Category Archives: Sleep

Exercise really delivers what comfort food only promises

When you feel bad—just normal stress, or perhaps another kind of emotional distress—physical activity helps. Here are some of the benefits:

Unlike trying to find comfort in comfort food, moving the body actually does provide a real distraction—and real relief—from discomfort, and depending on what you’re doing, physical effort can relax the mind as well as the body.

Studies confirm the reports that exercise makes people feel better; one 10 minute exercise session improves mood (if it’s not more strenuous than you’re used to–an important caveat). After exercising, people react less severely to stressors, and the effect is cumulative: that is, people become less reactive to stress as they make a regular habit of exercise. This applies as well to people experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, and depression.

Long-term benefits of exercise include better memory and cognitive function, and more creativity. (The creativity study tested problem solving while walking vs. standing still.) Another benefit is the association with better sleep, as long as you make sure you allow time to relax before bed.

As we age, there’s a host of particularly important benefits—whether or not we’ve been life-long couch potatoes. Take sleep, for example: after 4 months of regular exercise, previously sedentary adults were falling asleep faster, and sleeping better and longer.

Other benefits important to older adults include healthier aging, meaning it helps prevent chronic disease, depression, disability, and memory loss. And it can reverse age-related declines in muscle mass and strength.

But do remember that, while we can visualize ourselves as the gazelles floating around the track, we still need to start where we are, not where we wish we were. I’m a great walker, but if I wanted to become a runner, I’d have to start at ground zero, with the easy stuff.

If that’s you, too, there’s lots of info online (just Google beginning runner) and there are communities of runners (check running shoe stores). If you are in Whatcom County, like me, I can pass on a recommendation from a long-time runner for checking out the Fit School in Bellingham. And, whether you’re that ambitious or not at all, don’t forget Parkscriptions, especially if you’d like to combine exercise with meeting other health-minded people.

Poor Sleep and Alzheimer’s Disease

I’ve decided to offer classes in using hypnosis to get better sleep–the first is scheduled for March 24 at 10 am. It’s nearly full, so I’ve scheduled a second on April 21, also at 10 am. If you’re interested, contact me, and I’ll send you the details.

Today’s post is about just one of many reasons this topic concerns me.

An article by sleep scientist Matthew Walker* in the October 2017 issue of New Scientist describes a mechanism through which Alzheimer’s disease disrupts memory consolidation—and the mechanism has to do with the poor sleep experienced by people with the disease. The cause itself is not clear, but the connection is clearly established, and it’s a compelling reason for us to address any poor sleep habits we may have.

The connection has to do with the effect of the buildup of toxic amyloid proteins characteristic in the disease, which over time reduces the amount of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) slow wave sleep we typically get during the night. And although it’s common to get less NREM sleep as we age, normal aging doesn’t usually affect the slow wave sleep we get.

Slow wave sleep is responsible for saved memories; in other words it’s involved in the process of shifting memories from short-term to long-term storage. The research shows that more toxic amyloid buildup is correlated with more disruption of slow wave sleep, and more loss of memory consolidation.

It turns out that the area of the brain that is predominantly affected by the disease is the frontal lobe, which is also the part of the brain that is responsible for starting our slow wave sleep phases. The research has confirmed that it’s not just a coincidence that people with Alzheimer’s disease have poor sleep—their poor sleep is qualitatively different from normal sleep changes associated with healthy aging.

Here’s a weird bit of the Alzheimer’s puzzle: how do the toxic plaques cause memory loss?

It’s puzzling because even though amyloid deposits only accumulate in some parts of the brain, they don’t accumulate in the areas of the brain associated with memory. So what is the connection between the disease and memory loss?

It took a sleep scientist to come up with an answer. Here’s his theory, in his own words:

We already knew that in young healthy adults, the slow brainwaves of deep NREM sleep effectively hit the “save” button on new memories, helping us retain what we have recently learned. Sleep also helps us access and thus remember past experiences.

