Bright Lights, Dim Prospects & Daunting News

One of the basics of sleep hygiene is to sleep in a darkened room. Kind of a no-brainer.

However, what is a common reason people wake up in the night? If you’re like me, it’s often to go to the bathroom. Where are the brightest lights in your whole house? Likely the bathroom. Imagine the signal these bright lights are sending to your sleep systems?

Maybe you wake up for some other reason and next thing you know, you’re scrolling on your phone. Many are aware there’s a way to switch it from Light to Dark mode so perhaps the light won’t interfere with you getting back to sleep – too much.

Yet, what is the content you’re reading? Is it news? Social media? Is it something that might alert or arouse your nervous system or thoughts… late at night? Both, seem to have a way to wind things up for many.

These are a few of the things we will be exploring in Rest & Restore: Strategies for Sleep that begins Feb 16th. Each Tuesday night we’ll dig into some of the research around sleep. Then, explore some practices to help calm your sleep systems or change some unsupportive sleep patterns. Add in some quiet time and finally an opportunity to ask questions, connect with others should that be of interest you.

Though the sessions will be on Zoom, if you’re not a Zoom user or are experiencing Zoom fatigue, everything will be available for you to view on your own schedule, at your own convenience on the Teach:able platform.

The chicken or the egg?

This question about what comes first. The onset of chronic pain (and/or other conditions) from sleep disturbance or the relevance of sleep disturbance due to chronic pain?

Here’s some of what we know about sleep …

Sleep complaints are present in 67-88% of chronic pain disorders and at least 50% of individuals with insomnia – the most commonly diagnosed disorder of sleep impairment – suffer from chronic pain. Further, both chronic pain and sleep disturbances share an array of physical and mental health comorbidities, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and depression.” 1

One study found that “women who endorse frequent, “sleep problems,” defined as frequently difficult falling asleep or having a sleep disorder, were significantly more likely to develop fibromyalgia 10 years later.” 2

Also, in another how “sleep disturbance temporally preceded increases in pain, … in “temporomandibular disorder (TMD).” 3

Similar research is being conducted in terms of cancer pain, for depression, PTSD and ageing (including Alzheimer’s and dementia).

I knew poor sleep to be a contributing factor for people who live with chronic pain. What I didn’t know was how it affects not only physical health but mental health.

What’s piqued my interest is in new studies where a trend has emerged suggesting that sleep disturbance may be a stronger predictor for pain than pain of sleep disturbance.” 4

…several longitudinal studies convincingly demonstrate that insomnia symptoms significantly increase the risk of developing future chronic pain disorders in previously pain-free individuals, whereas existing pain is not a strong predictor of new incident cases of insomnia.” 5

Not just a stronger predictor for pain, but also in terms of mental health conditions.

This bidirectionality or said another way, “what came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Lots of studies to examine obviously, but here’s one on the positive side “Quality sleep has also been shown to predict chronic widespread pain symptom resolution over 15 months.” 6

Researchers will continue to find out more and doctors will refer out to specialists in many areas. Pretty much the gold standard for treating insomnia now is CBTi or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.

Yet, there are things you can learn to do for yourself, that will help.

Curious about this? Exploring some practices, tools and gaining resources that can support you in getting a better night’s sleep. What stress and the nervous system have to do with sleep? Or how you might find rest during the day?

I’m offering a 4-week workshop starting Feb. 16th at 7:30pm ET.

You’ll have some time and space to explore, experience what might be helpful for you all in the comfort of your own home. Online. Change into some comfy clothes, grab a warm cup of herbal tea and join in. Anyone can follow along. We’ll be rolling on the floor a little, expending energy maybe by rocking and swaying, taking some breaths together. And learning “all the things your parents/doctors/friends/colleagues never told you… about sleep.” There’s a lot more to it than just laying your head down on a pillow, each night.

