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Blog posts of '2017' 'January'

Can't Sleep? Drug free alternatives that really help
Insomnia is a widespread sleep problem among adults. Nearly 40% of men and women in the U.S. experience some symptoms of insomnia in a given year, and as many as 15% of adults struggle with chronic insomnia. Relaxation techniques are considered a standard form treatment for insomnia by sleep professionals, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. These techniques include:
  • Muscle relaxation exercises
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Imagery and visualization
These effective therapeutic practices are inexpensive, drug free, easy to learn and integrate into a daily routine, and can be very effective in improving sleep. Non-pharmaceutical sleep remedies are attractive to many people who don’t want to use medication to treat their insomnia and other sleep problems. This often leads people to seek other options in an area known as Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). CAM is defined by the National Institutes of Health as "a group of health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine." The NIH estimates that as many as 38% of adults in the United States use some form of CAM, most often in conjunction with conventional medicine, rather than in place of it. Despite its popularity, we don’t know a great deal about how people use relaxation techniques and CAM, including what health problems they're being employed to treat. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine sought to remedy this by conducting this study to assess how people with insomnia use relaxation techniques and CAM to treat their sleep disorder. They found that while many adults with insomnia are using these therapies, only a small percentage of them are using them specifically to treat insomnia. Researchers used data from the National Health Interview Survey, a large-scale, in-person survey on a wide range of health issues conducted by the Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control. The final study group included 23,358 adults. Researchers in the current study investigated the prevalence of relaxation techniques, including deep breathing, muscle relaxation, biofeedback and guided imagery. They also examined the use of CAM, which they separated into four broad categories:
  • Alternative and mind-body medicine: including meditation, yoga, Tai chi
  • Manipulative practices: including massage, chiropractic and osteopathic treatments
  • Other CAM practices: including acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy
  • Natural products: including non-vitamin and non-mineral supplements, particularly those used for insomnia treatment, such as melatonin and valerian
Researchers collected information about reasons for using relaxation and CAM, and whether people used these therapies specifically for insomnia. Finally, they asked whether people who used these treatments had informed their physicians about their use. They found that use of both relaxation and CAM techniques are common among people with insomnia—more common than in people without insomnia. However, the vast majority of people with insomnia who use these therapies are not using them specifically to treat their insomnia. Here are some of the details:
  • 18% of those included in the study had regular insomnia or difficulty sleeping in the past year. More women than men suffered from insomnia, as did older people, and those with lower education and income levels.
  • Of those people with insomnia, 22.9% used some type of relaxation therapy in the past year, compared to 11.2% of people without insomnia. Deep breathing exercises were the most common type of relaxation therapy used.
  • Fewer than one-fifth—only 19.1%--of people discussed their use of relaxation therapy with their primary physician.
  • 29.9% of those with insomnia reported using relaxation exercises for specific medical issues, but only a very small number—30 individuals in total—reported using relaxation techniques to treat their insomnia. This was too small a figure for researchers to calculate a population-based estimate.
  • When it came to CAM, 45% of adults with insomnia used some form of complementary or alternative medicine in the past year, compared to 30.9% of those without insomnia.
  • Natural products were the most commonly used of the four categories, followed by manipulative practices. However, researchers found that use of natural products specifically for insomnia was very low.
  • 54% of adults with insomnia used some form of CAM for specific health problems, but only 1.8% reported using CAM to treat insomnia.
  • In the case of both relaxation techniques and CAM, women were more likely than men to use these therapies, as were people with higher levels of education and income, and people who reported higher levels of physical activity.
There seems to be a real missed opportunity here, to improve insomnia by applying therapeutic techniques that people with this sleep disorder are already using. These broad categories of relaxation and CAM cover a wide range of treatment options. Not all of these techniques will be right for everyone. And further research is needed to fully evaluate the effectiveness of specific therapies. But there exist a number of relaxation and CAM therapies, including meditation and visualization, yoga and acupuncture, that have shown promising results in helping alleviate insomnia and other sleep problems. Talking with your doctor is an important step in making the most of relaxation techniques and complementary or alternative therapies to improve insomnia.  It’s disappointing to see that most people who are using these remedies are not discussing them with their physicians, according to this current research. Increasingly, conventional medical practitioners are open to, informed about and encouraging of techniques such as these. Don’t go it alone. Your “regular” doctor can be a valuable resource in making choices about “alternative” therapies for insomnia and other sleep problems. Sweet Dreams, Michael J. Breus, PhD The Sleep Doctor™ The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan:  Lose Weight Through Better Sleep Everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep™ twitter: @thesleepdoctor Facebook:

Fibromyalgia or Chronic Arthritis? Relief can Come from your mattress.

Fibromyalgia or Chronic Arthritis? Relief Can Come From Your Mattress.

By: Dave Robben

During my nearly decade in the bedding industry, I have come across countless consumers actively seeking a solution for their chronic widespread pain. Many find it nearly impossible to even get out of bed in the morning.

For those people suffering from the debilitating effects of conditions such as chronic arthritis, fibromyalgia, or even osteoporosis, mornings can prove more difficult for most than any other part of the day.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, fibromyalgia affects between 3 and 6 million Americans. It primarily occurs in women of childbearing age, but children, the elderly, and men can also be affected. There is no “cure” for fibromyalgia, there are just suggestions of how to “manage the pain.” Fibromyalgia causes constant pain through the body. This pain can be heightened by long periods of sitting, laying or inactivity.

Outside of the helpful prescription medications, many are finding relief in their sleep system. Those who are affected by these conditions often suffer through the night due to their extreme hypersensitivity to pressure. While there have been tremendous strides in mattress technologies, most affected with these conditions are still sleeping on a surface constructed of hundreds of metal coils that are designed to push back against their body. This typically leads to pain and restless nights of tossing and turning.

