How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

water going down the drain

Image courtesy of “winnod.” / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, insufficient sleep is a national health epidemic. Forget the summer blockbusters:  “zombies” are everywhere, “undead” and chronically exhausted, driving on the highways, operating heavy machinery, piloting oil tankers,  monitoring air traffic, taking care of our children, staffing our hospitals — you get the idea. If you are one of the 50-70 million Americans who suffers from a sleep or wakefulness disorder, it is small consolation to know that you are not alone.

If you google “insomnia cures,” 2.4 million results will appear in under one second. The top article is from the Mayo Clinic, entitled “What medications are used to treat insomnia?” You can tell a lot about our culture and its expectations by what comes up in search results. People expect to take a pill to “cure” their insomnia. And yet, many are apprehensive, and do not wish to take medications.

Other authorities will recommend the long list: a cup of herbal tea before bed, a darkened room, shutting off electronic devices well before bedtime. Some will purchase a new mattress, sheets, bedding, blackout curtains, and white-noise generators, to no avail. Even the “natural remedies” are in line with the same mindset: take a pill or buy a pillow — you need something you ain’t got.

While I don’t begrudge anyone the opportunity to explore solutions to find what is right for them, it seems that the conventional approaches don’t address the core cause of insomnia. Most insomnia is caused by stress, pure and simple. The non-stop stress of modern life leads to a chronically over-stimulated nervous system. Your brain just won’t stop, chugging and chattering along until the wee hours. Unless you deal with the over-stimulation, you’ll be spending a lot of time watching those late-night infomercials.

I find that most folks don’t want to hear this. They tell me how their life is way too stressful, and nothing can change. They want a pill, or a trick, so that they can keep going along their merry way and not be bothered anymore. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) sleeplessness is an early warning sign of possible health problems to come. Insomnia has been linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, anxiety and depression, and cognitive decline. The sooner you intervene and get a handle on your insomnia, the better. The question remains: how can you deal with the stress that is keeping you up at night?

Rather than throwing money away on pills, gadgets, and gimmicks, a simple investment of your time will pay you great dividends. If you want a good night’s sleep, be willing to practice a bit. Night-time rituals are important. However, after a stressful day, it is almost impossible to de-stress rapidly enough so that your brain and nervous system can be quiet enough to allow you to fall asleep. Here is the secret: you must take breaks during the day to be quiet. Only then can you have a hope of falling asleep.

I like the analogy of an overflowing bathtub. The tub is your life. The water is stress: job, family, finances, relationships, the news — you name it! You can’t always control the flow from the faucet. Stress keeps pouring in.  In order to prevent damage beyond the bathroom, you have to drain the tub before it overflows.

A wonderful set of tools, called the Sounder Sleep System®, was developed by Michael Krugman, author of The Insomnia Solution. The system relies on a set of gentle practices, designed to work together so that you can “drain your tub” of stress every day. If you have allowed most of the daily stress to drain away before bedtime, you have a much better chance of falling asleep, and of getting back to sleep in case you wake up. The simple techniques are powerful and effective: natural breathing and small movements allow your zooming thoughts to quiet down enough so that you can get the sleep you need. It takes only a few nights to begin to put the practice into effect. Sleeplessness becomes a habit, and habits learned can be unlearned. That is very good news!

I love to teach my clients how to use the Sounder Sleep System, because the results are so dramatic, satisfying, and rewarding. Don’t lose another night’s sleep! Find a teacher at SounderSleep.com.

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Creativity, Cooking, and Health

Creamy Kale Almond Soup with White Beans; Grilled Portobello Mushroom on Fresh Avocado with Cilantro Pesto. Image by MaryBeth Smith, via Instagram.

When this website launched a few weeks ago, I intended to write about movement, sleep, and healthy eating. Recently, I have posted several pictures of my dinners  on Facebook and Instagram . Yes, I have become that person who photographs their food. Never say never, I say! Those images have stimulated so much curiosity and engagement, that I thought I would just go ahead and write about what people are interested in at the moment: What am I eating?

I have been following Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s eating plan as outlined in the book, “Eat to Live.” It is a whole-foods, plant-based diet, that allows me to eat virtually unlimited quantities of delicious food that is super-high in nutrients. For the past ten months, I have reduced my consumption of processed foods and all animal products to less than five percent of my total intake. The goal is to eat as much of the highest-nutrient foods as possible. Happily, these foods are also very high in fiber, and low in calories. The weight has been flying off (right at 60 pounds at the moment), my blood pressure is now in the optimal range, BMI is out of the “obese” range and into the “normal” zone, and other biometrics are also positive. This way of eating is not appealing to everyone — or at least, the IDEA of eating this way is not appealing to everyone. However, every time I post an image of what I am actually eating on a daily basis, people consistently comment: “That looks amazing!”

Frankly, I was on the road to heart disease and Type II diabetes if I didn’t do something. I am determined to be pharmaceutical-free, vital, and healthy for the long haul.

