What We’ve Learned about Sleep

Most parents coach their infants to consistent sleep patterns and take their high school graduates to college. Tween didn’t learn to sleep, so in middle school we took him to a major university to participate in research on teen sleep.

1 week old

Every child is different, right? Teen was a great sleeper from Week 1 (or maybe that was the C-section drugs?). Still, he played hard during the day and slept hard during the night.

At the other end of the sleep spectrum, Tween never slept well. His crib was in our room for the first year and we did this ridiculous crawling-on-the-floor-through-the-dark routine to get to our bathroom and/or bed; no matter, it never worked. This child popped up, alert as a bird at daybreak, to say hello?, love me!, hold me!, feed me! Entertain. Me. NOW!

As a little guy, his sleep-resistance efforts were kinda cute albeit occasionally maddening. Somewhere I have hilarious video footage of him at about 20 months, naked in his crib, bouncing and singing his ABCs. Rather than nap, he’d stripped the bed and tossed everything on the floor, then stripped himself and provided the music for his own happy baby dance party.

We thought Tween was just a light sleeper. During the day he wields a different energy than his brother, so needs less sleep at night. Right? In his mid-elementary years he finally spoke up: he felt constantly exhausted. Either he’d lie awake for hours before sleep descended, or he’d conk out only to wake up in the wee hours. Either way, he didn’t get consistent, sufficient sleep.

So when we received a card in the mail inviting participation in a sleep study for teens with sleep disorders he immediately said, YES! Maybe they can help me sleep…

Did you know that sleep coaching can be as effective as medication for developing better sleep? That’s what the researchers told us. It hasn’t entirely solved the problem; this will be his life-long issue. But it has helped, and we’re grateful. It’s also gone a long way towards demonstrating his parents’ love for him and care for his well-being.

What did we do?

The study involved, for Tween and for me, a series of phone and in-person interviews plus on-paper assessments before we could be admitted to the study, repeated periodically over the course of a year. Tween spent the night at the university a couple times. No, he did not wear electrodes all over his head. Instead, they took saliva and administered computer tests throughout the afternoon/evening, and again in the morning. For a week at a time, a few times, he had a daily phone interview with a researcher, and other weeks he wore a special watch that works much like a FitBit to record activity, light, and sleep.

Best of all, he met weekly for an hour with a sleep coach over seven weeks. We haven’t seen the official study results yet so we don’t truly know what the researchers discovered. We do know, however, what we learned from Tween’s sleep coach.

What did we learn?

For Tween, and for many of us who struggle with sleep, his thoughts proved a massive obstacle to sleep. Any of this sound familiar? Watching the clock. Pondering (trying not to ponder) thoughts from today or concerns about tomorrow. Expecting not to fall asleep. Worrying about when you might fall asleep. Trying to force sleep. Wondering why in the world is it so hard for me to sleep?

He has to calm his mind…

Get rid of the clock. We removed Tween’s digital alarm clock from his room. He now has to trust that, if his parents haven’t woken him, it is not time to be awake. This works for adults, too. Silence your smart phone, then set an alarm. Don’t look at it until it goes off.

Journal. An hour or so before bed, write down all the things you want to remember from today or brainstorm for tomorrow. Make notes so you free up brain space to begin to relax.

Gratitude. Reset your brain by focusing on the things for which you can be grateful. Recording three unique items for gratitude each day has also been shown to increase happiness.

Wind down. This was one of our biggest and best discoveries. For an hour before bed, turn off the screens. Turn down the lights (more mood lighting, less overheads). Instead of playing video games or watching TV, read a (kinda boring) book. Journal. Draw. Do a puzzle. Whatever it is that relaxes you, do that. Wind down can also include nightly rituals, like a bath/shower, a cup of herbal tea, a hand-and-foot massage, or diffusing essential oils. We know bedtime routines are essential for littles, yet we forget how truly relaxing those routines can be.

Restrict bed for sleep only. We read bedtime stories to our kids in bed. We send them to bed a few minutes early with a book. Except reading in bed trains our brains to go crazy in bed, whereas we want our brains to cue that bed means sleep. Set up a separate in-bedroom cozy nook for reading/wind down time.

