computer stress

Real health #21 A new perspective on insomnia. How to get a good nights’ sleep

Insomnia.. where do I start?! It’s crazy that something as natural as sleep seems to be slowly getting more and more difficult for us humans. Insomnia rates in the UK were already high at 1 in 6 but, according to the Guardian, since the start of the COVID19 pandemic this has increased to 1 in 4. There are so many articles out there giving tips on how to wind down at night and get a good nights’ sleep. I even wrote a post last year about dealing with sleep disturbances and how to create a calming evening routine to help you fall asleep fast. I still think this is very relevant and definitely a good place to start for anyone struggling with insomnia. But something that I have been thinking about lately is that getting a good nights’ sleep actually starts in the morning.

What do I mean by this? I mean that if you are spending all day in high-alert stress mode, an evening routine can only do so much. Sure it will help you to relax and calm down but for some people it isn’t enough. Especially for those who have been struggling with insomnia for a long time, or for those who are struggling with early waking insomnia where you might have no problem falling asleep but can’t seem to stay asleep. This was exactly the problem I had, I would always fall asleep within minutes of getting into bed as I was so exhausted. But no matter how tired I was I would wake up between 2 and 4am and lie awake for hours on end, feeling tired and wired. Or if I did sleep through the night, my sleep would be so restless and unrefreshing that I’d still feel like a zombie the next day. If you are currently going through this, I totally understand how frustrating it can be but trust me, it can get better!

So back to how getting a good nights’ sleep starts in the morning. The way we start our day and how we think and act during the day is extremely important for being able to relax and sleep at night. Nowadays we have so many things in our lives that cause stress, whether we realise it or not. This includes obvious things like a stressful, high-pressure job, financial worries, family or relationship issues but it also could be “normal” day to day things like the news, technology and social media, excessive productivity or too much caffeine. We have so much information at our fingertips and it can be easy to become overwhelmed. Emails, notifications, news alerts all come directly to our phones meaning that we are switched on at all times. There is always something to respond to, something new to read, listen to or do.

With technology helping us, the pace of life and work is so much faster. We can achieve so much more in a day than in the past when if you wanted to speak to someone you had to call them or send a fax. And if you needed information you had to walk to the file room to search for it rather than a quick search on an online data base. These things are great but what is it doing to our minds now that we can easily send 10 emails in an hour whilst simultaneously searching for an answer on Google the minute a question pops into our heads? We are thinking so much faster but less deeply. We are becoming like machines. The phrase “continuous partial attention” was developed by Linda Stone over 20 years ago for this state of being hyper-connected and constantly scanning for something to respond to. She explains really well in her article the difference between simple multi-tasking, with comes from a desire to be more productive, and continuous partial attention which is driven by a fear of missing out.

Continious partial attention damages our ability to concentrate on one thing and in the long term it puts you in fight or flight mode, increasing stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline that can affect your ability to sleep. Especially if you are a hard worker or a perfectionist, you can easily fall into the trap of doing too much. Maybe you are jumping from one productive activity to the next without taking a breath in between or juggling multiple activities at once. It could be work tasks like trying to write a report whilst responding to emails but also more fun things like listening to podcasts and reading articles. These tasks need a lot of focus and uses a huge amount of brain power to focus on multiple things at once, putting us into a state of high-alert.

If you feel like you are constantly in vigilant mode and struggle to concentrate on a task without your brain wandering and seeking other activities or distractions.. this could be you! Maybe you feel this constant sense of urgency, like you have to rush all of your tasks for no reason. Maybe you have a heaviness in your chest, your breathing is shallow or you find yourself holding your breath. Maybe you feel like if you’re not productive you are losing time. If you spend your day in this non-stop whirlwind of doing, is it any wonder why it’s difficult to fall asleep at night? You might be reading this and thinking you don’t have this problem but you still can’t sleep, and maybe that’s true and this isn’t the message for you. But I am sure I’m not the only one who was living this way.

In my experience, a huge key in overcoming insomnia and getting a good nights’ sleep is slowing down. This means moving more slowly throughout your day, starting from how you wake up in the morning. If this feels relevant for you and you want my advice, I’ll leave you with my top tips for how to overcome insomnia and get a good nights’ sleep:

  • Let your body and mind wake up gently with a calming morning routine. Try to leave your phone alone for the first hour of the day and let the news, emails and any other tasks wait.
  • MEDITATE. I can’t stress this one enough. You don’t need to do anything fancy, just set a timer for 5-20 minutes and sit quietly. If you can’t do it, great, that’s a good sign that you need it! With regular practice you can train your brain to settle, relax and focus.
  • Block out times in your calendar for tasks and try to focus on one thing at a time and not multi-task unless it’s for very simple tasks. Turn off your notifications and keep your phone away from you as every interruption and distraction adds stress to your system. You can set times during the day to check in rather than being available at all times.
  • Take your time and notice if the need to rush comes up. Value your health and happiness over productivity. You might actually find you get more done as your mind will be clearer when you are more relaxed
  • Plan regular breaks throughout your day to check in with how you’re feeling, connect with your breath and maybe go outside or move your body to let go of any built up tension
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and feel inspired to give these tips a go. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, Iā€™d love to hear from you.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

The power of a morning ritual during a crisis

I have known about the power of the “morning ritual” for a while now and it was a key part in my healing from hypothalamic amenorrhea and adrenal fatigue, but with work and other commitments its very easy for this to fall by the wayside. With the current global drama that is sweeping the planet right now, getting back to a morning routine has really helped to reduce my anxiety levels and help me to cope. It’s such a bizarre situation that I never would have imagined could happen in my lifetime but here we are.

