How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

You’re driving to work and forget you had to go to the dry cleaners. You end up missing the exit. You’re fifteen minutes late for work and you can’t figure out where the morning went. You are in a fog for most of the morning and blow off that spin class you’ve promised yourself you’d attend for the last two months. All of this anxiety is likely due to your sleep cycle or lack thereof.

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Not getting a good night’s sleep is related to so many consequences. You would think that we would have a class in high school on how to get a good night’s sleep rather than world history or calculus. Want to know what the result can be? Here are a few: depression, weight gain, poor cognitive processing, lower sex drive, quicker aging, forgetfulness, and poor judgement. Hmmm. Sounds like we all need a good quality night’s sleep.

So here are some suggestions:

  • Detach from your phone. I actually plug in my phone to charge in the kitchen at 7 PM, rather than charging it in my bedroom. I will make sure that it’s set to ring, just in case. My kitchen is about 50 feet from my pillow but if someone REALLY wants to reach me for an emergency, I can hear the phone from there. My son was driving home to Miami the other night and my phone was in the kitchen as usual. I got up to go to the bathroom and walked into the kitchen to check his progress. Then I went back to bed and, yes, went to sleep. The last thing your mind needs is unnecessary pings and pongs in the middle of the night.

 

  • Wait until morning to send the email. If you send an email right before you head off to bed, what do you think happens? For one thing, you are likely to think about that email for a good part of the night. In addition, you are keeping someone else, the receiver of that email, awake (unless they are reading this post and following the first bullet). It’s like being at a bar after midnight: not much good from writing emails, drinking, or anything else late at night. Wait until morning when you can execute your best thinking.

 

  • Keep it cool.  You ideally want to sleep in a room that is between 60 to 69 degrees Fahrenheit. I turn a fan on in my bedroom. It keeps the room cool and the white noise from the fan drowns out any noises that might wake me. Your body needs to drop its core temperature to sleep properly. If you think about it from a caveman’s perspective, they were sleeping at night in cooler temperatures. So turn down the thermostat and get some better, quality shut eye.

 

  • Make it dark.  One of the best things I did while repairing my home after Hurricane Matthew was to put in blinds on my French doors in my bedroom. It completely shut out any external light. I felt the quality of my sleep improve. I remember going to my brother’s home in Albuquerque, New Mexico and he had aluminum foil on his bedroom windows. He has always worked graveyard shifts, so blocking the sunlight is imperative. In addition, I don’t have anything in my room that typically lights up at night, like a clock, television, or computer. There is one small night light in the bathroom so that I don’t need to turn on a light (and wake completely up) if I need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

 

  • Dim the lights.  Bright light is understood as the sun in your mind, in the sky which is code for, “It’s daylight, let’s get to work.” I make a concerted effort to keep my lighting to a minimum in the evening, especially an hour or so before bed. So put a forty or twenty watt bulb, or a dimmer switch next to your bed so that you can ease yourself into a good night’s sleep.

 

  • Don’t hit the snooze button.  Apparently about a third of the population are addicted to snoozing in the morning. It’s about the worst thing you can do. I’ve been reading Mel Robbin’s 5 Second Rule, and she suffered for years by hitting the snooze button. You sleep in 90-minute intervals. Mel says that in the last two hours before you wake up, your body is preparing to wake up. So if you don’t have a 90-minute sleep cycle coming, you need to get out of bed. Ironically, I woke up this morning at 4:20 AM and my alarm goes off at 5 AM. I knew I couldn’t squeeze in another 90-minute cycle, so I got out of bed. If I had stayed in bed and tried to sleep, I would have been woken up mid-cycle and been groggy the rest of the morning. Snooze does the same thing. It perpetuates grogginess.

 

  • Caffeine and alcohol. Stay away from caffeine after 2 PM and alcohol after 6 PM. Caffeine seems obvious since it’s a stimulant. I personally need to stay away from it after noon. Alcohol is more deceptive. It lulls you into thinking you are going right to sleep, but it actually causes disruption in your REM sleep. So if you are drinking into the evening, your sleep won’t be as restful and of poorer quality.

 

I put these habits into place over the last three months and my sleep has dramatically improved. I have also increased my quality and quantity of mediation but that is for another post. Try one or two of these and see if your sleep doesn’t improve. What are your secrets to a good night’s sleep?