Block light. Another key discovery: even the tiniest bit of light disturbs sleep, another reason to ban the digital clock. If you can’t get rid of all light sources, try a sleep mask. Tween occasionally pulls his out; I use mine every night, no fail. It’s annoying at first. You get used to it.

White noise. We are big believers in bedroom fans. The fan doesn’t have to point at the bed, and it doesn’t have to be on high. A little air movement and a little whirring will do the trick, even if you wear ear plugs–another plus for light sleepers.

Get up. If you’re not sleeping after what feels like a half-hour, get up; keep lights low (store a small flashlight or head lamp nearby) and do something quiet and relaxing. After what feels like another half-hour, go back to bed. Repeat until you can fall asleep.

Rise up! Don’t hit snooze in the morning, just get up. Wash your hands and face with cold water. Open the windows, head out the door, search out the sun. You can move your way into greater energy even when you want to collapse. Get going, and keep going, until wind down time.

There were other tips–limit caffeine; don’t nap; keep your bedtime and wake-up times consistent throughout the week–all common sense. Tweens and teens may need up to 11 hours of sleep per night; 9.5 hours is a reasonable goal, even when that feels completely unreasonable (homework and sports and whatever, oh my!).

Two key moments in our sleep research experience…

It is nearly impossible to estimate your own sleep quantity or quality. We are so accustomed to asking our loved ones, “How’d you sleep?” And we have no idea that there is no way they can accurately answer that question. People simply can’t tell–even as they stare down their clocks–how long it took them to fall asleep, or how long or deeply they slept. Unless you wear a smart gadget, and even those glitch.

Then the sleep coach said something to this effect: “All this only really matters because the world keeps moving on schedule. If you could just sleep in anytime to get the sleep you need, we wouldn’t need to try to regulate your overnight sleep.” Huh.

To that point, I am grateful that our society in general and our local schools particularly have begun to take seriously research on teen sleep. Through adolescence kids need to sleep more in the morning. Not all, but many (most?) do. It’s biology, and we should work with our bodies rather than against them.

For my part, I have begun getting ready for bed when Tween does. I make some herbal tea (I like Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime teas), wash my face, put on a headlamp, and read in the almost-dark until my eyes get heavy. I sleep better on those nights. School is stressful and homework loads vary, so Tween cannot be as consistent at this stage. Nevertheless, he has learned early some very important lessons.

On the drive to our first in-person interview I said, “This is kinda cool! I bet you’re the only middle schooler you know who gets to participate in research at a major university!”

To which he calmly responded: “Yah, but I’m also the only middle schooler I know who has insomnia…”

Someday he won’t be the only adult he knows with insomnia, but he might just be the best-rested insomnia-wrestling adult he knows!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Thankful Thursday – Hufflepuff & Blooms

So uncharacteristic, I began running about six weeks ago.

Once-twice a week became two-three times a week became daily. Huh, I’m running! Not a runner, but running no less.

About four weeks in I felt a funny coldness in my throat. Then a cough developed, non-productive, just annoying. Then I couldn’t breath deeply – butterflies fluttered in my chest. Then my sweet Guy felt hesitant to hike with me because: what would he do if I can’t breath?

I did some internet research. The three main triggers for asthma:
* change in exercise
* change of weather
* air quality (pollution/allergies)

And the two big questions: any family history of asthma or allergies? Why, yes. Both in my own body: asthma as a baby, allergies currently.

And so, my attempt to get healthier than I’ve been in a long time kicked me in the rear. I now have asthma, and just picked up my first-ever inhaler. It may not be forever, but it is for now.

Bummer. And yet…

I am grateful for advances in science and health, scientists and doctors who know how to diagnose and treat various health issues.

I am grateful for hope that the inhaler will help.inhaler

I am grateful for all the crazy-beautiful blooms that release pollens that cause allergies, because Beauty.white rose white roses

I hope to always be on the receiving end of the rainbows God throws out, whether or not they appear vibrant, colorful, and delicious.rainbows

Running in the Rain

run-in-the-rain

You don’t have to know me well to know I’m not a runner. My inner critic says, You might know at first glance, but I tell that voice to hush up now. For various reasons, I haven’t run since a college-required fitness class, mostly because it felt torturous, no fun at all. Walking, hiking, YES, but even still, it’s only been in the last decade of my life that I’ve realized how much better my body – and my brain – feel when I move for 30 minutes most days and some days more.

