fitness · health · rest · sleep

In praise of resting

I’ve been finished my teaching for the winter term for about a month now. Finals are over and marked; my campus office (which is moving this summer back across the lawn to my faculty’s newly – and beautifully – restored heritage building) is packed up. The book I was writing all autumn and winter is done, dusted, and in production.

So why am I still so tired all the time?

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(Peppermint Pattie, head on desk and looking glum, says: SO TIRED.)

I’m not one to give myself a break – I’m a high-functioning type-A kind of woman, and I am as productive and successful as I am professionally because of this.

But life isn’t work. And I am also 43 years old. I can’t pull all-nighters anymore. And TBH most evenings I am ready for bed by 10:30 (no more clubbing for me).

Now, sleep I get quite a lot of – and we are a blog that supports good, effective sleep habits as part of our human wellness. (Sam has written before about being a champion sleeper. I envy her ability to conk out on airplanes!)

But REST is more than only sleep. And for me rest is another matter.

I was at my friend Nat’s house for supper two weeks ago and we talked about parenting and sleep deprivation. Nat’s kids are still quite young and the 3am wake-ups are still happening. She feels insanely sleep-deprived right now, as does her partner.

We all talked about the idea that, if it’s a matter of choosing between exercise and sleeping, the sleep-deprived should hit snooze rather than clamber out of bed early to run 5 miles. (Read more here about the interrelationship of sleep and exercise.)

Similarly, I once had a cycling coach who reminded me that resting is as important as training – resting is a key part of training, in fact. And resting means resting: it doesn’t mean digging up the garden, staining the deck, cleaning all the windows upstairs, or even walking the dog for two hours in the forest.

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(Emma the Dog [a black and tan collie-shepherd-lab mix] on a path in Cootes Paradise, Hamilton, Ontario, surrounded by spring greenery and pink-flowering eastern redbud trees. She says: “Whaddaya mean rest doesn’t include walkies??”)

Rest actually means sitting or lying comfortably and allowing your body to replenish itself. It means sleeping if sleep is what is required. It means eating good, healthy food in good proportions, and/or eating specific foods required for your body’s replenishment before another day of training hard. These might include proteins, or carbs, or a variety of things.

Ice cream or cake too, if you’re looking for a cheery treat! I always go for the milkshake, personally.

I have realized over the last month of being on my summer schedule (which is not a vacation, at least not yet – summer is when academics write books and present research at conferences and travel to complete field research, as well as plan autumn classes) that I’m not resting enough. I’m exhausted all the time because my brain convinces me that I need always to be working – if not tapping on my computer then digging up the garden or cleaning the windows or walking the dog. I also train a lot – riding and rowing 2-3 times a week each, with one rest day somewhere in there – and the impetus to get in the boat, or on the bike for at least 90 minutes at a shot (and usually more like 3 hours at a shot) also often feels like “work” pressure for me.

So no wonder I’m tired. I’m running on empty a lot of the time!

I woke up yesterday morning realizing that, in fact, the world would not end if I did practically nothing that day. My boyfriend was visiting; we could spend the day together being pretty chill (including lying in bed far longer than usual) and hanging out and the sky would not explode. In fact: our rest would be blissfully productive for our well-being.

But when I looked at the clock and realized it was 10am I also felt a surge of guilt.

And here’s the rub. Yes, I need to recalibrate my relationship to rest, but it’s not just a matter of me making a series of individual choices – this isn’t all about me and it is not all about my free will.

It’s also related to the way our culture moralizes movement and rest – in the same way it moralizes food, something we talk about on the blog a lot. (See here, for example, about food being beyond “good” and “evil”.)

In the so-called “West” or “Global North” many of us live in cultures that believe rising late is “lazy,” while getting up early to head off to toil at our jobs is a virtue. But why?