Luckily, there are now many options in the marketplace that offer specific solutions to those afflicted with these conditions. New mattress models that offer proper back support and excellent pressure relief are becoming more and more commonplace. Some new mattress models are specifically constructed for people with fibromyalgia and additionally some even carry the Arthritis Foundation’s “Ease of Use Commendation.”

If you are struggling through the pain of one of these conditions, relief can be as simple as a new sleep surface. In your situation, the true definition of support is the “absence of pressure.” I would recommend consulting with your local sleep specialist and explaining your condition. A new mattress coupled with pain management could help you achieve a more normal and active lifestyle.

Dave Robben has been in the bedding industry for nearly 10 years. He has worked in corporate training, product selection, and consulting for major retailers and manufacturers. Mr. Robben currently works as Director of Retail Sales for Mattress Direct Inc., and serves as a guest columnist for Sleep Savvy magazine. Dave can be contacted by email at [email protected], and on twitter at @stlmattress

FDA recommends lower doses of popular sleep medications

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration issued an announcement that could affect millions of Americans who take some of the most common medications for sleep. The FDA said it will require drug makers who produce sleep medications containing zolpidem to reduce some of their recommended dosages, cutting them by half.  

Zolpidem is the active component in some of the most frequently prescribed sleep medications on the market, including Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar, and Zolpimist, as well as generic versions of these drugs.  

The new requirements put specific focus on lowering the recommended dosage for women. This comes as a result of research showing that morning blood levels of the medication may be high enough to reduce alertness and interfere with activities such as driving. The research indicates that women are at higher risk for this morning-after impairment from sleep medications containing zolpidem because it takes significantly longer for women’s bodies to process and eliminate the drug from their systems, compared to men’s. The goal in lowering dosage of zolpidem medications is to lower the levels of the medication in the blood by morning, thereby reducing the risk of early-in-the-day drowsiness and impairment.  

The FDA’s research also indicates that the problem of next-day impairment from zolpidem is greatest with the extended release version of this type of medication, including Ambien CR and generic types.  

Intermezzo, a zolpidem medication released in 2011, is not affected by these changes. Intermezzo, a prescription sleep aid that is targeted for people who wake in the night after initially falling asleep, already carries a lower dose of zolpidem than other medications that are designed to address difficulties falling asleep.  

The FDA also announced that it would continue to research the impairment risks of other prescription medications and over-the-counter sleep aids.  

The required changes to the recommendations dosages for sleep medications containing zolpidem are as follows:

  • For women, the recommended dose should be lowered from 10 milligrams to 5 milligrams. For the extended-release versions, the recommended dose should be lowered from 12.5 milligrams to 6.25 milligrams
  • The FDA will not require that the recommended dose for men be lowered.However, it suggests that medical professionals warn all patients, men and women, about the risks of morning drowsiness and impairment, particularly for activities such as driving. 

I understand the FDA’s concerns.  But I see a couple of additional issues that may contribute to the early-in-the-day drowsiness and impairment that people experience while taking these sleep medications.  

  • Not enough time in bed. Patients who are prescribed sleep medication with zolpidem are not giving themselves enough time in bed for sleep after taking their dose in the evening. In a clinical setting, it is a standard recommendation that people taking this type of sleep medication have a full 8 hours to spend in bed. It would not surprise me if some people who are taking zolpidem are not giving themselves sufficient time for a full night’s sleep, during which time the drug’s effects would subside.
  • Patient Compliance. Another possible issue has to do with patient compliance. People who take something other than their prescribed dose, or fail to follow directions on the timing of their dose, may encounter next-day drowsiness as a problem.

In either case, patient education is critical. Doctors who prescribe these sleep medications must be thorough in educating their patients on the proper use of these powerful drugs. And patients must listen to—and follow through with—their doctors’ instructions.  

I do have concerns about the response that may follow these new lower-dosage recommendations. In my experience in clinical practice, the 10-milligram dose of zolpidem is usually the most effective dose for treating insomnia. I worry that patients who are moved to a lower dosage will simply take twice as much of their medication, in an attempt to reach the desired effect of their previously higher dose. Again, compliance is a critical issue: if you are a patient taking this type of sleep medication, it’s important that you follow your prescribing physician’s instructions, including sticking to the right dose.

It’s also important to keep in mind that there are low-cost, effective, non-chemical alternatives to prescription sleep medication. Drug therapy for sleep is just one option for treatment, and in some cases it will be the best option. But don’t overlook these alternatives:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): I’ve written before about the power of CBT in improving sleep. Studies show that CBT can be as effective or even more effective than drug therapy. And this type of therapy doesn’t always have to be an extended, long-term endeavor: research shows that targeted, short-term behavioral therapy can improve sleep for people with insomnia.

Meditation and Relaxation: Mind-body therapies such as meditation and relaxation can also help to improve sleep, and diminish symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disorders. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and visualization techniques are recommended treatments for sleep by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. This is a growing area of sleep research, which shows promise in treating sleep disorders such as insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

Sleep Restriction: This is a behavioral therapy that limits time spent in bed as a way to improve sleep. Rather than tossing and turning in bed, feeling frustrated and anxious at not falling asleep, get out of bed. Find a quiet place to relax (not in front of the television), until you feel ready to go back to bed and sleep. Sleep restriction also involves keeping regular morning wake times, and not staying in bed longer in the morning in order to make up for sleep lost at night. 

Hearing reports such as these can be unsettling. But making abrupt changes to your prescription sleep medication is not a good idea. If you’re taking a zolpidem sleep medication, you should continue to take your regular dose until your prescribing physician makes a change. Do not make a change to your dose on your own. Talk with your doctor and follow his or her recommendation.


Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD 

The Sleep Doctor™

The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan:  Lose Weight Through Better Sleep

Everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep™ 

twitter: @thesleepdoctor 



Zoned out: how to minimize jet lag

Summer travel season is in full swing. Maybe you’re jetting off to the coast. Or to Rio for the Olympics. Many of us also go on business trips from time to time, or even all the time. So jet lag happens. Feeling tired after a serious time-zone change is a real thing. You don’t want to waste precious vacation time or productivity by feeling out of it for several days, nor do you want to feel like a zombie when you return home. While it’s probably inevitable that you’ll feel a bit tired while adjusting to a time-zone change, there are ways to mitigate the effects.

What causes jet lag?


Jet lag occurs when there is a sudden change in the alignment of environmental time cues, notably sunlight, relative to the body’s internal timing, which is also referred to as the circadian rhythm. So flying across time zones tends to have a similar effect as working the afternoon or night shift. Both situations cause the individual and his or her environment to be out of sync.
The reason jet lag causes negative effects is that the body has more than one circadian rhythm. Instead, every cell keeps its own internal time. Local networks of cells (tissues) allow pretty good coordination within organs. For example, even though individual liver cells keep time internally, most liver cells align to each other so that you can think of “liver time” as a thing. However, time is much less well coordinated across different organs.

Your eyes are windows to the brain

Cells in your eyes have their own individual clocks which run on their own eye time and are sensitive to light. And these are particular culprits in jet lag, because they are the key communicator of light cues to your brain, since your brain doesn’t get any light exposure itself. So while your eyes are communicating directly to your brain about light, they’re not communicating to the clocks in your liver, bones, etc. Those organs and tissues tend to rely on other cues, strongly influenced by metabolic cues, like when you eat, go for a run, etc.
Further complicating the jet lag equation is that your eyes and brain, because they are more affected by light, generally adjust within a day to your new setting. However, your other organs and tissues can only catch up to the new time at the rate of about an hour a day. And they adjust even more slowly if they get conflicting information about time, which happens if your eating and exercise habits don’t align with the light in your new environment. What these different rates of adjustment mean is that while you get used to a new time, the clocks in your body fall out of their normal alignment. As long as the normal alignment of organ times is disrupted, your organs will be doing things when other organs aren’t ready for them – like your stomach making acid when you’re not actually about to eat, giving you ulcers or acid reflux.

When your body clocks are out of sync

The misalignment of body clocks, which doctors and scientists call internal desynchrony, is what makes us feel bad when we have jet lag. As long as our body systems don’t line up, it is normal for us to feel unwell. It’s the body’s way of telling us that something is not right. Again, we can expect to feel that way about one day per hour of time zone change, given how long it takes our organs to move into alignment. It may take even longer if you’re traveling to an area that’s a much higher altitude than where you currently are.

So what can you do to minimize jet lag’s negative effects?

Get a head start on adjusting to the new time

To some extent, you can get ahead of your trip by adjusting your timing at home. Go to bed a little earlier or later, maybe shift your eating, waking and sleeping schedules an hour toward the time zone to which you’ll be traveling. Sports teams are beginning to do this more. They are training at the time of day that will be local time for the event, so that when the athletes fly and play the same day, their bodies are expecting to play at the right (internal) time. For example, athletes in New York might practice at 7pm in if they plan to fly to California for a 4pm game in a few days.

Get all your timing cues aligned

Sleep, exercise, and eat on local time so that your body gets the same time information to all organs, no matter what cues they’re sensitive to. Getting bright light in the day is also important, just like making sure it’s dark when you sleep. Going outside helps with the former, and using a sleep mask can help with the latter, especially if you don’t quite sleep on local time the first day or two. Earplugs can also be beneficial.

Give yourself a break

Internal desynchrony disrupts your body as well as your ability to think and act. For the first 24 hours, you’re likely to be a bit under the weather, no matter what you do. So build in a day to relax when you arrive. Taking it easy for a day allows your body to focus on realigning itself and recovering, which is hard to do if you put additional stress on it by going gung-ho when you first arrive. Chilling out poolside isn’t lazy; it’s a smart move and an investment for the following days.

Accept that which you cannot control

We do not know of any superhumans outside of the movies. A normal human being is going to feel fatigued for a few days when traveling across time zones. So be aware, follow these tips and make the most out of your trip.

Dr. Benjamin Smarr

Dr. Benjamin Smarr studies the temporal structures that biological systems make as they move through time. An NIH research fellow at UC Berkeley, his work focuses on understanding how physiological dynamics like sleep, circadian rhythms, and ovulatory cycles are shaped by the brain, and how disturbances to those cycles gives rise to disease. Dr. Smarr is also an advocate for scientific outreach, and routinely gives public lectures and visits K-12 classrooms to help promote the idea that by understanding the biology that guides us, we can live more empowered lives.

What is your sleeping pattern?

Sleeping Patterns Explained

While some of us are following in Rip Van Winkle’s footsteps, others might relate more to the princess sleeping on a pea.

The National Sleep Foundation has identified five predominant sleeping patterns or “sleeping personalities” with the majority of respondents reporting not-so-good sleep. Where do you fall? 

The Good Sleepers

Healthy, Lively Larks: You are a sleeping superstar. Congratulations. You’re well rested, rarely tired due to lack of sleep, and sleep issues are a foreign concept. You are even a morning person (they exist!). You’re young or middle aged and either married or partnered with a full-time job.

Sleep Savvy Seniors: You’re the most mature of the five clusters (with an average age of 60) and clock a chart-topping average of 7.3 hours per night. People in this group rarely feel tired or fatigued and are most likely retired (51%). Ahh, the good life.

The Not-So-Good Sleepers

Dragging Duos: More than the other sleep groups, you most likely have a partner and a job, working 40-plus hours a week and often catching up on work-related tasks before bed. More than one-third of Dragging Duos say they feel tired or fatigued at least three days a week and many have partners who have trouble sleeping as well.

