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As summer approaches, our thoughts turn to travel and having fun, either with family or to see a new exciting place. Don’t forget to take your good sleep habits along as you are packing your suitcase. Sleep can be the difference between a very enjoyable trip and one fraught with irritability and frustration. Although it’s seldom considered an essential as we pack our suitcases, and requires taking very little along, sleep just needs just a bit of extra mindful packing. Here are some tips to make that trip transition the fun and easy outing you had planned:

1. Think ahead about how many time zones you’ll be crossing and how fast. If you’re flying and crossing two time zones or more, you will experience the most circadian rhythm change. Plan for a day of recuperation from these changes to the light/dark cycle of the day.

If you’ve experienced jet lag from your flights in the past, and this is different for each person, but nearly universal for those crossing five or more time zones, here are some tips from Dr. Robert Sack of the Oregon Health Sciences Center in the New England Journal of Medicine:

• Best ways to re-set your circadian clock are timed exposure to sunlight (for staying awake when you would normally be asleep), melatonin (for going to sleep when you would normally
be awake) or a combination of both;

• Check with your doctor to be sure melatonin will not interfere with any of your currently prescribed medications; melatonin is the most well-studied substance natural to the body, and for most has very few, if any side effects;

• For travelling east, get out in the sun on arrival and have your favorite source of caffeine;

• For travelling west, bright light in the evening will help you stay up and then, if you are wide awake during sleep time, a low dose of melatonin should help;

Some additional tips for the time of travel itself:

•Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate during your flight as cabin air tends to dehydrate us, which contributes to fatigue; also, getting up to get the water once an hour helps us walk around and avoid problems with thrombosis;

• Avoid caffeine and alcohol during your flight which tend to enhance the jet lag;

• Schedule your sleep to fit the new time zone, even if it means some daytime naps after you arrive.

Bon voyage!

Would you like more sleep travel tips?

Sign up for my free travel sleep tips tele-class on June 25 at 1pm Central.

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Many of us can’t sleep because there’s simply too much on our minds. Or too much to do. Or too much left undone.  A classic topic for mental ponderings (and not the innocent soporific kind) is the remains of the day and what’s not completed.  Another favorite object of our thought is worry – over relationships, our health, our money or our future in general.  We try to put all this aside in favor of sleep, but, like a bad penny, it just keeps coming back.  What to do about this may involve some daytime work, not just work on sleep.  As ­­Charlotte Bronte has said, “a ruffled mind makes for a restless pillow”.  How true this is.

What does it mean to simplify life?  Just to do fewer of the things than we now do? Or to do things that take less time?  I don’t think so.  In a key way, simplifying means to do more of the things we value highly. To get greater satisfaction from the things we do by shifting the proportion of things we “must” do compared to pursuing the things of great importance to us. This will be different for each person.  How much time do you spend each day doing things that are part of your cherished value system and your life goals? Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful”.  So says John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design.

Our grandparents did not have the luxury of making such a choice, often having to work from sunup to sunset just providing for their basic needs.  In our modern day world, we have cutting edge technology and household devices, convenience food and round the clock news, banking and entertainment, yet we seem less fulfilled than ever before. We lack even the satisfaction that our grandparents seemed to have with life.

To “get back to basics” means less to worry about and more of what’s really high on our “Values In Action” list – the one we haven’t made yet. To get from here to there will not be simple. It involves moving some of our cherished mental, and often physical, clutter.  A surprising number of us are unsuspecting mental hoarders, it seems.  Clearing mental clutter is the subject of another of my favorite themes – mindful living.  But this is the topic for another day.

In the meantime, read Leo’s blog and take just one of his many ideas for simplifying, implement it, and see if you don’t sleep better.  Get back to me on that.

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Guys.  Do you find yourself up late watching those NBA playoffs? There’s just no way to get to bed on time when something that cool is on till midnight and they don’t cancel work the next morning. Want to know what happens when you give your sleep short shrift?