If amyloid was blocking deep NREM sleep in Alzheimer’s disease, then perhaps this loss of youthful deep sleep prevents older adults from being able to save new memories and hold on to experiences past?

He designed a study to test this theory, giving patients new information at night and then testing their recollection the next morning, after monitoring their sleep. The results? Patients with more amyloid deposits in the middle frontal regions of the brain had the most severe loss of deep sleep, and they were unable to remember the new material.

The connection is there—disrupted deep NREM sleep is the missing link between amyloid and memory loss. So far, studies of older adults with sleep disorders confirat treating sleep problems slows the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease by up to 10 years.

Again, although the research does not show a causal relationship between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s disease, clearly getting better sleep now can reduce our risk significantly. And further, since the symptoms so disrupt quality of life, it makes sense to me that we choose to do whatever we can to protect our sleep, and our memory.

By the way, the studies also showed that just as prescription medications for sleep do not work beyond a small placebo effect in helping people fall asleep, they do nothing to mitigate the loss of slow wave sleep.

Sleep well tonight. Do contact me if you’re interested in exploring hypnosis to help you get healthy sleep, either one-on-one, or as part of a group.

* This post is a summary of part of Dr. Walker’s article, and any errors are mine.  Do check out his article–he’s a good writer.

How’s your sleep?

I ask this question of all my clients now, because I found that so many people I saw individually and in workshops mentioned poor sleep during the course of discussing other issues, from weight to anxiety, or anger, or chronic pain, etc. I now know that most of my clients have problems getting good sleep, whether or not that’s the issue they come to work on.

I’ve just had a fabulous week of great sleep!

Okay, I think this is an opportunity for one of those “There are two kinds of people . . . .” statements:  There are people who, on reading this, will feel a rush of emotions—envy, happy-for-you, irritation, or despair of ever experiencing that feeling of true rest. And there are people who are puzzled and wondering what all the fuss is about.

I suspect more people are in the first group, based on what I hear from clients, and from the CDC’s findings that 50-70% of people suffer from a sleep disorder.

I’ve had a long time to wrestle with getting enough sleep, and along the way I’ve learned a great deal about the kinds of things that can affect my sleep positively or negatively. And of course I’ve read pretty widely on the topic. Most of what I read is in the category of sleep hygiene—the things we can do to ourselves to get better sleep. Here’s a great list from the NIH, by the way.

But I recently read a great article in Scientific American online “The Secret to a Better Night’s Sleep: A sense of purpose?  The article refers to a study done at Northwestern University School of Medicine.  Here’s a statement from the study report’s conclusion: “a higher level of meaning and purpose in life among older adults is related to better sleep quality and appears to be protective against symptoms of sleep apnea and RLS.” 

How cool is that?

In my practice, I’ve been incorporating a focus on values with every client, initially because of studies like this one—studies confirming that when we focus on our values, we are more likely to experience positive progress toward the changes we want to see in our lives. And it’s truly transformative, I’m finding.

We can learn how to get better sleep, one step at a time, as we make simple changes to our environment, our behavior, and how we think about ourselves. It doesn’t sound simple, but I assure you, it doesn’t have to be hard.

I’m excited about this topic, and about what I’ve been learning about the science of sleep. One of my current projects is putting together a hypnosis workshop about how to craft your own great sleep experience. Stay tuned for more info. 

And Happy New Year! I wish you great sleep in the coming year.

Can anyone be hypnotized?

I hear people say they can’t be hypnotized, but in my ten years of practice, I have yet to meet anyone who really can’t. Sure, some people take to it more easily than others, but isn’t that true of any skill we learn how to do? We get better at things through practice.

Some practitioners use a “hypnotizability scale” to determine how easily hypnotized their clients are. I don’t, because it doesn’t really make any difference to me how easily my clients go into trance, or how deeply into trance they are able to go. The value of the hypnotic state can’t be measured by how deep the trance is.

