrum bulbs at places like Target that replicate daylight.

    At night, you want your melatonin levels to rise. So turn off all electronic devices (computer, iPhone, TV), dim the lights, and engage in a pre-sleep ritual for 30 minutes. Brush your teeth. Read a book that’s not too stimulating. Have a conversation with your spouse; one of those conversations where you normally mumble, “Huh? What did you say?”

    Then turn out the lights.

    Our circadian clock is also regulated by our body temperature. You want to raise your temperature in the morning—get up and get moving—and lower it to help you sleep deeply through the night. Take a shower or bath two hours before bedtime to allow your body to cool down, and crack open a window when you go to bed if it’s safe to do so.

    Calm your mind

    A calm mind allows you to drift off to sleep, and fall back asleep when you wake during the night. Everybody wakes several times during the night. A good sleeper will turn over and go back to dreamland. A bad sleeper will lie awake, ruminating on o’possums.

    There are three ways to achieve a calm mental state: deep breathing, relaxation exercises, and meditation or prayer.

    After your pre-sleep ritual, turn out the lights, lie on your back, and breathe deeply into your belly. There are many different methods of deep breathing, or pranayama, as it’s called in Hindu yoga. I find alternate nostril breathing to be very calming. Here’s a short video on how to do it.

    Or just breathe through your nose, filling your belly with air, for the count of four, then exhale through the mouth for the count of six. Do this ten times. The long exhale taps into your parasympathetic nervous system, lowering your blood pressure and giving you calm vibes.

    You can also try an “ocean breath,” where you breathe in through the nose while constricting your throat slightly, and breathe out through the nose with that same constricting sound. It’s almost, but not quite, a snore. Do ten.

    After your deep breathing, relax in your sleep position and let go of thoughts. This is where a good meditation practice comes into play. If your muscles are tense, breathe into the tight places and breathe out the tension. Practicing a progressive muscle relaxation technique—or any body relaxation exercise—during the day, will help you conk out at night.

    The stress we accumulate during our waking hours affects our ability to sleep. So take regular breaks at work: stretch, walk around, breathe deep, bring your awareness to the moment, and remind yourself that whatever stress you’re carrying, most likely won’t matter ten years from now.

    Besides, you don’t need that extra baggage. You have a train to catch.

  2. Some Might Think You’re A Hypochondriac When…

    June 21, 2015 by Diane

    Shelf with books

    Some might think you’re a hypochondriac when you’re abnormally anxious about your health. But when does normal anxiety about one’s health become abnormal?

    A case in point…

    I became concerned about my cortisol levels. All of those adrenaline surges I’d suffered night after night after night had battered my adrenal glands to the point where they were shooting out cortisol like water from a busted fire hydrant. So obviously I needed to reset my adrenals, right?

    There’s a book on how to do that very thing.

    This book was written by a doctor who was on the Dr. Oz show. Not that I watch the Dr. Oz show (although if I was a hypochondriac, tuning in daily would be a tell-tale symptom). No, my mother watches the show, or she watched it this once—when the adrenal reset expert was on—and she recorded it and called me that evening and replayed the whole thing, repeating everything the doctor said about resetting your cortisol levels, which was this:

    “For breakfast, eat raw oats with berries, nuts and coconut milk.”

    I already did!

    So why was I still having those adrenaline surges?

    I looked up this expert online, and got his book, and in the book he clearly states the opposite: that it’s pure protein you should eat for breakfast, meaning MEAT, not carbs. Which is downright confusing! And I told him so in an email.

    Hey, on the Dr. Oz show you said to eat oats for breakfast, but in your book you said…

    Someone in his office emailed back, and gave me this explanation: there wasn’t much to choose from on the Dr. Oz set, so we went with what was available.


    Just who is this doctor?

    Dr. Christianson.

    Yeah, Dr. Christianson! That’s who.

    But I digress.

    In between adrenaline surges, I like to sleep with my left arm flung overhead. The result? When I wake up in the morning it’s numb, which in my book is a clear symptom of a heart attack. Is this the thought process of a hypochondriac? I think not. After all, my arm has gone numb many a time. For instance: one afternoon I set my laptop on the ironing board and stood and typed for an hour, my shoulders pressed into my earlobes, and sure enough, my left arm went numb. Now if that isn’t the start of a cardiovascular incident, I don’t know what is, right? Furthermore, if I was a hypochondriac–which I’m not–I might have called Dr. Oz himself, or even Dr. Christianson, for advice. If I had their numbers. But I didn’t. So I called the next best expert: my mother.

    “Um, my left arm is kinda numb, and it’s bugging me.”

    I was taking a walk when I called her, so it’s unlikely that I was having a cardiovascular incident, which her rational mind pointed out to me. Still, you can never be too sure.

    Now, some people might think that makes me a hypochondriac. And if they’ve read my blog, they might also think that I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and insomnia (NO-ZZZ), all of which add up to an obvious case of Squirrels in the Doohickey (SITD).

    But is my concern abnormal?

    Oh, sure, I’m not above asking people if I can poke around their stomach to see if it feels like mine, since mine feels like a mine-field.

    “That’s your vertebrae you’re feeling,” my doctor claims.

    “That hard knot?”

    “It’s your spine.”

    “Through my stomach?”

    “You’re thin.”

    “Here…that thing?”


    “Can I feel yours?”

    I’m not above asking my boyfriend to offer his abdomen to my probing fingers.

    “Can I…”

    “Oh for God’s sake…”

    And with an audible sigh he’ll roll onto his back and offer his belly, like a dog does, but not as happily, and I’ll knead away, like a cat does, but not as peacefully, and his belly, every time, feels soft and warm and pliant and not at all like mine.