My funniest running memory? I set Toddler Tween on his feet in the park after releasing him from his car seat. He was so excited to see his friends on the playground that I said, “C’mon, let’s run!” He took three steps then halted, wide-eyed. “Wait! You know how to run?” Goodness.

Still, I’ve always admired runners and the freedom they seem to feel in their bodies. I can’t remember feeling truly free in my body. Even when I’m hiking, enjoying spectacular vistas, I fight feeling sluggish. I have to push myself forward no matter how much I’m enjoying the experience.

Last weekend I leashed up the dog and decided to shake things up: I decided to run. I had thought it through in advance since I walk this neighborhood almost daily. I walked down our street, then jogged the next leg. Walked half a block, jogged half a block. Walked the up-hills, jogged the down-hills. Wash, rinse, repeat for a longer distance than I usually walk in 30 minutes. I imagine even the dog was pleasantly surprised, and she indulged me by forgoing her sniff-and-water routine.

I can’t even think about how I looked. It felt as awkward as I remembered, and different: no one required this of me, and so I could think about it as play. I felt new feelings in my knees, my thighs, my arms. My lungs filled and ached. I felt slightly light-headed in a not-so-unpleasant way. And I kept moving. I didn’t pass out and I didn’t die. Surprising even myself, I might have had fun.

Rain has been splashing down this weekend. But in Costa Rica we hiked in the rain, played frisbee in the rain, didn’t mind the rain; so why should I let some glorious and much-needed NorCal rain keep me indoors? Besides, I heard the voice of a long-time runner friend in my head telling me that she loves running in the rain. Doggy hates the rain so I left her home. I donned my favorite kelly green windbreaker, put my phone in my pocket and headphones in my ears, and took the same route.

Of course the heavens unleashed a downpour just as I hit the street. No matter. I thought about puddle jumping with a college friend during a big storm; our sweat pants got so wet-heavy we had to hold them up. I remembered puddle jumping with Teen as a preschooler. He wore his yellow rubber rain boots and yellow slicker, green froggy umbrella in his hand, as we danced and jumped and reveled in the rain. Head and heart filled with pleasant memories, I ignored my thudding steps and smiled.

Just as I topped an up-hill and prepared to jog down the other side, my phone offered up the Glee version of Rhianna’s “Umbrella,” arguably my favorite Glee scene/song. I giggled. Not singing in the rain, not dancing, but running in the rain – playing, and enjoying it, even when it felt hard. If my wet hand could have dislodged my phone from my pocket, I would have put the song on repeat.

Why did I run, not once but twice? I don’t know as it’s so out of character. All I can say is, I wanted to and so I did. I might even do it again, especially if it’s raining.wet child

Meatless Monday – Wellness Teas

superbowl-foodAnyone overdo it this weekend? Anyone? C’mon, yesterday was Superbowl Sunday, after all. Even if you ate (mostly) healthy perhaps, like me, you still managed to eat a few too many bites of, for example, nachos or Girl Scout cookies?

About a year ago I read a cookbook that advocated starting each day with a cup of hot water infused with juice of half a lemon and a dash of cayenne pepper. When I had lemons on hand and took the extra few seconds to juice it into a mug, I definitely felt a different perk in my stride. I didn’t give up coffee, mind you, but my “spicy lemonade” came first and helped me feel better.

Except I always prep the coffee before bed and Guy pushes the button when he gets up, so most days it’s easier to stick to my cuppa joe.

detox teaA few months ago I came across a similar recipe for a Detox Tea. Easy enough and perfect for my Work-at-Home Mondays, especially in the cold winter months when I really do not need yet one more cup of coffee.

Detox Tea
Juice of half a lemon + lemon rind (washed)
5 (or so) shaves of fresh ginger root
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
32 oz boiling water

I combine the whole lot in a Nalgene bottle and let sit for 10 minutes. Then I pop in one of my favorite metal straws and sip-and-work the day away. As it cools, usually around the time I have finished half the bottle, I add more hot water. Warm, healthy, hydrating – win, win, win.

