Tag Archives: sleep

Pausing, resting and noticing

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…

Cheers & happy weekend, amigos!

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Post trip caffeine detox

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.

Caribou

Caribou Coffee this morning, not too crowded at 7:30 a.m.

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.

Happy Thursday, peeps!

 

 

Smoke and mirrors

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.

pain image

Photo credit link – this is how I felt last year at this time.

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.

DST – Declare it “be kind” week

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.

 

Do you have a few minutes?

Happy February! To those of you who live in northern climates, we are three fifths through the winter, mas o menos.

Somehow when we get to February I always feel a surge of optimism. Spring is not so far away now, and those of us who get a little “cabin fever” this time of the year start noticing more light in the evenings.

Last February I started a habit of daily meditation. I had been meditating before that, and developing some consistency. But last year, I fully committed to a minimum of 5 minutes per day. It was a do-able goal, and I count my yoga sessions as part of my practice, so with 3 classes a week, that made the goal easier as well. This weekend I will celebrate an entire year consecutive days of meditation.

It has changed my life, particularly since I have struggled in the past with a.d.d. Meditation has helped me calm my mind and become less reactive to the “bouncing” thoughts. I can observe them and not follow them. I notice when I am caught in a story that I am spinning, and start to question whether that is even true. I hold less judgment about my mind, and more curiosity.

To those who have been thinking about starting a practice, I encourage you to start small. Literally commit to only 2 minutes the first time, focus on your breathing. It may not be easy at first! But then add a minute a day, and see how this changes the quality of your days overall. It may take a few weeks before you really start to notice benefits, so give it at least 30 days.

People used to tell me I needed to have at least 15 minutes for it. That was a big barrier. I simply could not imagine how I would fit that in every day. Now I average a lot more than that. But if I only fit in 5 minutes in the morning, and then get 10 minutes on a lunch hour, I still do it. It is not always easy, and sometimes I feel “too restless” to want to do it. But those are the times I am most likely to benefit, I now realize.

Last fall I read Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body (Goleman and Davidson). For a clinical researcher like me, I loved learning about experiments, past and present to demonstrate the value of meditation. The authors actually critique some of their early studies, the bias and the lack of proper controls. They review the field and conclude that yes, even with some flawed studies in the beginning, reliable science is beginning to emerge on the benefits of meditation.

If the idea of silent meditation is not your cup of tea, there are many guided meditations available at the Insight Timer app that I use. Jon Kabat Zinn has a book called Mindfulness for Beginners with some guided meditations that I really like also. Another resource that was great for me about 2 years ago when I first wanted to commit to practice was Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

For those of you who have a regular practice, I would love to hear how you got started. As I like to say about sleep, doing more of it is like a super-power! If only I had known when I was younger. But I know now. So I will continue to encourage people to try it, and see what works for them.

 

 

 

I am mastering sleep

To continue along a theme I started yesterday on the power of internal thoughts and dialogue on your feelings and behavior, I decided to go into another personal example.

Some of you know that I have struggled in the past with getting enough sleep. But in the last couple of years I have truly started to understand the difference that getting good, consistent sleep makes for me. It allows me to be less distracted, more engaged, less triggered in terms of emotional volatility.

Good sleep allows me to be more creative, more flexible in my thinking, and more generous in spirit. It helps me keep my weight stable and gives me more consistent energy. Sleep allows me to make better decisions and to pause before responding to stimuli. It “cleans up” the toxic stuff that builds up during the day.

But for years I struggled with periodic insomnia. Notice how I define that in the past tense? In truth, I still struggle sometimes. But I was considering the difference in telling myself “I suffer from insomnia” and changing that thought too: “I am learning to master sleep.”

Sleep

It may seem like a subtle difference. But when I consider the feeling that results from “I suffer from…” it makes me feel bad. It makes me feel defeated. When I instead practice the thought, “I am mastering sleep” I start to feel hopeful, as though I am making progress. It means I have not yet figured it out, but that I am getting there. Actually, that is what is true for me.

Back when I started tracking all this stuff with the Wellbeing Finder about a year and a half ago, I really struggled. Knowing that getting better, more consistent sleep was the goal, I could see what factors led to better sleep. So I experimented with different things, like powering the devices down at least an hour before bed. I was shifting my drinking and eating patterns too. I quit alcohol and cut way back on sugar and flour.

It turned out some of those factors were much more relevant than I thought in getting a good night’s sleep. Now that I am used to receiving better quality and quantity of sleep, I am a total convert! But I need to realize this is a skill that can be mastered. Even though I suffered from insomnia in the past, I am gaining mastery over good sleep.

If you are mastering sleep, do consider what language you use as you learn to embrace this beautiful and restorative habit. Imagine if you used kinder language to describe the process of change, and describe the issues as relevant to the past but not the present. Perhaps that will help you, as it has for me, to let go of the need to be perfect. Mastery is an ongoing process but so very worthwhile.