In the first week of lockdown I was glued to the news, switching on the TV first thing in the morning to see the latest updates whilst drinking my coffee. I didn’t realise but this was the worst thing I could possibly do. Right after waking up, stressing out my mind and body with scary information and a caffeine hit on top sent me on an anxiety rollercoaster for the rest of the day. As someone with a sensitive nervous system, I tend to easily get overwhelmed and overstimulated. Maintaining my hormonal health is a priority for me so when I started noticing symptoms of cycle imbalance, I pretty quickly realised I needed to find a better way to start my day if I wanted to stay healthy and sane during this crisis.

However, I also can easily fall into a perfectionistic, over-controlling mindset so I knew that a prescriptive morning ritual was not what I needed. This is a really great time to embrace the intuitive, fluid feminine energy rather than the rigid, inflexible masculine. So rather than set out exact steps of what to do each morning, I thought about the building blocks that make up a healthy morning routine and now I use these as the foundation to create a unique ritual each morning to start my days off on the right foot.

  1. Hydration

Getting some sort of fluid into my body first thing in the morning always helps me to wake up and feel energised. I know a lot of people prefer to just go straight into breakfast in the morning but I always wake up with a dry mouth and I am so used to this now I can’t imagine staring my day without it. I don’t think it’s necessary to drink a litre of water or anything crazy but just a small cup of something is great to wake up my digestive system and feel refreshed. What I drink depends on the day but its usually either lemon water, green/herbal tea, a smoothie or plain water. I still drink a coffee most days but I make sure its later in the morning to allow my body to wake up naturally.

     2. Quiet time 

Having a moment of stillness and quiet is really important. We spend most of our days being bombarded with information either from the news or social media and it’s very easy to distract ourselves by constantly seeking stimulus. I’m not saying that we should (or could) avoid this altogether but giving myself the gift of 30-60 minutes of quiet time in the morning has done wonders for my stress levels during the day. Again it depends on the day but I will use this time either to read, play with my cat, write in my journal, meditate or just sit and watch out of the window. I just do whichever or a combination of these depending on how I’m feeling each day.

3. Movement

The last thing I like to do before getting on with whatever activities I have for the day is to move my body. I am generally not in the mood for intense exercise early in the morning but going for a walk in the park outside my house or a gentle yoga practice is a great way to refresh my mind, wake me up and reduce muscle stiffness after a night’s sleep. I was resistant to practicing yoga in the morning for a long time as I preferred to do it later in the day when my muscles were warmer and I felt less stiff. But I’ve started to enjoy doing a short practice first thing and then on the days I feel like doing a longer or more intense practice doing this at lunchtime or early evening.

I’ve actually enjoyed following yoga practices on youtube lately. Even though I’m a qualified yoga teacher there is something soothing about being guided through a sequence and it allows me to really relax and melt into the flow rather than thinking about what comes next. Plus it’s great to see other teaching styles and get inspiration for developing my own lessons for when this quarantine is finally over! Some of my favourite morning yoga flows:

The Mindful Movement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQiMhQ9DO_A

Yoga Upload: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvfHJ9dJXak

Yoga with Adriene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-Q7H8afamg

Cat Meffan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFw7wOqLJO0

I hope this gives you some inspiration for how you can start your day off on the right foot. Let me know your morning routine or if there are any other morning yoga flows that you enjoy as I am always looking for new teachers to follow šŸ™‚ P.S I look hench on this photo.. who said yoga is easy??

morning yoga

The pre-menstrual power of losing it

Right now I am in my pre-menstrual phase and I have been struggling a lot with difficult emotions. I am feeling unsettled, sad, angry, lost and confused. Luckily because I track my cycle I know that this is the time of the month when things like this are most likely come up. As women we are so good at hiding how we really feel and getting on with things, often trying to keep others happy at the expense of our own wellbeing. This ability to override our darkest emotions is much stronger in the first half of our cycle when estrogen is high. And it’s not like its a conscious decision, our bodies do this automatically so we can actually experience it as feeling fine one week and then crazy the next.

losing it

So what should we do when these feelings come up shake our sense of self? It can be tempting to squash the feelings down through distraction or coping mechanisms such as emotional eating or to dismiss them as PMS or just “being hormonal”. But if we take the time to listen we can really learn something about how we feel about our lives and use it to make positive changes. Something I have been trying to do is to sit in the stew of emotions, just letting myself feel whatever comes up without judging or trying to change things. If I am feeling depressed one day letting that be and not using any of the “make yourself happy” techniques like fake positive affirmations which never really worked for me anyway. Every emotion is valid and is just a signal from your body trying to tell you something.