References:

  1. Finan PH, Goodin BR, Smith MT. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. J Pain. 2013;14(12):1539-1552. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2013.08.007
  2. Mork PJ, Nilsen TI. Sleep problems and risk of fibromyalgia: longitudinal data on an adult female population in Norway. Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Jan;64(1):281-4. doi: 10.1002/art.33346. PMID: 22081440.
  3. Quartana PJ, Wickwire EM, Klick B, Grace E, Smith MT. Naturalistic changes in insomnia symptoms and pain in temporomandibular joint disorder: a cross-lagged panel analysis. Pain. 2010 May;149(2):325-331. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.02.029. Epub 2010 Mar 31. PMID: 20359824.
  4. Finan PH, Goodin BR, Smith MT. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. J Pain. 2013;14(12):1539-1552. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2013.08.007
  5. Finan PH, Goodin BR, Smith MT. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. J Pain. 2013;14(12):1539-1552. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2013.08.007
  6. K. A. Davies, G. J. Macfarlane, B. I. Nicholl, C. Dickens, R. Morriss, D. Ray, J. McBeth Restorative sleep predicts the resolution of chronic widespread pain: results from the EPIFUND study. Rheumatology (Oxford) 2008 Dec; 47(12): 1809–1813. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/ken389

You’re not sleeping either?

woman in red long sleeve shirt sitting on chair while leaning on laptop
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Did you know “chronic insomnia is highly prevalent and affects approximately 30% of the general population?” 1

Or, that “approximately 40% of adults with insomnia also have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder – most notably depression?” 2

That “sleep complaints are present in 67-88% of chronic pain disorders?” 3

I was aware of the third statistic, that sleep can be a contributing factor for people living with chronic pain. But why my interest in sleep, generally? I had (mostly) been a good sleeper yet started to experience disruptions to my sleep patterns over the past few years. Along came menopause and similar to many others I found myself in a cycle of wakefulness around 2, 3, 4 in the morning and went looking for solutions.

Last fall, however, something else happened. On a Facebook page I belong to, the subject of sleep was brought up. Well, the lack thereof.

I was curious if it was only menopausal women who were struggling with sleep, so I created a random poll. Within an hour or so, there were hundreds of responses.

  • 404 responses
  • 74 comments about issues with sleep.
  • 224 neither menopausal or perimenopausal
  • 95 perimenopausal
  • 51 menopausal
  • 34 ‘other reasons’

Clearly a problem for many but I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t only my age group challenged by this issue. The poll wasn’t scientific and could just reflect the ages of people in the Facebook group. Yet, wow!

Of course people will at times need specific diagnosis, treatment and care from healthcare professionals. Yet, digging into some of the research and after some of the behavioral or environmental factors are addressed with general sleep hygiene information, a lot of what affects sleep has to do with stress and the nervous system (and other systems… circadian, homeostasis, etc.). Which you can learn to influence and modulate.

Would you be interested in exploring this thing called sleep? Safely, gently, with compassion and care you’ll get to experience and learn what might be helpful for you. In your own home, cozy in your pajamas … having some time and space to do so.

A 4-week workshop Rest & Restore: Strategies for Sleep starts Feb 16th!

What are the many factors or contributors that affect sleep? What does the research tell us? What can you do during the day, that will affect your sleep at night? What can you do when waking up from sleep? How might you find some rest in the day, if your sleep wasn’t that great?

If you’d like to join in, registration is now open.

I’ve tried to make it affordable at just $20 each week. If finances are really tight, reach out to me at info@yogatoolsforlife.com. If finances are plentiful, please reach out as well and look to sponsor someone else.

I’d love for you to join in. Experience and learn what might can be helpful, for you.

References:

1. Roth T. Insomnia: definition, prevalence, etiology, and consequences. J Clin Sleep Med. 2007;3(5 Suppl):S7-S10.

2. Roth T. Insomnia: definition, prevalence, etiology, and consequences. J Clin Sleep Med. 2007;3(5 Suppl):S7-S10.

3. Finan PH, Goodin BR, Smith MT. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. J Pain. 2013;14(12):1539-1552. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2013.08.007

Pay attention, to what?

Let’s look at a couple more practices you might consider to use in the evening. And why.

