It feels like with every passing year, the holiday craziness creeps up a little faster. While I love the true spirit of the holidays — time with family, generosity, celebration — I do find that the stress of keeping up with everything makes for some sleepless nights.
Apparently I’m not alone. Many people say that they have trouble calming their minds at night as the year dips into winter and the holiday festivities begin. Some people even resort to sleeping pills to get through until the New Year.
Fortunately, I have found that meditation works so much better than sleeping pills — and there are no troublesome side effects to worry about. The following meditation techniques are favorites of mine, and they work wonders to help me slip gently into sleep at night.
For both of these techniques, start by getting comfortable in your bed. Lie on your back with your arms resting lightly at your sides.
Recently, my husband Andy and I were jolted out of deep sleep at 5 am by a huge CRASH. We jumped out of bed to investigate (with me grabbing slippers and a flashlight). I assumed a bear had climbed onto the front porch table to get at the bird suet (not the first time).
As the only humans living on a two-thousand-acre estate, we are surrounded by wildlife and are accustomed to myriad nature sounds. Many nights we listen to the primal howls of coyotes, which I love. (Sometimes I even howl along with them!) We know our seasonal birds by their calls and occasionally hear an owl in the night whoo-whoo-whooing.
As an auditory person and lifelong environmentalist, this is heaven for me. It was just a short time ago I needed a sound machine (of nature!) to help me sleep in New York City, with all of its jarring, man-made sounds. (I swear the garbage trucks have amplifier speakers.)
It’s no wonder the number-one complaint of city dwellers is noise. Chronic, debilitating noise is more than just an annoyance — it plays a huge factor in our quality of life. Studies confirm that noise and stress are closely related to our health, and I am always surprised that more people don’t plug their ears (like I do) when a subway car rambles by.
What we hear transforms our brains and our lives. That’s why it’s critical to take control over your ‘personal soundscape.’ Customize your home environment as you would a beautiful soundtrack to create a haven of soothing sounds (and sights and smells). Here are a few tips to do that:
What can you say when there are no words?
We are all still reeling in the aftermath of the school shootings in Connecticut last Friday. I, for one, feel leveled and heartbroken. It is impossible to imagine the impact on the families who lost children, those whose children were spared but so profoundly traumatized, and the rest of us who bear witness from afar to the unthinkable.
Here, in the interest of offering at least a few words of comfort, is some guidance on how to talk to your children in the wake of this tragedy.
In theory, evening is a glorious time of day — a time to eat and spend time with loved ones and then unwind before bed. In reality, though, it’s often a stress fest – feed the kids, put the kids to bed, answer some emails, fall into bed. Or simply lost time – eat whatever, channel surf, cruise the Internet, then look up and wonder how it got to be 11:30 already.
Luckily, it doesn’t take much to transform your evening hours into the respite they ought to be. Here are four of my favorite tips for a peaceful evening. I’d love to hear yours!
The holiday season is upon us, with many of our thoughts turning to food. The popular adage “you are what you eat” is literally true, according to new research that claims a person’s diet has a profound influence on their brain function and overall health.
Just as our eating style reflects and affects who we are, I believe how and where we live reflect ‘us’ even more. Our homes are intimate expressions of ourselves. Similar to the correlation between poor diet and disease, living in a toxic environment — in any sense, physical or emotional — also impacts our health in a negative way. Luckily, the opposite is also true. By creating an environment that supports our well-being, health and happiness, our bodies and minds will respond in positive ways.
The holiday season inundates us with recipes galore (as well as stress and temptations to overindulge). To balance that, choose an ingredient (or two, or three!) from my “healthy-self’ holiday recipe below, and treat yourself to a generous helping of grounding — whatever that means to you.
At first glance, crafting and exercise would seem to have little in common. One involves moving your body to improve health and fitness, the other moving your hands to create with paper, needles, paint or yarn.
Yet both activities have important, complementary effects on mood and cognitive function.
Coffee: Is it good or bad for us? You might get media whiplash trying to figure that out. The truth is, I find this subject to be as confusing as you probably do.
After all, the media certainly doesn’t help clarify whether America’s favorite morning beverage is going to land you in the doc’s office or set you free with a clean bill of health. It’s no wonder so many of you shrug your shoulders in utter confusion as you refill your morning mug and get on with your day!
I know all about this adoration of coffee. I, too, was smitten and enamored with Coffea Arabica. We had our courtship during the 1990s, when I worked more than 80 hours in the emergency room and saw 30 to 40 patients a day.
I traded sleep for espresso, authentic energy for Haagen Daz coffee ice cream and normal circadian rhythms for high-speed, caffeinated adrenaline rushes.
But then, my body began to communicate to me what I had been attempting to ignore — that I needed to slow down and let the natural systems assume their proper course. You can read more about how I successfully turned my health around here.
As I began to tune into my body and provide it with what it really wanted — fresh, whole, real, unprocessed foods; sleep; relaxation; and the time to enjoy the life I had created for myself and my family — I was able to break up with coffee and make up with my health.
You can too, and I’m going to tell you how. But first, let’s discuss what makes coffee such a hot topic widely disputed in today’s health circles.
Whenever my friend Shannon can’t sleep because too many thoughts are barreling through her mind, she calls it “riding the A train.” She’ll text me at 3 a.m., “I’m on the A train again.” Of course, I get the message because I’m awake, too. My type A personality and business responsibilities are battling it out with my dire need for some mental stillness and rest.
Fortunately, I have a snooze-inducing ally in yoga, and when I get up and do the following sequence, miracles happen. In about 10 minutes, I’m back in bed, shifted toward sleep in a natural, easy way that no pill can provide.
Twenty years ago, as a freshly minted doctor, I swallowed the propaganda that doctors are invincible — that “MD” stood for “medical deity.” During my training, one of my surgical residents told me, “real doctors don’t do lunch.” I thought I didn’t need to follow the same rules of biology like everyone else. I believed sleeping, eating real food and resting were luxuries, not necessities.
In fact, even though I knew all about nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle and had always exercised, I felt I could push the boundaries of my body. When I started my medical career, I worked 80-100 hours a week as a family doctor in a small town in Idaho. I delivered hundreds of babies, ran the emergency room, and saw 30-40 patients a day. Sleep was an afterthought. I ordered Starbucks coffee by the case straight from Seattle, bought an espresso machine and served up 4-5 espressos a day. I lived in a perpetual state of fatigue and pushed my way through on adrenalin.
The recent snowstorm caught me by surprise. I was just gearing up for Halloween festivities (also my birthday!) and was unprepared for the power outage, bitter cold and dangerous ice everywhere. It certainly wasn’t like any Hallows Eve I can remember! All I wanted to do was to stay home (which isn’t like me) and keep warm. I must be getting old, I thought. But hey, it happens to all of us, and birthdays are a perfect time to remember what matters most … and this year what mattered was to be home, warm, with my man, snuggled in bed.