Simple Steps to a Good Night’s Sleep

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I swear my brain never stops. It is always thinking, making lists of groceries and projects, birthdays and holidays I need to remember. There are appointments to make, vacations to plan, people to call. If that weren’t enough, this wacky head of mine is always dreaming, constantly creating.Yup, my brain is an endless stream of activity. But believe it or not, I’m better than I once was.

A few years ago, this crazy brain of mine kept me from sleeping. While everyone in our house slept soundly, I would lay in bed thinking of all the things I needed to do. A little voice inside me would whisper, “Get up. You have chores to do, a million things to take care of.” When I finally did drift off, it was a restless slumber filled with bizarre dreams that would soon wake me up.

Immediately, my head was barraged with lists and umpteen projects I was certain were more important than sleep. I’d jump out of bed, make lists, do laundry, and clean. By the time everyone in my family was awake, I’d already had a full morning.

On the outside, I was the perfect organized mom and wife, everything neat and tidy, the house completely arranged. But inside, I was one stressed-out tired mess. I was never relaxed. I was always thinking of what needed to be done, the next thing to cross off my ever-growing list.

I didn’t know it then, but my lack of sleep was catching up with me. I lived in a foggy kind of dream, not really living life. And my health, well, it became a series of illness requiring many visits to doctors for viruses and infections I could no longer fight off.

I needed a serious wake-up call. Many years later, I got one.

It happened the day I was in an auto accident and sustained a brain injury. It sounds terrible, because it was. And yet, in some weird way, I think it saved my life.

After the accident, both my body and brain were broken. I would find that the only true way to heal would be with a ton of sleep. I think it’s safe to say I slept more than I was awake. It took me a few years to heal, and during those years, I made a discovery.

I liked sleep. I’d never known what good sleep felt like, or what it meant to wake up refreshed. Even as a teenager, I’d never been a good sleeper, and now, here I was, sleeping eight hours at night, waking up with energy and a fresh mind.

Unfortunately, I’m a slow learner. Soon, my old personality crept in, and along with it, that little voice that said, “Don’t sleep. You have too many things to do.”

In some ways, I’d missed that voice. It represented the old me, the one before the accident. And yet, I knew I could no longer stay awake at night like I once had. My brain would never be able to function.

It was time to still that voice. I came up with a plan, one that has me sleeping through almost every single night. This plan has changed my life. It’s now a rarity for me to wake up during the wee hours of the morning. And unless I’m having a severe allergy attack, I hardly ever suffer from foggy-brain.

What is this plan that helps me sleep sound every night? I’m so glad you asked.

My Simple Plan to a Better Night’s Sleep:

Yoga – I learned yoga after my brain injury. The stretching helped my body, but it was the breathing that saved me. My blood pressure went down, and my muscles relaxed. Even my spirit was lighter. I do deep breathing as I go to sleep.

Exercise – Working out is important to me. Something, every single day. Walk, turn the radio on and dance, garden, play with children, lift weights, do push-ups. Something to get the heart pumping. Try it. Your body will thank you.

Eat healthy – We all know that healthy eating is important for many reasons, but one is helping you sleep better. Avoiding excess sugar, especially before bed, can aid in a good night’s sleep.

Drink Water – Drink plenty of water. Water keeps muscles lubricated, which helps to eliminate those pesky nighttime leg cramps.

Magnesium – According to Dr. Mercola (mercola.com), eighty percent of Americans do not get enough magnesium. Magnesium can be found in spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, and a host of other foods (do a search for “foods with magnesium”). If I do have that rare bad night of sleep, I know I need a magnesium boost. The next night, I add Calm (a powdered form of magnesium) to a glass of water. Voila. I am out cold the rest of the night, and wide-awake the next morning. Another great way to get magnesium is by taking a hot bath in Epsom salts, something I try to do once a week in the winter. The bath alone is relaxing, but the Epsom salts soak into the muscles and skin, relaxing every inch of the body.

Be Quiet – One hour before bed stay calm and quiet. Watch something silly, read something light, drink tea.

Have a Routine – I used to think routines were just for kids, but it seems as if everyone’s body likes routine. Keep it the same every night, as much as possible. That includes bedtime.

