The other night I got the crappiest night sleep I can recall. Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often to me. But it got me thinking, what is it about sleep? What are its magic powers?!
We’ve all been there. A night when you really need your sleep–maybe you’ve got something super important going on the next day and you really want to be on your game–and then you just can’t sleep. It’s maddening. The fallout from the lack of sleep is most troubling, though; it’s kind of like moving through a fog, everything can seem like it is in slow motion. Or perhaps the exhaustion is too much, so you hunker down for an afternoon nap, and then, bam!, you can’t get to sleep the next night either. It can be a vicious cycle.
Sleep is mission critical to the body and there are many factors that come into play to create a good night’s sleep. First of all, hormones help us sleep and wake: melatonin helps us sleep, and cortisol helps us wake. It is important to have these two in balance, or you may not be able to get a good night’s rest. How to do that? Consider keeping regular hours for yourself, even on the weekends. Going to bed and waking at or about the same time each day is going to help your body clock, help your hormones, get stable.
Light is an important factor for hormones. Getting sunlight in your eyes (that’s right, take off the sunglasses, people!) every day allows you to bank melatonin for that night’s sleep. And making sure your bedroom is really dark will help your cortisol stay low during the evening so that you can stay soundly asleep.
The goal is a solid seven to eight hour stretch of sleep. You are not a super hero if you are functioning on less; you may be more of a super hero the next day if you get a decent sleep!
If you are going to bed and winding it down in the evening consider the addage, “an hour’s sleep before midnight is worth two afterwards.” More cellular maintenance and repair happens early in the evening (stimulated by melatonin). So get it working for you, try getting into bed a bit earlier.
Secondly, minimize lights. This doesn’t just mean the lighting in your bedroom, but also the computer and tv screens. They emit blue light which makes it harder to fall asleep (they even make “blue light glasses” for our devices!). So shut it all down and consider picking up a magazine or book (not an ebook!) and winding it down before bed.
Alcohol also disrupts our sleep. You might really enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, but did you know that it is sabotaging your rest by making your liver work a bit harder during the evening? On top of that, it is slowing your metabolism. I’m all for an occasional indulgence, as long as it is just that, occasional.
Caffeine. Oh yes, our good friend caffeine may be undermining your zzzzz’s. You may think you are one of those people who doesn’t get bothered by caffeine. I would suggest limiting any caffeine, whether it be coffee, tea or chocolate to before 2 p.m. It can take six hours for caffeine to move through our bodies, and maybe more if you suffer a slower metabolism.
This may sound simply ridiculous, but waking also disrupts your sleep–and yes, many of us are waking without knowing it! When you have undiagnosed sleep apnea, where the body wakes due to disrupted airways, you might think you’ve rested but might not feel refreshed when you get up in the morning. That’s because you haven’t been able to get that valuable REM sleep that you need. Especially if you are a snorer, consider a sleep study to determine if you are a good candidate for a c-pap machine (it’s a breathing device you wear at night to ensure a deep sleep, people swear by them!).
The draggy day after a bad sleep can be dangerous on many fronts. They say your driving can be as impaired as if you are drunk if you are sleep deprived. I recall those days when our first son was a toddler and I was pregnant with our second son, and driving a good distance to work. Exhausted on all accounts, I remember putting my car in park at lights just so I could safely close my eyes. NOT GOOD. If this sounds like you, seek help!
Internally things are running amok as well. Rob Wolff of The Paleo Solution says that the day after a bad night’s sleep you can be as insulin resistant as a diabetic. Your hormones ghrelin and leptin, the ones that tell you that you are full and that you should stop eating, get disrupted so we lose some control of our appetite. Simply said: sleep more, eat and weigh less.
I was able to catch up on my sleep last night. Was it teaching three yoga classes yesterday and the power walk in the sunshine (glasses off!), or was it just doing the “legs up the wall” pose, which is good for insomnia? In any case, when I woke up today it felt just great to be alive. I hope this post can help you feel that way, too!
I couldn’t believe my shopping cart, but I didn’t want to embarrass my son. In it were two 12 packs of Coke and Sprite, potato chips, goldfish, oreos, cupcakes and the like. It was a SAD grocery cart–that is the acronym for Standard American Diet–and it was mine. I had offered to host dinner for the lacrosse team and my son was quite specific about what we could serve. And so, I complied.
