fitness · motivation · sleep

Sam is singing the nap anthem

I heard a great interview on CBC recently with Fatuma Adar, a playwright and creator in Toronto who has made mediocrity her mission. She’s written a musical play, She’s Not Special, about the pressure to be excellent as a Black Muslim woman. Adar was featured on an episode of the CBC show, Now or Never, talking about the joys of mediocrity.

The theme of the show resonated a lot with me and with some of the questions we take up on the blog. Not every active thing we do needs to be a quest for excellence. It’s okay to enjoy a sport or a physical activity and not excel at it. It’s just fine to be a bad dancer. Many of us who love running are slow runners.

In my post about being a fitness Muppet, I took my inspiration from Brett Goldstein (of Ted Lasso fame) speaking as a guest on Brené Brown‘s podcast, Unlocking Us, about the Muppets.

“Well, it’s like… The secret of the Muppets is they’re not very good at what they do. Like Kermit’s not a great host, Fozzie is not a good comedian, Miss Piggy is not a great… None of them are actually good at it, but they fucking love it…

And they’re like a family and they like putting on a show and they have joy and because of the joy, it doesn’t matter that they’re not good at it.

And that’s like what we should all be. Muppets.”

In that post I wrote about my joy in playing soccer even though I am not a great soccer player. Being willing to be at a thing is thing I’ve written before in the context of motivation.

Anyway, I loved the interview with Adar and think her dad, who appears on the show too, is terrific.

Adar has also written and directed an ode to the nap, inspired by the Nap Ministry. It’s the Nap Anthem and I love it!

fitness · meditation · mindfulness · sleep

A Year of Meditations

Last October I jumped on the Peloton bandwagon. A lot of my friends have one of their bikes and it felt like folks from all different areas of my life were happy with the classes. I don’t have a Peloton bike, but I am able to set up my bike with trainer to be able to take some of the Peloton classes using their app (I don’t get Peloton metrics with this set-up, but I have Zwift and Garmin metrics and am happy with those.) I learned that Peloton offered an “educator discount” on their app and off I went with a whole new world of strength, yoga, walk/run, and bike classes to try out.

A neon "breathe" sign on a background of greenery. Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash
A neon “breathe” sign on a background of greenery. Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Peloton offers a lot of “programs” which are classes they string together in a series. You need to complete class one before moving on to class two, etc. I quickly noticed that they had a two week meditation program called “The Power of Sleep.” As someone who struggles with both falling asleep and staying asleep, I was intrigued by this series.

I have always liked the idea of meditation, and some parts of the meditation practice, but my attempts at regular meditation had been met with a lot of mental resistance and feelings of failure for not being able to “get out of my own head.” I’ve come to understand that those feelings are common and part of the process itself, but it took me some time to get there. Soon after I downloaded the Peloton app I began exploring their meditation classes, seeing which instructors I liked and what types of meditations were available.

Once I discovered “The Power of Sleep” series I decided to give it a try. The meditations were short, most of them only 5 minutes in the first week. My partner and I go to bed at different times most nights, so I would do the meditation just before going up to bed. I found them to be a nice transition from whatever I was doing before that (usually tv or reading), but I still had chores to do after the meditation, such as letting the dogs out and teeth brushing routines. I completed the two week series and went back to my previous on/off cycle with meditation for another week or two, but I noticed it was more on than off.

My partner was away one night and I put a sleep meditation on while I was in bed, just about ready to fall asleep. It worked so well and I fell asleep almost as soon as the meditation was over. I began to brainstorm how I could listen to meditations without disturbing my already asleep partner, and I discovered a headband with headphones built-in. I was already a sleep mask wearer to block out extra light, so wearing something on my face/eyes wasn’t something new to get used to… the headband was a little more compressive, and the on/off buttons hit right on your center forehead (or over your eyes if you are pulling it lower), so that did take some adjustment. Being able to listen to sleep meditations as I drifted off to sleep made the adjustments worth it, and I quickly fell into a nightly habit.