And, no kidding, I have noticed week by week that I feel healthier on Mondays. Sure, the relaxed pace of working from home, the productivity boost I enjoy in my distraction-free zone + the benefit of popping in a load of laundry and/or dinner in a crock pot during a break still shorter than an in-office conversation, yah, all that helps. But the tea…!

The love keeps coming! I found another tea recipe, this one with ground ginger and turmeric, which made me So Happy as my orthopedist had suggested that I regularly ingest both as an anti-inflammatory for my bum knee. Bonus: it tastes like a riff on chai.

Anti-Inflammatory Tea
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 c boiling water
a dash of your favorite non-dairy milk
a splash of sweetener of choice

Again, I use a Nalgene bottle to steep ginger and turmeric in water. After 10 minutes, you could strain the concoction into another mug if you’re texture-sensitive; I don’t mind a little fine-ground spice grit in my drink, so I grab the almond or coconut milk and maple syrup in my fridge, pop in my straw, and enjoy.

spicesA few weeks ago Teen came home on a Friday night feeling “off.” About 2am, he scared the bejeebers out of me when he poked (and poked and poked) me in the arm to tell me “something is really wrong!” He had a fever, aches, chills, congestion… the flu. Sometime the next day I made him a bottle of Anti-Inflammatory Tea and way sooner than expected he was back to himself. Seriously, I thought he’d be down for a solid 4-7 days, but he went back to school Monday morning. Coincidence? Even if it is, I’d try the tea again.

Just for kicks, I looked up some of the health benefits of lemons, apple cider vinegar, ginger, and turmeric…

Lemon juice: Aids digestion; soothes a sore throat; prevents kidney stones; contains anti-cancer properties; reduces pain and inflammation; brings down a fever

Apple cider vinegar (unfiltered = best): Regulates blood sugar; contains probiotics; alleviates sore throats; breaks up mucous and congestion; combats constipation; whitens teeth

Ginger: Soothes digestion; reduces motion sickness and/or nausea; reduces exercise-induced muscle aches; reduces inflammation and soothes inflammatory conditions

Turmeric: Prevents cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and liver disease; relieves arthritis; moderates blood sugar; reduces cholesterol; boosts immunity; improves digestion

So now if you’ll excuse me? I think it’s high time I make myself some tea!

What’s Your Dance Party?

I’ve been thinking about “YES!”yes

This word, “create,” requires saying Yes to life, to invitations, to play, and, sometimes worse, to those things that intimidate or downright scare me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for saying “NO!” as necessary. I believe in it. Oh baby, YES, we have to say NO! from time to time. My everyday hero, Jen Hatmaker, says: “People will take as much as you will give them, not because they are terrible humans, but because they only want this one slice of you. Plus, you’re probably good at their pet thing. But they don’t observe the scope of your life and all the other tricks on your beam. You can say no, and no one will die. God wants this freedom for us.” Sometimes we have to say No in order to say Yes to something more important. I’ve been thinking on that a lot lately, too.

But, YesGetting out of our comfort zone to live a full, exuberant, energetic, creative life, that requires Yes answers where No might be our instinct.

i-dare-me-clubI’ve been reading a book, I Dare Me!, about a middle-aged wowza-successful gal who felt stuck. To un-stick herself she created a list, with lots of help, of Firsts she could do every day of the year. She began with one of her biggest fears, swimming in the ocean, and so she took a New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. I’m not afraid of the ocean, and still, Yikes! Some were way more do-able, like taking a new class at the gym, trying a new recipe and/or restaurant, even going without make-up for a day (and yet, she’s an on-air news anchor, so…). It’s inspirational. I don’t want to do many of the things she did, but I’m asking the big question: What could I do? It’s a Yes to life!

Yes is about letting go of what others think, of what you think, of who you should be or what you should do. It’s embracing the whole range, from silly to ridiculous to meaningful.

Today I said Yes, if only just for a few seconds.