I felt sick about serving less than nutritious food to the kids. In fact, one teammate’s dad, a good friend, stopped in beforehand to bust my chops; he had told his son I was most likely serving gluten-free pasta and fruit to the kids. I toured him around the kitchen filled with artificial ingredients to assure him the boys would be delighted. But still, I didn’t feel good about it.
The evening before the lacrosse dinner, on Saturday night, my husband and I went to the Kendall Square Cinema’s showing of “Fed Up,” a documentary-style movie that will forever change how you view sugar (I highly recommend it!). Comparing sugar to cocaine in the way it lights up the brain, and implicating it in various chronic and widespread diseases, the movie gave me hope that awareness levels might be raised, and people might change the way they make food choices. The selfie movies made by teens struggling with obesity was simply heartbreaking.
On the way out the door to the movies, we said good-bye to our two teenagers. The 17-year-old was eying the case of Coke and asked if he could have one. Sure, we said, and drove off to see the movie. When we got home, my husband went to the cabinets and measured out eleven teaspoons of sugar in a bowl and put a Coke can right next to it. When we reconnoitered with the boys, they quizzically looked at the can and sugar (eleven teaspoons is a lot of sugar). He informed them that each can had that sugar equivalent. There was dead silence. It got through.
I noticed teammates going for Coke the night of the party, but our son came in and poured himself a glass of water. Coincidence?
It takes a lot of hard work and, yes, even courage to go against the grain when it comes to making healthy choices. Choosing foods that are going to nourish our families shouldn’t conflict with the culture, but most of the time it does (especially if you have children). Certainly making healthy food means doing more cooking, but in the end, isn’t it worth it?
The human body is detoxing all the time. So why would we need to detox this spring?
It seems like everyone is trying to detox right now. My childhood friend called me from Pittsburgh, sharing that she was on a juice cleanse, sucking down a fruit and vegetable juice every two hours or so. She said they tasted great but she was constantly hungry. I’m sure she is going to loose a few pounds, but will it be sustainable? And is it worth the cost of feeling so deprived?
I have never been a fan of a structured detox that include things like hot water/lemon juice/cayenne (“the master cleanse”) or just fruit and vegetable juices. People generally rave about how great they are feeling when they are doing them. If you were eating sugary and processed foods and gave them up, wouldn’t you feel better?
Spring is nature’s detox season. The early harvest is greens and it is natural for our bodies to start craving them, especially more bitter greens (think arugula, dandelion greens) to let the liver naturally detoxify from the winter. As I mentioned, these greens are readily available in the spring, which is nature’s way to bring us into balance. But the digestive system is only one way the body detoxifies.
Our breath helps detoxify. Oftentimes people don’t breath deeply enough to detox through their respiratory system, and living in the “fight or flight” pattern of shallow breathing can put stress on the body. When I remember to slow it down and take deep breaths, I can sense the calm filling me. A centered breathing exercise is a must to begin a yoga practice, where we marry our breath and movement so the mind can be at rest–a meditation in motion. But deep breathing isn’t relegated only to a yoga practice. We need to be aware of our breath and make sure we are slowing it down.
Detoxification happens as we sweat as well. The body sends its waste out through our pores when we sweat. It’s yet another reason folks flock to hot yoga, saunas, and heavy duty exercise. They feel great afterwards because their body has released toxins.
So our skin, our breath and our digestive systems are constantly detoxing. Why not focus on fully supporting your digestion naturally, making sure you are deeply breathing, and getting some good exercise? Minimize your toxic load by ridding yourself of the paranoia associated with worrying about a structured detox program, and allow yourself to detoxify naturally, supporting the systems that are already in place.
Balance is the key to feeling well, not depravity.
Spring Detox Salad
On a bed of arugula add:
1/2 an avocado, chopped1/2 pink grapefruit, peeled, taken out if its sections, and chopped
Toss with really good olive oil and a touch light vinegar (brown rice or champagne vinegar)
Sprinkle with a touch of sea salt or Himalayan salt
“Is this paleo, Mom?” said my son last night as he bit into a piece of quiche. “Yup, it is honey,” I replied. My kids can pretty much count on paleo dinners, so the nod I got after he dug into the quiche wasn’t too surprising. What does surprise me is how my husband and two teenage boys have fully embraced this way of eating since I transitioned to paleo about seven months ago.