Over the past year I’ve experimented with a variety of meditation classes and instructors. I’ve narrowed my favorites down to about 3 instructors and a strong preference for “body scan” meditations. I don’t mind taking the same class many times, but I do have to rotate my most favorite so I don’t take the same class too many times in a row – that causes my brain to think I should memorize the whole class. Instead I have about a half dozen classes that I rotate through each week, and I always try new classes to see if they will make the rotation.

Pink sky with a rainbow over a lake
My spot when I need a “nature meditation.”

I have not meditated daily for the past year, but I have been way more consistent with meditation this last year than ever before. I will often reach for a short meditation during the daytime hours now too, usually when I arrive at my office and am getting settled in to a busy day. I appreciate that my sleep practice makes meditating at other times of day easier, as my brain and my body know what to expect and I can settle in more easily without a lot of mental resistance.

We talk a lot about meditation on the blog (and in our world) and at times I have felt frustrated that I wasn’t “getting it” or able to do it right. I’m glad this was something I kept trying until I found a way that worked for me… maybe that means there is hope for my yoga practice too!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

fitness · sleep

If napping is “linked to poorer health”, does that mean it’s bad for me?

Spoiler alert/ tl:dr version: The answer to the title question is “NO”.

In the world of bad news, Monday’s popular health articles about napping, heart attack and stroke don’t rank anywhere near catastrophic. I mean, we’re used to much worse, right? Still, it wasn’t a happy thing to crank up the laptop, mosey over to CNN.com and see this:

Napping regularly linked to high blood pressure and stroke, study finds. Sigh.
Napping regularly linked to high blood pressure and stroke, study finds. Sigh.

The Canadian press was a bit more circumspect, but the message still wasn’t good in this article:

Rude awakening: frequent naps linked to poorer heart health. Oh man...
Rude awakening: frequent naps linked to poorer heart health. Oh man…

What is going on here?

Like me, the dog is confused.
Like me, the dog is confused.

As usual, the real story is complicated because science is. But here’s something helpful from the Canadian article:

Compared to subjects who never or sometimes napped, researchers found that a higher percentage of usual-nappers were men with lower education and income levels who were also more likely to report smoking cigarettes, daily drinking, insomnia, snoring and being a night owl.

To me, this sounds like that sub-group suffers from or is susceptible to a bunch of chronic health problems (including insomnia) due to social determinants and some of their health behaviors (e.g. smoking, daily drinking). Frequent napping is just one of several tip-offs that persons with the general profile are susceptible to chronic health problems.

To me, these results mean that the napping in some groups is a part of a complex set of behaviors and biomarkers that picks out individuals who may need preventative medical care or other interventions to help them stave off or reduce high blood pressure or the biophysical progression to stroke. Okay. That’s good.

It doesn’t mean that there is anything at all bad or unhealthy about the napping process itself. Napping doesn’t cause hypertension or stroke (at least this study doesn’t show that, and no one thinks this as far as I know). Rather, some frequent nappers have lives and medical profiles that are a tip-off that their cardiovascular health may be at risk.

So, nap or don’t nap. Talk with your health provider about your napping patterns if you’re worried about your life and health history. But don’t let this article keep you awake– at night or any other time.

Who here are nappers? I’m a napper when I’ve been up super-late and then early the next day. Feel free to share your nap stories (after you wake up, of course).

aging · cycling · hiking · injury · sleep

Memories of the knees I used to have just 7 years ago

Mostly, these days, I don’t mourn the things my knees used to do. I’m forward looking, thinking about knee replacement and about long hikes. Also, dancing. I’m excited about having dancing in my future.

Running is a thing of the past.

Four years ago I wrote that not being able to run made me sad and I admitted that sometimes I cried about it.

Now, I am anticipating dancing. I think often about long walks. I can’t wait until I can sleep without pain. But running? Meh. I no longer cry about missing it.

Still, I’m shocked at how fast all this has happened.

A few people asked if I was doing the Pride Run this year. Nope. No more Pride Runs.

I remember getting the running reprieve from the knee surgeon when we first met. He asked how much I liked soccer and if I was okay with giving it up. I was. But running short distances fast? (Well, fast-for-me.) That could stay.