Give thanks – I give thanks for something before I fall asleep. It sounds kind of silly, I know, but there’s something about this simple little routine that makes my night go better. I don’t go to sleep stressed, or angry, or upset. I go to bed happy, because I have found something to give thanks for. I love falling asleep happy.

Most of all, still that nagging little voice -Nothing is important enough to keep you from sleep.

There you have it, simple ways to get a good night’s sleep.

Good night everyone.

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12 Simple Steps to Get Rid of a Holiday Hangover

I have chicken-chunk, beef-bloat, pork-belly, holiday-hangover, sugar slump. It seems no matter how determined I am, each year I manage to eat a little too much, and even a few things I shouldn’t be eating (like gummy bears and store-bought eggnog). In the last two weeks, I have seen more sugar in this house than I have in the whole previous year combined. And now, I am suffering dearly. But my guess is, I am not the only one.

It’s easy to eat too much this time of year, with all those gravies and succulent meats sitting on tables, all that sugary goodness hanging out at every party, filling the shelves of nearly every store. It’s too much for even the most dedicated health-nut. What is a person to do?

I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to cure my holiday hangover as quickly as possible. But how does one do that? I’m so glad you asked.

I have a plan. A very simple plan. (You knew it had to be simple, right? I hate long and complicated).

All that’s required is commitment, the desire to feel better, and a tad bit of time. It will all be worth it. Are you with me?

Here it is. A Simple Cure for a Holiday Hangover:
1. Start your day off running. Just one minute while the shower warms up. The blood is pumping, and your brain has received its first charge of the day.

2. Hydrate. As soon as you get out of the shower. I keep a water bottle next to the bed, and refill it each day so it’s ready for the next morning. Lifeworks makes a nifty glass bottle with a cool rubber grip on the outside.

3. Eat breakfast. I am a big proponent of the first meal of the day. I’m a slug without it. My daily breakfast usually consists of the same thing: One egg, a green smoothie (hemp, flax, bananas, another fruit, and spinach – the ingredients vary depending on what’s in our house). I top it off with tea (filled with antioxidants, and not as big of a crash for me as coffee), and a piece of chocolate. Whoa! Stop. Chocolate? Yup, that’s what I said. If people can have chocolate drinks, donuts, and chocolate cereal, I figure I can have a piece of chocolate. I make homemade, with three ingredients: honey, raw cocoa, and coconut oil, toss in some cinnamon, maca, sea salt, nuts, and coconut. One piece, and my brain has the extra fuel (read: healthy fats) it so desperately needs in the morning.

As much as I love my simple breakfast (mostly I love not having to think about what I will eat each day), my husband gets a little bored with the routine. Occasionally, we mix it up and have bacon, pumpkin pancakes, homemade granola, or stir-fried veggies. Do whatever works for you – just make it clean, simple, whole foods.

4. Snack. They aren’t just for children. I need snacks, mostly because my meals are small. My body feels energized when I eat smaller amounts with healthy snacks in between. If you do snack, choose something light and healthy: nuts and a piece of fruit, hummus and veggies, banana and nut butter, half an avocado with a tablespoon of tuna.

5. Stay hydrated! Drink, drink, drink. I can’t say this enough. This is one habit I stuck with over the holidays, and I’m really, really glad I did. Water is necessary to fuel our bodies and brains, and keeps our organs running smoothly. It keeps our muscles lubricated (that’s probably not the right terminology, but it does help our muscles). I’ve had muscles lock up and every time it’s happened, it’s been when I haven’t been drinking enough water.

If you get bored with plain water, or find yourself overdoing it, add a lemon, cucumber, or mint. Or if you just need something completely different, try some herbal tea or a real juice drink (as in juice bar, or a make-your-own at home juice drink).

6. Stay active. I know, it’s not always easy. We can be so busy, yet somehow still manage to spend most of our days sitting. And sitting can be really bad, giving us neck pain, back aches, stiff muscles, and headaches. It can also cause weight gain, which leads to a host of other issues.

If you have your own office space, you are in luck. It’s easy to get a little exercise time behind a closed door. Stand up every hour and run in place for one minute, or do a few push-ups or sit ups.