    Now I ask you…does that make me a hypochondriac? Or you, for that matter–if you found yourself nodding with recognition?

    Some might think so.

    Some might think you’re a hypochondriac because you have the urge to feel a stranger’s carotid artery in the elevator after surreptitiously feeling the odd shape of your own. “Excuse me…”

    Some might think you’re a hypochondriac because you count the number of coughs you have in one day (throat clearings don’t count), and by two o’clock in the afternoon you’re up to fifty and wonder if you’re being a tab obsessive.

    Some might think you’re a hypochondriac because one whole bookshelf in your bedroom is filled with medical tomes. Especially if it’s a paramedic looking at that shelf (the night you end up going to the hospital wearing your own pajamas and come home wearing someone else’s), and as he scans that row of medical titles, his eyes flash a warning to his buddy that says, “uh-oh, hypochondriac,” ….well, I’m here to tell you one thing: don’t believe it.

    Not for a second.

    Because in my mind…

    (that is, if we’re really talking about you in this scenario, and not me),

    …in my mind you’re perfectly normal.

  3. How to Turn Bedtime Into Sleepy Time

    May 31, 2015 by Diane


    Cute small baby - discovery

    I’m an insomniac and have been for a long, long time. Bedtime, for me, is torture. I’m like that child who resists going to sleep. I don’t want to give up the day. I’m too restless to settle down. And let’s not forget the nighttime monsters. These are not the imaginary monsters of yore, the kind that disappeared between the closet doors when my father turned on the lights. No, these are the monsters of adulthood: anxiety, stress, and the biggest monster of all…insomnia.

    One night as I lay in bed humming to myself, it occurred to me that I needed expert advice on how to lull my inner restless child to sleep. So I reached out to Lori Lite, mommy, blogger, and the author of Stress Free Kids, A Parent’s Guide, for some tips. She was kind enough to answer my questions as my first guest blogger (woo-hoo!)

    So, dear readers, if you too struggle with insomnia, read on to learn how to turn bedtime into sleepy time.


    photo: Lori Lite

    In your book, Stress Free Kids, you share a host of helpful techniques for parents to use to make bedtime a more inviting experience for children. But what if the child who refuses to go to bed is our own inner rascal? Can we use these same techniques with modifications, or do you have any new tricks to recommend?

    You can absolutely use the same techniques I suggest for children. The techniques I teach children are the very same techniques used for adults. They become child-friendly because they are woven into a storytelling format. Affirmations, progressive muscular relaxation, visualizing, and breathing are my “staples” when it comes to insomnia.

    You can learn these techniques by listening to Indigo Dreams: Adult Relaxation or give your inner child a real treat and allow yourself to enjoy the story format of Indigo Dreams or Indigo Ocean Dreams. Either way, you will learn tools you can access to reduce anxiety, stress, and insomnia.

    For a new trick and since you mentioned your “inner restless child.” I would suggest taking a moment to talk to your inner child. Tell her how she is loved and you look forward to playing tomorrow. Let her know it is OK to rest and give her a hug. …. you will be surprised how quickly your inner rascal will settle down when you acknowledge her. It is important to stay in touch with your inner child so that you can remain playful when life wants you to be constantly serious.

    A mindful mantra I mention In my new book, Stress Free Kids: A Parent’s Guide, is this: “Just for today I will let my inner child come out and play. My children will remember me as a mom who had time to play.”

    Let’s say that the “child” drifted off into sweet slumber. But at three o’clock in the morning, the wee one is wide awake again. What’s a “parent” to do?

    Waking up is not the problem. The mind list and mind chatter that follows is what will keep you up. It is important to shut down the mind chatter that starts to run through your brain. I like to quiet my mind by filling my brain with a soothing color. Try this- “Visualize a color swirling in and around your head. Feel the color behind your forehead and nose. See it filling your sinus cavities and soothing your jaw. Let the color wash away all of your thoughts and worries….leaving your mind completely still.” Relax your eyes and focus on your breathing. You should fall back to sleep.

    When “sleep” to the inner kid becomes less of a soothing activity and more like something to avoid, what techniques can ease the way?

    You can have a routine in place that your inner child looks forward to. Revisit the things you enjoyed when you were a child. Did you spend time putting puzzles together? If so, treat yourself to working on a puzzle before bedtime. Did you love bubble baths? Fill your tub up with lots of bubbles. Puzzles and bubbles are great relaxing activities that will feed your childlike soul. A Stress-Less Activity for bedtime that I recommend in my Stress Free Kids book is to create a kid spa. “Turn bathtub time into relaxing spa time by letting your child play with a cup filled with baking soda. It is inexpensive and fully dissolves in the water, while softening and soothing skin. It amps up the alkalinity of the water and is said to aid in detoxifying. The silky water creates a luxurious feel that even kids can’t resist.” Focus on relaxation and sleep will follow.

    Any other thoughts you want to share on the subject?

    Bedtime can be tricky. Tap into your creativity and find what works for your inner child. Have fun turning your bedroom into a relaxation oasis. Give yourself a winding down period where you nurture yourself. Your inner child is likely looking for more emphasis on self-care. Don’t expect to go from energy level of 100 to sleep energy of 10. Enjoy the process of relaxation.

    Where can my readers find you on the web?

    Please visit where you will be directed to packages of books and CDs that suit your child’s age range. Sign up to receive my blog posts. Follow me on Twitter @StressFreeKids and Facebook. I am very active on both and love to share tips that keep parents inspired.

    On behalf of insomniacs everywhere, thanks for the great tips, Lori!