Tonight begins our trip to London Heathrow airport from MSP. I will write on the necessity of having a plan when you travel on overnight flights. It can be difficult to stay healthy and balanced when you are throwing your body out of its normal rhythm. But as a frequent flyer I have experimented with a few strategies that make it less painful.
The first bit of advice is this: If you can, try to go to bed early (1 hour at least) for a few days before your trip. Even if you do not drop off to sleep right away, you are allowing your body and brain to relax and get more rest. Stay off your electronics at night. Try reading an old-fashioned paper book, or taking a shower or bath before bed to help transition to sleep.
Getting extra sleep and rest before a trip helps you know that, even if you only get 3-4 hours of sleep (which I would consider a “good” amount for me), you have allowed yourself some quality rest in your own bed.
I like to bring some herbal tea on board when I travel overnight. I like Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea, since it is a nice blend of chamomile, spearmint, lemongress, etc. Generally airlines seem to offer coffee and tea, but they do not always have non-caffeinated options, so I bring my own, and they supply the hot water.
I have noticed that you are often served meals high in carbohydrates, flour and sugar. While partaking in a small quantity may be fine for you, I always bring little bags of mixed nuts with me in my backpack or purse. Protein and fat help you have less ups and downs in your insulin levels. I get less cranky when I have my own healthy snacks.
Airlines typically feed you at least every 2-3 hours, with maybe a 4-5 hour break during overnight flights. This can feel obnoxious if you want to go to sleep right away, and don’t feel the need to graze like a cow for the whole flight. It serves as a distraction for the passengers. My theory is the extra carbs put people into kind of a “spacey, dreamy” state that makes it easier for flight attendants to keep us calm.
I used to drink white wine with my dinner on the flight. But I realized it did not help my quality of sleep and I felt too groggy upon waking up dehydrated. If it helps you relax or you are a nervous flyer, it may okay. But be sure to drink lots of water or something else that hydrates you. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect and planes dehydrate you more than you might expect. There is a reason flight attendants make a few extra rounds with water during the flight.
I pack my supplements of magnesium with me that I take daily anyway. For me, 400-600 mg of magnesium calms my nervous system and helps my sleep in general, so I am sure to pack supplements in a place I can access easily on the flight.
On the newer fancier planes, you will often find advanced video screens with a plethora of offerings of movies, t.v. shows, music and entertainment. While I often enjoy a t.v. show or movie while I am eating my dinner, I try not to overindulge on electronic things at night. Using an eye mask and ear plugs while others are staring zombie-like in front of their screens can be helpful when you want to wind down.
My final bit of advice if you want to wind down and calm your nervous system is to meditate. Nowadays you can find apps for this even on planes, or you can just sit quietly with eyes closed, relax your body and watch your thoughts. Notice the sounds around you, without judging them. I often practice loving kindness meditation. I offer kindness especially to myself and to strangers. “May you have ease of being” is a nice mantra.
Being kind and compassionate on flights, with yourself and others, goes a long way toward diffusing any frustration or impatience you may feel. Happy trails!
Happy Wednesday! It is time to focus on wellness and I shall return to a topic near and dear to my heart – sleep!
I started listening to a course recently on Insight Timer by Jennifer Piercy called “Your Guide to Deeper Sleep.” I really like how she describes sleep as a “cooling” of the inflammation in our body and brain. Getting good sleep is fundamental to healing and vitality in our lives. More research is being published all the time showing lack of sleep is connected to conditions such as diabetes.
I have struggled with insomnia in the past periodically. I am getting better in that regard but every now and then, typically in response to stress, I do struggle to get my zz’s. When that happens I know I need to cut back on my caffeine and/or cut back on my media consumption, which tends to churn the brain. I also find that I need to avoid any “weighty” topics of discussion just before bed.
Sleep amounts can vary naturally based on the season, and we typically expect to get slightly less during months where we have more sunlight. I have embraced the idea of early sleep on winter nights, snuggling with a book before bedtime and making sure my devices are powered down at least an hour before lights out. I actually have an alarm that goes off before bedtime to remind me to wind down, in case I am too absorbed in an activity to realize it is time.
Yoga nidra is a practice I have recently discovered which can help me drop off into deeper sleep. I have used some guided meditations in order to let go of tension in the body and allow for mindful relaxation.
On the days after I sleep a nice, juicy 8-9 hours I notice that I have more consistent energy all day. I make decisions faster and with less agonizing. It also has an added benefit of allowing for greater weight loss as it reduces cortisol levels int he body. Who knew you could rest more AND take off extra weight?!?