Why You Should Quit Sugar.

Originally published: January 12, 2016

You walk into your colleague’s office and grab a Starburst from his candy bowl. You grab a donut from the reception desk. You have a free drink from Starbucks so you decide to treat yourself to a Venti Peppermint Frappuccino. You have just entered a sugar-induced roller coaster and it’s affecting your life in many unseen ways.

I recently read the book The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. In the book she makes the case for keeping animal fats, including butter and cheese, in your diet and points to sugar as being the real culprit of an overweight society. I digested that for a few weeks and finally started to take sugar and simple carbs (bread, pasta, and my much beloved pizza) out of my diet. I started with breakfast. I used to eat a high fiber cereal and a flavored yogurt. It’s virtually impossible to find cereal without any sugar and flavored yogurt has as much sugar as a hot fudge sundae. And I was eating that every day. I decided to make a smoothie from frozen berries (without any added sugar), raw almonds, whole Greek unflavored yogurt and chia seeds. The most important thing was to not have a sugar spike that would creep up on me two hours later causing me to feel hungry. I also abandoned all fake sugar like diet drinks and sweetener because it’s still tricking your head that there’s more food coming which causes hunger down the road.

Why You Should Quit Sugar

After the breakfast changes, I started eating arugula and cheese for lunch. The first few weeks were just like quitting smoking for me. Headaches, fogginess, sweating and chills. All from quitting sugar. Makes me think we might need rehab centers for all the after effects! I survived it, and now, some 4 months later, my sugar addiction is long behind me.

But you’re wondering why you should even go through the hassle. Here are the unexpected benefits:

1. My mind is sharper. Once I came out of the fog of addiction, my mind is much more focused. I sit down to complete a project or task or writing a blog post like this, and I have complete focus. I’m not getting up to grab a cookie from the pantry or rummaging through the fridge for a yogurt pick me up. As Rick Foster wrote in his article for the Huffington Post, “I’m aware of being far more able to focus on a task and get it done. My tendency toward distraction has reduced dramatically. What I would now describe as jittery, nervous energy after big doses of sugar through the day, has been replaced by a sense of focused calm.” This for me was the biggest surprise.

2. I sleep better. I don’t know why but I sleep much better. I used to wake up with night sweats due to menopause but this has subsided dramatically since going off sugar. I go to bed at 9 or 9:30 and drop off immediately to sleep and wake up at 5:30 usually without an alarm.

3. I’m more adaptable. I don’t understand this at all but I feel like a last minute crisis doesn’t rattle me as much. Maybe because I’m not going up and down in glucose spikes but I roll with the punches much more easily. And I am able to fit in tasks when before I would have procrastinated. So let’s say I need to get an article done in the next 10 minutes or wait until later. I try and get done what I can get done in the next ten minutes. Before I would have sat on my phone going through Facebook notifications instead of tackling the task.

4. I’m rarely hungry. I can go 6 to 7 hours without food. I remember a health coach instructing us that even if you have that one piece of chocolate or mint, it turns you metabolism on and your body immediately starts calling for more. When I eat protein-rich foods like eggs and bacon, I rarely want to over eat. I eat what I want and don’t think about food again. I lost 20 pounds without starvation. I have to say I never expected this.

5. I have less inflammation. I walk every day. It used to be I would start up the hill of my driveway and I would feel pain in my joints like my hips and knees. About a month after not eating sugar, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t in any pain any more. I used to have bursitis in my hips and shoulders that required cortisone shots or physical therapy. There has been no need ever since giving up sugar.

6. I have energy throughout the day. I used to dread being the afternoon speaker on a team off-site roster. Now it’s no big deal. As long as I’m not binging on potato chips and chocolate chip cookies or downing a Pepsi at lunch, I’m coasting along on an even keel without any fog or sleepiness.

This post is the perfect example of my non-sugar lifestyle. My son is home for the holidays and last year I would have pestered away the morning waiting for him to get ready to go out to the store. But instead I have proactively written the post and feel accomplished before 10 AM. I’m not saying it’s easy to give up sugar and you definitely feel the barrage of sugar exploitation every time you are in the checkout line for the first few weeks but once you are free? It’s life changing.