Just when you thought you could skate by on five or six hours of sleep, comes news from the National Institute of Health that an unexpected phenomenon was found in animal research that very likely applies to humans as well.  The animals were sleep-deprived to five or six hours per night, as many of us try to get by with in our very busy world when our responsibilities mount.

What the researchers learned quite by accident was that while appearing to be fully awake the next day, certain brain cells were selectively turned off throughout the next day, so that brief periods of non-functioning occurred.
While we knew that lack of sleep, especially on a consistent basis, had its consequences for cognitive functioning, we did not suspect before this study that specific brain cells ”fell asleep” or ceased to function while research subjects appeared to be (on EEG) and remained fully awake.  Ever have the feeling that your brain just wasn’t working right after a poor night’s sleep?  Now you know you were right.  NIH, our most prestigious and well-funded body of health research, was so excited about the news that they issued a press release, which you can read here about what the NIH calls “sleeping neurons” . To quote the researcher who did the study, “Such tired neurons in an awake brain may be responsible for the attention lapses, poor judgment, mistake-proneness and irritability that we experience when we haven’t had enough sleep, yet don’t feel particularly sleepy.”

This study again underlines not only the need for adequate sleep (7-8 hours for the vast majority of us), but some of the important consequences to our work and daytime performance relative to sleep deprivation. Have you noticed “attention lapses, poor judgment, mistake-proneness and irritability” in yourself and is it time to get serious about getting more sleep more regularly?   Can you and your work afford these next day lapses?
Since we can’t truly make up missed sleep, we just lose what we lose during the playoffs, but the biggest risk is that you may get the idea that you made it through the next day after each game, and you can do this as a regular thing. Think again. The evidence is not really in your favor.  For more information and specific help, contact http://thesleepdiva.com.

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If it’s truly low estrogen that awakens us during the night from sleep, and not the hot flashes themselves, then what are we to do about that as women who want to get our sleep? The answer to this question is indeed a complex one, and one that bears looking into, one piece at a time.

Simply replacing estrogen is not the answer it seemed to be since the 1970s when hormone replacement therapy was widely used by doctors treating women who had menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats. And why not, you say, could all these doctors be wrong?  In 2001, and again in 2004, we learned from two large studies conducted by the Women’s Health Initiative, that the simple addition of estrogen and progesterone could pose health risks that none of us had anticipated.

Millions of women stopped their hormones as a result, and many physicians prescribing those also experienced confusion about what to do with the study results, since no alternative had been proposed.

To select a single hormone for study is a confusing and at best inaccurate, approach in itself, since all the hormones – estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, DHEA and melatonin are all interconnected parts of the sleep cycle. To increase one is to affect the balance of another, so it makes better sense to look at the whole picture, although this makes it nearly impossible to achieve viable research conditions.

How do these hormones interact?  This is the subject for endocrinology textbooks, but to summarize briefly here:
When estrogen begins its gradual decline at perimenopause, cortisol rises in direct proportion to the declining estrogen.  As cortisol is the stress hormone, it can directly disrupt sleep as well as speeding up bone loss and contributing to the development of many other symptoms.  External life stressors at middle age – the management of adolescent children, care of or for aging parents and work/home responsibilities all have their role in escalating the degree of the stress hormone cortisol.  It’s a wonder that anyone gets sleep at midlife!

Several things are needed to manage just this one hormone imbalancing interaction – stress  reduction techniques such as meditation/mindfulness (more about this later), attention to and decisions about how to manage the declining estrogen, and good medical advice and education about natural alternatives to hormone replacement therapy. Mindfulness living and meditation help disconnect the stress from the body, lowering the cortisol level to help promote natural sleep. Deep breathing at times of added stress, and mentally scanning the body for places where stress is held, also activate the parasympathetic or calming part of the nervous system.

What’s your biggest external stressor and what are you doing to keep that stress from imprinting itself on your sleep cycle?  What have you done to study the decline of your natural hormones at midlife and how to make intelligent choices for your own self-care?  Keep up with this series and learn more about how to care for your all-important sleep from the inside out. We’ll be looking at all those topics here.  Or sign up for my Four Weeks to Great Sleep Series.