Research suggests this belief is not supportable: teenagers, for example, actually need up to 10 hours of sleep per night, and their shifting body rhythms are at odds with the wake-up-early-rush-to-school pace our cultures usually enforce. No wonder they are all yawning in 8:30am Bio! (See here for more on teenage sleep needs.)

My own body clock, I’ve discovered thanks to the flexibility of my job, works like this: I want to go to bed between 10 and 11:30pm (it can vary depending on when I had my last cup of coffee in the day), and I want to wake up around 9am. 8:30am is also fine. But if my alarm is set for, say, 7am, I’m usually woken in the middle of a dream (REM sleep), and I’m instantly fuzzy. The day doesn’t improve from there.

I like to sleep late. I really do. This used to drive my mother CRAZY; it seemed, well, “bad” and “lazy”.

And yet: I’m still a high-functioning professional. I was an A student. And I’m a good cyclist. And a good friend and partner and daughter and doggie guardian… and human being.

So let’s all try, together, to work on our relationship to the concept of rest. Even if you feel rested – especially if you do! – ask yourself how and why. If you don’t, or if those you love don’t, ask why. Think about the outside pressures that bear on your rest – including but not limited to your sleep patterns – and think about what among those are changeable. Can you advocate for flex time at work? A later start time or an earlier finish time, as needed? Can you advocate at your kids’ school for more flex around teenage sleep patterns – maybe with classes starting later, or more spares in the first block of the day?

Above all, on your own rest days, remember to put your feet up, grab a book or the Netflix, and don’t forget the milkshake. Not because you “deserve it” – but because you are simply human.

milkshakes

(A photo with two milkshakes in the foreground. On the left is a brown/chocolate one, with whipped cream and a cherry on top. On the right is a mint-coloured one with whipped cream and a mint leaf on top. In soft focus behind them and staggered to one side are two stainless steel mixing containers. I’d like the chocolate one, please!)

Be well-rested!

Kim

sleep

Nap time! (Late to the party for #NationalNappingDay)

 

I love naps. I’m such a good napper (can sleep anywhere, anytime–sleep is my super power) that Sarah gave me t-shirt that reads “I’m a professional naplete.” See above.

I was happy to read this week that good news that naps can lower your blood pressure.

The study showed that midday sleepers had a 5% lower average 24-hour ambulatory systolic blood pressure compared to patients who did not nap at midday. Even though this might seem like a minor difference, the lead researcher Dr Manolis Kallistratos said at the conference that even this small decrease “can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by up to 10%.” So a tiny drop is still of great significance.

Even better for the siesta snoozers, the study showed that a longer sleep was associated with a higher drop in blood pressure. One hour was found to be the time needed for the best results.

Kallistratos noted that there were a few limitations in the study that would be worth addressing for future research in the field. For starters, the study was only observational. It has to be assumed that it is the midday nap that is producing the positive effects in the patients, and not some other uncontrolled variable. Kallistratos is confident that this is the case since the blood pressure drop pattern seen at midday is similar to the drop people experience when they sleep at night.

The second is that the hypertension symptoms in the study participants were very well controlled, but that might not be the case for everyone. So in future it could be worthwhile including participants whose hypertension was not so well-controlled, as Kallistratos thinks they could experience an even more significant blood pressure drop with a daytime doze.

It must also be noted that a nap is superior to just resting. Kallistratos commented that the biggest drop in blood pressure kicked in just before the REM phase, which suggests actual sleep is required to lower blood pressure to the levels observed.

“Μidday sleep is a habit that nowadays is almost a privilege due to a nine to five working culture and intense daily routine,” said Kallistratos. However, given the potential benefits, making time for a midday nap might be an idea to sleep on.

I’ve been blogging about napping for while. My first post about it was five years ago. It was long enough ago that my hair is still brown (!) and the dog I’m napping with is my dearly departed Olivia (miss you so much!), not Cheddar.

sleep

Sleep! Or Happy National Napping Day!

One thing I am learning about this job is that I am “on” a lot more. I need 8 hours sleep a night to do it well. Usually I get that much on the weekend and then manage 6-7 hours a night during the week. It’s not enough.

