Friday, May 22, 2015

Meditation and Prayer for Sleep

This is the last blog in a four week series on sleep. I have discussed the importance of sleep, sleep strategies and sleep supplements and will conclude with meditation to help you fall asleep and go back to sleep in the middle of the night.

The idea of “sleep” as a period when the brain simply shuts down has been replaced by an increasingly sophisticated understanding of how the rhythm of sleep and wakefulness is necessary for the biological function in every organ.   Not only does this daily “circadian” rhythm play an important role in learning and the filtering of memories in the brain, but it also serves to regulate the energy level of most all cells.  Shortages of cellular energy eventually wear down natural defenses through oxidative stress and abnormalities in protein processing, increasing the risk of disease. How can meditation and prayer help you achieve a healthy rhythm of sleep?

“Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10)
For a believer, the purpose of meditation prayer is to better align with God, to better know God — to stop struggling against God’s will for us and accept things the way they are; to better comprehend that we are held and loved, that we are OK, no matter what we might be walking through. In other words, in a variety of ways, meditation helps us stop trying to play God.

Often stress and a racing mind prevent us from relaxing enough to fall asleep. As we pray and align ourselves with God's will, we relax, knowing that He is in charge. Even without a belief in God, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and positive visualization all help to move the body from a state of wakefulness to sleep.

If you are new to meditation, the idea may seem a bit scary. Maybe you picture strangers sitting around in contorted positions for hours on end, thinking.....what? One app, CALM, takes away those fears and guides you through seven introductory lessons on posture, breathing, etc. In addition, the app offers a number of guided meditation programs, including four specifically for sleep.

A free app that assists with sleep is Pzizz. This program uses guided meditation and calming sounds to help you fall asleep. You can choose any length of time and the voice can be turned off, if you prefer. There is even a Power Nap setting.

Either of these apps and a meditative prayer time can be part of that one hour wind-down time you have before bedtime. If you are frustrated by wakefulness in the middle of the night, one of these apps might be just what you need to ease you back to sleep. Give it a try and see what works for you!

Get Some Sleep, Stay Active and Enjoy Your Food!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sleep Supplements

The first blog in this series demonstrated the importance of sleep, then I shared sleep strategies. This week I examine some sleep supplements and next week I will finish by discussing meditation for sleep.

Sleep supports healthy growth and development. Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues. Your immune system also relies on sleep to stay healthy. This system defends your body against foreign or harmful substances. For example, if you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble fighting common infections. What supplements can we use to aid us in reaching that deep sleep we need?

None of these supplements have rigorous studies to prove their effectiveness. Many people have tried different options and had success in finding what works for their body. Please consult your doctor before taking any supplement.

Chamomile Tea
This tea is a very mild sedative. In addition, the process of steeping and slowly sipping the warm tea may help relax the body and clear the mind to prepare for sleep. 
This herb is said to be a mild sedative that also lowers the anxiety response. 
Melatonin is naturally produced in your body to promote sleep. A supplement may fill in where your body is deficient or provide an extra boost that will help you relax enough to sleep.
Essential Oils
Young Living Essential Oils can be used to naturally promote a good night's rest and can be applied topically or diffused. Try several drops of lavender oil and Peace & Calming on the back of the neck and bottoms of feet. To quiet mental stimulation and agitation, try adding cedarwood oil as well. A lavender oil and epsom salt bath before bed can also contribute to a very relaxing night. For more information about these and other oils, email Rachelle Howard at
Holy Basil
Do you find yourself suddenly wide-awake at 3am? This herb may moderate the cortisol spike that can wake us in the middle of the night.
The week before your period, progesterone levels plummet. As progesterone assists in causing drowsiness, this drop can lead to restless sleep. Make sure you supplement with progesterone (usually a cream) not progestin. There is a significant difference. Follow the package directions for a healthy cycle.

 Get Some Sleep, Stay Active and Enjoy Your Food!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sleep Strategies

Wow! I created quite a stir with the last post. Many people have trouble falling or staying asleep and were dismayed to hear how important sleep is to their health. To help the frustrated readers, I will share a few sleep strategies this week, followed up with a post on sleep supplements and complete the series with a post on meditation. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not sleep well either!

Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity.  For example, one study of teenagers showed that with each hour of sleep lost, the odds of becoming obese went up. Sleep deficiency increases the risk of obesity in other age groups as well. Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don't get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you're well-rested. What are some strategies can we use to sleep well?