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It is widely known that insomnia occurs in more than 60% of
midlife women. This is not just a few sleepless nights, but a
regular pattern of waking up during the night – once or many
times – and not being able to get to sleep for longer than 15-
20 minutes. For those affected, this occurs at least 3-4 nights
a week and results in daytime problems of fatigue, irritability,
poor concentration, low energy and poor productivity.
Popular wisdom, as well as many menopausal womens’
nighttime experience, has it that hot flashes (popularly known
as night sweats) are what’s ailing most menopausal women.
The discomfort of being awakened during the night with
your sheets and clothing drenched in sweat is not a popular
one. We know, without any research to tell us, that night
sweats awaken women during menopause and can be quite
uncomfortable, to say the least.
Because of this, many sleep doctors and many women got the
idea that the very common problem of insomnia in menopausal
or peri-menopausal women was caused by these night sweats.
And it would be logical to assume so. But some researchers
looked further into potential causes of the sleep discomfort
of midlife women by studying the nighttime sleep patterns
using polysomnograms (the sleep studies used to diagnose
sleep apnea). As part of these studies, a common denominator
was found that called into question the theory of hot flash
awakenings. These findings showed that a large number of
awakenings (both arousals from sleep and full awakenings)
were common in certain women, but hot flash awakenings
were much less common than the overall number of arousals.
That is to say, while hot flashes could cause you to wake up,
and even to stay awake, there were other causes, probably
resulting from an overall decrease in estrogen, that might be
the cause of both the hot flashes and the many awakenings.
Is this good news or bad news? Well, maybe both. If you’re
taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy), you may be
less likely to be reading this article, thus it is good news.
And knowing the underlying medical cause of any nighttime
problems that messes with our functioning in the daytime is
always good news because it points the way towards a solution.
And how about the bad news, you ask. Many women are
unable to or have chosen not to take HRT for good reasons.
If the decrease in estrogen is actually the cause of disrupted
sleep, as described here, this limits their options for a solution.
What are you doing to help yourself understand and cope with
your menopausal sleep problems? Need some help to navigate
the complex maze of ideas, products, information out there
that purports to help?
You can inform yourself and strengthen your wellness muscles
by contacting the Sleep Diva at www.sleepbetterinmidlife.com
and signing up for my newsletter on midlife sleep. I’m taking
an informal survey…what’s your favorite solution to the night
sweat dilemna. Leave a comment below.

It is widely known that insomnia occurs in more than 60% ofmidlife women. This is not just a few sleepless nights, but aregular pattern of waking up during the night – once or manytimes – and not being able to get to sleep for longer than 15-20 minutes. For those affected, this occurs at least 3-4 nights a week and results in daytime problems of fatigue, irritability,poor concentration, low energy and poor productivity.
Popular wisdom, as well as many menopausal womens’nighttime experience, has it that hot flashes (popularly knownas night sweats) are what’s ailing most menopausal women.The discomfort of being awakened during the night withyour sheets and clothing drenched in sweat is not a popularone. We know, without any research to tell us, that nightsweats awaken women during menopause and can be quiteuncomfortable, to say the least.
Because of this, many sleep doctors and many women got theidea that the very common problem of insomnia in menopausalor peri-menopausal women was caused by these night sweats.And it would be logical to assume so. But some researchers
looked further into potential causes of the sleep discomfortof midlife women by studying the nighttime sleep patternsusing polysomnograms (the sleep studies used to diagnosesleep apnea). As part of these studies, a common denominator was found that called into question the theory of hot flash awakenings. These findings showed that a large number ofawakenings (both arousals from sleep and full awakenings)were common in certain women, but hot flash awakeningswere much less common than the overall number of arousals.
That is to say, while hot flashes could cause you to wake up,and even to stay awake, there were other causes, probablyresulting from an overall decrease in estrogen, that might bethe cause of both the hot flashes and the many awakenings.Is this good news or bad news? Well, maybe both. If you’retaking HRT (hormone replacement therapy), you may beless likely to be reading this article, thus it is good news.And knowing the underlying medical cause of any nighttimeproblems that messes with our functioning in the daytime isalways good news because it points the way towards a solution.
And how about the bad news, you ask. Many women areunable to or have chosen not to take HRT for good reasons.If the decrease in estrogen is actually the cause of disrupted sleep, as described here, this limits their options for a solution.What are you doing to help yourself understand and cope withyour menopausal sleep problems? Need some help to navigatethe complex maze of ideas, products, information out therethat purports to help?
You can inform yourself and strengthen your wellness musclesby contacting the Sleep Diva at www.sleepbetterinmidlife.com and signing up for my newsletter on midlife sleep. I’m taking an informal survey…what’s your favorite solution to the nightsweat dilemna. Leave a comment below.