If you don’t have your own office (which most of us don’t), you can still get some exercise. Walk around the building on your lunch break, up and down the stairs, or even back and forth down the hallway. Park farther away from the office, get up and do small errands throughout the day (like bringing papers to someone’s desk, or walking over to talk to someone instead of sending them a message).

7. Take breaks. How is taking a break healthy? When we take a break from work, we are able to release stress from the day. It makes me crazy when I think of all the people who eat lunch at their desk instead of taking a break. I was once one of those people. Believe me, no job is worth your skipping every break. Get away. Close your eyes for five minutes and just breathe. Listen to tunes, read a book, sit outside. And as much as you love your co-workers, sometimes it’s best to take a break away from them. It makes you forget about work, if only for a brief time.

8. Eat lunch. Stop the fast food madness! Eat a simple, whole food lunch. A salad, meat wrapped around carrots, deviled eggs. Simple to prepare, easy to eat.

9. Don’t work late. I think I just heard yelling. How is that even possible, you ask? I don’t know. I did it too many times myself. But I do know this, all those extra hours, all those missed breaks and Saturday mornings spent in an office were not worth one single moment of my life. For work, I missed family time, moments together that can never be replaced. I was stressed, and often tired. I gained a few pounds, got out of shape, all for a job I didn’t really like.

I realize sometimes we are forced to work extra hours. An occasional week, or even month, won’t matter. But what happens when we do that every week of every month of every year? What do our bodies do? They live in a constant state of stress. They overeat to compensate, not just for the stress, but for emotions we can’t control. Stress taxes our brains and our bodies. Stress taxes our whole lives.

10. Go home. Kick off your shoes. Throw on something that makes you happy, your favorite jammies, your soft sweat pants. Listen to music, or a funny show. Unwind with a glass of wine.

11. Eat dinner. Light. Healthy. Not too close to bedtime.

12. Sleep. They don’t call her Sleeping Beauty for nothing. Everyone looks better when they have had enough zzz’s. I don’t believe we are all wired the same way and each require the exact same amount of sleep. One person may get by fine with six and a half hours, another person may need eight every night. But no matter what your needs, make sure you get it. Leave the dishes, leave the laundry, and go to bed. Your body, and your brain, will thank you.

There you go. Your twelve-step program to getting rid of a holiday hangover. It’s simple, really: eat well, sleep well, exercise. Take care of you.

Happy new year!

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Simple Steps to Handle Stress

Have you ever had a time in your life where you’d like to run away and hide in a tiny little cabin in the middle of the woods? Just to escape life, if only for a moment. I am having one of those times right now.

It seems life has handed me a series of events, some unfortunate, and some good (but still stressful). And while I used to thrive on stress, I don’t handle it very well now. My injury changed all that. Instead of taking life as it comes, it seems now that each new event requires a processing time. When I don’t get that, I kind of fall apart.

That’s what has happened lately. In one brief sweep, my husband and I have experienced: job changes, family arriving and leaving (in close succession), trips, changes in extended family and their lives, and health issues. To top it off, we have discussed the possibility of moving, doing home improvements, and a big vacation next year. I know, almost every stress imaginable, enough to send anyone over the edge.

All I can say is, right now, I’m thankful I don’t have a lot of stuff to take care of. I’m thankful for all the things I threw away and gave to the thrift store, for keeping life easy and clean. I’m thankful I haven’t accrued more than I need.

Still, even in my simple life, I have stress. And by last week, I’d had enough. I needed to find ways to let go. I began a series of stress-relieving exercises: working-out longer and harder, practicing daily yoga (I’ve done yoga for a long time, but mostly in moments of desperation, or at the most twice a week). I baked, drew, took naps (of which I failed miserably, not because I wasn’t tired, but because I have always felt guilty sleeping in the middle of the day), made extra protein smoothies, and began taking fish oil supplements.

In some ways, I felt a little better. I think it was the psychological aspect of knowing I was taking some control over my life. But the fact is, those stressors still remained.