Your bedroom should be quiet, cool and dark. Use ear plugs or a white noise machine. Use a ceiling fan or air conditioner. Wear a sleep mask and use light-blocking curtains.  Eliminate the TV and computer from your bedroom. The light from electronic devices can disrupt the sleep cycle. Short wavelength blue light, the exact kind that backlit devices shine into the user's eye, is especially good at preventing the release of melatonin, a hormone associated with nighttime drowsiness.

Go to bed and wake at the same time every day. Reserve one hour to wind down before bed. Avoid electronics and dim the lights during this hour. Practice a quiet hobby, read fiction or try some relaxing stretching. Go to bed when you are tired - avoid fighting sleep to fit in more work and avoid falling asleep on the couch.

Be active in the morning or early afternoon. Even just 20 minutes of exercise a day can make a big difference. Try exercising outside. Exposure to natural light helps maintain a healthy sleep/wake cycle, especially for those whose jobs keep them indoors.

Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can all disrupt the sleep cycle. Skip that mid-afternoon latte and limit yourself to one glass of wine at dinner time. Quit smoking altogether - for multiple reasons! Restrict liquids two hours before bedtime to reduce night-time bathroom trips. Avoid eating before bed as this requires the digestive system to continue to work while you are trying to relax your body.  

Try a couple of these strategies for a restful night. 
Get Some Sleep, Stay Active and Enjoy Your Food!

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Importance of Sleep

Sleep is essential to our health. A deficit can compromise your immune system, cause inflammation, lead to memory loss and weight gain, hamper reflexes and decision-making skills. Lack of sleep can increase the risk of chronic diseases and type 2 diabetes. In fact, women who logged six or less hours of sleep had a 62% higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Researchers report that, during sleep, our brains flush out toxins that build up when we're awake. The restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the byproducts of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.

The brain includes a network of passageways between the cells that control the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. These passageways undergo dramatic changes during sleep. Sleep increases the circulation space by 60%, allowing room for unnecessary byproducts to be flushed from the brain.

Nearly every neurodegenerative disorder is associated with a buildup of toxic proteins. Researchers suspect the accumulation of these proteins kill neurons and lead to dementia. Sleep appears to support the brain's innate ability to identify and dump these damaging proteins.

In our fast-paced lives, sleep may be the first thing we sacrifice to "get more done". Prioritizing regular sleep hours can be good for your mind and your body. In addition, when we are well-rested, we are more likely to use positive communication in important relationships. We are nicer when we aren't tired!

Get Some Sleep, Stay Active and Enjoy Your Food!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Talk Yourself Out of Temptation

Just because that bag of chips is calling your name doesn't mean you have to answer. Ramp up your willpower with a couple of creative strategies to talk yourself out of temptation.

It's a special occasion. - Special doesn't mean stuffed.   

Don't pass up your own birthday cake! But you don't need a ginormous slice - or two. 
The satisfaction you get from any one food often drops off with every bite. Research shows that small portions can be as satisfying as large portions. So if the situation merits a calorie-packed treat, try eating just a few forkfuls, and give them your full attention. Focusing on what you're eating helps you consume fewer calories.

I've been really good lately. - I've been feeling really good lately, and I want to keep it that way.  

When you use food as a prize, you risk sabotaging your motivation by signaling to yourself that you've reached the end point. This can invite you to return to unhealthy behaviors.
Rather than rewarding yourself for a job well done, focus on how eating healthfully has already paid off. Do you have more energy? Do your clothes fit better? Then take a moment to let the emotions that come with that benefit sink in. The same way you can get addicted to the endorphins your body releases when you work up a sweat, you can get hooked on the feeling of pride or progress, which makes you want to continue down a healthy path.

I'll work it off later - I'll work out now and treat myself later.

It's easier to eat well when you're feeling successful and seeing results than it is when you're trying to compensate for a transgression. 
Get that workout in and see if you still want the treat afterwards. Studies show that women had less of an appetite after exercise, which may lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. In a separate study, a 15-minute stroll cut chocolate consumption almost in half. 

Use these self-talk tips for success this week.  
Enjoy Your Food and Keep Moving!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Employee of the Year

I am honored to be chosen Employee of the Year today at the Burbank YMCA. My friend, JoDee, surprised me with a bouquet of flowers when she announced it this morning. I really enjoy teaching classes at the Y. The members and the workouts energize me whenever I'm there.  I value the community we have created in my classes. It is a blessing to me to know some of our members' stories and be a part of their fitness journeys. I am fortunate to have the Y in my life.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Cardio Circuit Class

I am offering another weekend workout session! This will be the last Saturday session until the fall. Get ready for summer,  rev up your workout and feel strong.

I am also considering a mid-week session in June. Interested? Let me know. Your interest level will help me determine whether to offer this mid-week class.