7 Surprising Upsides to an Empty Nest.

They are gone. The last kid is safely back at college. The extended family back in their appointed homes. And the silence is deafening.

My daughter’s laugh is infectious and nothing makes her laugh more than playing Super Mario Brother’s with her brother. One minute they are laughing hysterically and the next they are bitter rivals. This is the magic of the holidays. Sibling rivalries reignited. My son insisting that there was only one night to set up the Christmas tree with his sister (family tradition) so they stayed up on Thanksgiving night putting the tree together to surprise me in the morning. It’s amazing that the act of service is so much more important than getting a new Rolex. My Christmas was made that morning when I walked out and the tree was light up and decorated with all milestones of my two kids. Think about how this applies to work. Making sure you get your annual budget in on time or perish the thought “early”. Your coworkers will appreciate the service as opposed to a new company logo t-shirt.

Two weeks ago we couldn’t find enough chairs in the house. Eating breakfast was in shifts or sitting on the couch balancing a plate on one knee. The dishwasher ran three times a day. The bustle and hub bub hummed. Visiting with nieces, I see at best, once a year. Catching up and reminiscing over childhood stories with my two older brothers. Looking at photos from the trip to Minnesota where my history loving father was in search for evidence of Vikings and the fabled Kensington stone. Countless photos of three awkward looking kids pointing at mooring holes that could have been left by Leif Erickson. Criticism of my mother for her taste in children’s clothes and haircuts. Good fun. And now it is silent. Even the dishwasher is silent along with the dog.

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So now that the nest is officially empty, I have discovered some surprising gifts in its wake:

1. I have my dog to myself. I don’t have to share my dog, Baci’s, affection anymore. It’s all about me. She happily follows me from folding clothes, to writing in my office, and most importantly, to the kitchen in the hopes I will drop something. I have to admit I was getting jealous of her divided attention for the past few weeks. Do you have resources at work that you have to share? Make sure that when you have them back to yourself that you are showing them the gratitude.

2. There is space in the fridge again. I don’t need to be stocking whole milk for my son, Almond milk for my lactose intolerant daughter and buttermilk for an army load of pancakes. I can easily find things again. Including a cream container that was 6 weeks past expiration. Whew. Similarly, it’s such a relief to have last year’s files moved to storage.

3. I sleep through the night. My son is terrific at accomplishing all kinds of chores. I appreciate him taking out the garbage, emptying the dishwasher and creating culinary confections in my kitchen. The issue is that he does these chores in the wee hours of the night. Like 3 or 4 AM late. Invariably I hear the clang of pots or see the light under my door. Now, I finally have my sleep back.

4. No more midnight rides to Cook-Out. Every time my son is home, he has to commandeer my car for midnight or 2 AM runs to Cook-Out. It’s a local restaurant chain that is not available in Miami, where he goes to school. I know this by the telltale signs of a Cook-Out Styrofoam cup on the counter and my car seat on too much of an incline when I get in my car.

5. My kitchen counters are clear. My children seem to have amnesia when it comes to the location of the dishwasher and the garbage can. There has not been a change in the location of these items since we have lived in this house for almost 14 years. My morning was spent putting empty cups in the dishwasher and empty packaging in the garbage. Now I can rest assured that the counters are clear when I rise in the morning. It’s like moving into a new office, you suddenly know where everything is because you are the one who put it there. A clean slate.

6. We are clutter free. Two adult children and my extended family visiting for my parent’s sixtieth wedding anniversary meant jackets, laptops, phone chargers, cameras, shoes, coffee cups and two rental cars to jockey around. I lost my coffee cup and water glass several times. Now the Christmas clutter is all packed up (thanks to my amazing son who packed it all up in the dead of night!) and I know where my water glass is.

7. Silence. It can be deafening. But now that everyone is gone, there is a bit of Zen in the air. Peace. Time for reflection. Time to write. Getting my groove back. Think about spending some time just reflecting. Close the door to your office and just ponder.

We had a terrific family celebration and holiday. It was wonderful to connect with extended family and even better to laugh at old photos from our childhood and watch the faces of our kids as we relived family trips and occasions. But now that it’s all in the books? I’m happy to get back to the empty nest and ready to embark on 2016.