Another GREAT thing to do is just allow yourself to lose it. Some women, myself included, tend to be pretty controlled with their emotions on a daily basis. At work, many of us are in male-dominated environment and we don’t want to come across as weak or over-emotional. At home, we don’t want to offend or upset our partners or families with our anger or sadness. But actually letting go of control and just letting it all out is exactly what we need. Its better to do it consciously rather than being hit by an emotional outburst out of the blue. Scream, shout, cry, punch a pillow, dance like crazy.. anything to get that energy moving up and out of your body. Maybe you feel embarrassed and don’t want to look stupid? Some of my favourites are screaming as loud as I can whilst driving on the motorway, letting myself lie down and cry even if I don’t know exactly why I am crying and putting on music and just shaking my body.

If you aren’t comfortable with any of these try writing it out in a journal or making a video-diary but honestly I think the physical aspect is super important. When put our emotions to one side, they don’t go away but stay in our bodies as tension and stress. Eventually we have to release them otherwise we will manifest sickness and disease. Many conditions that are common today are influenced by chronic stress as a factor including diabetes, fatigue and auto-immune conditions (which affect women much more than men!). Our cycle provides us with the pre-menstrual phase as the perfect time to have this energy release so that we can go into the deep resting and healing menstrual phase with a clean slate.

So try it out if you’re interested. If you are tracking your cycle then from day 21-28 (or around a week before your period is due to start if your cycle is less/more than 28 days) create some free time in your schedule to just do nothing and see what comes up emotionally. If this is the first time you are doing this don’t be surprised to feel some pretty intense emotions. Sometimes tension can be stored deep in the body for a long time and it can be overwhelming to have a wave of old emotions hit you. But trust that if you practice this monthly ritual of processing and releasing what has come up that cycle then it will become much easier over time and will become something to look forward to as you shed what is no longer serving you and create space for new energy to come in.

5 day reset – day 5 and what I learned

Yesterday was the last day of my mini cleanse. I actually got sick and woke up in the morning with a headache, chesty cough and fatigue like nothing I experienced before and fatigue is an accepted part of my life these days! I went against my own plan and did a circuit-style workout at home on day 3 of the reset. I was really in the mood to exercise, mainly to relieve stress but afterwards I felt exhausted and today my whole body aches as if my muscles haven’t been able to recover properly.

I started off day 1 well with a green juice. But despite feeling unwell, I had to drive an hour to inspect an industrial site (I work for the Environment Agency) and I gave into temptation and had a coffee on the way. Straight away I could feel it in my nervous system, after a few periods of going caffeine free I am hyper-aware now of what it does to my body but it did help to get through the day. From Monday I will go caffeine free again but for now its the weekend and I am going to enjoy my coffee. At least my early start to the day meant I got to see a beautiful pink sunrise!

20191204_070928.jpg    20191205_073535.jpg

By the time I got home in the evening I had totally crashed and was actually feeling pretty down. I am on day 25 of my cycle, at the end of the luteal phase which is a natural low point for me anyway but the last few months of stress have made these lows even lower. I start to question everything in my life and feel this deep sense of despair. Journalling helps but sometimes I don’t like what comes up, especially when following my intuition means taking risks or making dramatic life changes. Awareness is the first step though and allowing things to be processed is better than ignoring them which I do for most of the month. There’s just something about the luteal phase that pushes me to dive deeper and get reflective.

Anyway, food wise yesterday wasn’t so great as I was unprepared and ended up eating breakfast and lunch on the road. I had fruit and nuts in the morning but I bought them from the petrol station and they definitely weren’t the best quality. For lunch I ate in the canteen at the site and went for the vegetarian chilli with rice. It was ok but a bit too oily and spicy for my liking and I felt heavy and sluggish afterwards. Then later on I had a few squares of dark chocolate to perk me up on the drive home. I think this was technically a 4 day reset as day as my nutrition goals went out of the window on day 5.

I tracked my nutrition using Chronometer for the 5 days and here is the overall summary:

5 day reset nutrients

5 day reset cals

For intuitive eating I think this is pretty good! Apparently I ate a bit more than I need to maintain my weight but I don’t think these calculators are accurate anyway. My calories were about 2000 each day which is about what I need as I woman and I hit most of my nutrient targets (eating nutritional yeast every day definitely helped with the B vitamins including B12). The only thing that I was seriously lacking in was vitamin D but I do take a daily supplement so I’m not too worried about that. The 2nd chart shows the macro-nutrient breakdown for each day – green is fat, red is carbs and blue is protein.

You can see the drop in carbs after the first day when I definitely went overboard with the fruit and an increase in fats/proteins from the extra nuts and seeds on the last couple of days. I have to admit I am a bit of a science-nerd so I love data!

What were my results?