At our moms’ group, a sweet gal shared her story of birthing three babies in rapid succession, and in that time two household moves, of post-partum depression that lasted too long, and from all of that, to Zumba. You read that right, Zumba!zumba-in-the-circuit-logo-2

Previously, I had only ever Zumba’d in the privacy of my own home, not-jiving to a library DVD. I tried a few days in a row, working on steps and rhythm, before I decided I have neither steps nor rhythm (my gals will attest: after a few late-night glasses of wine, I might be convinced otherwise, but we keep that to ourselves).

Zumba was the thing God used to heal this sweet mama. She loves to dance, and so when her youngest began sleeping through the night she first took one class, which led to three, which became a dare from her husband to become an instructor. And so she did! Through Zumba she left depression behind. She grew lighter and brighter and, along with her, so did her family. And today, so did 150 or so women at our church as she led us in a simple, just-for-us routine.

The friend behind me had dressed the part: yoga pants and tennis skirt. Me, not so much. I confessed (uh, she was standing behind me, it wasn’t gonna take long…): “I don’t dance.” Thank God, she replied (surprisingly!) in kind.Andy-Grammer-Keep-Your-Head-Up

The song was Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up.”

You gotta keep your head up, oh
And you can let your hair down…

Step side-to-side, I got it (sort of). Add hands and body, I began to lose it. I thought, No Way am I gonna shake my tush in this room, with windows to my side, friends and co-workers nearby, What Are We Doing???

Then I looked around. One hundred-plus women shimmied around the room, each with her own size, shape, and style. Our group founder, about five gals in front of me and about as close to 90 as I am to 50, wiggled and giggled with glee. The smile stretching across her face, the obvious joy-filled un-self-consciousness she was experiencing, it moved me.

I remembered to Dare Myself. To Say Yes (also one of the rules of improv – always say “Yes, and…” – which also means you are fully present in the moment, Not Overthinking).

I let go. I shook my hands, my hair, and my rear. It could not have been pretty, but it was free. I reveled in the beauty of the story we’d heard, of how one gal found her way back to herself through dance and movement.

I believe we were made to move, and we all move to a different beat. And I believe we all have a passion, each different from the others, something that brings us to life and energizes those nearby. The dance-mama found her jive in Zumba. Mine is writing – I get bright-eyed and energetic thinking about what I will write next. It’s not all joy; some of it is excruciating hard work, but it’s still worth it. It’s my passion.

What’s yours?

Create

I wrote here about my intentions for, and here about my results with, “my word” for 2015: Put yourself in the way of beauty.

As 2015 came to a close, I reflected on the fact that my word had truly stuck with me and changed the way I lived. And so I asked myself, what’s next?

The word leaped to mind like a leopard that had been lying in wait:create

I have some creative projects I’d like to kick into high gear, projects for which I set goals I later let slip away. Beyond work, I’d like to be more creative in regular life, in play, relationships, and frame of mind. When I shared the word with others they responded with an impressed, “Oooh…!” It’s the right word at the right time for the right person: me.

Our creative instinct gives testimony to our having been created in the image of a creative God who has given us the privilege and responsibility of co-creating this world we inhabit. We mirror God to others through our creative acts, and I’m convinced we also tickle God pink with joy as we indulge the gifts He has given us.

I’m excited about living into “create” this year as it has so much potential. It is SO much bigger than we typically define it. We can create…

…art, atmosphere, beauty, community, compassion, design, experience, family, friendship, growth, health, home, hope, innovation, joy, laughter, legacy, love, marriage, meals, memories, music, peace, poetry, rituals, service, space, stories, traditions…

Just some of the things I have created so far this year…

rest – I continue to indulge my bedtime ritual, hand and foot massage, tea and book;
space – Tween and I cleaned out his closet;
play – swinging from the big tree in our front yard resets perspective;
stories – I have collected and edited such great stories for church publications;
health – always a work in progress as I try to move more and eat well;
peace – I have reveled in my love of reading, on my own and with Tween;
prayer – our family has prayed for loved ones using Christmas cards as a prompt;
balance – I am prayerfully considering open doors, allowing myself permission to say no as necessary;
healthy and delicious meals to nourish my family (some of which I will share on this blog);
friendship – I invest time in walks and evenings out with special people;
memories – Guy and I stayed up until the wee hours working with Teen on a school project, and I let Tween have ice cream for breakfast while we read in bed on a Sunday morning.