I knew it was time for some soul-searching. I pulled out my trusty little journal, wrote down each stressor, how it affected me, and why. And I came to a realization. Most of the stressors in my life were my own fault. What a horrible confession to have to make.

Sure, there were things that couldn’t be helped, like my husband’s job. He had been in an unstable company with the threat of lay-offs. He needed a change. His new company has been around a long time, and was exactly what he was looking for.

The trips weren’t totally optional, at least not one. One was a business trip that we both attended. The other was a trip to the ocean with family, planned many months ago, and worth every bit of time and energy.

But there were stresses in my life I had control over, like family visitations. As much as I love family visits, next year I won’t let them get scheduled so close together.

And home improvements – painting, putting up hooks and blinds – those can wait. They aren’t even close to being important in my life. Moving doesn’t need to be discussed – it’s a plan for the future. Even next year’s vacation, as exciting as it might be, can wait.

When it comes to extended family, I have a bad habit of worrying about them. I guess if I don’t worry, I feel calloused. But here’s the thing, it’s their decisions, their lives. None of it affects me. I need to remember that.

Yup, all those things I had control over, and I let it affect me. But health, that’s one area that can’t usually be controlled. It’s been a rough few months, especially the last couple weeks. But the good things is, when I have less to think about, and less to do, I have the time and energy to take care of me.

Stress happens. Life happens. It always will. Here are a few things you can do to help you through a stressful time:

1. Be prepared by always taking care of yourself. Exercise, pray, meditate, drink water daily, and get plenty of rest.

2. Do something often, just for you. Whatever relaxes you and keeps you calm. Yoga, a walk in the woods, painting, reading.

3. Keep your life simple. A simple schedule. A simple home. A simple wardrobe. Simple cooking and cleaning. With less to care for, stress is easier to handle.

4. Know what’s important, and what’s not. Let go of the things that aren’t.

5. Write about it. Write about every little stress – dirty clothing on the floor, a house that needs cleaning, the illness of a close friend. Pick that one that matters.

Most of all, remember how important you are. Keep stress levels down by taking care of you.

Feel free to share this with others
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Simply Let Go of Too Much Knowledge

I know too many things, like why people get headaches, that infections can be deadly, and brain injuries are more than a bump on the brain. And while I won’t go into details, I know the effects of taking pain medication, and what it can do to your body. I guess it’s the joy of having had many problems.

It’s also the joy of the internet, and a little trauma of a too-curious writer.

Having a recent foot injury, I did a little research. It seems I have an infection, possibly caused by an old fracture. I’m being treated with antibiotics, which is what the internet said would happen. But there’s more to it than that.

The internet went on to tell me that many antibiotics no longer work as well as they used to. Drugs in our society have been so overused that infections are becoming immune. Kind of scary, huh?

I started thinking about this and what it could mean, and I got a little nauseous. What if the infection spread? What if the drugs didn’t work? What would happen then? I read more.

And then I stopped. Maybe I didn’t want to know. They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I can see why. That little bit of knowledge fed my brain, just like the bacteria in my body fed the infection. My imagination went wild, and I pictured all kinds of scenarios.

The internet, with its many facts and figures, can’t tell the whole story. It didn’t know I had a fracture. The doctor discovered that on an x-ray. It also didn’t know I had allergies to medications. I needed a doctor for that. It doesn’t know my health status, or how well I take care of my body. Only another human would know.

It wasn’t only the medical information I received from the doctor that was helpful, it was the reassurance that I would be okay. It was the calm, quiet, comforting help of a human helping another.

There’s nothing on the internet that ever can replace that.

I think I’m done with researching medical issues. It’s too scary. I’m going go of a little dangerous knowledge, and leave it to the experts. It’s simpler that way.

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Are Supplements Part of Healthy Eating?

Supplements are a big market, to the tune of approximately $37 billion a year. I was once a part of that industry. (Taking them, not making or selling them.)

After my brain injury, my blood test levels were quite low: My iron, vitamin D, vitamin B, and white blood count plummeted. Other levels were off as well, but it’s been so long, I can’t remember what they were.