Here’s my Facebook status update from May 15, 2015, “Knee surgeon appointment was uneventful. As you might wish for with a knee surgeon. I don’t, as yet, even need any of the pre-surgical options. Keep doing physio, stay pain free, ride my bike as much as I want, keep running short distances (5 km) and revisit in a year. Bye bye soccer. But we knew that. And it’s fine to work on running 5 km faster.”

And here’s Mallory and me at the Pride Run 7 years ago.

Mal and Sam post Pride run

What’s on my list of things that I can’t do now that I hope I can do in the future?

  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Walking around new places when I travel
  • Backpacking and back country camping
  • Sleep without pain… That’s a biggie
  • Walking around campus all day without worrying I’m doing too much
  • Standing up at social events and convocation
Thanks to J Williams for making this photo available freely on @unsplash 
fitness · habits · sleep

Aiming for better mornings

You don’t need to be on a self improvement quest. Neither do I. Sometimes the way we do things isn’t the best, but it works, it’s our way and that’s good enough. Not everything in our lives has to be perfect.

All that said, I’m aiming for better mornings as we emerge into warmer, brighter spring weather.

No more hitting the snooze button a half dozen times. I’ve struggled with the snooze button before. No more doom scrolling before the day even begins. Wordle, yes. But Twitter can wait until after coffee.

Morning hours are precious. They’re my best hours of the day.

I’d like to have spring and summer morning time for early writing and riding. Maybe even morning yoga.

Wish me luck!

An oppossum in bed says “me in my silly little need avoiding my silly little tasks.”

How about you? Do you have a time of day that needs a spring tune up?

fitness · sleep

Why middle of the night Wordle?

Like the rest of the English speaking world, I’ve been Wordling. And I gather, though it started in English, it’s spread to other languages. I have friends who do the French version, as well as Canuckle, the version with Canadian themed words.

Most days I do Wordle and then Wordle2. I’ve resisted the lure of non word based variants such as Worldle, Nerdle, Heardle, etc. And I don’t do the multiple versions like Dordle or Quordle.

Like many people I share my results on social media, since sharing is part of what the game is all about. The ubiquitous squares offer a glimpse into the way others play the game. That’s a big part of the appeal.

A pretend Wordle board that’s says “Build more safe bike lanes.”

In my case though it’s also alerted friends to the fact that I’m up in the middle of the night. Why? What wakes me? I mean, aside from the state of the world. Mostly though the state of world keeps me up but it doesn’t wake me up.

What wakes me a few times each night is stabbing pain in both knees. I suffer from severe osteoartitis in both knees and the worst pain I experience is in the middle of the night. And then given the state of the world, it can be hard to go back to sleep when there’s war and a global pandemic to worry about.

“Osteoarthritis pain may feel like stiffness, aching, swelling, or throbbing. These symptoms may seem more pronounced at night since osteoarthritis pains can flare during periods of rest.” That’s from What You Need to Know About Throbbing Knee Pain at Night.

I’ve read lots about why the pain is so intense at night but I don’t find the answers satisfying. People say it’s worse because there’s nothing else going on and you notice more. Also, inflammation is worse at night because there is less cortisol. “When you sleep, your body produces less cortisol. While high cortisol levels can lead to heart disease, healthier levels can help your body reduce inflammation.”

Finally, in a really annoying kicker–lack of sleep makes knee pain worse.

There a lot of stories and studies about the connection between disrupted sleep and knee osteoarthritis. See here and here and here.

Apparently it’s a vicious cycle where not getting enough sleep makes your experience of pain worse and then the pain disrupts your sleep. The lack of sleep can also disrupt your ability to get movement in your day and that too makes knee pain worse.

On the knee pain front, I try to remember to take ibuprofen before bed. I arrange pillows in just the right way to hold my knees in the right place.

But back to where this began, Wordle. For getting back to sleep once I’ve been woken up, there are limited options. I need distraction but not doom scrolling options. Enter Wordle. It’s a five minute exercise. I can focus on it. And when I’m done I post my score and go back to sleep.

If you’ve struggled with knee pain at night and you have suggestions, other than Wordle and its many variants, let me know.