My goals going into the 5 day reset were:

  1. Better digestion and elimination
  2. Improved sleep and higher energy
  3. Brighter skin/less acne/dark circles

Truthfully I don’t think I have achieved any of these – oops! I am still constipated, my sleep has gotten worse over the last few days and my acne is no better either. I feel pretty exhausted and generally terrible. Not at all in the mood to celebrate this weekend when feeling my best for my Christmas party and graduation was the main reason I set out on this cleanse. I guess the only positive I can say is that I’ve learned a few things along the way and have some ideas on how to “do better next time”. Look out for round 2 of the 5 day cleanse!

What have I learned?

A major learning from this reset that I mentioned in other posts is the importance of blood sugar balancing. This is something I will take forward into the rest of this month. No high carb, high fruit, vegan diet for me right now as it just doesn’t work. I think for anyone struggling with hormonal issues, particularly those related to the adrenals, needs to focus on balancing blood sugar above everything. What does this mean? More healthy fats and vegetables, less fruit and grains and especially so in the morning.

Another thing I have realised is that good digestion and elimination is not as simple as increasing fibre in your diet. In reality, there are so many other factors at play including sleep quality (as this is when our body is detoxifying and preparing for elimination the next day) and stress levels. Sometimes a higher fibre diet can actually make the situation worse if our system becomes overloaded and can’t process what we put in.

On my favourite topic of menstruality and hormones, I have been reminded of the importance of cycle synching! Pushing my body with work and exercise towards the end of my monthly cycle leaves me feeling imbalanced and exhausted. I have a new wave of motivation to try to line up my schedule with my cycle and I am already thinking ahead over the next month how I can do this. I did say going into this cleanse that I thought the follicular phase is the best time for women to start a cleanse as this is when our energy levels are highest and we also have that fresh feeling of the start of a new cycle. My experience has shown that I was probably right and I will try this out next time.

Finally, I have realised that my relationship to food and my body is so much better than it used to be. I am much more in tune with how my body is feeling and what it needs. I’m not afraid to listen to my intuition when it comes to what and how much to eat. Coming from someone who spent many years in my teens and early 20s as a chronic dieter and binge eater this is amazing and these few days have proved to me how far I have come. For a long time I wasn’t able to do any sort of cleanse as just the thought of restriction was triggering for me and I always associated clean eating with dieting and weight loss. However, now I am able to do something like this for health reasons without weight loss on the agenda which is great.

What next?

I hope you enjoyed following along with this 5 day reset even if it didn’t exactly work out as planned! Now I am going to enjoy my weekend as best as I can even though I am feeling crappy right now.  After that I am in the mood to share more about cycle synching and how this can benefit us women so look out for that over the next month including:

  • What are the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle
  • How to adjust your lifestyle, nutrition and exercise to each phase
  • What our “superpowers” are in each stage and things to look out for
  • My experience with cycle tracking using journals, apps etc.
  • Yoga practices for the different cycle phases

Other posts you might like

5 day reset – day 3 & 4

Almost at the end of the 5 day reset! I didn’t post yesterday as I didn’t have much to say and I basically ate the same as the day before so nothing exciting there either. I am feeling ok but my sleep hasn’t improved which is really annoying. Despite that though my energy levels have been pretty good once I got over the first couple of hours. I am doing a much better job of balancing my blood sugars now, it has really helped to have a higher fat breakfast and not overdo it with fruit first thing in the morning. But I am still waking up around 2-4am then several times after that before my alarm goes off.

I am guessing my sleep issues are mostly stress related as I am super busy at work and I have gone through a huge life change recently. It’s strange though as I don’t feel anxious during the day but at night it’s as if my mind won’t switch off. It’s not really worry or panic its more that my brain decides that now is a good time to start planning for the next day.. or week or month! Maybe this is anxiety, I guess I don’t really know but it’s different from how I have experienced it in the past. I have learned a lot about adrenal fatigue over the last year and I do think that cortisol levels being out of whack can really affect levels of alertness during the night. I am employing allll of my sleep improving tips and nothing is helping at all.

The other thing I was hoping to improve during this cleanse was my skin and I have to say it has gotten worse! I had some hormonal acne that I wanted to clear up before this weekend and I thought eating lots of fruit would flush out my system and help to clear my skin. However.. the first day or 2 I got a few new spots, painful cystic ones that are deep under the skin. I haven’t had any more since then but my jaw and chin is still inflamed and red which is definitely not the look I was going for. I never promised that this would be the perfect cleanse with amazing results it is just my own experiment and honest results! On a positive note, my hair looks great although I doubt 4 days of a cleanse could really have made a difference there šŸ™‚

20191202_183121    20191202_183238

I have been doing yoga and meditation every day and I’m really happy with how this is affecting my mind and body. I’m sure that this is keeping me going and smiling despite the lack of sleep. I feel light and flexible (well for me at least) and focused during my practice which is really helping to pay attention to my body and find my edge during poses to slowly open up. I have noticed several areas of tightness and clenching in muscles in places that I tend to hold stress, especially my left hip and right shoulder. I have really been trying to breathe into these areas and let go of some tension, physically and emotionally as I know I tend to hang on tight and find it hard to surrender.