The most important factor in getting restful sleep seems to be a good wind-down routine at night. Ariana Huffington explains her book The Sleep Revolution that she has a ritual of taking a bath or shower, escorting her devices outside the bedroom, and perhaps using lavender to create an atmosphere of relaxation.
Jennifer Piercy challenges the notion that when we nap, we compromise the quality of our sleep at night. Sleep has been domesticated in the service of “industrial life” and policed with an alarm clock (summary of quote). Dr. Sarah Mednick’s book Take a Nap! Change Your Life helps us understand that our state of being overtired can make us to wired to fall asleep effectively. So napping can be almost a “dress rehearsal” for sleep.
So, if you have the flexibility in your schedule to take a rest in the afternoon, consider a nap rather than fighting your post-lunch sleepiness. This multi-phasic sleep is actually quite natural, so embrace your body’s call to rest when you feel tired, especially between 1-3 p.m, when it could be especially nourishing.
When we treat sleep as a treasured event rather than a drag, we are more likely to enjoy the process and settle in a little deeper. We dream more when we sleep deeply, as it happens, and that can be an adventure as well.
What are your favorite sleep rituals? Do you make sure to get adequate rest every night? How often do you nap?
On Thursday this week I opted to sleep in instead of blogging. Since I’d had some insomnia on Sunday (slept 2 hours) and Tuesday (slept 4 hours) it felt really good to get 10.5 hours of sleep. It was really good, juicy sleep. I know that I dreamed, but I did not write down my dreams right away, so they faded quickly. But the sleep felt cleansing and nourishing, so I know my psyche was working out whatever needed processing.
I was fortunate to be able to work at home so I had some “think time” in between my conference calls. I took a little extra time to meditate, and to work on planning during my quiet time. I wrote in my journal. It is a handwritten, old-fashioned sort of practice for me. It is a way I slow down my brain long enough to process thoughts and feelings, to pay attention to what is going on in my body.
Our bodies can provide a necessary “compass” for the messages in our soul, but so often we forget to observe our reactions as a visceral process. We are in go-go-go mode, always trying to learn something new, read another book, listen to another podcast or audio book. I certainly love to indulge in all of these “treats” as I think of them. But then I need to allow for it all to settle, and for my personal truths to emerge.
As I tuned into my body’s messages today, I discovered I do not want to go to Boston in May for a trip to a conference that is typically an annual event for managers on my clinical research team. The week after that trip I am scheduled to travel to Belgium for another meeting. Then I am planning a trip the week after that to Mexico, to work with a colleague to help orient and train a new team member.
First off: three trips in 3 weeks is an easy NO for my body. More like a “shit NO!” if you pardon my French… Is it that Boston trip itself causing the objection, or just the idea of traveling 3 weeks in a row?
I’m not wild about the Belgium trip honestly (even though I have enjoyed past work trips to Europe). But since I am on a “farewell tour” of sorts in my current role, that trip is part of my closure process in orienting a team member who may be taking on some parts of my role after I leave.
I am breathing through this decision and validating it by noticing the lightness I feel when I imagine skipping that trip. While I enjoy travel, I have come to appreciate sleep and a certain “life rhythm” in living well throughout my days and weeks. To be my most energetic and authentic self, I must respect that rhythm and notice when my body sends me these signals. When I ignore them, and press on, things tend not to go well.
In all honesty, there is no real reason I need to go to Boston for that conference. I have been to Boston before, and I enjoyed it, but I have no desire to go this time. My boss knows my career path is leading me to a new role. I have been upfront with him about that. He may not understand that my personal deadline of August is regardless of whether I have a job lined up specifically, or if I will simply take a break before my next gig.
I will honor that amazing compass of internal wisdom. It never leads me astray. Time to write the email to let him know my decision on this one…
I write this from the Caribou Coffee near my home. Fittingly, my drip coffee maker decided to stop working, and is no longer pulling the water up. I am not sure if it is the hard water coating the mechanism or what. Ugh. Maybe I’ll get a french press for a while and just us my water heater to make the coffee.
In any case, the only solution was to find another source. Going without coffee is not a viable option for me. I’ve done dietary detox “cleanses” before, in which I have given up gluten, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and animal products for a period of 14 days or 21 days. Both times I struggled most with giving up the caffeine, and also dairy.