Have you noticed that interesting ideas spark during ordinary activities? My brother-in-law and I discussed creativity while we washed the Christmas china. Also a creative-type, he asked about my writing and goals for this year, and when I mentioned I had chosen “create” as my word for 2016, that I would attempt to structure my daily life and goals around that word, we hatched an idea about which I am beyond excited.

Throughout this year my blog will feature writers, painters, photographers, musicians, parents, teachers, missionaries, activists, philosophers, church leaders and more, all sharing perspectives on and experiences of creating. Together we are going to blow the roof of this word, “create.” We are going to see that it is so everyday true-to-life and still so crazy-spectacular. I can’t wait to learn from each guest post, and I’m so grateful for those who will join me in this creative adventure.

I am thrilled to be able to create a platform and community for people from all arenas of my life, living out their calling in such marvelous ways, to share about creative expression. The Create Challenge guest posts begin next Wednesday, friends!

Ready, set, CREATE!

Dead Weight

The smallest bump and it shattered to heaps of blue safety-glass shards.Shattered-Tempered-Glass

Because of our bathroom’s tight space, we wedged the scale between the shower and toilet. No room to stand on it there, we pulled it out each time we required its services. For years, it tattle-taled the ups and downs of our binges and purges, our couch-sitting and exer-cursions. Its yo-yo reporting had us just the slightest bit addicted, self-loathing on the upswing and exulting on the downswing.

You might expect I was the hard-core user, the lone female in a house reeking from testosterone, but you’d be wrong. Its whispered secrets enticed us all.

Oldest daughter of the tiniest Viking you’ll ever meet, my pediatrician always found me on the high end of the growth chart. And I blossomed early, so to speak. I felt like a giant in my family and on the playground. Never an athlete, I also never felt comfortable in my own skin. I had no reason, or none that I recognized, to respect what my body could do.

To complicate matters, my mom cooked like a gourmet but ate mostly muesli, what we called “bird food.” Small like a bird compared with her gigantic offspring, early on I developed a love-hate relationship with food and my body. I genuinely appreciate good food and the creativity of cooking, but I’m almost as likely to punish myself by eating bad pizza, with its accompanying greasy guilt, as I am to reward myself by eating healthy.

Both my babies were born in the six-pound range, but neither stayed small for long. Teen competed in the top three for height throughout elementary school and passed up his mama in shoe size and then height as middle school began. An easy athlete, he played most sports hard and fast until in 8th grade he discovered his passion: rugby. Between 9th and 10th grade he grew an inch and dropped 30 pounds, equally due to ADHD meds and his desire to be in his best shape for his sport. Now he spends hours most days of the week split between the gym and the field. He pushes himself until it hurts, complains loudly, and loves it. A tad obsessive, he weighs himself regularly and presses harder until the numbers tip.

Tween’s diapered infant body revealed a barrel chest, just like his dad’s, and one of my favorite things about his dad when we began dating. I felt safely wrapped up in that chest, and I anticipated that far down the road someone else would appreciate that same feature in my son. As a picky-eating toddler he got skinny, and then grew wider before taller. He’s still waiting to hit his growth spurt, which we anticipate any time now. He weighs himself infrequently, mostly to confirm his negative body feelings, exacerbated by comments from peers and a few unthinking adults.

I can’t report on Guy because we don’t share numbers. Which means neither of us feels good about the numbers we know and the numbers we desire, and so…

We have tried hard to fight the body-shaming culture with a body-positive culture at home. Health is the goal. We eat mostly plant-based, unprocessed foods. We expect everyone to be involved in regular physical activity – a sport, the gym, walking, biking, playing outside in the fresh air – because our bodies were made for movement. We discourage negative body comments and counter with, “eat healthy and enjoy moving.”

But that scale…3479588225_de40388083_n

Guy intended to replace it on our next Costco trip. I had mixed feelings, especially when Teen missed it. Our clothes and overall feelings of health ought to be a good enough indication without a number. At Costco today we completely forgot to purchase a scale. I remembered after we’d left when I realized I had bought supplies for a three-day food-based cleanse and wondered how much weight I might drop, at least for a time, as I detoxed my winter indulgences.

Obviously it’s complicated, and I guess I’ll have to listen to my body instead.