So tomorrow is the final day. I am sticking to my higher fat diet still with lots of fruits and veggies but also including coconut milk and olive oil, nuts and seeds to keep my blood sugar stable. I have a lot of driving to do for work and actually I don’t think I chose the best week for this reset at all but I didn’t expect it to be so chaotic. I am ready for the weekend already! For now I am enjoying playing my guitar as it’s freezing outside and I don’t feel like going anywhere. I’m coming towards the end of my cycle and definitely feeling that inwards turning introverted feeling rising. 

Other posts you might like

5 day reset – day 2

Sooo I definitely learned some lessons from yesterday! I think my blood sugar went on a rollercoaster after that dip in the afternoon as I woke up in the next really hot and wide awake. I tried deep breathing and after a while got up and read for a bit to try and relax my brain. I started to get hungry and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep with my belly rumbling so I got up and had some toast with peanut butter. I don’t like eating during the night as I feel like it disrupts my digestion but I know when I haven’t eaten enough so I had to feed myself and I felt better afterwards.

I did manage to get back to sleep but felt pretty awful this morning and had to drag myself to work. I decided to go for a less carby breakfast in the hope of keeping my blood sugar stable so I made my choca-maca smoothie but as a hot drink without the bananas and with coconut milk -so yummy! I had 2 apples and some mixed nuts too and that filled me up till lunch time. Lunch was nothing new – same as yesterday dinner sweet potato, spinach, beans and tahini dressing. In my opinion it helps to eat similar meals during a reset as it stops you thinking too much about what to eat and your digestive system knows what to expect.

20191202_073355.jpg

 

Choca-maca yumminess

1/4 cup coconut milk (from a can)

3/4 cup boiling water

2 tbsp cacao powder

1/2 tbsp maca root powder

Pinch sea salt

BLEND TILL FROTHY

 

I definitely think I still have some sensitivity to blood sugar imbalance as I felt much more balanced after eating higher fats. Some people seem to do really well on super high carb diets but I’m not one of them (even though I know this I still try it, hopefully I will learn soon!).  I know it’s a never ending debate in the world of nutrition and I really think you have to listen to your body on this one. I seem to get hungry much faster and also my huger hits me like a ton of bricks whereas after higher fats it is much smoother and gradual hunger like, hey, I’m getting hungry now rather than GIVE ME ALL THE FOOD NOW. I felt pretty good all afternoon and got lots of work done.

20191202_180239.jpg    20191202_180351.jpg

I munched on a grapefruit on the way home and took some time to play guitar and do a home yoga practice. I am filming these and thinking about sharing some sequences but I am struggling with a lot of self-doubt around it at the moment as I see all these super-flexi goddesses on instagram and I feel like I am not good enough even though I am a trained yoga teacher. I know its a stupid belief but its one that is difficult to get over it – I am working on it! Let me know if you would be interested in seeing some yoga flows or tips for beginners šŸ™‚ now I am about to enjoy dinner of toast with stir-fry kale and mushrooms with this amazing beetroot sourdough bread I found followed by a few more of those raw vegan truffles.

20191202_194335    20191202_181215

So I think that’s all I really want to say about day 2. Then I’m going to sit myself down and do some journalling and meditation as I didn’t drag myself out of bed in time to do it this morning and one of my intentions coming into this reset was do take the time for this daily. I have another busy work day tomorrow and I am out visiting a site so that will be interesting and I will have to be prepared with lots of healthy food so that I’m not tempted by the coffee and biscuits. I hope will get a better nights’ sleep and I will check in tomorrow for day 3 and some updates on the acne situation!

 

Other posts you might like

5 day reset – day 1

So today was the first day of my 5 day mini-cleanse. I didn’t start off on the right foot as for some reason my sleep was terrible last night. I’m not going to over-analyse it, I’ve learnt by now that it’s better to just accept it and move on, but I was feeling pretty tired this morning and not exactly full of the motivation I’d hoped for at the start of this reset.

What I did today

Once I managed to drag myself out of bed I started my day with a 15 minute meditation  and spent a bit of time writing in my journal. It’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote anything as I’ve had a pretty packed schedule so there are quite a few things bubbling underneath the surface that I need to explore. I’ve been struggling with some uncomfortable feelings of guilt, confusion and sadness that I know I need to process. It’s too easy to push negative thoughts and emotions away when we have the busy-ness of life as a distraction. I said in my post yesterday that this is not just a physical cleanse but that I also want to give myself some time to reflect and get some mental clarity too.

This afternoon I did an at home yoga practice and went out for a walk around a local nature park. Sunday was the perfect day to start this cleanse as I had nothing to do except chill and have a bit of me-time. It was so good to get out in nature, it was absolutely freezing but one of those sunny winters days that I love where everything feels bright and light. I felt really calm and happy and my energy was pretty good too. No headaches so far although I did make the mistake of going too long without eating as I forgot to take food out with me and I got soooo hungry I was literally running through the door to get to the fridge by the time I got home. Something I forgot was how much longer fats fill you up for compared with carbs in fruit!

