Sleep Hygiene

Do you find yourself tossing and turning in bed for hours before finally falling asleep? Do you wake up multiple times throughout the night for no reason? Do you get up in the morning feeling less than well-rested? Small adjustments to your daily and nightly habits can make remarkable differences in your sleep, causing these problems to dissipate over time. Such sleep habits can collectively be referred to as “sleep hygiene,” and here are some suggestions to improve yours!

  1. Avoid napping, as it makes falling asleep at night harder. If you feel that you must nap to make it through your day, do so earlier as opposed to later, and limit your nap to 30 minutes.
  2. Use the bed only for sleeping and sex. This helps your body and mind associate your bed with sleep rather than other activities. Then, when you get in bed at night, it sends the signal to your brain that it is time to fall asleep.
  3. Cut off screen time an hour before bed. The artificial blue light emitted from electronic devices suppresses the release of melatonin, the body’s sleep-inducing hormone, and thus messes with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Many devices now have a night-shift mode, in which you can set your device to emit a warmer light at a certain time each night. Making use of this is helpful.
  4. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine within 6 hours of bedtime.
  5. Exercise, but not right before bed! Exercise is extremely helpful for sleep except for when it is done within a couple hours of bedtime. The adrenaline released from working out makes it difficult to wind down.
  6. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every night and morning, including weekends and days off as much as possible. Your sleep-wake cycle relies on consistency.
  7. Establish a bedtime routine. This could involve meditating, taking a bath, reading a relaxing book, or listening to soothing music before bed. It could also involve small things, such as laying out your clothes for the next day or putting on your favorite-scented lotion. Participating in these activities serves to separate sleep time from the more stressful or exciting activities of your day. Over time, these activities will become associated with bedtime, and doing them will cue your brain and body that it is time for sleep.
  8. Ensure your bedtime environment is conducive to sleep. This involves creating a dark, quiet, cool sleeping area. If there is uncontrollable noise, consider getting a sound machine, fan, or noise-cancelling headphones, or using comfortable ear plugs.
  9. Avoid using sleep medication when possible. They can create a dependency and worsen sleep problems over time.

Some of these habits may not be achievable for you right now, but sleep hygiene does not have to be perfected in order to be improved. Focus on the adjustments that are doable for you, and within weeks you should see improvements in the quality and quantity of your sleep.

From Codependence to Healthy Interdependence

Is your emotional well-being reliant on one or a few people in your life? Maybe it’s a romantic partner. Maybe it’s a family member or a very close friend. Here are some signs you are experiencing codependency: you are hyper-aware of how you are making others feel and how they are making you feel; you feel responsible for the emotions or actions of others; you (perhaps unconsciously) attempt to control the behavior of others; you have low self-worth; you feel loved or needed through fixing others’ problems; you have difficulty saying “no”; you are a people-pleaser; all your focus is placed on your partner or other people; you betray yourself for others; you feel like you give more than you receive; you have a fear of rejection or abandonment; you are indecisive and fear you will regret any choices you make; you are scared of being truthful to yourself and others.

So, what does healthy interdependence look like in relationships? Interdependence involves recognizing the importance of the bond you share with other individuals, but showing up in those relationships as a whole, complete individual. Interdependent partners communicate well, are not demanding of one another, and feel worthy outside of that relationship.

How do you move away from codependence and toward interdependence? The first step is recognizing that you are not responsible for the actions and feelings of others, and they are not responsible for yours. Draw your focus inward, and do the work to meet your own needs first. Begin setting boundaries for yourself; know that it is not selfish to take time just for yourself or say “no” when it feels right. Engage in self-care. Do something for you, without the goal of receiving validation from others. Speak your truth, even if it is scary. Take accountability for your emotions and fears, and begin to understand the underlying reasons for them. Most importantly, be patient and kind with yourself, because shifting dependency patterns can be a scary, time-consuming process. Remember that your relationships will become healthier and more fulfilling as you do the work.

Why is meditation so powerful?

We hear the advice to meditate all the time. We are told (or perhaps have experienced) that meditating helps us relax, improves our focus, deepens our sleep, increases our productivity, reduces our stress, and even boosts our immune systems. It seems like a fix-it-all, miracle cure. How can something so simple do all of this at once?

The reason meditation is so powerful is that it causes shifts in our awareness. Many people over-identify with their thoughts and emotions, which can prolong them and make them feel bigger than they are. Specific thoughts or feelings can agonize us for days on end. Such pervasive thoughts and intense emotions can culminate in all types of problems, including stress, anxiety, and depression. It is important to recognize that we are not our thoughts and feelings. Habitual meditation helps us realize that we are just the vessels through which they flow. We are the consciousness that experiences them, but we do not have to attach ourselves to them. We begin to feel bigger than our thoughts and emotions, and we are able to take back the control. We gain the capacity to zoom out and find inner-peace during times of difficulty.

