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

Just, Calm Down

It was probably my first year as a yoga teacher, 10 years ago now, when I had a student in my class I so clearly recall would get up and leave as soon as it was time for Savasana. I’ve been trying to remember what I offered her in terms of advice but it escapes me now. Likely, I didn’t have much to offer. Yet I did empathize and understand why she left, unable to stay in this ‘corpse pose’ as it’s often called.

Ask the same of people when they are told to “just” sit still and meditate. Particularly if they’re experiencing anxiety, or high levels of stress and notice what happens.

Or telling a young child having a full-blown meltdown to “just” calm down.

The last thing anyone can do in these moments is calm down. There are likely to be many reasons for the state in which people find themselves and can’t calm themselves, but the ‘state’ is the important piece.

If someone is in a state of arousal, a natural nervous system response, telling them to do the opposite may not be helpful. It might add to the stress or leave them feeling ashamed about not being able to control their emotions or behavior. All this movement, powerful breathwork (sobbing), yelling, screaming, stomping of feet, tossing and turning the body in an attempt to express feelings and emotions going on inside (insert here: toddler meltdown).

There are some ways, practices or movements that enable calming down or a relaxation response. But it might be something just the opposite that’s needed to even begin this shift. Maybe what was needed, in this particular situation, is a mobilized response. We need both… to survive and engage in the wide variety of experience life is going to throw our way.

Recognizing the state is the first piece. Having some tools and options to choose from that might be helpful to you in the moment, could be a good thing to practice.

Today, I would have a few suggestions should this person turn up in my yoga class and find it a struggle being in corpse pose.

I’m kicking off a workshop in February all about SLEEP. Deep rest. How one might get to a place of settling in… for the night. Or for Savasana. Or if you’re having a hard time with routine, uncertainty, stress in these days you might find it helpful as well. I’d love for you to join in so stay tuned here, or you can sign up at yogatoolsforlife.com.

Habits of ours. Helpful or not?

What else might you do to prepare for sleep?

You might want to get a little curious about current habits. Perhaps life-long ones.

For example, I have never showered or bathed at night as I prefer it in the morning to get set for the day. It also helps me to wake up. But I am finding lately that a warm shower at night, the warmth feels awfully good. Perhaps it feels, or symbolizes in some way, that I’m washing away the day and stepping into sleep renewed. Refreshed.

Sipping on a warm beverage might be appealing. A herbal tea, water, lemon & honey, warm milk on its own or with turmeric. These might feel soothing and satisfying for you in some way. A ritual that becomes a way to mark the end of day, the coming into rest and restoration.

Maybe a foot massage might feel good. I have no formal training in massage, yet I’ve been doing this for a while now. It only takes a couple of minutes, but there is something about the massaging of the feet that makes me go “ahhhhhhhh……..”. I have to say in our travels that anywhere and everywhere we see foot massage on offer, people are lined up and waiting!

You can incorporate using oil with the massage, maybe even warming the oil beforehand. I tend to use almond oil, but you might like coconut or another of your choice.  I don’t choose to warm the oil, but rather just pour a little on my hands and then massage my feet in any old way, for about 3-5 minutes on each foot. (You’ll want to put some loose socks on afterwards, so as not to get oil on your bedsheets.) Then just notice… Try doing this 3 times a week and see what it feels like for you. I have noticed that while others may hold tension in their jaw, their shoulders, back or hips the tension I feel, what keeps me awake at night, is the inability to relax my feet.

Other soft, turning-inwards things you might try?

Sit by candlelight. Our natural circadian rhythms are disrupted by all the artificial light surrounding and available to us. Then there are all these screens. Do you know there are night settings you can change on your phone or laptop so you’re not having to stare at such a bright screen?

You might read, color, knit, or some other quiet, introspective activity. We tend to spend a LOT of time on screens these days, so anything other than, might be a place to explore.

Tomorrow we’ll lean into some practices you can do when nothing else works. When you are frustrated, can’t get to sleep, can’t get back to sleep. It’s all about distraction. How might we get our brain to turn off, or at least shift the focus of attention to something else.

Turning off, turning in

If you’re feeling stressed or wound up at the end of your day it might be helpful to notice, perhaps try to shift it, BEFORE trying to head off to sleep.

Let me preface this by saying you may not be ready for slow, restful or focusing-in practices. It may be that you feel the need to move in ways that burn off energy. Maybe rocking or swaying from side-to-side, bouncing a little, shaking things out. Perhaps some dancing in the dark… might be what’s needed in the moment.