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Ever think that one more change could put you right up to that edge?  Though subtle, a one hour time difference in your sleep time could just be that “little” thing.  It’s hard to understand how something so seemingly subtle as an hour can make such a big difference in your life for a couple of weeks, and perhaps even longer.  Mid-lifers take note!

Finding yourself a bit sluggish this week, not only physically but mentally? You may think it’s your imagination that changing your clock by an hour can do this to you, but…researchers in Indiana wanted to know for sure whether changing their clocks affected students taking the SAT.  Because Indiana has some counties on Daylight Savings and others that are not, they compared the SAT scores, controlling for other factors besides Daylight Savings. What they found was significantly lower scores in the counties that had the clocks change vs those that remained on Standard Time.

Since the time change rolled around yesterday, you can do yourself a favor by paying attention to how you’re being affected personally, if you are, and not expecting your peak performance in these next two weeks. I’ll be writing more on the importance of these body clocks soon.

Some hints for fighting back the mind and body fatigue common to most of us:

1.  Get sunlight or blue light into your eyes as soon as you get up.  Light helps adjust the body clock to the new time.  Do this each day for a week, and see if it doesn’t become easier than the first day;

2.  Conversely, start to wind down your evening with darkness and quiet about an hour earlier in the evening;

3.  Force yourself (with an alarm clock, a determined bed partner or your own favorite way of making sure you get up) to get up at the new time;  expect this to be unpleasant for a few days while your body makes the adjustment;

4.  Drive carefully and take a little extra time getting to your daily destinations.  Scientists have noticed that the accident rate goes up on the week after Daylight Savings begins;

5.  Cut yourself a little slack this week in particular, delaying tasks that are ok to do later so that you will be at your mental best to do them next week and give yourself a little extra comfort, such as you would do if you were ill but still had to go to work and function.

Let me hear from you some of your own favorite ways of coping with the time change and I’ll include them in a later post so we can all share in what you’ve learned.   Feel free to leave a comment below.

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Twice each year, most of us suffer the annual indignity of moving our clocks around. It seems like such a small thing – just an hour plus or minus. And for many, we manage to work it out after a couple of weeks without noticeable problems. Or do we?

Finding yourself a bit sluggish this week, not only physically but mentally? You may think it’s your imagination that changing your clock by an hour can do this to you, but…researchers in Indiana wanted to know for sure whether changing their clocks affected students taking the SAT.  Because Indiana has some counties on Daylight Savings and others that are not, they compared the SAT scores, controlling for other factors besides Daylight Savings. What they found was significantly lower scores in the counties that had the clocks change vs those that remained on Standard Time.

Since the time change rolled around yesterday, you can do yourself a favor by paying attention to how you’re being affected personally, if you are, and not expecting your peak performance in these next two weeks. I’ll be writing more on the importance of these body clocks soon.

Some hints for fighting back the mind and body fatigue common to most of us:

1.  Get sunlight or blue light into your eyes as soon as you get up.  Light helps adjust the body clock to the new time.  Do this each day for a week, and see if it doesn’t become easier than the first day;

2.  Conversely, start to wind down your evening with darkness and quiet about an hour earlier in the evening;

3.  Force yourself (with an alarm clock, a determined bed partner or your own favorite way of making sure you get up) to get up at the new time;  expect this to be unpleasant for a few days while your body makes the adjustment;

4.  Drive carefully and take a little extra time getting to your daily destinations.  Scientists have noticed that the accident rate goes up on the week after Daylight Savings begins;

5.  Cut yourself a little slack this week in particular, delaying tasks that are ok to do later so that you will be at your mental best to do them next week and give yourself a little extra comfort, such as you would do if you were ill but still had to go to work and function.