If you’re ever in a class or a private session with me you will hear me speak about the brain and the nervous system. Which might be unusual, when thinking about pain. Normally people will talk about tissue, bones, structure. Research over the last 10-20 years tells us pain is much more complex than the state of these ‘pieces of your body’.

Your brain, which kinda runs the show in terms of keeping you alive, is all about your survival. Which is a good thing. The problem is, it tells us something is up but it doesn’t always provide specifics or what we might do about sensation or messages we receive.

Whether physical health or mental health, however, your brain is looking out for your best interests. Which is why when you can’t seem to take your attention away from your pain, suffering, concerning thoughts or stressors, it makes sense when you think about it. It is drawing your attention, purposely to these things. It wants you to act in some way. To do something.

Sometimes, you might know what to do and choose to take action. It’s obvious. If you pick up a hot pan without gloves, your brain is saying you should have put potholders on prior to doing so. If you have a broken ankle, it is telling you to seek treatment and take some time to allow for healing. If you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, your brain – and subsequently your physiology – will send some kind of signal. You might feel motivated, mobilized, prepared and confident. Or you might feel anxious, butterflies in the stomach, strain in your jaw, neck or shoulders. In each, you receive information about your state of being concerning what is about to happen or what has occurred.

The number one thing pain or any other sensation you might feel in your body is trying to do, is to get you to listen. To get you to pay attention.

Usually working in the background without any of your awareness at all, the brain is constantly monitoring your physiology and making adjustments accordingly as required. It’s releasing hormones, sending messages to move certain muscles, signals that tell you when to eat, or sleep. It adjusts your blood pressure, regulates your temperature. Creates enzymes to digest your food. Tells you when to poop. Well, it does right?

The thing about pain, however, is it’s sending a message but often you can’t figure out what’s up. What you’re supposed to do. It’s hard, it takes time to figure it out. To explore what’s needed or right for you.

But back to this paying attention. What can you do when you’re in the thick of it? Particularly when you’re trying to sleep at night (and let me just add that the correlation between sleep and pain is huge).

How might you distract your brain, how might you shift your focus onto something else? At least for the time being. Well, there is a longer explanation that involves the Homunculus Man (above picture) but I won’t delve into it too much here. Rather, offer a couple practices you might like to try.

This, using the sounds SaTaNaMa was taught to me a couple years ago and it combines the rhythmic movement of your breath with the rhythmic movements of your jaw and fingers and rhythmic sounds. You can check it out here. I’ve had clients tell me it can be quite helpful when they are really in the thick of a painful experience/episode, flare-up. Or if you wake up in the night and immediately feel pain.

You might practice something like nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, for 5-10 minutes before bed. You can practice it sitting up if preferred but you might also do so when laying in bed (or if you wake in the night), using your fingers to close the nostrils. This practice also engages the hands, breath, the face (nose).

All these areas send a lot of sensory information to the brain. Your senses are used to take in information, that helps with your survival. Think about noxious toxins you might smell, seeing danger, touching something dangerous, your sense of taste in terms of toxins or allergens particular to you, hearing a predator in the distance. The brain pays particular attention to these areas so if you can engage the brain, have it pay attention to a ‘safe’ activity it might, just might, change your pain. Allow for some calming, easier breathing. Switch from a danger, or mobilized state in your nervous system to a more safe, restful place.

Or maybe you use one of the Apps available like Calm or Insight Timer that grabs your brain’s attention. Listen to some calming, soothing music. Or perhaps use the smell of an essential oil that for you, might trigger a response that it’s time to sleep and safe to do so.

Let me know if you give any of these a try and how it goes. I hope you find them useful in some way.

More than one thing

Taking a brief pause again until Monday, Dec 7th before offering up some evening practices. If you’ve been following along you might want to return to some of the daytime options below.

Nov. 23 What goes unnoticed

Nov. 24   Riding the waves

Nov. 26   Move. Maybe slowly, softly, gently

Nov. 27   Nourishment

Nov. 29   Re-store. Re-set. Re-new.

Nov. 30   Transitions

Or to the morning practice options as noted here.

Again, this is not to say you should be doing “ALL OF THE THINGS”. Particularly as some of THE THINGS likely won’t resonate or feel right for you in your life as it is today. We all have different lives, environments, needs, bodies, histories.

