Thursday, May 07, 2015

Why is "Get A Good Night’s Sleep" NOT on My 10 Healthy Life Habits List?


This is the 2nd post of a 13 part series on Healthy Life Habits. In case you've missed the previous post we've already covered:

1. My 10 Healthy Life Habits

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I had someone ask me last night why I didn’t put 8 hours sleep on my 10 healthy life habits list. 

The answer is both simple and involved.

The simple answer is sleep is not a habit you can “practice” the way you can, say, eating real food. Either you can sleep at night or you can’t. As anyone who has been tortured by insomnia will tell you (I am one of them) it’s not a matter of choice. And TRYING to sleep? AHAHAAHHAAHHAAHA! *wipes tears away* Good luck with that.

The more involved answer has two main components. First, a good night’s sleep will probably be a natural outcome of practicing the 10 healthy habits. Second, while I agree that 8 solid hours of sleep has undeniable benefits, I’m not convinced that humans were designed to sleep a certain way or for a certain amount of time or that they absolutely must sleep 8 hours in a row to be healthy.

Let me clarify one thing before everyone jumps down my throat about the sleep thing: I know there is good research on the benefits of 8 hours of sleep in a row; I've read the articles and research papers; I’m not denying that research. What I am saying is there is also evidence that humans can have different sleep patterns and still be healthy. Maybe they won’t get the maximum benefits of the human growth hormone for weight loss or building muscle, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t healthy.

Also, one thing I learned from struggling with insomnia is that, well, struggling with it is pointless. If you can’t sleep, the best thing you can do is accept it and relax. There are tons and tons of websites devoted to “How to get a good night’s sleep”, so I’m not going to address this in detail. There are wonderful articles and books filled with ideas about what may be causing your insomnia and some things you can do to bring an end to the sleepless nights, if that’s what you need.

So back to why I'm writing this blog post: to address why I didn't put the standard "get 8 solid hours of sleep per night" on my 10 healthy life habits list. Here is my involved answer:

Let me address the first component of my sleep answer: A good night’s sleep will probably be a natural outcome of practicing the 10 healthy habits. This is what happened to me. When I first got serious about taking care of myself, I was six months postpartum, after the birth of my first child. Among other things, I was not sleeping well. Part of that was having a baby, but my daughter was sleeping through the night at three months old, and I mean 7 to 8 hours, but I wasn't.  

A bigger part of my insomnia was a perfect storm of hormones, anxiety, medications, allergies, stress, lack of a balanced diet, chronic dehydration, and not enough exercise. As I worked on getting healthier—and it was a total trial and error process—I started sleeping better. By the time my daughter was 2 and I got pregnant with my son, I was sleeping well. I won’t say I was sleeping 8 hours straight; more like 4 - 6 hours, then another 2-4 hours.

The really telling part was after my son was born, though, because I slept so much better than I did after my daughter was born. Even with night time feedings. There were some complications with my second pregnancy that contributed to a sixty-five pound weight gain, but I’ll save that for another post.

Which brings me to the second component: is 8 hours of sleep in a row the only way to get a good night’s sleep? Historically, humans did not sleep 8 hours in a row, as this article explains. There is plenty of evidence in pre-1800s documents that humans slept in two phases, “first sleep” and “second sleep”. (I’m thinking about Hobbits now, too. ;-) ) It wasn’t just noted that humans COULD sleep this way, it was the WAY humans slept. It was common knowledge.

People would rest over a twelve hour period (pretty much from sunset to sunrise) with a 3-4 hour first sleep, then a 3-4 hour wakeful period—when such activities as studying, prayer, contemplation, visiting neighbors, having a snack, and bumping boots was recommended—then a 3-4 hour second sleep before dawn. This was how humans slept until the nineteenth century.

So why did the 8 hours of sleep thing start? Roger Ekirch, professor of history at Virgnia Tech, surmises that the advent of "street lighting and eventually electric indoor light, as well as the popularity of coffee houses” led to people staying awake after sunset more often, thus limiting the time for rest/sleep and possibly affecting the circadian rhythm. Author Craig Koflosky expands on these ideas in his book Evening’s Empire.