6 Surprising Reasons to Quit Sugar.

You walk into your colleague’s office and grab a starburst from his candy bowl. You grab a donut from the reception desk. You have a free drink from Starbucks so you decide to treat yourself to a Venti Peppermint Frappuccino. You have just entered a sugar induced roller coaster and it’s affecting your life in many unseen ways.

I recently read the book, The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. In the book she makes the case for keeping animal fats including butter and cheese in your diet and points to sugar as being the real culprit of an overweight society. I digested that for a few weeks and finally started to take sugar and simple carbs (bread, pasta, and my much beloved pizza) out of my diet. I started with breakfast. I used to eat a high fiber cereal and a flavored yogurt. It’s virtually impossible to find cereal without any sugar and flavored yogurt has as much sugar as a hot fudge sundae. And I was eating that every day. I decided to make a smoothie from frozen berries (without any added sugar), raw almonds, whole Greek unflavored yogurt and chia seeds. The most important thing was to not have a sugar spike that would creep up on me two hours later causing me to feel hungry. I also abandoned all fake sugar like diet drinks and sweetener because it’s still tricking your head that there’s more food coming which causes hunger down the road.

Sugar Free at last

After the breakfast changes, I started eating arugula and cheese for lunch. The first few weeks were just like quitting smoking for me. Headaches, fogginess, sweating and chills. All from quitting sugar. Makes me think we might need rehab centers for all the after effects! I survived it, and now, some 4 months later, my sugar addiction is long behind me.

But you’re wondering why you should even go through the hassle. Here are the unexpected benefits:

1. My mind is sharper. Once I came out of the fog of addiction, my mind is much more focused. I sit down to complete a project or task or writing a blog post like this, and I have complete focus. I’m not getting up to grab a cookie from the pantry or rummaging through the fridge for a yogurt pick me up. As Rick Foster wrote in his article for the Huffington Post, “I’m aware of being far more able to focus on a task and get it done. My tendency toward distraction has reduced dramatically. What I would now describe as jittery, nervous energy after big doses of sugar through the day, has been replaced by a sense of focused calm.” This for me was the biggest surprise.

2. I sleep better. I don’t know why but I sleep much better. I used to wake up with night sweats due to menopause but this has subsided dramatically since going off sugar. I go to bed at 9 or 9:30 and drop off immediately to sleep and wake up at 5:30 usually without an alarm.

3. I’m more adaptable. I don’t understand this at all but I feel like a last minute crisis doesn’t rattle me as much. Maybe because I’m not going up and down in glucose spikes but I roll with the punches much more easily. And I am able to fit in tasks when before I would have procrastinated. So let’s say I need to get an article done in the next 10 minutes or wait until later. I try and get done what I can get done in the next ten minutes. Before I would have sat on my phone going through Facebook notifications instead of tackling the task.

4. I’m rarely hungry. I can go 6 to 7 hours without food. I remember a health coach instructing us that even if you have that one piece of chocolate or mint, it turns you metabolism on and your body immediately starts calling for more. When I eat protein rich foods like eggs and bacon, I rarely want to over eat. I eat what I want and don’t think about food again. I lost 20 pounds without starvation. I have to say I never expected this.

5. I have less inflammation. I walk every day. It used to be I would start up the hill of my driveway and I would feel pain in my joints like my hips and knees. About a month after not eating sugar, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t in any pain any more. I used to have bursitis in my hips and shoulders that required cortisone shots or physical therapy. There has been no need ever since giving up sugar.

6. I have energy throughout the day. I used to dread being the afternoon speaker on a team off-site roster. Now it’s no big deal. As long as I’m not binging on potato chips and chocolate chip cookies or downing a Pepsi at lunch, I’m coasting along on an even keel without any fog or sleepiness.

This post is the perfect example of my non-sugar lifestyle. My son is home for the holidays and last year I would have pestered away the morning waiting for him to get ready to go out to the store. But instead I have proactively written the post and feel accomplished before 10 AM. I’m not saying it’s easy to give up sugar and you definitely feel the barrage of sugar exploitation every time you are in the checkout line for the first few weeks but once you are free? It’s life changing.

The Pathway to Your Best Work.