These days I arrive at work to a fully scheduled day. There are no breaks unless a meeting ends early or if I arrive somewhere before the “travel time” between meetings allotted in my schedule is over.

There are two challenges: One is being with people all day. I say I’m a well disguised introvert. But this schedule taxes my disguise. The other is the issue of finding time to prepare for meetings or do the follow up after.

So easy, right? Get enough sleep.

Part of the problem is that I am not yet living in Guelph 7 days a week. Instead, my weekends are spent helping the family with house renos and packing up all the London stuff to get the house ready to go on the market. There’s driving between cities and they’re busy weekends with lots of physical work in them for everyone. I arrive back in Guelph late, late Sunday night and get up early Monday morning, not exactly ready for my busy weeks.

I’m going to commit to a weekday 10 pm bedtime for awhile since my weekend catch-up plan is no longer working.

Yawn! Hoping to avoid being like this kitten in meetings today.

family · motivation · sleep

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

I am one of those people whose life often prompts other people to ask, how do you do it? Where do you find the time? It was more striking when I had three young kids but even now I hear it.

I hear it about lots of things but most often about exercise and working out.

But even as someone who manages to fit things in when others can’t, I hate slogans like the one above and below. They’re a little too mean for my taste. I find them judgmental.

We lead busy lives. Someone posted in the fitness accountability group that Cate and I are both part of about trading off sleep versus workouts. He shared an article, Should I sleep less to fit in a workout? Bottom line, it’s not worth it. Don’t miss sleep.

But what gives?

I thought that in the spirit of honesty I’d talk about the things I don’t do that help me find time to exercise.

First, I don’t watch very much television.

Second, I have low standards for my personal appearance. I keep my hair short. Mostly I just wash it, put styling lotion in it, and leave it be. I don’t wear much make up.

Third, I’m not a single parent. During the kids’ early years I wasn’t even the most involved parent. Jeff was. We’ve also got a community of other adults around us who’ve helped out. Hi Tracy! Hi Michael and Val! Hi Rob! Hi Sarah! While the kids were little my mum worked full-time taking care of my kids. In addition, there were grandfathers who did most or all of the driving kids around. A nearby aunt didn’t hurt either! (She’s the best aunt in the world. Hi Susan!)

Fourth, I get help cleaning my house. And by “get help” I mean I pay someone to clean. Even so, between times, it’s mostly a mess.

Fifth, I pretty much don’t cook. Luckily these days my kids do. We all pitch in.

So yes, I have time to exercise but that time doesn’t come from nowhere. I make sacrifices and those sacrifices might not be ones you want to make. I’ve also got a lot of privilege in the form of family support, income, and a job where I can get away with my short, messy hair.

How about you? What gives to make the time to work out? Where in your life do you cut corners?

sleep

Report on my week with The Rock Clock

What? The Rock Clock and My Week.

Why? The Allure of Very Early Mornings

Monday: The Rock’s alarm was set for 4:10 but I set mine for 5. Turned it off and went back to sleep until 5:45. But hey, I was on time for my 6:45 train. Thanks for the drive Sarah!

Tuesday: The Rock set his alarm for 3:50 (!) I went for the more moderate 5:15. Checked my phone and answered some emails, played some Scrabble moves, and did physio in bed so by the time I actually got out of bed it was 6. Still, a success. More than 7 hours sleep last night. And I got some writing in before the day began for real.

Wednesday: Up at 6, my pre-Rock clock usual, but I need to be extra well rested because I’m in the classroom for five hours on Wednesday. Midday, I’m sleepy but that’s always true for me on Wednesdays. I didn’t even notice what time The Rock’s alarm was set for.

Thursday: It worked! Up at 5 and writing. On the train to Guelph at 7. When I was through my work day, a holiday party, and dinner it felt like midnight. Actually it was 9 pm. But I went to bed anyway.