Basically, two sleeps became a waste of time when the night was reclaimed from criminals and other shaggy, long-toothed predators. Nighttime activities were no longer the sole domain of the seedy and depraved. There were varied activities available to a wider segment of the population, and, hmmmmmm, isn’t it possible that there was money to be made by keeping people up later, shopping, dining, going to plays and ballets and even just drinking?

Kind of looks like cramming as much as we possibly can into the day wasn't enough; we had to start cramming our sleep into as small a time frame as possible, too. 

So my advice about sleep? Let it happen. Relax, even if you’re not sleeping through the night, it’s okay. Stop thinking your sleep has to be "perfect". Make sure you rest, but please don’t make it worse for yourself by stressing out about whether you're sleeping "correctly". Sheesh. How we torture ourselves with the "shoulds". smh.

Do some experiments. Maybe less caffeine during the day or more water. Hey, why not start working on one of the healthy habits, like De-stressing Daily? Pick up a book on creating good sleep habits. I think its way too stressful if I tell you how you should be sleeping, and that stress is not going to make you sleep better, is it?

The way you are sleeping or not sleeping is NOT wrong, it’s simply a result of your lifestyle choices and the current state of your health. The best way to get a good night’s sleep is not to “try” to practice sleeping better, but to work on changing the things that are making it hard to sleep in the first place.

Working on developing the 10 healthy life habits will help you do just that.


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Previous Article in this Series:
My 10 Healthy Life Habits

Next Article in this Series:
Let them Drink Water 





Wednesday, May 06, 2015

My 10 Healthy Life Habits

This is the introduction to my series on My Healthy Life Habits: Common Sense Wellness
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I believe there are 10 fundamental actions you need to practice in order to be healthy, both physically
and mentally. And if you think you can get away with just focusing on one or the other, you're mistaken. Ever wonder why you keep yo-yoing around your health goals despite doing everything you're "supposed" to? I propose there is something on this list that you are not practicing.

Before we get into the list, I want to stress that trying to incorporate ALL of these things at once into your life will overwhelm you. It's like those prescriptive diets (I hate diets) that tell you to clean out your cupboards, stock up on all the clean eats in the Grocery Shopping section of their book, and clear your schedule because you're going to start a whole new lifestyle on Monday. Yeah, right.

For some rare souls, this works. I think it's because they were ready for that kind of change or they are super control freaks (you know who you are) who thrive on lists of do's and don'ts. But if you're not ready to overhaul your life overnight, and most of us aren't, you're going to go strong for a few days, even a few weeks or months, but somewhere along the way you're going to run out of willpower.

You're going to start feeling like you're barely hanging on by your fingernails, and then you're going to lose your grip and fall off the cliff. For some of us that means falling into old habits and eventual, maddening weight gain. Aaaaannd we start all over again. Damn it.

So don't try to do all the things on my list at once. Pick one thing and work on it for a month. If you feel like that practice is solid, add another thing and work on that for one month, and so on. Be forewarned: you are going to slip on something eventually. That is the nature of our beast. When that happens, then you need to focus on whatever practice slipped for a full month before trying to add anything new.

This is a life-long strategy, not a quick fix. If you've tried the quick fix, or seven, then you know the results don't last. When I'm struggling with anxiety or weight gain or some other health issue, I know I've slipped up on one of my daily practices. This isn't a bad thing. It's reality, so I try not to beat myself up about it (see #7).

Okay, enough pre-list blathering. Here are my ten things I practice in order to be in my best health:

1. Drink Water
Nothing earth shattering here. Notice I'm not prescribing a certain amount or handing out water bottles or defining ounces per pound ratios. Nope. Not going to do it. If I drink one glass of water all day, then I've practiced drinking water and that's good enough. To make sure I get at least that one glass per day, I leave a cup by my bathroom sink. In the morning when I get up, I go straight to the bathroom (who doesn't?), fill my cup and drink it all at once. It's a small cup, only 8 ounces.