I have found the transition to cooking paleo really simple. Most of the time there is some kind of protein and lots of vegetables on the plate. For example, tonight’s dinner is going to be grilled organic chicken breasts and dandelion greens (assuming I get home from yoga and soccer pick up in time to cook!). Last night was a veggie quiche with a fabulous paleo crust and a salad of arugula, grapefruit, and avocado. Simple stuff. The beautiful part of eating this way is that it just isn’t complicated.
I know I am taking great care of my family when I am cooking this way and that brings me comfort. I am also comforted by not seeking perfection. I believe in enjoying the journey, whether it is on a yoga mat or engaging in a new lifestyle, such as the paleo lifestyle, and don’t strive for perfection every day. That means not being strict, allowing the boundaries to bend, and to be open to living in an 80/20 world, where 80% of the time, I’m cooking and eating cleanly.
What is happening the other 20% of the time? Well, for me it might be a sweet, like dark chocolate, or my hands down favorite, turtles (you know, those chocolate, carmel, and cashew creations from the heavens). I might sprinkle a little goat cheese on my salad. For others it might be eating legumes or potatoes. It doesn’t matter; what does matter is not taking it to an unsustainable place, and embracing imperfection.
It was school vacation last week and everyone seemed lighter in spirit. I certainly was more at ease, having freed myself from obligations and responsibilities. I had more of a spring in my step. I found myself wondering why don’t we feel this way everyday? Is this a conscious choice? Are we choosing to make things harder than they need to be?
Sometimes the easy choices aren’t clear. For example, after a love affair with wine for several decades, I developed an allergy to it a few years back, with symptoms of horrendous congestion and headaches for the 24 hours following any wine consumption. Dismayed at the development, I chose to take Claritan before having wine, since it minimized my symptoms (yes, it does say not to drink alcohol when you are taking it RIGHT THERE ON THE BOX!). While speaking to someone about my predicament they commented, “Wow, you must be really allergic. You should probably not drink wine anymore.” And there it was. The sudden and surprising truth that I had been avoiding. Why had I been choosing to make life difficult for myself?
In our everyday lives we shoulder burdens and sometimes make them heavier than they need to be. We allow ourselves to grind through the day, and ignore the easy path. Maybe the easy choices are truly the better ones and we don’t need to be carrying all that mental and emotional luggage. Maybe, just maybe, it can feel like vacation everyday.
Vacation Slaw Recipe
Here’s a recipe I made during the vacation week, a twist on a recipe from “Paleo Cooking from Elena’s Pantry:” Jicama, Beet & Carrot Slaw. All of us, including the teenagers, loved it! It’s a great addition to your repertoire as we enter into the full swing of spring.
In a Cuisinart fitted with the grating blade, grate:
1/2 jicama root
Put this slaw in a mixing bowl and add 1/2 cup of orange juice, 3 T olive oil, and 1/4 cup brown rice vinegar.
It’s not always what is at the end of the fork that fuels our lives.
I had the good fortune of having my childhood friend come to visit me, along with her teenage son, on a Boston-area college tour this week. It was like finding my missing puzzle piece. Having known each other since the age of four, we were able to catch up about ourselves and the people in our lives at a depth that is so rare, a relationship like a complex woven tapestry. It was fuel for my soul.
Think about the energy you get from your relationships. Surrounding oneself with friends and family that boost you up is like adding fuel to a depleted tank. I am grateful for my friend’s visit, a living reminder of the truth in the “make new friends, but keep the old” verse, for old friends are truly gold.
You can eat healthfully, exercise regularly and still get sick, especially if your relationships aren’t in balance. As we enter into spring, consider a “spring cleaning” of sorts, reconnecting with people who cheer you and cheer for you, and perhaps spending less time with people who don’t. Every choice we make fuels our lives.
My “nephew” insisted his mom’s overnight oatmeal rocked it, so I am including what appears to be the easiest recipe on the planet. Just water, oats, and a crock pot. Enjoy!
