Keep it light before bed 

Keep it light before bed 

This is a very tricky one for me. I am a thinker and have been since I was a little girl. It is my natural tendency to analyze, re-visit the past and plan for the future. My thoughts left to their own devices can be easily lost in hours of analysis over something that happened in the second grade.

Over the years, no lets make that decades, I have realized the importance of mindfulness for my own (and the people in my life) sanity and have implemented many different techniques to tame my obsessive thoughts.

Most of the time, I can access these life-changing tools and stay somewhat present with my busy mind. The acceptation being at night, something about the evening seems to make me sensitive to an overactive brain function. Perhaps it’s the exhaustion of the day or the fact that the I am less distracted or maybe it’s the vulnerability of the dark whatever the cause I have to be so incredibly aware and fiercely protective of my nighttime needs to ensure I don’t go spiralling into negative thoughts. 

For obvious reasons, having your mind go into an auto drive of dark thinking 60 minutes before you turn out the lights is not ideal for restorative sleep. So one of my biggest sleep hygiene habits is to keep it light before bed.

No game of thrones, breaking bad or true detective for this nighttime Netflicker. Past 7:30 pm, you will find me watching episodes of Queer Eye or the Office (for the 15th time). I rarely listen to self-help podcasts or read motivational books before bed. They get me too fired up!

My friends and family know that the chances of me picking up the phone past 8:00 pm is most likely not going to happen unless of course, they need me for something important. Also, my husband and I aim to keep our conversations very light after the sun goes down. No discussions about parenting, finances or home renovation projects. We talk about our blessings from the day, perhaps dinner plans for the next evening or a summer vacation idea and always keep it light and joyful.

This may sound a little inauthentic and fluffy to you, but let me set the record straight, it is not that I never have uncomfortable or difficult conversations, it happens all the time in my life. I am a person who needs to feel my edges and the only possible way to do this is to get out of your comfort zone and believe me I am willing to go there…just not past 7:30 pm at night.

Permission to Nap 

Permission to Nap 

Studies show that a daily nap is both restorative and can actually contribute to good night sleep. We are much like our toddler children. I remember the first few times my 2-year-old, would miss her afternoon nap, I would mistakenly think, no nap, no big deal. Naively, I assumed that she would just fall asleep earlier and with ease that night.

I wish! It was exactly the opposite. Without that afternoon nap, getting her down for the night was a nightmare. Her nervous system tired but wired and ironically she lacked the energy to transition into relaxation. My poor little girl’s ability to sleep was compromised and she needed lots of extra care. We realized that setting her up for successful sleep cycles required a fierce family commitment to her afternoon nap.

If you are having a difficult time falling asleep than an afternoon nap may be the very thing that you need. Pushing through your fatigue in hopes that you will have an easier time falling asleep later is actually a myth.

This is most likely the time in the blog where you think, is she off her rocker? As if I have time for a nap? Only the independently wealthy have the luxury of an afternoon sleep session. I am here to challenge that thinking and have you believing an afternoon siesta is within your reach.
The key to an impactful and accessible afternoon nap is keeping it short and sweet, what you are aiming to achieve is a rest that is less than 20 min. I get it, at the 15-20 minute marker is exactly around the time you are really dozing off. You have let go of your surroundings and may have even moved into light dreaming, so when that alarm goes off it will take all of your will power to get up and back into your day. If you snuggle back between the covers beyond this time, it will begin to interfere it will absolutely disrupt your sleep that night.

You want to create a comfortable but not too cozy environment so that you are able to rest while not going into a deep sleep. This is not the time to put on the noise maker, get the lavender essential oils infusing nor dark out the windows. Perhaps you lie down on the couch or your yoga mat, find a spot that is easy and comfortable to use.

With a requirement of only 15-20 minutes, time for a nap is a matter of choice. Instead of coming home and turning on the TV or surfing your social media accounts, stop, find a comfortable space and let go for 15 minutes. Your energy levels will be restored and your sleep quality better that night.