Let me hear from you some of your own favorite ways of coping with the time change and I’ll include them in a later post so we can all share in what you’ve learned.   Feel free to leave a comment below.

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It seems like nobody is getting enough sleep these days.  This week, in honor of Sleep Awareness Week, study after study has highlighted the fact that the average adult gets less than 7 hours of sleep per night.

Lack of sleep can happen for many reasons including stress, anxiety, medical issues or simply hot having enough time in the day to”get it all done”.

One of the first steps toward a better night’s sleep (and all the great things that come from getting enough sleep consistently)  is often the creation of a better sleep environment.  By eliminating distractions in your bedroom, you can often start sleeping better right away.

Here are five places to start when making your bedroom into an ideal sleep environment.

1. Keep the Bedroom a Place of Rest: These days, many of us have notebook computers, wireless Internet, and other mobile devices that make it possible for us to transform any room into an office.

But if you suffer from a sleep disorder, make sure you keep your bedroom a bedroom – a place of rest away from work and play. Don’t allow the bedroom to become an office, a playroom, or a TV room. Those who suffer from sleep disorders need to eliminate all distractions in the form of noise, light, or activity.

2. Ideal Temperature: When creating a good sleep environment, you need to make sure you minimize any discomfort. Being too cold or too hot can disrupt a comfortable sleep and once disrupted (for a person with a sleep disorder) it may be difficult to get back into a deep slumber.

Keeping the room at a constant, ideal temperature will help you get and stay asleep. While it’s debatable as to what the best temperature is, it can be agreed upon that anything about 75 degrees Fahrenheit is too warm and anything below 54 degrees, too cold.

Try a median between 60–70 degrees (65) as a compromise, but the deciding factor should be you personally and what you find to be “ideal.” If you keep kicking the covers off or shivering yourself awake, adjust the temperature until it’s just right – and make note of what that number is for you.

3. Comfortable Bed: One symptom of a sleep disorder or impairment is tossing and turning during the night, and one reason you may be restless is because your mattress is uncomfortable.

As with most anything in life, what’s “right” for you (and your back, your posture, your comfort) is specific to your body. However, research has shown that supple mattresses may be more conducive to a good night’s rest versus a firmer one.

Definitely avoid sleeping on a lumpy mattress if it can be helped. A new mattress may be in order if you’ve outgrown your current one, either in size or comfort. If you have a spouse who prefers a different type of mattress, consider getting the type of bed where each of you set the mattress to your perfect number.

4. Keep the Clock Out of Sight: If you can, try to keep your clock out of sight. Set your alarm and then put it somewhere else or turn it away from you – out of your general view. For instance, instead of having the clock on the nightstand, put it on the dresser in the far corner.

If a clock is visible, you may find yourself staring at it or waking up periodically to look at it. If you’re making an effort to create a good sleep environment, it means that you’re aware of an impairment.

If you’re trying to break the cycle of sleeplessness, then it’s important that you don’t focus on time. Seeing how early it is or how little time has passed, can only lead to frustration.

5. No Lights: Remember that a dark bedroom can help your body “know” it’s time for rest. Light triggers a lot in us and is associated with our waking hours. To help the body adjust to a regular sleep cycle, make an effort to distinguish between daytime and bedtime

When it’s time to sleep, keep light sources to a minimum, including when you get up to go to the bathroom. As with a TV, computer, or video game, you’ll want to avoid anything that can stimulate your brain or body out of rest. Even if your eyes are closed, light in your bedroom can disrupt your sleep.

If you start with these steps, you may find yourself getting more sleep each and every night.

In honor of National Sleep Week, I am offering free sleep screenings.  Sign up using the box to the right of this post.