20191201_142547.jpg  20191201_142203.jpg

What I ate today

I had a yummy chocolate and maca smoothie bowl for breakfast. Since I quit coffee I have been having cacao in some form most days as it still gives me that energy boost but without the nerve-frazzling effects of coffee. It is also a good source of essential minerals such as iron, magnesium and calcium. I like including maca too as it gives a slight caramel taste and it is thought to balance hormones and boost fertility and libido. The slightly controversial ingredient for a cleanse is sea salt. For a few months now I’ve been adding a pinch of sea salt to my water and smoothies to balance out the mineral profile. This is something I recommend to anyone struggling with adrenal fatigue but I’m not going to go into detail about that here, I will write more in a later post.

20191201_095730.jpg Smoothie bowl recipe 

Blend together in a food processor:

3 frozen bananas

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

2 tbps cacao powder

1/2 tbps maca root powder

Pinch sea salt

Sprinkle with hemp seeds for extra crunch

I had a late breakfast so I wasn’t feeling too hungry at lunch time. I had two giant grapefruits which is my faaaave fruit right now. I know it’s too bitter for a lot of people but I just love it. It is great for detoxing and said to boost oestrogen so maybe it’s exactly what my body needs – I love how intelligent our bodies are when we pay attention to them! I also had a couple of the raw vegan truffles I made yesterday and some licorice tea in my new favourite mug when I got back from my walk.

20191201_130221.jpg   20191201_155600.jpg

For dinner I had left over baked sweet potatoes, black beans and veggies with a simple tahini dressing. I added nutritional yeast for a bit of a protein boost and for a healthy dose of zinc and vitamin B12 as these are two nutrients that are lacking in a vegan diet. I am also taking a liquid vitamin D supplement but this is something that I do all through the winter anyway living in the UK and recommend to anyone living in a colder climate.

20191130_181037.jpg

Tahini dressing recipe

2 tbsp tahini

1tsp soy sauce

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tbsp nutritional yeast

Mix in a bowl and gradually add hot water to thin out

It’s evening now and I am just going to chill and watch a film or play my guitar as I am trying to switch off my computer a few hours before bedtime. I also only have a couple of chapters left of the book I’ve been reading (The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell – highly recommend especially to anyone who likes the TV show!). Tomorrow I have a full day in the office so I need to make sure I am prepared with plenty of healthy food for the day. I definitely want to have plenty of fruit but also I think I need to eat nuts or seeds too to keep my blood sugar balanced and stop me from getting hungry every hour..

Other posts you might like

5 day reset – what, why, how?

I am about to start a 5 day reset/detox/cleanse and thought I would document the process. I have done this a few times before and I think it is actually something I would like to do on a regular basis going forward. It is a full body cleanse – physical, mental and emotional – with the aim of resetting my body and hormones to increase my vitality and motivation for life. I have got my first christmas party next friday and my graduation on saturday so I want to feel and look my best.

I have been feeling pretty rough lately after moving to a new city, starting a new job and going through some other personal issues. I have been eating well at home and trying to keep active but I have been travelling and eating out a lot which has meant more processed food and alcohol than usual and less regular exercise. My sleep and digestion have both been terrible which has left me with low energy and mood, acne flare ups and aching muscles and joints. I have also been feeling quite stressed and overwhelmed, struggling to relaxing and let go. Some before photos:

20191130_175744.jpg   20191130_175644.jpg

Is a cleanse really beneficial?

Many people say that our bodies are constantly detoxing and therefore we don’t need to cleanse anything. It is true that our liver and lymphatic system are continuously working to remove toxins from our body to keep us healthy. However, the modern lifestyles we lead mean we are constantly adding more toxins into our system through the food we eat, the air we breathe and the products we use. We are also generating mental and emotional “toxins” through stress, anxiety, negative thought patterns, relationships with others etc. A regular cleanse can therefore be a useful tool to keep us healthy. If nothing else it helps to feel rejuvenated, lighter and can kick start healthy habits that will improve our health over the long term.

When to cleanse?

This is totally dependant on the person. Previously, I have only ever done a cleanse when I felt like I needed it either after the holidays or after a stress period. But I am starting to think that a monthly cleanse can be an amazing part of the menstrual awareness practice for women. I am going to try this out for the next few months and see how I feel. Intuitively, cleansing during the follicular or ovulatory phase makes sense to me as these are the times of our cycle when we naturally have higher energy and fewer cravings. I am actually on day 20 of my cycle now so coming into my luteal phase but I am going to give it a go anyway and see how I go.

What does it involve?

A cleanse can look different for everyone but I am planning to focus on 3 things:

Diet  – For 5 days I am going to focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, eliminate caffeine, artificial sugar, processed foods and animal products so no meat, fish, dairy or eggs. I used to think that following a vegan diet was optimal for health long-term. I no longer believe this (I can explain this process in a future post) but I do think cutting out these foods for short periods of time is beneficial to give the digestive system  break and speed up detoxification.

Exercise – Rather than increasing exercise I am actually going to cut down on exercise to give my body a rest. I plan to do yoga every day and some walking but no cardio, circuits or other intense exercise. Moving our bodies is great for our health but it is also a stress and consumes energy that we might not have when following a cleanse/detox style diet. I really want to work on my flexibility as years of running and weight lifting have left me with short muscles which is not ideal for a yogi!