Here’s a definition of hypnosis, just to make sure we’re starting on the same page: it’s a natural state of deep relaxation and intense focus, or concentration. (It’s really very simple, even though attempts to explain what’s happening in the brain can get pretty complicated.)

The first benefit of this hypnotic state is being able to experience such a deep relaxation. If we do nothing else during a hypnosis session, I guarantee that we will feel the benefit. How often do we normally allow ourselves to relax deeply? Or how often do we take the time for it? The time we spend distracting ourselves from the cares of our day doesn’t have the same effect, though it can be pleasant.

The benefits of the relaxation itself—the side effects of hypnosis—are powerful. They include measurable things like changes in blood pressure or blood sugar readings, as well as less quantifiable things like a positive mood boost or a sense of increased energy, or being able to get better sleep.

Those side effects are reason enough to give yourself some time in hypnosis every day. If you know anyone who could use a boost in this way, let them know I have a class in Self Hypnosis on April 13 at Whatcom Community College. Here’s a link to the registration page.

A Morning Gratitude Practice

Well, January is almost over, and I remember promising to give an update on my resolve to start each day with an expression of gratitude.

It’s been a seriously mixed experience. It’s been a crazy mixed up month, with our new president electing to disregard rights and protections that we have taken for granted for many many years.

I don’t need to go into details here, since anyone who cares is already following these events, except to say that it’s time for all of us to educate ourselves. History is full of examples of the folly of appeasing demagogues.

I’m not going to claim that there’s anything to be grateful for in this current political situation, since so many people are already suffering, and unfortunately so many more people will suffer. But I am grateful that I personally know people who have concrete suggestions for positive steps to deal with and hopefully change the situation for the better.

I lost the impetus to keep my morning record as the month went on, but this is what I did write down:

  • After starting the day with a focus on gratitude, it’s easier to notice what I’m grateful for during the day
  • Grateful for a wonderful night’s sleep, waking relaxed and restored, and I noticed how that feeling in my body changed as my thoughts came back online.
  • Grateful for the B vitamins that I’ve started taking again—because I had another night of great sleep and I think they contribute to that.
  • Grateful for the help I have from health providers—doctors, dentists, and therapists.

And that’s as far as the written record went. But I’m aware that other things that came to mind more than once included the support of my husband and a couple of good friends.

As I write this, I’m grateful that I have health insurance, and I can still afford it, although it is the single biggest expense—more than twice my mortgage payment. But that didn’t occur to me during my morning gratitude experiment.

This has been a difficult couple of months for many people—I’ve seen more people struggling with anxieties, and I’m sure it’s a common reaction. So anything we can do to stay grounded, and positive, and focused on the need to take good care of ourselves and each other is good. Gratitude as a practice can help us with that, I’m sure.

New classes for 2016 at Whatcom Community College

I’m getting ready for some new classes at WCC for Winter quarter–in addition to the classes in the popular weight loss series, we’re adding 2 brand new ones.  On February 6, a Saturday, we’re doing a class on sleep–everything you ever wanted to know about sleep–facts, myths, and some pretty cool tools for those of us who suffer from occasional insomnia, including a recording designed to ease you into a deep and refreshing night’s sleep.

The other new class is also a Saturday morning class on March 5–this one is focused on enhancing creativity.  Again, facts, myths, exercises, and a new recording.  This is for anyone who’s interested in the topic–from those who just want to explore the possibilities to those who’ve had trouble with blocks or other obstacles when it comes to their creative projects.

I’m looking forward to both classes! Registration info is listed on the Events page, or you can contact WCC directly via phone or internet, And of course you are welcome to contact me for more info.


Sleep, or not

As someone who has occasional problems with too little sleep, I’m always interested to see what the internet and other sources have to tell me about our experience with sleep.