Cynthia’s Overnight Oatmeal
1 cup oats (slow cooking oats of any kind)4 cups water
Place the two ingredients in your slow cooker and put on low for 8 hours and enjoy in the morning! Try it alone or with your favorite fruit or nut topping.
Got your attention, didn’t I?! No, not that change, I want to talk about the change of seasons.
Here in New England we are getting the first blast of spring. It has been long anticipated and everyone is excited to shed their winter garments enjoy the warmer air. It’s only getting up to about 50 degrees Farenheit, but as a friend recently quipped, “50 is the new 80!”
For foodies, with the warm blast come dreams of greens and going to the local farm or farmers market. There is a reason for this. Spring is the perfect time to detox from the winter and the spring greens are just what the liver wants to get the detox going. It’s natures way of clearing out and preparing for the spring and summer. Staying in tune with nature and eating with the seasons is the most natural way to live. Bitter greens such as dandelion and arugula are particularly adept at this natural cleansing.
I may be pushing it a little bit, but I whipped up this delicious family favorite (yes, even the two teenagers love it!). It’s a vegan Spring Pea & Basil Soup, and it is so easy to make. This recipe, like many others coming soon, are meant to offer you suggestions on how to eat with the seasons and honor your body. Often times people reach for manufactured foods and our body just really doesn’t know what to do with them. Our bodies crave whole and healing foods, that come from the earth, not from a machine or “food plant.”
So with this change of seasons, consider opening your mind and heart to choosing organic and local foods, real foods that your grandmother or your great grandmother would recognize. It’s a simple choice that will sustain you, the local farmer, AND the planet.
Vegan Spring Pea and Basil Soup
1 large onion chopped
2-3 T olive oil
1 bag of frozen organic sweet peas (use fresh if available!)
1 bunch of organic basil, roughly chopped
1 box hemp milk (can use unsweetened coconut, soy or rice milk if you prefer)
In a soup pot, sautee the onion in the olive oil on medium heat. When translucent, add the peas and lower the heat so they can cook through (I throw mine in frozen and they need some time to thaw).Add the hemp milk and basil, and a dash of salt.
Blend with a food immersion blender or pop into your cuisinart.
Serve and enjoy!
I am currently reading Chris Kessler’s “Your Personal Paleo Code” and I am finding it truly inspiring. The number of stories that are told of people suffering with all levels of disease and ailments that have made the shift to paleo and found themselves cured is nothing short of miraculous! It is certainly worth a read, here is the link on Amazon if you are so inclined!
I am also inspired by the report released last week in the Annals of Internal Medicine that concluded saturated fats are not linked to cardiovascular disease. This isn’t just a little study. It compiled vast amounts of data from over 70 population studies (called a meta-analysis) to come to this conclusion. This is so exciting! Mark Bittman wrote a column in the New York Times entitled, Butter is Back! encouraging the us to go back to eating real whole foods, not the frankenfoods we buy with lower fat that are created by the food industry (think Snackwells). I couldn’t agree more. Says Bittman, “The real villains in our diet — sugar and ultra-processed foods — are becoming increasingly apparent. You can go back to eating butter, if you haven’t already.”
Don’t be afraid of fat. It is fuel for the body. We don’t want to over do it, but we can’t let fat be the bogeyman we’ve been told it is. We need to shake that fear of fat and dive into an avocado or a full fat yogurt, if you can find it at your grocery store (yes, challenging, isn’t it?!). Go for it!
Real whole foods are healing and what give us fuel for our lives and help rid us of ailments. Below is a recipe sure to have us all rejoicing about the latest news.
Avocado & Cilantro Pesto
Take out the Cuisinart or powerful blender and throw in:2-3 cloves of garlic (let them bounce around first to get real tiny, then add the rest of the ingredients)
2 healthy bunches of cilantro (about 2+ cups), stems and all!
2 T lemon juice, or more to taste
Blend it all up–it will be bright, bright green. Toss it on your pasta, zucchini noodles, or other noodley creation! Enjoy!
Welcome to my blog!
Through this website I hope to open your eyes to lifestyle and diet changes that can have a cascading effect on you–for the better! Small shifts can make a big difference.
Thanks for joining me on this journey.