2. Move Your Body
This is not "exercising" exactly; this is more general than that. For instance, I make a point of not sitting down for the first 10 minutes I'm awake. For example, while the coffee is brewing, I put a few clean dishes away. My kids load and run the dishwasher at night, so in the morning the dishes are clean. I also make a point of getting up from the computer every hour and walking around the house, shift the laundry, prep dinner, etc. Why in the world is this on my list? Because people who tend to move more during the day tend to get more done AND have an easier time maintaining their weight.

3. Build and Maintain a Support Team
This sounds more official than it really is, but I like the wording because it makes me take this practice seriously. You've heard it a million times, but I wonder if you really get how fundamental this is to your success...in anything. If we want to be healthy, we have to hang out with healthy people. Oh, and enlist some professionals while we're at it, like doctors, mental health professionals, nutritionists, and personal trainers, to name a few.

4. Exercise on Purpose
Otherwise known as "intentional exercise", this is the stuff most people hate. This is the Zumba class, the yoga class, the 2 mile wog (walking/jogging combo), and the push-ups. Ewwwwwwww. Actually, I love exercising and its one of the easiest things for me to practice. I love working out, or as I prefer to call it, playing out, but I know most people don't so start easy and slow. Go for a walk for 10 minutes. Done. Move on.

5. Eat Real Food
What is "real" food, you ask? I'm talking minimally processed or better yet, fresh food. If it has an ingredient list, that means it's processed. For instance, those "yogurt" cups everyone's so fond of are not yogurt. If yogurt is one of the ingredients, it ain't yogurt. It contains yogurt.

Don't panic! I am NOT saying don't eat anything processed ever again or start eating real food exclusively tomorrow. I'm saying "practice" eating more real food. Start by doing just one thing for one month, like making your own mashed potatoes if you usually buy the instant stuff. Okay? *hands you a tissue* It's going to be okay.

6. De-stress Daily
Do you consciously choose to de-stress for a few minutes at least once per day? For instance, I take a glass of water with grapefruit essential oil out onto the deck WITHOUT my phone, and sip water while I watch the squirrels chase each other around my yard. That's one of my de-stressing activities. I have many more. It doesn't have to be meditation. It doesn't have to be anything complicated. Just a simple sitting still, being present, and letting go of the tension in your neck.

Why is this on the list? Because stress has to be managed on purpose or else we'll manage it by accident. What do you think is the most common knee-jerk stress management activity? I'll give you three guesses. The first two don't count.

7. Forgive Yourself and Others
Every. Dang. Day. Forgive yourself for being mean to yourself. Forgive your mom for bringing those damn cookies over. Forgive your friend for not understanding how much you needed her company when she had to cancel your lunch date. Forgive yourself for whatever mistakes you think you made today. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.

8. Think Positive
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear your eyes rolling. BUT, its still true that practicing thinking positive thoughts is vital to your success. All kinds of success.

I know a woman who always has a negative comment for everything all the time. Guess what? She's unhealthy, unhappy, and unaware that its her own fault. I bet you know someone just like that. Maybe...its you. Do you want to change that? Then get over yourself and get busy reprogramming yourself to think positive.

9. Be Grateful
Yep, right up there with thinking positive. You have to do this. Start out simple. Before you go to sleep at night, think of one think--just ONE thing--you are grateful for. Maybe it's the pillow under your head or the fact that you didn't kill anyone today (good enough for now, but you want to work on making your gratitude list positive over time).

Why is this important? If you're always focused on what's wrong with your life, that is what you will always get--more wrong. If you focus on what is good in your life, then that is what you are going to create: more good. It's not foofy inspirational speaker talk, its a fact of life. Think about this: if you want to walk to the grocery store but you face the wrong direction, how hard is it going to be to get to the grocery store?