Stress – This is a tough one as I am going to be working still during the 5 day cleanse. I am going to try my best to reduce stress and leave more time for rest and relaxation. I already meditate in the mornings for 15 minutes but I am going to do this in the evening too and also spend some time journalling every day. I know I have some trapped emotions I want to process and some thought patterns that I want to explore further and journalling is the best way for me to unlock these deeper parts of my mind.

What do I want to get out of the cleanse?

After the 5 day cleanse I am hoping that my system will feel refreshed overall but the main things I want to gain are:

  1. Better digestion and elimination
  2. Improved sleep and higher energy
  3. Brighter skin/less acne/dark circles

I’m looking forward to getting started now! I did my shopping today and stocked up on lots of organic produce. I also made a batch of yummy raw vegan “truffles” with dates, oats, coconut and cacao to have as a healthy sweet treat (yep I had to sample these tonight already).

20191130_194225.jpg   IMG_20191130_143654.jpg

I will post an update each day and let you guys know how I am getting on and what I am doing from day to day. Post a message in the comments if you want to follow along with this cleanse or a future one šŸ™‚

 

 

Dealing with sleep disturbances

Insomnia is something that has been part of my life for a looooong time now. I’ve never been a night owl or someone who can sleep in till noon but I did used to have a healthy sleep pattern and wake up feeling refreshed. Somewhere along the line this got disrupted and I’d say for the last 5 years my sleep has not been great. I’ve probably averaged around 5-6 hours a night and after a while it really started to take its toll. Its only been in the last month or two that I finally feel more balanced and that I have a healthier relationship to sleep so I wanted to share a few things I learned along the way.

What are the types of sleep disturbance?

In my experience there are 3 main types of sleep disturbance:

  1. Not being able to fall asleep
  2. Not being able to stay asleep (or waking up too early)
  3. Not getting quality deep sleep

These can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term) and can happen for many reasons. I tend to fall into the second category, I can fall asleep easily but I often wake up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning and struggle to get back to sleep. However I have spoken to lots of people who have the opposite problem and lie awake into the early hours not being able to fall asleep then struggle to get out of bed in the morning. The third type is probably more common than most people realise as it has become the norm to not feel refreshed in the morning then plough through the day using coffee to keep us awake.

What causes sleep disturbance?

So many things are at play in the quality of our sleep that its hard to say the “true cause”. Often its a combination  physical, psychological and environmental factors. Many people today are stressed with the high pressure, busy lifestyles we lead. Anxiety and worry as well as other mental conditions can lead to sleep disturbance or insomnia. For others it could be physical such as pain or discomfort, caffeine or alcohol intake, blood sugar imbalance or nutritional deficiencies. In some cases environmental factors such as too much noise or light in the bedroom, use of phones or laptops in the evening or being too hot or cold in bed.

For me, it is mostly psychological and definitely related to stress and my “type A” personality of wanting to do things well. This means I often have things on my mind even when I don’t realise it and can wake up in the night planning what I need to do the next day. Anxiety around sleep also doesn’t help as worrying about how much sleep I am missing out on and how tired I will be just exaggerates the problem and keeps me awake.

What can we do to improve sleep?

There are some absolute basics of “sleep hygiene” which I think is always a good place to start:

Technology

Make sure you have a blue light filter installed on your phone/laptop if you use them in the evening. The blue light emitted from screens makes our brains think it is day time and can mess with your body clock and sleeping patterns. Even better, switch off all devices at least an hour before bed

Lighting

Again on the topic of light try to dim the lights as much as possible in the evening. Lamps, fairy lights and candles are all great to help you wind down in the evening and get ready for sleep. Himalayan salt lamps are really beautiful and are said to boost energy, clean the air and aid better sleep. When you actually get into bed it should be as dark and cave like as possible. Blackout curtains are great, especially if you live somewhere with a lot of artificial light or where it gets light early in the morning. I also sleep with an eye mask as I find it comforting and part of my sleep routine. I found a super comfy cotton one (here) which doesn’t put pressure on my eyes and it’s really made a difference.

Temperature

Our body temperature actually drops to its lowest point during the night as we are not moving or digesting food to generate heat. The recommended bedroom temperature for optimal sleep is 16-18Ā°C (60-65Ā°F). Check you don’t have your heating set too high in the winter and try to keep your bedroom as cool as possible in the summer. I’ve never tried it but apparently putting your sheets in the fridge is helpful

Noise

If you live in an apartment or on a busy street it could be something as simple as noise keeping you awake. Its not something you can easily control unless you want to move out into the countryside but I have found ear plugs really helpful in getting a better night’s sleep. I have tried all sorts of different ones so you might need to try a few until you find a comfy pair. I like the mouldable silicone ones (these) as I sleep on my side and the foam ones stick out and feel uncomfortable

If these don’t work what can I try?