As someone who both thrives and struggles with a.d.d., I have taken a stimulant medication to help with focus for about 14 years. There are biochemical reasons behind why this has been helpful for me, and why I tend to get addicted to caffeine very quickly. A lot of people with a.d.d. struggle with nicotine addition for this reason as well – it helps with focus.
While this may seem counter-intuitive, if you think of it as stimulating the “brake center” or the executive functioning center of the brain, it makes more sense. People think that stimulants should make you hyperactive, but the opposite is true. They tend to calm down an attention-challenged person. The exception for me is that when my synapses feel “burned” from too many days on too little sleep, typical for me after more than 3-4 days of a work trip.
When the body and brain need rest, they need rest. There is no substitute. In the two years I have really worked to make sure I get better sleep, take care of myself physically and focus on dietary factors which help me sleep better. I weaned myself off full-strength coffee on a day-to-day basis at home. I typically make myself a half caf blend in the morning and I savor it slowly with full fat cream, Putting a shake of cardamon and cinnamon in the coffee maker is delicious also.
Now that I am home again after 7 nights away, I know I will have to detox from the higher amount coffee I consumed in Argentina and Brazil. Coffee is a larger part of the culture, and it is absolutely delicious there, though the Argentinians frequently leave out milk or cream, so I find it’s too acidic for my system to overindulge too much on coffee.
It doesn’t change the fact that I am, in effect, “double dosing” when I travel, since the half caf option doesn’t really exist on the road. I limited myself to 3 a day (which is usually 3 half-cafs at home). People looked at my strangely in the past when I’ve asked for decaf espresso or cappuccino in a restaurant. My Argentina colleague has an espresso after dinner at 10 p.m. at night and I tell him I’d be up all night if I did that. He reassures me: it doesn’t even affect him.
I disagree, it probably does. Though the brain and body have a way of down-regulating hormones and neuro-chemicals when we have become accustomed to too much. When we allow ourselves to scale back on a stimulant substance like caffeine, we start to realize how much we had been depending on it, and our body adjusts back to a more normal baseline.
I like to allow myself a couple of days to gradually scale back the caffeine, while getting juicy, wonderful 9-10 hour nights of sleep. I log my sleep daily (clinical researcher here). When I looked at a stretch of 4 days in which my average sleep was 5.75 hours, I realized that I will need to allow myself at least an equal period of time to restore the balance. If I do not, I will suffer. Pure and simple.
I also notice my weight has been up a bit this month, and that’s typically an indicator that my body is stressed. But I know that when I give my body what it needs: rest, good, healthy food, lots more salads (god, I hate what they feed us on airplanes, that’s a post for another day), time to relax, yoga practice 3+ days a week, solitude, good time with my hubby and my kitties, my body returns to normal.
So while a detox can be challenging, filling my life with all the good things that keep me vital and happy also feels really, really good.
This morning I woke up very early again (3:30) on the heels of a dream, but at least it was after 7 hours of sleep rather than just 4 the night before. I tried counting breaths, I tried a little meditating, praying and attempting to let go of my thoughts. The dream faded quickly and I did not write it down. But there were work people in it, and it did not feel like a happy dream.
I tried paying attention to my thoughts (one meditation technique). Counting breaths got me up to 70, then 20, then I could not make it to 10 without my thoughts distracting me. One of the thoughts I kept having was that I no longer believe in what I do at work. I am supporting a system which is very dysfunctional. I feel like I am rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic sometimes, juggling unreasonable demands.
What also occurred to me is that I no longer trust my director. This does not feel good. But it is what emerges for me, a feeling of betrayal. He broke our group’s trust by taking on two more projects when he told us last November: no more new projects without new resources. I realize he defined this differently from me. I think of people (“headcounts” in corporate speak) as my resources. Yes, there is budget money. But when it comes to human resources, actual people to do the work that’s been committed, we are far below critical mass.
I wrote a long email to my boss and the other manager on our team about this last Friday. I scheduled a meeting for this past Monday to discuss. Since I was asked to work on a project for funding model innovation with a Senior Director of another division, I had to gather the data and face the reality. It is not good. We have 15 active projects and there are only 5 people in the “field clinical research” role in Latin America to execute, spread among 4 countries. True, about half of those projects are in maintenance mode, and are not very work-intensive. But we are fooling ourselves if we think we can continue like this much longer.