Overworked, Overweight and Over Caffeinated: This group works more hours than other groups, sleeps less, and drinks more caffeine. You feel like you need less sleep at night for optimal functioning but unfortunately 7 in 10 from this group frequently experience symptoms of insomnia. Many of you are male and half the group is single and classified as overweight.

Sleepless and Missin’ the Kissin’: Your group has the largest number of night owls. You are the least likely to say you often sleep well and the most likely to say sleep issues have caused problems with your relationship and intimacy. Many of you have been diagnosed with a medical condition and you likely use sleep aids.

Ok, So Now What?

Did any of these sleeping patterns make you feel slightly exposed and defeated? Us too. the silver lining is that these sleep personalities are incredibly elastic and can change with behaviors. Here are some lifestyle changes for the not-so-good sleepers to reach the elusive Lively Lark or Sleep Savvy Senior statuses.

  • Exercise (we can’t stress this enough): Exercise resolves many issues, especially related to sleep. The endorphins you release during and after exercise are proven to make you a less stressed, happier person. Exercise is good for the rest of your body, too—organs, muscles, bones, even your skin! With proper exercise, you’ll rest better (your body needs to recharge after a good workout) and you’ll be more productive during the day.
  • Drink more water and eat well: To allow your body to focus on restoring itself while you sleep instead of accommodating and processing an unhealthy diet or lack of hydration, eat cleanly and drink more water (you probably are not drinking enough, let’s be honest).Try to drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up.
  • Make time for your partner: A good relationship needs time and space. Even if you’re busy, prioritizing quality time with a partner can go a long way in reducing stress and improving your nightly sleep.
  • Stick to a bedtime routine: avoid too much screen time at night and go to bed at the same time so your body starts falling into a consistent rhythm.
  • Assess your work/life balance and make changes: This is the hardest one for most people because it can feel like a very tall order. Setting boundaries within your workplace and evaluating your time management practices could drastically reduce stress in the long term. Keep a log of how you’re spending all of your time each day and what work you end up bringing home with you. You’ll be able to identify different ways to organize your work day to get those lingering tasks done that get in the way of an early bedtime during the day. Further, you’ll be able to identify tasks you may be able to delegate and perhaps notice office habits that could be eliminated (too many internal meetings!).
  • Choose a mattress that meets your needs: We all have our optimal comfort levels and that one sleep position that puts us right to sleep. Did you know, side and stomach sleepers should sleep on a soft mattress and back sleepers should sleep on a firm mattress? Subtle changes like this can land you in a different sleeping pattern category, so take note!

Improvements to your day-to-day and sleep don’t happen on their own. You need to take control and make changes if need be. Sweet dreams, and keep us posted on your progress.


Rachel is a Michigan-based copywriter and editor who writes about sleep habits and sleep technology. When she’s not crafting content she enjoys all things outdoors and music. She is neither a morning person nor a night owl and has yet to finish a cup of coffee.

Bedtime Namaste: How Yoga Improves Sleep

Whether you love yoga, hate yoga, or just don’t understand what all the fuss is about, chances are there’s one pose you love. We’re talking about the pose we all know is coming after an hour or so of twisting, balancing and stretching your body. It’s the well-deserved rest that is the culmination of each class: savasana.

For those who don’t know, savasana is also called corpse pose, and it involves, well, lying still like a corpse. On your back, with your eyes shut, arms at your side with palms up, and muscles relaxed. And it feels amazing. So utterly relaxing and luxurious that it’s not unheard of for yogis to drift off to sleep right there in class.

And this is no accident—the relationship between yoga and sleep is well-documented. The findings can help you improve the quality of your shut-eye—in the bedroom, not the yoga studio (though no judgment).

Shot of yoga class with young women relaxing on floor. Yoga class lying in the Corpse pose, Savasana.

Rest assured, yoga is good for sleep

Numerous researchers have looked at the relationship between yoga and sleep from various different angles. The basic conclusion of all of them is this: yoga improves sleep. Here are some of the subtler and more specific takeaways:

  • Insomnia relief. Insomnia is a real issue—one that affects 10-15% of American adults. Yoga may offer some real relief. In one study of insomnia sufferers, the subjects were trained in and then performed a simple daily yoga practice for eight weeks. At the end of the clinical intervention, they reported improved quality of sleep, shorter time to fall asleep, and longer duration of sleep overall.
  • Heat it up to sleep it off. If you’re a fan of heated yoga, good news: the practice could help you chill out more easily come bedtime. In a study of Bikram practitioners, subjects reported fewer sleep disturbances on days they practiced yoga as compared with non-yoga days.
  • Benefits for cancer patients. A study of 39 patients with lymphoma compared a control group with a group who practiced Tibetan yoga daily for three months. The results showed that those in the yoga group reported significantly better subjective sleep quality, faster sleep latency, longer sleep duration, and less use of sleep medications.
  • Not just for the young’uns. Mindfulness meditation, a practice of its own right but one that is closely tied to yoga, has been shown to improve sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep disturbances.

Sun Salutation Yoga. Young woman doing yoga by the lake, sunset

Why sun salutations help you snooze

There are a number of ways in which yoga is known to improve sleep (and likely more that haven’t been studied yet). One of the biggest factors is also the most obvious: stress reduction. The physical release caused by stretching and twisting muscles, coupled with a focus on deep breathing, makes yoga the perfect exercise for chilling out—not to mention the fact that yoga studios are specifically designed to be serene environments. Over the long-term, regular yoga practitioners can even lower their level of the stress hormone cortisol, but the short-term relaxation effects can be felt immediately. Plus, the mindfulness your instructor encourages throughout class can significantly reduce psychological stress.

Calming the racing mind

Mindfulness has also been shown to target a particularly insidious (and insomnia-inducing) brand of stress: rumination. Think of rumination as that brain-on-a-hamster-wheel phenomenon that keeps you awake at night. Perhaps because of overall stress reduction, or because it improves the brain’s ability to focus on one thing, mindfulness helps put the kibosh on these unproductive patterns of thought so that you can get to sleep.