There are lots of images like this out there of bright red inflamed joints.

health · sleep

Christine Goes Medieval On Her Sleep

When my kids were babies, they never quite got the knack of sleeping. For 5 years of my life, I was awake every 90 minutes (or less) until they both were finally (mostly) sleeping through the night.* Ever since then, it takes only the smallest interruption in my sleep pattern to throw my mind back to that time when I was doing the best I could, managing on very little sleep, and just feeling a little out of it all the time. Even a single night of weird sleep sends some part of my brain into a spin about getting stuck in that situation again.

A few years ago, I was having trouble sleeping and I figured out that using a sleep mask was the solution to getting better sleep and feeling more rested. I’m still using a sleep mask but I’ve been through a few different ones since then. My current favourite is an Alaska Bear sleep mask which is not shaped like a bear, covered in a bear print, or made of bear fur and it neither transports me to Alaska nor does it turn me into a bear but it does, despite all of that, it help me sleep.

I’ve been having a good go of it with my sleep since the sleep mask discovery. The occasional bad night, like everyone has, but no recurring issues. Until the last month or so when an external factor has been weighing in.

A gif of Dean from the TV show Supernatural leaning in between two people having a conversation and asking ‘Am I interrupting something?’​
A gif of Dean from the TV show Supernatural leaning in between two people having a conversation and asking ‘Am I interrupting something?’

The Situation

One of my family members semi-regularly needs my help with a minor but persistent health issue at some point between 1am and 2am. It’s not every night but it may be a few nights in a row, or every second night for a while, or a couple of times in a week. You get the idea.

Technically, I *could* let them deal with it on their own and just get my sleep. But it’s really important to me to be able to support the person who needs my help. And the whole thing is temporary so I’d really rather be there to help and just figure out how to minimize the effects on my sleep until the situation passes.

Solution Attempt #1

Since, under normal circumstances, I go to bed at 11:30 or 12, I tried just staying up later and just managing with less sleep.

That was not ideal.

A GIF of a baby sitting on a pink couch, the baby falls asleep and tips forward to ​land on their face on the cushion. (There is an adult next to them, don’t panic!) text at the bottom reads ‘I’m sooo sleepy.’
A GIF of a baby sitting on a pink couch, the baby falls asleep and tips forward to land on their face on the cushion. (There is an adult next to them, don’t panic!) text at the bottom reads ‘I’m sooo sleepy.’

Apparently, I need at least 7 hours sleep to be relatively human the next day and for my ADHD meds to work the way they should. My meds do make things better even when I am sleepy but the sleepiness is an added obstacle that I do not need while I am trying to focus on the work of the day.

Solution Attempt #2

Then I tried taking what I was calling ‘a nap’ from 10:30 or 11:00pm and getting my family member to wake me when they needed me.

This worked a lot better. I was getting enough sleep overall but I was finding it challenging to get back to sleep once I was up. (I think this is a carry-over from when the kids were small. 99% of the time, once I am up for more than a few minutes, I am AWAKE and I could stay up for hours.)

A GIF of a lemur (or marmoset?) with huge eyes who is chewing on a snack while facing the camera. Text beneath reads ‘WIDE AWAKE.’​
A GIF of a lemur (or marmoset?) with huge eyes who is chewing on a snack while facing the camera. Text beneath reads ‘WIDE AWAKE.’

Even with being fully awake shortly after going to sleep, it was still better than staying up extra late. And I figured out how to optimize that nap – doing some of my before bed routines earlier in the evening so I could shorten the time between ‘I should go to bed’ and actually lying down, making sure that I had the right weight and texture blankets, using my mask but leaving a small light on so I slept well but not too deeply and so on.

Basically, I was using one of my most useful skills – making the best of a tricky situation – and applying it to a temporary challenge.

All The Feelings, Damn It

But, I was still finding it a bit tricky. I didn’t love the fact that, when I settled in at 10:30 or so, I was going to be interrupted so soon.** It didn’t often stop me from falling asleep but it made me feel a bit cranky about the whole thing, even though I have willing signed on to support my family member. I didn’t want to feel cranky and I certainly didn’t want them to think that I resented their need for help.