So, by popular demand, here is how I made tonight’s dinner: Creamy Kale and Almond Soup with White Beans, and Grilled Portobello Mushrooms on Fresh Avocado with Cilantro Pesto. I do need to work on my food photography — or more precisely, I need to work on the neatness of my plating and presentation! Anyway — it still looks yummy, don’t you think? Oh, it was!

Before we get started, I need to tell you that I frequently make things up as I go along. I tend to cook from my pantry, and whatever is on hand (or needs to be used!) in the fridge.  The exact measurements: I have no idea. Yes, I realize it must be infuriating to have vague instructions of the “A little of this, not too much of that” variety. Sorry. The truth is, I sort of eyeball it. These quantities seem right. As they are going together, they just LOOK right to me, and I go with it. That’s a big part of creativity: having enough experience to know, sort of, where you are headed, even if you don’t know exactly how you’ll get there. This applies to cooking, music, writing — lots of situations. Just dive in, and do the best you can with what you have. You’ll be surprised how often that actually works.

The Soup
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of kale
4 cups lowest-sodium-possible vegetable broth (I make my own with no added oil or salt, and freeze it in 2 cup packets. MUCH better than store-bought!)
4 cups water
1/2 cup raw almond butter
1 15 oz can organic white beans, rinsed well; or 2 cups cooked white beans of any kind
1/2 cup (more or less, to taste) seasoned rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon no-salt seasoning (Mrs. Dash, Spike, etc.)

Heat the soup pot. Add a splash of water, broth, or seasoned rice vinegar, and add the onions and garlic to water sauté until the onion turns translucent and soft. Add more liquid, a few tablespoons at a time, as needed to keep the mixture from sticking.

Prepare the kale: wash well, spin or pat dry. Remove the leaves from the stems. Chop the stems fairly small and add all of the kale to the pot. Cover with vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Add the water, and as soon as it begins to bubble again, turn it down to simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the almond butter and kind of mash it so that it breaks up a bit in the liquid. Use an immersion blender to make the soup a more uniform texture. You may still have a few leaves of kale in there, that’s fine. Add about half of the beans, and continue to blend. For this step, you can also ladle a few cups of the mixture at a time into a regular blender to process the soup until it gets frothy, then return to the pot.

Add the no-salt seasoning, the remaining beans, and the seasoned rice vinegar to taste. Stir and serve!

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

I followed the instructions from one of my favorite food blogs, The Post Punk Kitchen. However, I reduced the amount of oil in the marinade from 1 Tablespoon to just 1/4 TEASPOON. I eat plenty of fats, but they are from whole-food sources like avocados and nuts — no (or very little) added refined oils, even olive oil. Next time, I may leave it out completely. I used a quick spray of coconut oil on the grill pan, but you could use something like PAM, or the tiniest bit of olive oil, just to keep the mushrooms from sticking. They turned out PERFECTLY.

While the ‘shrooms are cooking, prepare the pesto.

You can make pesto out of any herb you like, and/or any green and leafy vegetable: traditional basil, parsley, cilantro, spinach, kale, steamed aparagus! You can also use any kind of raw nuts: traditional pine nuts (pignoli), walnuts, or sunflower seeds are my favorites. Tonight, I happened to use:
Cilantro Pesto
1 cup cilantro leaves (a few stems are OK)
juice of 2 limes (about 1/4 cup?)
seasoned rice vinegar, to taste
a big handful of raw walnut pieces (a bit less than 1/4 cup)

Put all ingredients, except for the vinegar, into a food processor and pulse. Stop, scrape down the sides with a spatula, and pulse some more.
The mixture will need more liquid. Start with two tablespoons of water, continue to pulse, scrape, pulse.
Have a taste and add a little more vinegar if you think it needs more acidity. Otherwise, keep adding water a tablespoon at a time, until you can just run the food processor and the mixture gets smooth and creamy.

Instead of serving the portobello on a bun or foccacia bread, I sliced 1/2 of a good-sized avocado for each of us, and arranged it on the plate.  Put the grilled mushroom on top of the avocado slices. Put a good dollop of the pesto on top, and garnish with a leaf of cilantro or parsley.

No added oil, no added salt, no animal products. Big on flavor, fiber, micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, protein, disease-reversing-and-preventing delicious and satisfying, filling amazingness. Dessert? Absolutely. We had wonderful watermelon.

My omnivorous partner, C., has enjoyed eating whatever I have put in front of him, and he has lost 30 pounds by just hanging around with me. He declared this dinner “Outstanding!” Enjoy.

Move, Sleep, Eat

Welcome!
ATM ClassThis blog and website is the new and public face of the Feldenkrais® Center of Houston.
Posts will be varied, with the major interest categories being Moving, Sleeping (or not), and Eating.
I want to give you resources and actionable ideas to improve your life. How to move better, sleep better, and eat better.
Pretty simple and direct.

I’m looking forward to the minimalist approach: make things as simple as possible, and no simpler. I think Einstein said that.

If you are interested in “the examined life,” or mindfulness in general, I hope you will visit here often. Fruitful digressions will include Awareness, Mindfulness, Compassion, Kindness, Culture, Transformation, the Feldenkrais Method®, Vegetables, and as much silly stuff as I can curate.

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