Besides relaxing the mind, yoga can also help bring about physiological changes that promote sleep. This is because yoga and meditation initiate the parasympathetic response—the “rest and digest” nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s unconscious actions like digestion and sleep. You can increase this effect by focusing on poses like forward bends and spinal twists that promote blood flow to the abdomen.

For those whose sleep is impeded by physical pain, yoga can also provide a solution. Targeted poses help relax tight muscles and work out knots. And the mental benefits of yoga can alleviate physical pains you can’t work out. By increasing cognitive and emotional control, yoga reduces pain perception and allows you to more easily stop fixating on negative sensations.

And then there’s the fact that yoga is, well, exercise. Exercise is an essential part of good sleep hygiene, as it helps promote healthy sleep-wake cycles (as long as you’re not working up a sweat right before bedtime). The physical fatigue also makes it easier to fall asleep when you crawl into bed at the end of the day.

Step up to the mat

Yoga can seem intimidating to those who don’t have a regular practice. But it shouldn’t be. In fact, yoga is one of the most equalizing types of exercise. You can do it anywhere, with no equipment. At its core, yoga teaches us that there is no “perfect” version of a pose—whatever version your body can do is perfect for you.

If you’d like to get started on your own, check out some of the best sleep-promoting poses you can do right in your own bedroom. Add some simple meditations for good measure.

And if you’re already deep into your practice, feel good about choosing a fitness path that improves your mind, body…and bedtime.

Best new bedtime picture books

There’s something special about reading a bedtime story with a child. Many kids are extra sweet at bedtime, so you get quality time and bonding to the max. You’ve likely already shared your favorite classic books with your kids or grandkids. Several times, right? Goodnight, Moon. The Hungry Caterpillar. The Velveteen Rabbit. The Missing Piece. Green Eggs and Ham. They’re all so wonderful, sigh. But eventually, you need some new material. So what can you read with them now?

Have no fear. We recently went to a good bookstore for kids in search of best new picture books that might wind up being classics.

We’ll start by sharing our own criteria for what makes a good picture book. It must have a good, engaging story. The writing has to sparkle. The pictures need to feel fresh, graphic or otherwise charming. It needs to be human. And the book needs to be original in some way, not the same old sappy stuff and clichéd stories. Lastly is the “it” factor: the book should evoke some kind of emotional response. Ultimately, we need to empathize. Or laugh. Or be delighted. Or enlightened. Truth be told, our standards are very high, and most books wind up in the rejected pile.

Looking for books that have won prestigious children’s literary awards like the Caldecott or Newbery medals can be helpful, but not always. They’re usually easy to spot, with large embossed gold or silver stickers at the top. We’ve found these awards generally guarantee a certain quality of writing and illustrations, but don’t necessarily mean you’ll get a good, engaging story. It also seems like books with a sense of humor are often overlooked by the judges. So don’t limit yourself to award-winners.

After weeding through books for several hours, we’re happy to report that the genre is alive and well. Here are some newer bedtime books on the shelves right now that are worth a look. The books don’t have an age range on them, so we guesstimated.

Unlike Other Monsters

Written by Audrey Vernick, Illustrated by Colin Jack Children 5-7

Written by Audrey Vernick, Illustrated by Colin Jack
Children 5-7

Zander is a monster. And monsters do not like or need friends. Until a little red bird hangs out with Zander and interrupts his world view. A humorous story with fun, active illustrations. More here. 


Still a Gorilla

Written by Kim Norman, Illustrated by Chad Geran Children 3-5

Written by Kim Norman, Illustrated by Chad Geran
Children 3-5

Cute story about a young gorilla who longs to be someone else. Big, flat, almost Japanese-style illustrations. For the pictures, think Curious George meets Pokemon. More here.


Hello, My Name is Octicorn

Written by Kevin Killer, Illustrated by Justin Lowe Children 6-8

Written by Kevin Diller, Illustrated by Justin Lowe
Children 6-8

Half unicorn, half octopus, Octicorn feels insecure because he’s different. In the book, Octicorn works through all the reasons he’d be a good friend. Turns out, they’re excellent reasons. Expressive, earnest, mostly black and white illustrations with a splash of color. Nice story for a child who’s different or to teach kids about tolerance. More here



Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Written and Illustrated by Mo Willems Caldecott Honor Book Children 5-7

Written and Illustrated by Mo Willems
Caldecott Honor Book
Children 5-7

A mischievous pigeon tries every excuse and guilt trip in the book, all the ones that kids typically use to try to get their way. Simple, doodle-style illustrations that evoke an old-style cartoon. We think most kids will be able to see themselves in this book, a great quality for a book to have. More here




The Day the Crayons Quit

Written by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers EB White Read-Aloud Award Children 7-10

Written by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
EB White Read-Aloud Award
Children 7-10

Duncan wants to color but his crayons are tired. So they all go on strike. Each crayon writes him a hilarious protest letter based on its typical duties by color. Red is mad that he has to work so hard year-round, especially Christmas. Beige is tired of being the poor man’s brown. Full disclosure: we are in love with this book. The “delight” factor is high. Just buy it! More here. 



Mixed Me

Written by Taye Diggs, Illustrated by Shane W. Evans Children 6-9

Written by Taye Diggs, Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Children 6-9

Written by actor Taye Diggs, this is about Mike, a mixed race boy with an awesome head of curly hair. In a rhyme, he proudly explains who he is to the world, with love and support from his parents. Colorful and modern illustrations. Exuberant and freeing text. More here. 