Obviously, my feelings are valid and I can feel however I feel about the situation. But I didn’t want to get so caught up in those feelings that I generated any extra distress – not for me and not for my family member.

A GIF of a small child banging on a window and looking overwhelmed with their feelings. The word FEELINGS is in red text below.
A GIF of a small child banging on a window and looking overwhelmed with their feelings. The word FEELINGS is in red text below.

After all, I can’t choose my feelings but I can choose how I act on them. I knew I needed to reframe how I was thinking about the whole situation so I could act more effectively.

Samantha To The Rescue

On Saturday, Samantha saved the day by posting this BBC article about bi-phasic sleep by Zaria Gorvett: The forgotten medieval habit of ‘two sleeps’

The funny thing is, I have read about bi-phasic sleep before. If *you* had told me that you had to sleep in two chunks and that you felt weird about it, my brain would have tossed enough facts from that old article at me that I could have used them to help you reframe your thinking.

My brain did not choose to cough up those facts for me until I saw Samantha’s post.

But as soon as I read ‘bi-phasic’ sleep, I thought ‘OH! That’s what I’m doing!’ and my brain immediately began to reshape the story I have been telling myself about how I am sleeping.

Suddenly, I wasn’t having interrupted sleep, I was having bi-phasic sleep.

I had gone medieval and I didn’t recognize it!

A GIF created to look like a ​medieval tapestry. A group of people in medieval clothing are dancing in a jerky fashion while the words’ frolic hard’ flash on and off at the top.
Okay, so I’m not thinking of being awake at 1am as a party but recognizing it as a possible sleep pattern is helpful. Image description; A GIF created to look like a medieval tapestry. A group of people in medieval clothing are dancing in a jerky fashion while the words’ frolic hard’ flash on and off at the top.

I was getting up after my first sleep to support a family member and perhaps do a little reading or drawing before starting my second sleep.

That reframing puts a whole new slant on things.

It takes away the idea of the interruption as a problem and makes it a structure for my night’s sleep.

And, as mentioned in the article, it removes any anxiousness about being awake in the middle of the night. This is probably not how I will sleep forever but it is one way that people *can* sleep. I’m not sleeping ‘wrong’ and I am not doing something detrimental.

I’m just practicing bi-phasic sleeping at the moment and, by framing it that way, my brain can settle in around the pattern and stop trying to solve the ‘problem’ of being awake at 1:30am.

A GIF representation of my brain since reading the article. Image description: a small white dog sleeps in a red hammock as the hammock rocks slowly back and forth over some green grass dappled with sunshine.​
A GIF representation of my brain since reading the article. Image description: a small white dog sleeps in a red hammock as the hammock rocks slowly back and forth over some green grass dappled with sunshine.

*If you are warming up your fingers to type some advice about what I *should* have done back then, save your energy because I won’t play. I tried everything. I did all kinds of research. There are all kinds of things you can do to encourage sleep but sleep is neurological thing and sometimes all you can do is wait for the situation to change or a baby’s brain to mature a bit. If you know someone whose baby is not sleeping, don’t give them advice, give them support. Zip over there early in the morning so they can get back to sleep before they fully wake up for the day. Stay late at night so they can grab a nap before the evening circus starts. Run errands for them. Take the baby for a walk so they can do some yoga nidra. Just don’t offer more damn advice. They have tried it already and all the advice is starting to feel judgmental and aggressive. Trust me on this.

**I imagine that everyone hates interruptions and I can’t speak for how the neurotypical brain deals with them. For someone with ADHD, knowing that you will be interrupted (whether that interruption is scheduled or just impending) can put you into the dreaded ‘waiting mode‘ which prevents you from immersing yourself in what you are doing because you know that you are going to have to switch tasks.

fitness · link round up · sleep

Fit is a Feminist Issue Friday Link Round Up #109: Zzzzz!

In my newsfeed this week there were two articles that kept appearing, Are you getting too much sleep? and What Sleeping Less Than 6 Hours A Night Does To Your Brain.