In any case, my doctor put me on a bunch of supplements: Iron, Vitamin D, calcium (because I don’t eat dairy due to an allergy), fish oil (to help my brain), a multi-vitamin, and protein powder (I’m guessing this was also to help my brain). I also took Calm (magnesium supplement) occasionally to help during bad evenings when I wasn’t sure if I’d sleep, bee pollen (to help with my allergies), nutritional yeast (vitamin B), and acidophilus to help with my never-ending bout of stomach aches.

Over the course of time, I improved. My blood levels increased, except for my white blood count, which is always low. (We’ve come to the conclusion it’s probably due to environmental allergies.)

At the same time I was taking supplements, I began changing my diet. I started eating more whole foods and less processed. I also ate mainly organic, and lots and lots of fruits and vegetables. I juiced whenever I could, and made meat more of a side dish and less of a main course.

My health was looking up. As my brain and body improved, I got to wondering, are all these supplements necessary? Is it the supplements making me better, or is it the food?

I did some research. This is what I found:

*Supplements aren’t well-regulated. They don’t need preapproval by the FDA, and the companies that produce them don’t have to provide evidence that the supplement is safe. Read:
http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm047470.htm

*Since they aren’t a prescription, it’s easy to overdose. (Yes, you definitely can overdose on vitamins. It’s serious.) Check out:https://smartypantsvitamins.com/the-overdose-risks-of-vitamins-why-proper-dosage-matters/ and
http://www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/supplements-remedies/can-you-overdose-on-vitamin-and-mineral-supplements/

*The FDA can recall a product, but there are so many companies, it’s almost certain they can’t keep up. Really, anyone can put together a supplement and sell it. How scary is that? Check this out: http://www.consumerreports.org/vitamins-supplements/we-made-this-weight-loss-supplement/

*There can be additives in the product that may not be listed on the bottle, or might be written in such a way that you don’t know exactly what you’re getting. http://consumerhealthchoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Dangerous_Supplements.pdf

*23,000 people end up in the emergency room each year after taking a supplement. http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/23000-people-us-end-er-annually-because-supplements/

*Supplements can interfere with drugs, and even other supplements. https://www.drugs.com/slideshow/herb-drug-interactions-1069

After reading all this, I was sick. All that money spent on junk sitting in my gut that might actually be causing me more harm than good.

I decided it was time to drop the pill addiction, and rely on the one true drug we’d been given at the beginning of time: Real Food.

I upped my dosage on produce, cut out grains, juiced occasionally, and did everything I could to stay healthy. And you know what? It worked.

It’s been about two-and-a-half years, and I am supplement-free, and healthier than ever. Rarely do I get a cold, but when I do, it lasts a couple of days instead of the seven or ten like it does for most people. I have had a sinus infection, but even that went away quickly. And other than getting tired (which I should by the end of the day-I work hard), I am really, really healthy.

(Research has shown that people who take supplements are generally already concerned about health. They exercise, eat right, drink in moderation, don’t smoke, and rarely eat out.)

I can’t say for certain that the supplements didn’t contribute to my improvement, I can only say I don’t need them now. I have a new medicine cabinet, supplements supplied by nature.

My new medicine cabinet: Fruits, vegetables, daily greens (produce equals 10-12 per day, on bad days I get 8)- I do smoothies to ensure I get my daily needed allotment of produce; nuts; lentils and beans; fish; olive and coconut oils, along with avocado and walnut occasionally; organic, whole meats; no dairy; no grains; homemade fudge (recipe: equal amounts of honey, melted coconut oil, cocoa powder; stir; add extras like: walnuts, shredded coconut, cinnamon or sea salt; place in 8 x 12 pan and freeze; cut into 48 bars); other desserts are usually raw; baked products and processed foods are minimal.

I’m still allergic to dairy, but a recent bone scan assured me, and my doctor, that my bones were stronger than ever. Apparently there’s a lot of calcium to be found in greens. And there’s a lot to be said for walking and lifting weights.

I am not a medical professional, or in the nutritional field. I can only tell you what worked for me. While I think there is still a place for a few supplements, I think the overall strategy we were given at the beginning of time provides us with every vitamin and mineral we need.

I’m not saying never take a supplement, but please, before you do, know the facts. And always see your doctor.

Here’s to healthy living!

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