Check out these headlines:

  • 30 Minutes Lost Sleep Can Lead to Weight Gain And Diabetes
  • Too Much Sleep Linked to 46% Higher Risk of Stroke
  • Lack of Sleep: How To Counter The Dangerous Health Effects
  • Why You Should Avoid Too Much Artificial Light At Night

Or these Google search results:

  • Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition: 10 Surprising Effects of Lack of Sleep – WebMD
  • 16 Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body – Healthline
  • Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition.…
  • 8 Scary Side Effects Of Sleep Deprivation – Huffington Post
  • The effects of sleep deprivation on surgeons — and their patients. Harvard Health
  • Sleep Deprivation: 7 Dangerous Effects
  • Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer. Harvard Business Review
  • From Zzzz’s To A’s – Adolescents And Sleep. A great concern of sleep researchers is that teens are so sleep-deprived.

Pretty crazy, isn’t it?

And this one, from one of my favorite health blogs: Missing a Single Night of Sleep Can Change Our Genes.

No doubt sleep problems—as in not enough sleep—are common. I frequently find myself awake at 3:00, hoping that I’ll be able to magically turn over and fall asleep. Sometimes I do fall back asleep, but sometimes I don’t.

But although I recognize that good sleep is a big part of health and well being, I resist the notion that irregular sleep patterns should be treated as a medical condition. I’m reminded of the way some foods were demonized during the early research into connections between foods and disease—remember the hype about the health benefits of margarine?

Just as we now recognize that lifestyle choices are a big part of maintaining a healthy weight, I think we can predict that for most people, lifestyle choices can have a big effect on quality of sleep. Yes, there are some weasel-words in that statement—I’m not proposing that no one needs medical intervention to help with sleep, just that it might be a good idea to explore the other options first.

Here’s a link to what the National Sleep Foundation has to say about sleep hygiene, in case you’re interested.

By the way, the title of the blog article above—Missing a Single Night of Sleep Can Change Our Genes—is a bit misleading. They are not saying that the genes themselves are changed; they are instead saying that the effects of a single night’s sleep can determine how a gene is regulated, or activated. The report also clearly states that although the changes have been observed, and those changes may increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, the study is too preliminary to draw definitive conclusions from. It’s just raising some questions for the next round of research. It’s as if we are seeing the first few jigsaw puzzle pieces of how a good night’s sleep fits in a healthy life. And like a jigsaw puzzle without the box, no one can yet predict what the final picture will look like.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to read the news about sleep science with curiosity and a healthy dose of skepticism.

Another take on meditation

I am a meditator.  That is, I meditate most days.  However, I am self-taught, and as a recovering academic, I suspect it’s better to go to meditation classes to learn the “right” way to meditate, and I haven’t done that.  Also, much is made of the importance of a sanga, or community of meditators, and I don’t have that either.  So, I have fraud feelings about myself as a meditator.

But I do meditate most days, and I do it because I’ve noticed that overall, I navigate the days with more equanimity when the meditation habit is strong.  In its effects, meditation is like exercise, I think.  I noticed when I began to enjoy a daily walk that I was starting to get better sleep—not always on the days when I took a good long walk, but often.  And so over time, I could confidently say that I was sleeping better overall, and that better sleep coincided with my new habit of walking daily.

There’s lots of research to confirm the benefits of meditation, and as I said, I find it very helpful and occasionally—once in awhile—not very often—even pleasant in the moment.  That raises a question for me.

What if you are one of those people who already know all about diet, exercise—and, now, meditation—and you hate every minute of the prescribed early morning hour at the gym, and every helping of that high fiber cereal, and every boring moment of tracking your breath?

I suspect that many people do not need another voice talking about one more thing they could be doing differently.  Instead, we all need more voices reminding us that right now, in this moment, we are doing fine. As Jon Kabat Zinn says, “as long as you are breathing, you are doing more right than wrong.”

But it’s also true that meditation can help us remember us that we really can just accept our imperfect selves.  Letting go of the voices that speak in “shoulds” about what we can eat, about how we move through the days. Maybe the more useful path is learning to follow what we truly enjoy. Looking for activities that feed the heart and mind as well as our bodies—those things that bring their own reward.