On the Night You Were Born

Written and Illustrated by Nancy Tillman New York Times Bestseller Children 2-5

Written and Illustrated by Nancy Tillman
New York Times Bestseller
Children 2-5

Sweetest book since Goodnight Moon. A parent poetically recounts the events of a magical night. On the night her child was born, word rang out across the land. The polar bears danced and all of nature celebrated. A book that is validating, comforting and just all-around AWESOME. More here. 



Quit Calling Me a Monster

Written by Jory John, Illustrated by Bob Shea Children 6-9

Written by Jory John, Illustrated by Bob Shea
Children 6-9

An engaging rant by a monster about being called names, even though he rather deserves them due to bad behavior. A witty romp with a protagonist who rather reminded us of Oscar the Grouch. Endearing, active illustrations. More here.




The Wonderful Things You Will Be

Written and Illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin Children 3-5

Written and Illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin
Children 3-5

A lovely rhyme as a new parent speculates on all the possibilities life may hold for her child. Somehow this book perfectly walks the line between schmaltz and honest emotion. Charming illustrations. More here.


Voice of Freedom/The Fannie Lou Hamer Story

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford Illustrated by Ekua Holmes Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Caldecott Honor Book Coretta Scott King Ward/John Steptoe New Talent Children 9-12

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
Caldecott Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Award/John Steptoe New Talent
Children 9-12

This book is a serious work for children and somewhat hard to explain, because it deals with racism. The youngest of 20 children, Fannie Lou Hamer was born to sharecroppers and grew up to be a civil rights leader. Carole Boston Weatherford, a writer of many books about African American heroes, has taken the true elements of Hamer’s life and translated them into a compilation of different short stories and prose. The result is moving, sad, joyful, angry, inspiring and true. The fine art illustrations are incredibly beautiful and unique. This book would be best read a few pages at a time and discussed in detail between adult and child. More here.


If you want to look for picture books on your own, we’ll make a plea for going to a good local brick-and-mortar bookstore. It’s way, way easier to find good books in person than online, unless you already know exactly what you want. In a bookstore, you can always read the entire book, unlike online where you just get a preview. Plus bookstores are places full of knowledge and great vibes, the kind of business that’s great to have in your neighborhood.

Happy reading, and may your little one drift off to sleep easily, enriched by a great book and your loving, undivided attention.

Nighttime bruxism: escaping the grind

We think of sleep as the most relaxed state our bodies can reach—and, for the most part, that’s true. Yet there are exceptions. One of the biggest ones is a phenomenon that is the epitome of non-relaxation. It’s characterized by tension and destruction that somehow slipped its way into the chilled-out world of sleep: bruxism.

What Is Bruxism?

If you’ve never heard of bruxism, you’ve likely heard of its more common name, teeth grinding. The condition, however, refers to not only grinding but also unconscious gnashing and clenching of the teeth (oh, the drama!).  Doing this in your sleep (sleep bruxism) is considered a sleep-related movement disorder, a class of conditions that occur near or during sleep and affect the quality of your shut-eye.

Nighttime bruxism, which afflicts 8% of adults, can also have repercussions on your waking life. It can lead to tension headaches, damaged teeth, disorders in the tempromandibular joints (TMJs), and receding gum lines. Not to mention all the side effects that come with inadequate sleep. When it’s severe enough, the sound of grinding can also create sleep issues for your partner. Not exactly a soothing lullaby.

There’s evidence that those with nighttime bruxism grind their teeth during periodic arousals of the cardiac and respiratory systems during sleep. These arousals trigger increased muscle activity (in this case, in the jaw) and can happen up to 15 times a night. What makes someone more prone to this is a complicated question.

 What Causes Bruxism?

There’s not a general consensus, but the cause is likely different from person to person. Possible causes of nighttime bruxism include abnormal tooth alignment; acid reflux into the esophagus; and use of certain anti-depressants or stimulants like coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and some illegal drugs.

Research also suggests that those with other sleep disorders like sleep apnea or snoring are more likely to suffer from teeth grinding.  In fact, one study showed that sleep apnea is the highest risk factor for bruxism in the general population.

However, the most common cause—to which about 70% of bruxism cases can be attributed—is anxiety and stress. When daily stressors are not addressed head on, the body still needs to process that emotional strain. Think about your body’s reaction when something upsetting or stressful happens: you tense up, perhaps clenching your jaw and pressing your teeth together. Those with bruxism experience this while they’re asleep, as a response to concerns that go unaddressed while awake.

How Do I Know If I Have It?

 Self-diagnosing bruxism can be tricky, since you’re asleep when it happens. However, here are some signs that indicate it could be an issue:

  • Flattened, fractured, or chipped teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Pain, fatigue, or soreness in the jaw
  • Headache, especially in the temples
  • Earache
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Your partner notices the sound of grinding or clenching.

How Do I Treat My Bruxism?

If you think you are might have bruxism, your first step should be to make an appointment with your dentist or doctor. Explain the symptoms you’ve been experiencing and anything in your life you think could be relevant (new stressors, a change in sleep patterns).

In many cases, your dentist will recommend a mouth guard to keep your teeth separated at night (with the added bonus of reducing any cringe-inducing sounds for your partner). There are a number of different mouth guards to choose from, but most dentists will recommend the hard, custom-fit guard, since it’s both smaller and more effective at preventing grinding.

If you have an associated sleep disorder, your teeth grinding will likely improve after you address the other issue. In one study, those suffering from bruxism and sleep apnea saw an improvement in both conditions when only the latter was treated.

For almost every case of nighttime bruxism, however, stress management is a smart idea. Good sleep hygiene, meditation, and more proactive ways of dealing with life’s stresses can be enough to treat bruxism without any medical intervention. Plus it has the added bonus of making your days more enjoyable as well. So take some time to relax during your days. You and your partner are likely to escape the grind and enjoy more restful nights.