My husband and I sleep in different beds

My husband and I sleep in different beds

My husband and I have a wonderful connection, fantastic sex life and are totally in tune with each other’s lives and yes this all happens despite the fact that we do not sleep in the same room

Our story is one of hope, I was 38 years old very, very single and content to be that way.  I had been through decades of dysfunctional relationships and it was time for me to take a hard look at my choices and how they were contributing to these disaster relationships.  Three years into this process, I was happy, truly happy being on my own for the first time in my life. One Sunday morning, I was at a friend’s house for brunch, in total peace being the only single women in attendance, and as fate would have it this sexy man walked in the door, carrying not a bottle of wine, nor a bouquet of fresh flowers but a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  My first thought was okay universe this guy better be single. Twelve months later to the day, we were engaged and in the first few weeks of our pregnancy. I was 39, engaged and pregnant!

Beautiful hey, and it was but we had a lot of adjustments to make.  Both of us living on our own for years before meeting required each of us to compromise, adapt and become flexible in new ways.  One of the big things that we were used to doing alone was sleeping. So for many, many restless nights we tried to sleep together, with more nights than not one of us ending up on the floor, couch or spare room.  Co-sleeping was not going great for us.

Then my daughter was born and once we added her into our sleeping mix, it became so exhaustingly obvious that something had to give.  So in a very natural, organic and loving way, we set my husband up with his own sleeping space. Eventually, my daughter was out of what used to be the family bed and fast forward to today each of us with our own bed, own covers, own pillows and own needs being met.  Jackpot!

My husband and I go through our sleep routines together, we brush our teeth, sometimes floss, get into bed, chat, rub each other’s back (well he mostly rubs mine), read and when it is time to turn out the lights, my husband leaves and goes to his bed.

Sleep is sacred and god bless you if you can get sound sleep with your husband, 2 kids and dog in bed with you, I truly wish I was one of those people but I am not so in order for me to meet this fundamental human requirement, we made the necessary adjustments and are all happier and healthier for it!

Let’s talk about Sex!

Let’s talk about Sex!

My husband, I have sex.  In fact, we recently set a goal, to have more of it.  I agree, this sounds like it lacks spontaneity and excitement but setting a goal, with actual numbers, is how we know we will have more sex.  We are very committed to having an exceptional marriage and ensuring a fantastic sex life is a part of how we will continue to achieve that.

I am a doctor and I have seen the studies on sex and sleep.  After an orgasm, the female body releases a hormone called Oxytocin aka the cuddle hormone as well as increased levels of Estrogen, both things that will increase melatonin, our sleep hormone.  Hence the scientifically sound theory that sex provides you with good night sleep. Therefore, having more sex will not only improve your connection it will also help you sleep. I love me a BOGO!

But… this is not how my body works, after sex, I am wide awake, super chatty and have completely lost my sleep zone.  Even if when we went to bed earlier, I still struggled with this post intercourse issue. I started asking female patients about the impact sex had on their sleep and quickly learned that many of us are experiencing this contradictive response.

It turns out that sex may not be helpful for sleep for everyone!  In fact, in addition to increasing your desire for cuddling, the hormone Oxytocin, also makes women want to stay up and talk.  It can energize us into a second wind as we try to connect with our partner, who most likely has already turned over and fallen asleep.  We may be left with feelings of agitated as we have no one to connect.

Another reason why you may be more awake after sex is that you have not been fully satisfied.  If your body has not had a complete orgasmic release then you may be left with feelings of frustration.  An honest conversation about what your sex needs are will both enhance your sex life as well as your sleep cycles.

I am still a firm believer that a healthy sex life will support many aspects of your health, including your ability to get a good night’s sleep but maybe you need to start questioning when you have sex and if that time is truly working for you. Maybe a shift to before dinner, before your kids get picked up from after school program or sex or Sunday morning sex while the kids are lost in their cartoons is a better fit for your body.

Perhaps you are not having sex or you are not sleeping whatever the case may be, ladies I need you doing both! So get yourself out of the box of what you used to do that is no longer working so that you can see an opportunity that is in sync with your sex life now.

Passing out is not restorative sleep

Passing out is not restorative sleep

Are you one of those people who crash as soon as your head hits the pillow?

You sleep 8 hours, yet wake up every morning exhausted? 
Is your first thought of the day, when can I go back to bed? 
When asked you report back with confidence that you have no sleep issues?