Caffeine

Everyone is different when it comes to caffeine and only you know your body best. I used to rely heavily on caffeine, even more so when I was struggling with sleep as it was the “only way” to get through the day when I was feeling exhausted. I managed to decrease to one coffee in the morning so I thought this couldn’t possibly be affecting my sleep over 12 hours later but actually caffeine takes a long time to break down in our body. It has an average half life of 6 hours which means if we drink a coffee at 10am then half of that will be in our system at 4pm and a quarter still at 10pm. Who would drink a quarter coffee before bed an expect to get a good nights sleep?? Once I managed to quit coffee altogether it really helped my sleep and energy levels during the day (after the first few difficult days!). If you don’t know if you are sensitive to caffeine give it a try for a couple of weeks as this could be the key.

Hydration

We are always bombarded with messages these days telling us to drink more water to be healthy. I do agree that hydration is important but we can over do it. If you are peeing every hour and it is clear, you are probably overdoing it. I know I have definitely gone through periods of waking up during the night to go to the bathroom and for a healthy person this shouldn’t happen. If this is you then try to have your last drink after dinner, maybe a herbal tea or other relaxing drink, a few hours before you go to bed. Make sure you are drinking during the day and taking in hydrating fruits and vegetables but there is no need to drink pints and pints of water as your body will be unable to absorb it.

Relaxation

This one is not always easy but allowing yourself to “wind down” before bed is really important. Give yourself half an hour to an hour before you head to sleep to sit quietly and listen to music or read a book. Maybe do some stretching or yoga if this is your thing or find another relaxing activity that you enjoy. Try to avoid intense tv programs or heated debates before bed as this can increase your stress hormones and keep you awake. If you have a family to look after it can be hard sometimes to find this time but having a routine before bed can help to program your brain and prepare for better sleep. It can be better to stay up an extra 30 minutes to give yourself this time and get better quality sleep that to head to bed in a stressed out state worried about not getting enough sleep.

Journalling

It might seem cliche but writing in a journal before bed can be a great way to empty your mind and allow your brain to relax into deep sleep. Try to get any worries and stresses of the day out of your head and onto paper. Even if you are resistant to writing at first just start and over time it will get easier. If you are someone like me who tends to run through their to do list in the night, try to write it all down before bed. What needs to be done, what have you done so far to work on it and what will you do tomorrow? Close the book and put it away in a drawer before you go to bed and that will signal to your brain that it is safe to relax until the morning.

Exercise

Moving our bodies is necessary part of a healthy lifestyle but can also help with sleep. Using energy and getting the blood flowing helps our bodies to detoxify and release tension. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme but getting 30 minutes of movement on a daily basis can really help improve sleep quality. Walking, yoga, dancing, jogging, cycling… anything which seems fun to you just give it a go and see how you feel. On the other hand if you are working out intensely in the evening, this could be contributing to sleep issues as it can raise cortisol levels. Exercising in the morning is best but if the evening is the only time available to you try to get your workout in before dinner and allow your body a few hours to relax again before bed.

I’ve tried all of this what can I do now??

Aromatherapy

Relaxing scents such as lavender can help to calm down your nervous system and prepare for sleep. Try scented candles or oil burners, oil diffusers or have a relaxing bath with essential oils and salts added in. You can also get lavender sprays for you bedroom or pillow which can help you brain to associate the scent with sleep.

Supplements

I have tried over the counter sleep medications in the past and not enjoyed the experience. They would help me to sleep through the night but I never felt refreshed adn would often feel more groggy and foggy headed than if I’d been awake all night. On the other hand I have found herbal remedies and supplements to be effective. My favourites contain chamomile, valerian root, sour cherry, lemon balm and lavender as well as B vitamins and magnesium which both help with relaxing the nervous system. Two I like at the moment are “Bee-rested” and “Melissa dream” which can be found in the UK but there are many similar products out there.

Mindset

I’ve saved this one till last but it is actually one of the most important ones and that is your attitude towards sleep. I know I have been in a panic and tears many times in the morning after having barely any sleep and having to get up and go to work. But I start to question myself and think “so what if I’m tired, what is the problem”? This raised so much resistance in me at first but actually I realised that the pressure and worry I was putting on myself was making the problem worse. I was defining myself as an insomniac which was programming my mind to attach to the problem and prevent me from getting back into a normal routine. Once I accepted the situation and stopped panicking when I woke up in the night I started to feel and sleep better.

What should I do if I wake up in the night?

Finally I want to give a few tips about what to do if you wake in the middle of the night or early morning and can’t sleep. I know I have been there and it is a very frustrating, isolating and lonely time. I used to toss and turn in bed sometimes trying to sleep for 4 hours before having to drag myself out of bed. Now I never stay in bed longer than half an hour if I’m not asleep. The best thing to do is to get up, go into another room and sit quietly in dim lighting until you feel ready to sleep again. Try reading or journalling or any other activity. Instead of worrying about being awake, see it as bonus peaceful time.

I hope some of these tips can help any of you struggling with sleep. It can be the most frustrating thing and it really affects our quality of life and don’t have the energy to do the things we enjoy during the day. If you have any stories or extra tips please share in the comments as I think this is a really important topic šŸ™‚