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Do you catch up on Facebook or check your e-mail right before going to bed? You are not alone…

A study released on Monday indicated that people in the United States are losing sleep over their late night television watching and social media activities. You can read more about the National Sleep Foundation study here.

According to the study, 95% of us play video games, watch television or use smartphones or laptop computers right before going to bed.

Spending that last hour before bed staring at the light from your monitor or smartphone makes getting to sleep more difficult because the light supresses the release of sleep-producing melatonin and makes you more alert.

According to the study, 43 percent of people ages 13 to 64 felt they rarely or never got a decent night’s sleep during the work week.

Cutting back on gadget use an hour before bedtime will help you relax and get  a better night’s sleep.

Stay tuned for more tips tomorrow on how to create a bedroom environment conducive to sleep (yes, kicking the computer out of the bedroom is a good start…)

In honor of Sleep Awareness week, I am offering free sleep screenings on Friday, March 11.  Fill out the form on the right side of this page to schedule your appointment.

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Next to the first few month’s of being a mother, midlife is known as a time of sleepless nights. There are many possible culprits ranging from hormonal issues to anxiety. Some sleep disorders show up for the first time in midlife.

One of the first steps to sleeping better is to pinpoint your sleep issue. This is often easier said than done. In the business of life (often made worse by fatigue), focusing on our sleep issues often ends up at the bottom of the to do list.

Yet, nothing can help improve your productivity like getting a good night’s sleep each night.

To overcome your sleep problem once and for all, you need to get to the root of the problem. If you don’t treat the root cause, you won’t sleep any better.

Here is a quick “cheat sheet” of common sleep disorders to get you started on identifying why you aren’t sleeping.

A shortcut to diagnosing your sleep issue, is to talk to a sleep professional.

In honor of National Sleep Week, I am offering free sleep screenings on Friday, March 13. Click here to learn more or to sign up for a 10 minute screening.

Here are some oreasons you may be having difficulties getting to sleep:

Insomnia: A very common sleep problem marked by sleepless nights. You wake up feeling tired or fatigued. You end up being feeling tired or irritable during the day.

Sleep Apnea: The most common of the three types of sleep apnea is “obstructive sleep apnea,” which occurs when enough air isn’t able to get through your mouth/nose and into the lungs.

Because the air isn’t getting through, you start breathing shallowly or stop breathing completely,– at least for a few seconds. You may snort, cough, or snore as your body tries to restart the breathing process.

You do get back to sleep – but because of all of the snoring and coughing, you are not getting quality, uninterrupted sleep. Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but it is a symptom.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): Do you legs burn, itch or tingle at night? If so, you may suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome. Moving your legs makes them feel better, but the movement causes a low-quality restless sleep.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD): PLMD is similar to Restless Leg Syndrome. Unlike RLS, the leg twiching and movement is involuntary.

The legs are usually affected by PLMD, but sometimes your arms move too. You may not even be aware that you are moving. The movement causes restless sleep.

This usually takes place in the legs, but for some, the arms are also affected. These movements – though you may be unaware of them – lead to a restless sleep. You wake up tired and fatigued because you didn’t sleep well.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS): Do you often feel like you were born to live in a different time zone? If you’re suffering from DSPS, it seems as if your circadian rhythm (an internal 24-hour cycle) is off by half a day, and you’re unable to sleep during nighttime hours. Because you aren’t on the same sleep schedule as your friends and family, DSPS can seriously affect your quality of life.

Narcolepsy: A dangerous disorder defined by excessive sleepiness during the daytime, as well as periods when the body’s muscles are weakened into a state of cataplexy. You’re at risk when you’re doing everyday tasks, like driving a car from Point A to Point B, since a narcoleptic attack could occur at any time.

These are a few of the causes of chronic sleep problems. There are many others ranging from hormonal issues, to poor sleep environments, snoring, seasonal affective disorder, sleepwalking, racing thoughts and more. Any of these issues can lead to sleep deprivation and take a physical, mental or emotional tool on your life.

If you are having trouble sleeping, take me up on my offer for a free sleep screening this Friday. Click here to find out more.

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