You are so not alone! 

What may be going on, is that you are passing out from absolute exhaustion and not actually getting restorative sleep. Your quality of sleep is compromised and because it does not take you hours to fall asleep or you don’t find yourself wide awake at 3:00 am every morning, you don’t think this is an area of concern for you.  Often poor sleep quality is normalized because the presentation is not a typical pattern of insomnia.

The truth is that the body actually requires energy for quality sleep and if we are passing out from sheer exhaustion we have not made the full transition to the relaxation response. You see most of us spend a large majority of our day in the sympathetic or fight or flight mode. Your busy, frantic pace keeps your body in this tired but wired state right up until the time you go to bed and then from sheer exhaustion you crash.

In order to achieve optimal sleep, we actually need to shift the body from this high energy, reactive state into the restorative parasympathetic or relaxation mode BEFORE we fall asleep.  Most of think that our body will just do this, after all, isn’t the act of sleeping the most relaxed we can get?

That’s a big, fat no! You can be in bed, asleep and still restless, reactive and missing out on all of the necessary health benefits that restorative sleep provides.

This is where as a practitioner things get tricky. It’s a lot to convince a tired patient that at the end of their long, tiring day they need to support their body into sleep. In these cases, I use a lot of hand waving, cheerleading and some times tough love in order for patients to understand that an active transition is a necessary component for quality sleep.

For so many people who are already utterly exhausted the thought of a short meditation or lavender essential oil bath is the last thing, they would want or feel they need to do. Especially when falling asleep to the sound of the laugh track on the big bang theory is a much more appealing and easy…but my friends you will pay for that choice in the form of crappy sleep.

Much like we rock, sing or soothe our young children to sleep, we need to do this for ourselves and the good news is that in contrast to your toddler who requires 5 stories, 3 songs and 15 minutes of back rubbing all you need to commit to is 3-5 minutes.  Simple basic relaxation techniques like deep belly breaths, a warm shower, progressive mediation are all it takes to shift your body from that “do” to “be” state that is essential for restorative sleep.

And yes…it will require turning off the Friends episode that you have already seen 25 times but I promise you it will be worth it when you wake in the morning refreshed after getting the full return on your investment of those 8 hours of sleep.

When quality sleep is just not an option

When quality sleep is just not an option

You are not lost on me, new mamma with 3 children under the age of 6.  I get that quality sleep is not going to be something that you have access to at this time. Quite frankly, you are not who I am talking to right now.

Your nights have turned into days and days into nights.  You are in the trenches. When one child has finally fallen asleep at your breast, another child has woken from a nightmare.  You are exhausted, overwhelmed and doing your very best to keep it together. You are not feeling fantastic, because you are not supposed to during this beautiful and challenging season of your life.

It is all about damage control at this phase, to minimize the cost to the body due to all of those missed hours of restorative sleep.  So you rest, when you can. It used to piss me off…big time when people told me to nap when my daughter was sleeping. I would sarcastically think to myself (and sometimes if I was especially exhausted) say out loud “Nap? To help my exhaustion? I never thought about that?”

My nervous system and tendencies in behaviours do not work like that.  I tried, believe me, I tried. With babe napping beside me in bed, I would turn on the white noise, shut the blackout curtains and begin to deep breathing.  The whole time, waiting for my daughter to wake up as my mind spun with thoughts of all the things I needed to do. In those rare occasions, when I was able to let go, my daughter would wake up just as I was about to drift off.  Torture, true and utter torture. So trying to “nap when my daughter slept” caused me more stress than support.

So… to my sleep deprived, exhausted new moms, I am asking that you create space to rest.  I don’t mean sitting in front of the TV watching back to back episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, I suggest lying on the floor, hands on belly taking 10 deep breaths or sitting down with a cup of tea and calling a friend or having a warm breath with Lavender Essential oils.  These 5, 10, 15-minute rest sessions will go a very long way in ensuring that the cost to your body from those sleep deprived nights is as minimal as possible.

As a side note: To be clear, I have absolutely no issue with back to back episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, it just does not count as rest time.  Sanity? Yes! Rest No!