Which is why getting curious and exploratory can be useful rather than having someone tell you this is THE THING that will work for you. In my experience, if THE THING worked for everyone we wouldn’t have 1 in 4 people living with chronic pain, or so many other conditions or concerns. What if you’re told ‘just do this’ and it doesn’t work? Maybe you end up feeling like you failed in some way (once again), rather than perhaps it wasn’t what was right for you.

If you’d like the opportunity to work with me, I currently offer private 1:1 sessions. Stay tuned for new offerings coming your way in the New Year! Sign up on the yogatoolsforlife website, or follow along on Facebook or Instagram.

Move. Maybe slowly, softly, gently.

All of this noticing, listening in to your body, your feelings and thoughts might provide some direction or suggestions in terms of movement for the day.

We were built to move yet it seems through all our modern conveniences we don’t have to do a lot of it these days. Like who can recall even having to get up to physically change the channel on the TV? Seems so long ago.

We’re told, we all know, we’re supposed to exercise for good health. That word, exercise, seems to have a negative connotation to it for many. These days, I tend to think of movement instead of exercise and try to frame it as something I get to do. And even not so much what I do as long as I DO SOMETHING.

Yet, especially for people who live with pain, even thinking about moving can be daunting. Often it seems to be the thing that aggravates or brings on their pain. I often wonder if people say, “Yoga, for pain? You must be kidding.” I get that. Particularly in the way yoga is portrayed throughout the media.

Yet, you might begin to move slowly. Softly, gently. You might even just imagine movement to begin with. Consider finding that felt sense of safety I spoke of here. If you can begin from your place of safety, it might just change things up for you.

Listening in to what you notice in your body can be a helpful guide. Today, you might feel unwell, fatigued or overwhelmed so choose do less in terms of movement. Or in ways that feel really easeful. If you happen to feel energized, or perhaps are feeling some anxiety it might feel good to move a lot! The important part is noticing the difference and and learning to respond in a way that best suits your needs.

In our culture, there is often just this push to do more. Not to rest. Conversely, that people aren’t trying hard enough. I wonder if we might just listen in and (re)learn what might be useful to each individual in any given moment, rather than what is often the expectations and judgements placed upon them.

What might serve you best in this moment? On this day?

Riding the Waves

I can imagine it is difficult these days to feel safe. Find stable ground.

Creating a sense of safety for yourself, like anything, will be unique to you based on your life, your history, experience or environment. Now more than ever, probably a challenge.

For me, getting close to the ground helps. That is, literally. close to the ground. Sitting on the floor with lots of support below helps me to feel secure. Find stability. Another way for me is to find something familiar. That might be my breath. Noticing each inhale, each exhale. Yet for someone who is asthmatic or perhaps experiences anxiety, focusing on the breath might not be ‘the thing’.

Maybe it’s sitting next to your dog, or cat. Perhaps feeling the rhythm of their breath, their purring helps calm your nervous system. Providing that felt sense of safety. We often do that with those we love and care for. Just ‘being with’ them, sitting next to, holding each other’s gaze. Hearing a soft familiar voice might be soothing.

What is helpful to you? You might want to notice that during your day. And if you feel safe, how do you know that? What do you notice or feel in your body? Maybe your breath is long and slow, your muscles soft and relaxed. Your heart rate or blood pressure isn’t noticeable.

If you’re finding it hard to notice, try the opposite. It might be a different experience and one not always welcome but what do you feel, when you’re not safe? How do you know that? Where do you feel it? Hard to breathe, muscles tense, heart beating fast, sweaty palms?

What do you notice about your pain, in either of these states? Or your emotions, thoughts? It might be something worthwhile exploring, during your days. Having an anchor, a place or practice to go to when it feels like these big waves keep crashing down one after another, relentless at times, can be useful.

Hopefully the days will become more certain in the months to come, but it the meantime, this might be a useful practice to cultivate.

#dailypractice #daytime #safety #grounding #stability #breath #waves #uncertainty

What goes unnoticed?