However, if you’d like to try some ways to calm the nervous system you might practice one of these restful poses. Or maybe do them after the movement mentioned above. Something like legs up the wall, providing support and perhaps release for the back muscles, or tension elsewhere in the body. Or maybe the beginnings of turning inward, so a forward fold on a chair, or over a bolster.

This doesn’t have to take a long time. You may want to stay in one of these poses for 5 to 10 minutes. See what happens.

Notice the length and the quality of your breath. Notice if it shifts at all, while in the pose.

Notice your thoughts. Feelings.

Maybe it’s helpful for you to listen to calming music, be in a place with lowered, soft lighting.

Taking a few minutes may help to make the transition into sleep a little more easeful. Try it. I’d love to know if anything changes at all for you.

Balancing Act

In preparation for sleep at the end of your day, it might be another time to check in with how you’re feeling.

You might feel fully exhausted, in which case you may have an easier time falling asleep. Yet, even if you’re physically exhausted there is also a possibility of being in a mobilized, or upregulated state in your nervous system.

  • You may have been going full speed ahead with what feels like a million things required of you on any given day. Trying to balance what seems like never-ending demands.
  • Maybe you’ve just had an emotional or stress-filled conversation with someone.
  • You might be feeling some of the long-term stress from these strange times of Covid-19.
  • Maybe you ate a big meal late in the evening as you didn’t had time to do so, earlier.

Your body, your physiology, automatically changes and/or responds to what is going on, what is required in a given moment of time. First of all it takes some awareness to even notice what the state of being, or the state of your nervous system, is. If you’re in fight, flight or freeze (a more sympathetic nervous system response) sleep might not come so easily. However, if you can learn to shift into a more parasympathetic type response (the rest and digest response) it might make the transition to sleep more easeful.

The first step is in the noticing.

Perhaps you can do a body scan to notice what you feel. Bringing your awareness slowly to each part of your body, noticing any sensation you feel or any thoughts or feelings that arise as you do this. Or you may come to know through noticing the quality of your breath. Or perhaps noticing your thoughts and emotions.

People often have difficult going to sleep. More so these days, I find. You might want to look at it, approach it, in a way that requires some preparation. We need both types of nervous systems responses. We have stresses in our life, we need to mobilize. Yet, how might we find some balance and what practices might be helpful in the evening to downregulate our system. To allow for rest and build capacity to meet the challenges of our days. What might make the transition, more easeful? We’ll dig into a few this week.

Re-store. Re-set. Re-new.

I remember the first restorative yoga I attended. Taught by the lovely Olivia Kulla, back in my Doha days. I thought I would feel all so sleepy, y’know? After the supportive poses, soft music, candle light. Basically having so much support, someone to “tuck me in” so to say. Allow me to fully rest.

What I didn’t realize is that afterwards I didn’t feel sleepy at all. During, yes. But after I felt energized. Rested. Ready to move forward with whatever I needed to do. It was a fascinating experience.

It was a good lesson in doing less. How less might be more.

Valuable.

Though I no longer practice strength or power styles of yoga like Ashtanga or even a flow-style of yoga I do like to get my sweat on. Take me on a good hike. Some downhill skiing and I’ll be right with you. I’m not against high-powered, cardio building stuff.

Yet, there is something about resting.

Not sleeping. Not watching TV. Not scrolling on the phone. But shutting out what can be overwhelming sensory information that bombards us from every angle these days.

Why not slip into some rest, mid-day? All the suggestions below take only minutes. Like 5 minutes or less. (Though of course if you have more time, you could do them for longer.)

  • A little legs ups the wall, pose.
  • Supported child’s pose (it even sounds sweet and supportive). This, is restorative yoga.
  • A 5 minute meditation. Maybe using an App like Calm or Insight Timer.
  • Stand up and sway from side to side, gazing out the window. Maybe you bounce a little, shake out the arms, legs, fingers, feet.
  • Close your eyes. Massage around your eyes, temples. Maybe into your neck and jaw. The back of your neck.
  • Nadi shodhana or equal nostril breathing. I’ve had clients say how energized they feel after this. However, it might also be used to help fall asleep, so notice how it shifts your energy.
  • My favorite is laying down on the floor. Perhaps a blanket folded, to support the head. Maybe a pillow under my knees which often feels good for the low back. And just rest. I always suggest laying on the floor, rather than a bed, or sofa. If you can notice it, find the support of your body’s structure (bones) on a hard surface. This might allow for the muscles to release any ‘holding’ or tension… and to relax.

Why not do one of these for 5 minutes a day, either before or after lunch (one might feel better for you) and notice what you notice. What feels right and do-able for you?