10. Plan Ahead
You need a plan to get where you are going, but don't get too attached to that plan. Don't you want to just smack me? ;-) Once the plan is written down (yes, you have to write it down) and you implement the plan, put it into action, it is inevitable that the plan will be incomplete or not work at some point or just not fit what's actually happening in your life. That's when you revise the plan.

So those are my 10 practices for a healthy life.

Each of these practices needs to be incorporated one at a time, not all at once, and it's a practice, not a perfect anything. Some days I get it all in, some days I don't. I take note of what I'm having the most trouble with and spend a month focusing on that.

These practices all work together and it may seem strange to focus on say drinking water when there's so much more that needs to be done in order to achieve your goals. If you feel you're ready to add more than one of these practices, by all means, go for it. But if you slip up or start to feel overwhelmed, I strongly suggest focusing on one thing.

Don't feel like you have enough information to even get started? Don't worry. I'm going to break all of this down in upcoming blog posts. I'll go into depth on each practice, as well as let you in on a little secret I discovered about "stacking habits".

In the meantime, have a glass of water and relax. It's all going to be okay. Wait, it's all going to be fantastic!

Much love and light!

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My Healthy Life Habits Series continues with:
Why is "Get a Good Night's Sleep" NOT on My 10 Healthy Life Habits List? 
Let them Drink Water 
Move Your Body
Build a Support Team
Exercise on Purpose (Or Die Trying)
Eat Real Food, Most of the Time

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Add Some Health to Your Life

Along with all the advice about things we "should" do to be healthier and happier, there's a lot of
advice about what we "shouldn't" do.

Like...

  • Don't eat refined carbohydrates like white rice and white bread. 
  • Don't drink alcohol.
  • Don't eat meat.
  • Don't eat dairy products.
  • Don't take cheap vitamin supplements.
  • Don't buy pants with an elastic waste.
  • Don't eat fried foods.
  • Don't eat anything you love.
  • Don't use personal hygiene products with x ingredient.
  • Don't eat fast food.
  • Don't eat at restaurants.
  • Don't eat junk food.
  • Don't drink soda.
  • Don't just do cardio.
  • Don't 
  • Don't 
  • Don't
I call this the subtractive process, and so do many fitness and nutrition coaches. The problem with the subtractive process is it leaves you feeling deprived. Also, people don't like being told not to eat their favorite foods. Our inner child stomps her foot and refuses to cooperate, or sneaks off to hide somewhere to eat or do exactly what she was told not to eat or do, then she lies when she's caught with the frosting on her face. 

I was curious what my friends would say about this issue, so I posed this question on my Facebook timeline:



Here is half of the responses I got:


Admittedly, these are my awesome, funny, wonderful friends who know me well enough to be themselves. BUT that actually makes their responses all the more honest and I'm sure you can find your response among these.

So, while I acknowledge it is vital to education yourself about what is healthy and what is unhealthy, I advocate a positive, additive approach to changing your eating habits. So instead of focusing on the don'ts, I recommend focusing on what you can add to your life to be healthier. Like...
  • Drink water.
  • Gather a strong support team.
  • Exercise.
  • Eat real food. Mostly vegetables.
  • De-stress.
  • Forgive yourself and others.
  • Laugh more.
  • Be grateful.
  • Be kind.

There's a lot more I could add to this list, but these are the fundamentals. If you want to make healthy lifestyle changes, pick one positive thing to do this month and do that thing every single day. When you've got that down, add one more positive thing next month. You know what you'll discover by adding healthy, positive things to your life? You'll have less room for the unhealthy habits you've been beating yourself up over.

I always recommend starting your healthy lifestyle journey with a glass of water every morning when you first wake up. That's it. One month of drinking 8 ounces of water every morning. You'll be surprised by what happens when you commit to this positive, additive healthy habit. Hint: I like my morning water warm with a few drops of lemon essential oil or the juice of half of a fresh lemon.

Having trouble creating a healthy lifestyle? Tell me about it! I want to hear from you, and so do my other readers. When we share our experiences, we help each other.

Take care of yourselves, my friends.