A history of over-committing our resources means we are far behind many of the targets that were originally set when the work was committed. And yes, having to lose 3 real headcounts over the past 2 years has had a devastating effect that I could not really manage (from 8 down to 5). We were poised on the razor’s edge even before that in terms of work load. When upper leadership decided to dis-invest, it kind of broke something in me.
Last year at this time I hinted strongly to 2 direct reports that would no longer have positions on the team and needed to find other jobs. HR did not encourage this, but I am loyal to people, not a corporation. One of them found a better job, was relocated to the U.S. from Brazil. The other one found another job in her country’s office as well, so I just had to do one layoff, and it was a temporary one before she began her new position.
Now is not the time to be taking on more projects. That was what we promised the team back in June (and again in November) when we met to survey the damage. No more projects without more resources. My director broke that promise. I no longer believe in what I’m selling. And now I am fairly certain that staying much longer in my current role will actually hurt my career long-term. Aligning with a boss that cannot keep his promises and has lost the trust of his team feels pretty wretched right now.
I have not yet figured out the next move for me. But no wonder I am losing sleep over this. It’s time I was honest with myself about this whole mess. I have been defending a losing proposition for a couple of years now. My team trusts me as well, and they will have to trust that when I leave, I still care about them as people.
A couple weeks ago I scheduled a trip to Argentina and to Brazil. It feels like a farewell tour for me. I know I will leave, and there is one particular colleague in Buenos Aires that I want to talk with 1:1. She has a lot of difficulty saying no to her boss when she is over-committed. He is a world-renowned electro-physiologist. I get it, but she will have to learn this skill. She returns from maternity leave next week. In my own heart and soul, I could not leave this role before her return. I feel a need to say goodbye, and to wish her well, to let her know I still care, which is why I need to leave.
I need to surrender to the fact that people with higher “grade levels” than I in this division have made decisions that I believe are not good for the health of the organization long-term. Which means their decisions conflict with my values. Physically, my body refuses to cooperate with the smoke and mirrors act that we are forced to enact to survive here.
What a relief it is to imagine putting down my sword and no longer fighting this battle. I don’t even CARE what I do next. That’s how good it feels to be honest about where we are now. I need to stop fantasizing about an “exit package” and start plotting my exit immediately.
This week, most U.S. states (except Arizona and Hawaii) will go through the process of the Spring time change. I typically go on an annual rant to my facebook friends about how much I dislike the twice annual time change, especially this one when we lose an hour of sleep. We lose daylight in the morning, and as a morning person I dislike having to get started in the dark again.
For many people, I realize this is a minor annoyance. But for those of us with more sensitive sleep schedules, messing up our circadian rhythms causes real health issues. On Mondays after the start of DST there are typically more workplace injuries and tiredness at the clock change is the cause of more traffic accidents. A Swedish study found that the risk of heart attack increases for the first 3 days following the switch to DST.
So what is there to do with all of these annoying and also potentially serious consequences?
I would very much like it if we abolished the switch, and just used the DST schedule year-round. The energy savings we supposedly gained a century ago when this madness started are no longer relevant. I believe the health risks associated with changing the clocks really are not worth it. Also, it makes things more complex when we exist in a global world with some countries changing time, others not.
But since I am not necessarily able to gather the political will to make this happen, I instead decided a few years ago to declare a “be kind to myself and to others” week. Since I know I will be a bit sleep deprived for a few days, and my body doesn’t like the disruption, I do other things to make sure I take care of myself. I go to yoga, often I schedule a massage, I eat a lot of healthy food and drink plenty of water. I use compassion with myself and realize that if I am tired and cranky, my body needs patience and understanding.
I consider the fact that Spring is indeed arriving, and the light is increasing. I acknowledge that while I need to wake up in the dark for a few more weeks, having a bit more light in the evenings is nice. I try to take it easy on myself, knowing that I love Spring, but seasonal changes can be hard on anyone, and routines need mindful adjustment.
I allow myself to be a little “lazy” at work, by working from home the Monday after the change, and appreciate the privilege I have in doing so. In a week, things will be better. I typically adjust in about 3-5 days, and my cats do so as well, and things will even out.
If others you meet are tired and cranky this week, it helps to remember that some people may feel this change more acutely than we might. Make an effort to go easy on them as well if you can.
I think we can all benefit from declaring a “Be Kind to Yourself” week this time of year, especially to those of us coping with the change. Why not? We should be kind and compassionate on a daily basis more anyway. Let’s just kick it off this week with some mindful and intentional care of ourselves this week. We deserve it.