Restorative yoga. It seems these days it’s often combined with yin, or slow or gentle yoga, or perhaps confused with these. Yet in the trainings I’ve done in the style it’s not about stretching. It’s not about holding. Rather, all about support.

As you can see from the suggestions, it doesn’t have to be restorative yoga but perhaps making some time and space to do something else, take a break, might be useful. What does providing some mid-day support or rest feel like, to you? Let me know how it goes.

Nourishment

Mid-day. I wonder what this time of day feels like for you.

So often, due to work and other commitments people skip lunch, eat on the go. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, that it’s probably the best time to eat your most substantial meal of the day. Perhaps as that is when the ability to digest our food is at its highest.  

I haven’t quite figured this out yet, eating more for lunch and less for the evening meal. Our family always gathers for dinner, early evening, so it tends to be the largest meal of the day. More effort put into it. More time spent. It’s also just a long-worn pattern I’ve held all my life.

I also used to think sitting down and eating a proper lunch was rather a waste of time. There were many times, years in fact, when I didn’t feel like I had the time and space to do so. Or at least I didn’t prioritize it to be that way. Using time meant for nourishment and rest and instead running errands, working harder, filling the time with even MORE TO DO.

Yet, even just stopping and giving some space and time to eat lunch, might be useful. At least in these days, I have found it to be so.

Do you feel like you have time to stop and eat lunch? Do you make it a priority? Do you have a big meal? What are your go-to’s? I’d love to hear your ideas or suggestions.

Next, we’ll explore some simple ways you might also grab some rest, along with nourishment, mid-day. It doesn’t have to take long either. But it might make all the difference. I hope you’ll join me.

Preparing for Slumber

Depending on where you are in the world and your environment, you may notice some changes taking place. A change of season. It is quite obvious where I live as the foliage, the trees and the grasses are all preparing for winter. Transitioning to a new phase. Not only the beauty you can see here but the seasons also provide a steady rhythm to life. Continuity.

When menopause struck and I was suddenly experiencing disrupted sleeps, yet another transition. A new season. I couldn’t help but recall another stage of life gone by, the early days of parenthood. Those feelings of being absolutely depleted, exhausted. I can only surmise my dreary eyes gazing upon those loving baby faces helped get me through it.

I distinctly remember every time we got in the car to go somewhere, babies safely tucked into their car seats, I immediately fell asleep. Why was that?

I was exhausted.

I knew our babies were safe. I had some time and space when I no longer had to be vigilant, listening and watching over them.

The subtle swaying motion along with the soft hum of the car as my husband drove provided some cues, a stimulus that helped me drift off to slumber.

What were some of the things you did to help get your babies to sleep? I can recall softly stroking their head, their face, “tickling” as we called it. Soothing, rhythmic music playing in the background. There were at times suggestions made to put them on top of the dryer or something similar (maybe for the same hum, swaying that the car provided me). Wrapping them tightly in my arms. Bouncing, swaying, rocking.

We used another strategy when our twins were babies. During the day, we kept them downstairs in the living room, using one of those portable beds so they could get used to sleeping amidst the goings on of our daily life. But at night we took them up to their cribs, to a quiet, darkened room. A different signal that it was now night-time, different than their brief naps during the day.

We can use strategies, we can develop habits and routines to help create conditions for sleep. These are some of the things often discussed in terms of general sleep hygiene. Learning more about our circadian system or rhythm can also be helpful.

What what else might be useful if we’re having trouble with sleep?

Well, there is evidence to show how stress can affect our physiology and our sleep. And, I can imagine many are feeling the effects of stress these days. This hyperarousal, or perhaps it is more like hypo-arousal these days.

How does stress show up in the body? What happens? What are the changes that take place? Can we change or influence our nervous system’s response to stress?

Navigating transitional moments of life is a challenge. Often, there is a letting go required and a stepping into the unknown. Uncertainty. There may be feelings of loss, grief, sadness. Maybe there is anger or resentment or … well there are likely to be many feelings. Including love, beauty and joy. Maybe freedom. All showing up, moving, shifting like a roller coaster ride. Felt and experienced in the body.

Perhaps exploring this a little, what we notice, the sensations that rise and fall throughout the day (and night) might be useful. Making sense of it. Accepting these moments with some kindness and compassion, moving through them with awareness, finding some ground when we need it most. A way to settle into slumber when night falls.

Curious?

I’m planning to offer an online program where we can explore this both through some gentle movement practices, journaling or other written work, information, breath and awareness practices. If this is of interest to you please let me know, send me a message, comment below, sign up to the site or email me at info@yogatoolsforlife.com. There’s no commitment from you required, I’m only gauging if there is interest at this point.

Take care.