It surely does not look like this out my window today. I have yet to venture out into the snow that landed over night but I will at some point. You see, I find great pleasure in being outside in the fresh, crisp air but also as nature helps me with the practice of noticing the subtle, or smallest things.

Which can be really helpful if you’re someone who lives with pain.

If we understand pain to be a protective system, it makes total sense that pain wants your attention. The most important thing for your brain to focus on ALL DAY LONG long is keeping you safe and alive. Top priority. Your brain is constantly monitoring all the systems in the body, slowing things down, speeding things up, secreting hormones and enzymes, adjusting the nervous system to respond to what is required in any given moment. Telling you when to sleep, to drink, to eat, to move. Providing messages, clues.

Throughout the day you may notice when you are in pain. For some people this may be, or feel like, it’s all day long. 24/7. But I suspect for many there are times when you don’t feel pain. Moments, minutes or days perhaps.

I wonder if you might notice when you don’t experience pain.

I invite you to notice those moments. And get curious. Why, perhaps, are you not experiencing pain just now? This practice of noticing, provides clues.

What makes your day, your life, feel more easeful? Safe, perhaps. Comfortable, pleasurable. Less painful.

Spend some time, noticing that. I’d love to hear how it goes.

If this is something you’re interested in exploring, I offer private 1:1 sessions via Zoom. Click here, for more information or arrange for a free 15-min conversation.

#daytimepractice #daytime #noticing #painsystem #chronicpain #easeful #comfort #pleasure

Ease, into morning

Hard to imagine what it felt like so long ago… sitting through a long-haul flight, train ride or long drive to go visit far off friends, in far off places. I’m sure so many, miss it a lot. Yet at the same time the trip itself may have been uncomfortable. Feeling constrained. Unbearable at times. You might get a sense of a similar feeling sitting through endless zoom meetings, or just cooped-up wherever you find yourself most of the day.

You might feel stiff. Sore. Boxed in. If you’re a little older like me, it may take more time or effort to get moving easefully after a long bout of inactivity.  

The same might be said when waking from sleep in the morning. Unless you happen to be a big mover while you sleep, I wonder if you’re rather stationary for the most part? If so, what might be a nourishing way to move your body before getting out of bed?

How might you make the transition from laying in bed to being upright in gravity, a little more easeful?

Come along for this short movement practice. Some of which you may like, some of which you may not. But it might inspire you to move just a little…  making the transition from stillness to mobility, ready to begin the day.

I DON’T DO ALL THESE THINGS.

Yet, as a minimum, I do a few movements with my feet. They are where I tend to hold tension so I like to give them some time, space and gentle movement before I step into the day. It seems to be a good thing.  

What might you notice, what might feel Just Right, For You?

#morningpractice #mornings #move #gentlemovement #wrists #hands #arms #legs #feet, #ankles #time #space #goslow #startsmall #JRFU #JustRightForYou #yogatherapy #yogatoolsforlife

Pause, notice

Next week we’ll move on to practices you might consider during your day but today is another morning practice, a check-in. Something to consider, explore.

Before getting out of bed,… pause

What do you notice in your body? What do you feel? How do you feel?

Based on that, what might be your intention going forward for the day?

Do you feel tired? Perhaps that means a day of more rest. Doing just a little. Taking it easy and giving yourself a break from all you had planned. Maybe, do less.

Do you feel pretty good? Well rested? Maybe this will be a day you have more energy, less pain. What might that mean for you today?

Maybe you decide to sit and meditate for a few minutes. Prayer, may be a practice that is helpful to you. Reading a poem, might make sense to you. It might be through meditation, prayer or reading you gain some insight into how you feel.

You might still be unsure.

Feelings can be difficult to figure out. What tells you, you’re feeling depleted? Or rested? Or anxious, stressed out? Energized?

What do you feel in your body and where do you feel it? For many reasons we tend to spend a lot of time in our head, mind, with our thoughts. Listening to the signals and sensations of your body, might provide some other clues. For instance, how do you know you’re thirsty? Hungry? Tired? In love?

Tomorrow we’ll add in some movement which is another way in, to this noticing.