I used to live in Northern California. The thing I loved about living there was that there were hundreds of hiking trails within an easy drive (or walk). I remember taking on Mount Saint Helena or Mount Diablo on a given weekend or just heading to Foothill Park with my dogs. There was always the choice of which trail to take. The well-trodden or the elusive deer trail, the steep or the flat, the fastest to the top or the meandering scenic view. There was always a choice to be made. the pathway to your best work

The same is true for your best work. You make decisions every day, every moment about doing your best work. There is the steep, arduous trail or the meandering poppy strewn path. The ball is always in your court on which approach to take. Whether it’s deciding on what to have for breakfast, whether to purchase that fixer upper house or working on your novel. How you approach these decisions is always up to you and there are ways to make it an easier, less stressful path.

So here are some ideas on the pathway to your best work:

1. Early. Getting started early in the day is critical. I know you night owls out there are rolling your eyes. You start the day with a hundred units of energy. Every day. And it is impossible to replenish those 100 units. Once those units are spent, they are gone for good. The only way to insure that you have the energy to spend on your best work means you need to start early so if the cable goes out or your boss calls an emergency budget meeting, you’ve already spent some precious units on your best work. Expect interruptions.

2. Space. Clear the space to focus. I wrote about this recently. Find a clutter free, pleasant, quiet environment to do your best work. Do you want to hike the rocky trail where you need to pay attention to every step or the clear path where you can stroll unencumbered? Physically clear your work space so that it’s a comfortable or find a space that is. I had a client once who went to the library to find a quiet space to study without interruptions. If you are over twenty, when was the last time you went to a library to do your work? Find some clear space.

3. Satisfice. This concept was proposed by Dr. Barry Schwartz and summarized by Emilia Lahti as “Satisficing simply means to not obsess about trying to maximize every single task outcome and ROI.” In the last 30 years, your local grocery store has gone from 9,000 choices of products to about 40,000 choices. That is an explosion of choices when the average person buys about 100 core products. I shop once a week. I make a list for all my meals for the week and then purchase them all on Saturday morning. I try and minimize the amount of time I am surrounded by the onslaught of choices and I’m OK if my bananas aren’t green by Wednesday. I satisfice.

4. Minimize decisions. In Daniel Levitin’s book, The Organized Mind, he wrote that when Warren Buffet travels he eats Oreos and milk for breakfast. He doesn’t want to think or spend time trying to figure out the optimum breakfast. So when he’s in a hotel in New York City, he has Oreos and milk for breakfast. Done. Now on to his best work. Don’t clutter your head with unnecessary decisions. I actually eat the same thing for breakfast during the week (a berry smoothie but I might need to give Warren’s a try). Don’t spend your energy on small decisions.

5. Sleep on it. Levitin posits that sleeping on something improves your thinking. Studies have shown that participants learning rubric’s cubes and Tetris exhibited improved performance after a night of sleep. Your unconscious mind works on it overnight and has the ability to make new connections in your neural pathways. The participants were able to double their success rates after one night of sleep. Maybe this is why the SAT exams are first thing in the morning? Now this isn’t going to happen through osmosis. Don’t put a Spanish dictionary under your pillow and cross your fingers. You need to spend focused time on the topic before sleeping on it. Grab your pillow!

6. Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s book, Flow, is all about optimal performance. Flow is the state of consciousness where you are engaged, creative and completely immersed in your work. There are ways to set yourself up for flow. Find meaning in your work. Tie it to your purpose, make sure it’s challenging and that you feel qualified for the challenge. If I don’t think I can hike for 3 hours, or that my boots are on their last legs, I won’t be able to find flow.

7. Task. Only focus on the one task. As Levitin described, trying to multitask actually burns glucose in our brains. When we try to talk on the phone and go through our inbox at the same time, we are depleting nutrients in our brain. Our anxiety and cortisol levels go up. You end up feeling exhausted which leads to impulsive, poor decisions. Task switching just means you are doing more things only half way (or less). You never get to the top of the mountain if you are constantly switching trails. Stay on task.

I have to say that when I write, I follow these guidelines. I block off time on Saturday and Sunday morning to sit down and write. I spend several nights reflecting on what I want to write. When I’ve tried to write on a Wednesday afternoon after a long day of work or break it up over several days, the end product is not as good. I think I’ve found the right path. How do you do your best work?