Sleep and Weight Loss

Sleep and Weight Loss

There are a couple oft-cited “epidemics” in America, one being obesity, and the other inadequate sleep. Unfortunately, it’s not just attention-grabbing headlines: according to studies, over one third of Americans are obese, and one third don’t get enough sleep.

The closeness of these two figures may be more than coincidence. A growing body of research shows a strong association between sleep deprivation and weight gain. In a meta-analysis that encompassed 634,511 subjects, both male and female, ranging in age from 2 to 102, researchers found a consistent increased risk of obesity among those who don’t sleep enough.

So what role does sleep loss play in weight gain—and, on the flip side, can quality sleep help with weight loss?

Weary Willpower

Before a bunch of unhealthy food can cause weight gain, you first have to make the chocolate sweetsdecision to eat that unhealthy food. And there’s a great deal of evidence that sleep plays a major role in deciding whether or not you indulge.

Sleep deprivation dulls activity in the brain’s frontal lobe, which is the region responsible for decision making and impulse control. So when a coworker offers you a donut, you take it, rather than eating the yogurt you so dutifully packed.

What’s more, being overly tired actually makes your brain more interested in junk than you’d normally be. This is because sleep deprivation lights up your brain’s reward center, leading you to seek “pleasurable, rewarding experiences”… such as the nefarious donut mentioned earlier.

In one study from Berkeley, participants rated the desirability of certain foods both when they were well-rested and then again after sleep deprivation. In the state of sleep debt, the amygdala portion of the brain (which is involved in emotions, pleasure and appetite, and an important part of the brain’s reward system) was highly activated. Participants consistently rated unhealthy, high-calorie foods as more desirable than they had when they were well-rested.

 The research bears out in real life, too. Sleep-deprived Japanese factory workers are more likely to snack between meals, eat out, and not eat vegetables; Americans who don’t sleep enough consume more sugar and have less variety in their diet; in Germany, inadequate sleep is associated with increased fast food consumption.

And to top it all off, sleep-deprived people also eat bigger portions. Bottom line: sleep helps you resist temptation and make smarter food choices.

Fatigue & Fullness

 So say you’re sleep-deprived and you splurge on two (okay, three) slices of pizza at lunch. At least you’ll be full for a while and not eat anymore waistline-expanding goodies, right?
Well, maybe not.

Short sleep disrupts the balance of your hormones, including leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is often referred to as the “satiety hormone,” causing you to feel full and suppressing appetite, while ghrelin triggers hunger and plays a large role in initiating eating.

When you’re not well-rested, your leptin levels plummet and your ghrelin levels rise; one study found that subjects who slept for 5 hours had 15.5% lower leptin than those who slept a full 8 hours, and 14.9% higher ghrelin. This means that you’ll not only be eating less healthy, more caloric food—you’ll also feel hungrier and seek food more frequently.

Sleepless and Stress-full

 sleeping for healthAmong the many benefits of proper sleep is that it can reduce stress, which, in turn, can help reduce your weight. How? It comes back to another hormone—this time, cortisol.

Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress, and its levels are closely tied to our natural sleep/wake cycles. So when those cycles get disrupted, so do those levels, causing a spike in cortisol in the bloodstream.

This spike doesn’t just make you feel stressed out. Cortisol causes fat to be stored around the organs (especially visceral organs, which translates to belly fat), and also causes fat cells to become larger. Studies have shown that elevated cortisol can cause increased belly fat even in otherwise slender individuals.

Metabolism Malfunction

 You know how not sleeping well makes you feel groggy and lethargic? Well, turns out your metabolism feels pretty much the same way.

When you’re well-rested, your metabolism is a well-oiled machine, efficiently processing the calories that you consume. On the flip side, when you’re in a state of sleep deprivation, your groggy metabolism can’t keep up with your food intake. What causes this breakdown? It all comes down to insulin.

See, insulin plays an important role in helping our body convert sugar into energy for our cells. When our body can’t properly use insulin (insulin resistance) that sugar remains in our bloodstream and eventually is converted into fat. This is the case for those who have diabetes—and, research shows, for those who aren’t getting enough sleep.

One study showed that after just four nights of short sleep, subjects’ ability to respond to insulin decreased by 16%—a difference comparable to that between the cells of obese vs. lean people—and the insulin sensitivity of their fat cells dropped by 30%. The latter is particularly important because fat cells play a crucial role in storing and releasing energy. Meanwhile, insulin resistance in the brain means that insulin can’t do its job of reducing hunger cues.

One report put it in stark terms: “Chronic sleep loss can reduce the capacity of even young adults to perform basic metabolic functions, such as processing and storing carbohydrates or regulating hormone secretion.”

As if your metabolism wasn’t getting a big enough blow from the insulin resistance, there’s this: sleep deprivation reduces the production of thyroid-stimulating-hormone, which is an essential player in proper metabolism. Ouch.

 Too Sleepy to Sweat

 Anyone who has tried to slim down or get into better shape knows the importance of regular exercise, as well as how tough it can be to get into a workout routine. To the surprise of exactly nobody, not getting enough sleep makes it much more difficult to achieve this.

It’s intuitive—when you’re tired, you don’t want to go exert a bunch of energy. And studies show that subjects with sleep problems report a significant reduction in their levels of exercise physical activity. What’s more, the increased ghrelin and decreased leptin levels associated with sleep loss mean an overall reduction in energy expenditure.

And if you do drag your tired butt to the gym, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to keep yourself there for a full workout. Sleep deprivation increases your perceived exertion and increases the likelihood that you’ll cut your sweat session short.

Sweet Dreams for Good Genes

 Your lifestyle is a huge factor in determining your weight, but the fact is that genetics also play a role. This can be super discouraging to those who are working hard to eat right and work out but still can’t lose the weight because of a genetic predisposition to a higher BMI.