From the ‘too much’ piece: “A new study from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, Missouri, which monitored 100 adults in their mid to late seventies over several years, apparently found an association between less than five and a half hours’ sleep or, rather astonishingly, more than seven and a half hours and declining cognitive performance. The “sweet spot”, where cognitive function remained stable, was in “the middle range” (ie 5.5-7.5 hours) of total sleep time.”

From the ‘6 hours or less isn’t enough’ piece: “The researchers found that those who are sleep-deprived had more than a twofold greater risk of colds and flu. In those people who are vaccinated, we see an increased development of antibodies to combat the viral pathogen, and that’s accelerated when you couple vaccine appointments with healthy sleep duration.”

So more than seven and a half hours is too many and less than six is too few. Got it.

There’s even more sleep news today!

Unsteady on your feet? Why sleep deprivation is ruining your walk

7 Secrets of a Super Sleeper, Revealed

People who sleep naked twice as likely to have a good night’s rest!

Five of the best podcasts: sleep-inducing sounds and stories

Black and white photo of a cat sleeping in a bed. Photo by Alexander Possingham on Unsplash
Sat with Nat · self care · sleep · walking

Nat tries to keep an East Coast mindset in Southwestern Ontario

Recommended Soundtrack: Blow Up by The Beaches

It’s only a few weeks of being back in Ontario and I can already feel the sense of calm contentment slipping that had settled over me in New Brunswick.

It’s partly that I know more about what to do here, where to go, who to see and there is just more of those things and so little time to do them!

Thanks to my partner, we had taken a bit of a tourist’s view of New Brunswick and we are looking to bring that with us in London. If you only had a weekend here, what would you do? Where would you go?

So we are making plans to see more sections of the Thames Valley Trail. Walking has remained our foundational activity, rain or shine.

It’s low cost, low equipment and easy to just get up and go!

Natalie and Michel smile at the camera with a beautiful walking bridge behind them. There are young people enjoying the view in the background.

Last Saturday we accidentally walked 10 km of the North Branch so I could see the beautiful new path and bridges. It’s along the river and through the southern portions of property owned by The Sisters of St Joseph, Scouts Canada and the Ivy Leadership Centre. It’s beautiful.

I’m grateful we have both cultivated enough mobility to spontaneously go on a decent walk. Good shoes help as well as all the little walks we do each day.

My legs are strong and flexible, my feet feel good, it’s nice to be a pedestrian tourist and see new sides of the city I’ve lived in for 16 years.

So I’m working on staying in the moment, carefully leaving unspoken for time in my life and scheduling time with friends.

What are you up to this month?

fitness · meditation · rest · sleep · yoga · Zwift

Sleep, stress, and exercise: Sam’s vicious cycle

I’m the Nap Queen. Sleep is my super power. I prioritize rest. These are some of the songs I sing on the blog.

La La La.

La la la la

But lately it feels more like…

Blah. Blah. Blah.

I have a very stressful job and lately I haven’t been sleeping that well. I’m worrying a lot.

So I have been tired and also some days, not feeling much like hard exercise. I mean, I’m still working out. I still bike commute. I still throw a little yoga in here and there. I walk Cheddar and I do some rowing on the erg. But my passion for big. heavy lifting or long efforts on the bike? Nope. Nada.

That’s very not me. So I’ve been listening to the voice that says ‘more rest.’ I’m going to bed early.

But it hasn’t really been helping. I’m sleeping but I am not sleeping that well. Stress and heat are both factors but also without the serious exercise, I’m just not that tired.

One thing that’s occurred to me that is that I use exercise to burn off stress and it makes me tired. The combo makes for an excellent night’s sleep. I slept my best during the pandemic when I was zwifting 5 or 6 nights a week. If I’m too tired to work out, I don’t exercise in the evening and then I have a crappy night’s sleep.

Listening to your body doesn’t always mean more rest. Sometimes the message is more complicated than that.

I’m going to try exercising even when I don’t feel like it, knowing I’ll feel better after. I’m usually the sort of person who uses exercises as a reward. It’s a fun thing that I do. I might have to change my thinking a bit.

I’m going to also look for some non exercise stress relief. I’ve got Adriene’s Find What Feels Good app on my phone and I might see what night time yoga and meditation do for my sleep.

What helps you get a good night’s sleep?