Good sleep can be hard to find–and hypnosis can help

When I talk to clients who are struggling with health issues of any kind, I’ve learned to ask at some point in the conversation, “How is your sleep?”

Good sleep is such an important part of well-being, and the lack of good sleep gets in the way of so many physiological processes, from metabolism and weight control to immune system function to cognition.  In particular, I notice that most of the people I see for weight control or anxiety-related issues tend to have problems with sleep.

And now it’s official—according to the Centers for Disease Control, we in the US are experiencing a sleep deficiency epidemic.

Currently, the National Institutes of Health recommends 10 hours sleep as a minimum for children, 9 to 10½ hours for teenagers, and 7 to 8 hours for adults.  However, the latest information available from the National Health Interview Survey shows that only 31% of high school students report getting at least 8 hours of sleep on school nights. Nearly 30% of adults report an average of 6 hours of sleep or less.

As someone who occasionally struggles with sleeplessness, I noticed that as my addiction to a daily walk grew stronger, my sleep improved—but not necessarily in a straightforward cause and effect way.  That is, as I made a habit of walking more, my sleep patterns gradually improved, but I’ve discovered that I cannot always use a brisk long walk as a prescription for a good night’s sleep.  That requires a different kind of effort.

It turns out that mine is a fairly common experience, according to a New York Times article I ran across while looking up sleep and sleeplessness.  The article discusses a 4-month long study with a small group of sedentary insomniacs.  Half the people in the study (the control) continued to be sedentary, and the other half exercised with a treadmill or stationary bicycle 3-4 times per week.  During the last 2 months of the study, the exercisers began sleeping better.  By the end of the 4-month period, they were sleeping longer than the control group by at least 45 minutes a night, which is better than current conventional treatment options.

Clinical psychologist and sleep researcher Kelly Glazer Baron at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University directed the study.   She pointed out that insomniacs are different from people who simply have trouble sleeping once in while; insomniacs typically suffer from what she calls  “hyper-arousal of the stress system.”  The implication is that exercise works for these folks by gradually reducing the exercisers’ stress response.

This theory fits my experience with occasional sleeplessness. I find that sometimes, when I’m experiencing a relatively low level of stress, exercise is a reliable prescription for good sleep.  But when I am dealing with extra stressors, I need to take additional measures to control my stress reactions.

The conventional advice from sleep researchers is disappointing if only because their recommendations take the form of a long list of don’ts for the time period just before bedtime:

  • Don’t exercise
  • Don’t read or watch TV
  • Don’t eat large meals
  • Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine
  • Don’t smoke

Personally, I find that kind of advice disheartening, as if someone is saying, don’t do anything fun.  Oversimplifying, but there’s a grain of truth there, I think.

However, I do have two self-hypnosis techniques that work well for me. First I set aside some time before I go to bed to quiet my mind, and then I use any method for inducing self-hypnosis.

The first technique is a simple body scan—I find it amazingly effective, as if it releases the events of the day along with any tension in my body.

The second involves letting go of the events of the day, moment by moment.  Sometimes I’ll work through the day backwards, from night to morning, and sometimes I find it easier to start in the morning and work up to night (sometimes I get mixed up about what happened when).

Sounds simple—and it is.  But it is also a reliable way to uncover events that can sneak up on me and trigger an episode of sleeplessness: conflicts with other people, money worries, a friend’s problems—anything and everything that comes with a normal, busy life.

I give myself permission to replay the events in my mind, even revise them if I need to.  It’s not about re-writing the events of the day so much as taking time to deal with them in a fully conscious way.  I find taking this time and using self hypnosis to quiet my mind makes the difference between waking in the middle of the night with the nagging realization that something is wrong and blissfully waking in the morning, having enjoyed a good restorative sleep.

If you give either of these techniques a try, do please let me know how it goes for you.