However, research shows that adequate sleep can reduce the influence your genetics have on your weight. In a study of identical twins that looked at BMI, genetics, and lifestyle factors including diet, exercise, and sleep habits, they found that the BMI variations in those who slept adequately were less dependent on genetics. However, those who slept less saw 70% of their BMI variations come from hereditary factors.

 The Final Word

 From the food you choose to eat, to how your body processes that food, to your workouts, to the relative impact of all of these components, sleep influences every aspect of your weight. Diet and exercise may get more press, but science has made it increasingly clear that sleep is the essential third pillar of fitness.

So if losing weight, getting fit, or just maintaining a healthy BMI is one of your resolutions, getting enough shut-eye needs to be as well

The history of America’s most famous bedroom

Header photo credit:  White House Historical Association


When it comes to politics at the moment, most people vehemently agree on only one thing:  we just want the election to be over. So forget Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Garry Johnson or Jill Stein for a moment. Let’s delve into a more fun aspect of politics:  history, decorating and architecture. We’re talking about the most famous bedroom in DC, the Lincoln Bedroom.

Most Americans are aware that the Lincoln Bedroom exists. But they’re under the mistaken impression that the current President sleeps there. Or that Lincoln slept in the room, for that matter (he did not, unless it was a cat nap). In fact, prior to 1945, the Lincoln Bedroom, as we think of it, existed as two separate entities – a suite of Victorian furniture purchased by the Lincolns that was constantly being shuffled around the White House, and a presidential office in the original part of the White House.

A storied room

Let’s go back to the beginnings of the White House. It was commissioned in 1791 on a site chosen by George Washington, who left office before it was finished. In 1800, despite ongoing construction, John Adams became the first President to experience the joys of living amidst a renovation, without the Property Brothers around to rescue him. At the time, the White House was the largest house in the country, something that remained true until the Civil War. During the War of 1812, the British burned the mansion down a few years after it was finished originally. Thankfully, Dolly Madison had the presence of mind to take the masterpiece painting of George Washington with them before it was destroyed. Obviously, the building was rebuilt after the war.

Period illustration of White House in 1814, after the British burned it down. Credit: Library of Congress.

Period illustration of White House in 1814, after the British burned it down. Photo/art credit: Library of Congress.

Prior to Teddy Roosevelt, the president and his aides worked on the second floor of the Executive Mansion. During this time, the room now known as the Lincoln Bedroom served as a private office for many presidents, including Lincoln, McKinley, Benjamin Harrison and Taft.


McKinley’s Office, 1900, Photo Credit: White House Museum

It’s easy to imagine the difficulties of running a large government in a personal residence. In 1902, Teddy Roosevelt commissioned a separate executive office building on the site, moving the president and his staff into it. That part of the White House is now known as the West Wing. A few years later, President Taft had the Oval Office built within the West Wing. Even after construction of the West Wing, the Lincoln Bedroom was mostly used as a private office for the president or a meeting room for his cabinet, other than a brief period when it became a bedroom for Woodrow Wilson’s daughter.

Bedroom and furniture finally unite

In 1945, the White House was in serious structural trouble. Harry Truman undertook a massive renovation that basically scrapped every room down to the studs. Truman decreed that the Lincoln-era bedroom furnishings should be installed in Lincoln’s former presidential office, and that the room should be forever dedicated to Lincoln. Furniture and room were finally united, and it has been the Lincoln Bedroom ever since. The Trumans renovated the room, along with much of the White House, to a classic, pared-down look, albeit with some cheap reproductions.


Lincoln Bedroom in 1962, Photo credit: The Kennedy Library

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upgraded the Lincoln Bedroom a little in the 1960s, replacing some of the inauthentic pieces. But the room essentially remained unchanged until 2005. At that time, First Lady Laura Bush decided to undertake a major period-correct renovation, retaining the Lincoln furniture and cross-matching between the historic décor of Lincoln’s office and what might be appropriate for a Victorian bedroom.

Research into historical writings and photos of the room gave insight into the original hangings, colors and patterns from the era. It was decided to go back to the original green and gold color scheme. A custom rug with a suitable Victorian pattern was made in England, where the original rug from Lincoln’s office was likely made at the time. A Victorian mantel was installed, luminous yellow drapes were hung, and the furniture was reupholstered in yellow, which is how the room remains today.


Lincoln Bedroom, 2005. Photo credit: White House Historical Association

About that furniture

As for the furniture itself, it’s not the typical bedroom suite of furniture. The ornately carved Lincoln Bed is solid rosewood, now banned for use in furniture because the Brazilian rosewood tree has become endangered. The bed is absolutely massive, at over 8’ long, 6’ wide, and nearly 8’ tall. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln purchased the bed when she undertook a large renovation of the White House; however, historical documents show no evidence that Lincoln ever slept in it. Several other presidents did, however, including Calvin Coolidge, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

The suite also includes a sofa, three matching chairs and four chairs used for Lincoln’s cabinet meetings. One of the weirder twists of the Lincoln Bed in a democratic nation is that Benjamin Harrison had a crown made for it. Other presidents (or their wives) apparently rather liked said crown, actually keeping it and embellishing on it. There’s much talk about the Lincoln bed hanging swags in historic documents. Mary Todd Lincoln had purple swags made for it, which Laura Bush had her designer emulate.

Perhaps most importantly historically, it is thought that the Emancipation Proclamation was written, debated and worked on in the Lincoln Bedroom. The room also contains one of just five known copies of the Gettysburg Address signed by Lincoln himself.

Unusual photo of Lincoln in his office, 1863, Photo credit: White House Museum

Unusual photo of Lincoln in his office, 1863, Photo credit: White House Museum

Recent years

Since the 1980s or so, the Lincoln Bedroom has been used as an executive guest room, oftentimes as a perk for influential players in both parties, sigh. Let’s not go there.

It’s a lovely, historic room, and the election will soon be over. In the meantime, sleep well, friends.




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