If this convinced you to give meditation a try, do this simple exercise today. Find a comfortable position, perhaps lying on your back. Set an alarm for five minutes. Close your eyes and imagine a river running through your mind. Hear the sounds the running water makes. Feel the current sweeping through your brain. There are leaves floating down the river. Each time you have a thought, place it on one of the leaves. Let the thought go as the leaf flows away. At the end of the five minutes, slowly open your eyes. Notice how easy or difficult it was for you to let go of your thoughts as they arose. If you repeat this meditation daily, you’ll notice how much easier it becomes, both during the meditation and in daily life.

How Do We See Others

We can often spend a lot of time worrying about how others perceive us. Does this outfit look good? Do I project confidence when I speak? Does my boss realize I am falling asleep in this meeting? But how often do you reflect on how you see others? Do you judge people by easily accessible information (the clothes they wear, their haircut, facial expression) or do you wait to form an opinion? Do certain qualities or characteristics influence your perspective? Or do you see people independently of the country they are from, the places they worship, and the stores they shop at? The world we live in seems to become more polarized by the day and demands we filter information quickly, but does that approach really serve in our best interest? Can you spare a moment to step back, take a deep breath, and consider all the pieces before passing judgement?

The Changing of the Leaves

September marks the start of Fall, bringing with it a number of changes to the world around us. Green leaves change to vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red. The heat of summer makes way for the cool breezes of Autumn. How do you deal with changes in your life? Maybe you are a prepper, anticipating problems and finding solutions like a squirrel stashing nuts for winter. Perhaps you wait and see, going with the flow like a leaf in the breeze. Do you put off changes until the last moment, holding on to your old ways and only changing when you have no other option? Do you dive right in, like a child excited for their first day of school? Maybe you deny change all together, refusing to get a new jacket because your old one works just fine, despite the coffee stain. Whatever your strategy, know that change will always be there and anything can change, including how we deal with it. 

The Double-Standard in our Mind

Take a moment to think about the last time you made a mistake. Maybe you forgot to do something or thought the actions you took were right, only to learn otherwise. How did you react? What did the voice inside your head say? “I’m so stupid?” “What a dumb thing to do?” “I can’t do anything right?” Now think about the last time a friend made a mistake and how upset they were. How did you talk to them? Was it the same way you react to your own mistakes? Odds are you reacted the way any good friend would, offering encouragement and support, and maybe a good-natured ribbing to lighten the mood. Why is it so easy for us to support a friend, but so hard to support ourselves? How can we take that same compassion and turn it inward? The next time you find yourself making a mistake, ask yourself, “What would I say if it was someone else?”

Criticism vs Feedback

How do we communicate when something needs to change? If we disapprove of another’s methods or know the solution is wrong, how do we get that across to others? Do we use criticism or feedback? It is likely some of us consider these two sides of the same coin, but there are important differences between each. Criticism keeps the focus on the wrong action. It communicates who or what we believe is at fault and places a judgement on the actions of others. Feedback may find fault in a particular action and still holds someone or something accountable, but provides ideas and instruction for improvement. When we give feedback, we provide a roadmap to what we want to see and do not make personal judgments on particular actions, just ways things could be done better. Think back to the last time you made a mistake and which types of comments were more helpful. Was it the critical, problem-focused comments? Or was it the solution-focused suggestions for improvement?

Tracing our Path

Where do you see yourself one year from now? How about five years? 10 years? Exploring these questions may seem like a daunting task, but are ultimately an important exercise. Take where you are now, for example. Reflect back on the decisions you made that got you here. How did you wind up in your current home, place of employment, or current relationship? Were these things you planned for? Or did some of them seem to materialize spontaneously? Are they things you want to keep? Or are they ripe for change? Regardless if there are things you want to change or not, it is important to ask yourself if the decisions you are making are in service of that one, five, or ten year plan.

Forgiveness

Anger is an emotion that can rise at various times in our everyday lives. You may be angry at that driver who cut you off, waiting for an appointment that is running late, or even a home appliance that isn’t working quite right, but what is all of that anger bringing you? Despite the fact that you might feel justified in anger when something isn’t going your way, you’re actually allowing for extra stress on your emotional and physical health. Anger can stress out your heart, increase your risk of stroke, weaken your immune system, and put strain on your relationships! These issues are compounded when we don’t find a way to release or let go of that anger in appropriate ways. How do you unwind when things start to set you off? Do you need a physical release, such as a good run, a round with a punching bag, or lifting weights? Do you find that talking through issues with a friend, family member, or partner helps you clear your mind?  Do you take the time to unwind with calming music, a warm bath, or a good book? Whatever your method, take a moment to remind yourself that whatever is angering you can be overcome. As a wise man once said, “You’ve made it through every ‘worst day of your life’ thus far!”

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…

As warmer weather approaches, you are likely finding yourself confronted with several decisions to make. Am I going to take a trip this summer? Can I afford one? Should I take care of that yardwork now or wait until it gets warmer? It can be good to know how we approach the decision-making process and play to our strengths. Are you someone who likes to list out pros and cons, having all the information right in front of you? Do you compile options and pick from an assortment of choices? Do you prefer to “go with your gut” and choose what feels right in that moment? Do you have others you turn to for sage wisdom? Knowing how we handle even the smallest of decisions can help us when we reach times of crisis.