Friday: I didn’t set the alarm. Sorry Dwayne. It’s not you. It’s me. I’ll see you next week. Maybe? Hmmm.

(I don’t set an alarm on the weekends but I peeked to check up on The Rock. He sets his for 6 am. Sleeping in, Rock-style.)

(Video description: A promotional video by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson advertising his new alarm clock.)

sleep · Uncategorized

Yawn: Catching zzzz’s and the politics of sleep

This week’s news. We can’t get by on 6 hours sleep a night. If you say that, you’re just kidding yourself. Also, lack of sleep is causing heart disease and cancer and Alzheimers.

Grim news, right? I have a good weeks where I get 7+ hours of sleep each night but lately I’ve been struggling. Thanks menopause and hot flashes.

Often these stories in the news talk as if the problem with getting adequate amounts of sleep were universal and it’s true we all need sleep. However, it’s also true that who gets enough sleep and why is partly about about sexism, racism, the divisions of work in the home, and the gap in income between the rich and the poor. Sleep tracks privilege.

I’ve ranted before about rich, white people whining about lack of sleep when really the sleep gap is all about race and income.

It’s not just a little bit less sleep either. Black Americans get a lot less sleep than white Americans. In fact, the difference in sleep quantity between the two groups may be enough to explain the difference in life expectancy between the two groups.

“The racial inequalities in the US are stark, but none are more damaging than the health gap between blacks and whites. On average, blacks die at a significantly younger age than whites.”

Here is a recent report on sleep differences between black and white Americans, Nobody Sleeps Better Than White People, Says Study

Thursday we learned something truly astonishing: White people, unburdened by racism, sleep pretty damn well.

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 65 percent of Americans polled said they usually get at least seven hours of sleep per night, the benchmark recommendation. It’s self-reported data, not confirmed with any kind of tracking, but it’s fairly consistent with other estimates, the CDC says.

When the responses were broken down by race, they found that non-Hispanic whites had the highest rate of healthy sleep duration, at 66.8 percent. Close to 66 percent of Hispanics got seven-plus hours, as did 62.5 percent of Asians and 59.6 percent of Native Americans. Black people were at 54.2 percent, and multiracial people were at the bottom, with 53.6 percent. Overall, people who were employed and college-educated slept better, too.

Sleep and our lack of it is both anxiety producing and deeply connected to other kinds of oppression and injustice.

At the same time, we’re also in the midst of unbelievable sleep marketing aimed at the wealthy and the health conscious. I don’t mean to mock individuals but the imperative to sleep is commercialized in ways that target and discipline there anxious and the well off.

Do soul cycle spin classes, visit the yoga studio, see your personal trainer, and now be sure to schedule restful classes as well.

Tired after a long day the office and all that yoga? Try cocooning classes. Really.

Here’s one person’s description:

If I were to describe my ideal workout class, it would be one during which you get to just chill the f*ck out. In this dream class, people would be far more concerned with de-stressing than getting their heart rates up—it would be all about clearing your mind and reaching a meditative state of peace. In fact, you could almost take out the pesky workout part entirely. The AntiGravity Cocooning class at Crunch is pretty much that dream, realized.

Image result for cocooning classes

If cocooning still seems like too much work and not enough rest, you can even just skip the cocoon and go straight to napping class. Again, really. Napping classes.

That’s right, now you can pay for 15-minute stretching exercise followed by a 45-minute nap in an “ideal temperature” room full of strangers, and still call it “going to the gym.”The organizers call it “Nap-Ercise” and they say the class will: “reinvigorate the mind, improve moods, and even burn the odd calorie,” which is just abstract enough for it not to be false.

The sleep industry is big bucks these days.

So while some people are working two or three jobs or living in unstable arrangements and not getting enough sleep, other people are anxiously taking napping classes. Me, I’m still a fan of napping in hammocks while camping. Or on trains, planes, but not automobiles.

It’s a very weird world we’re living in.

The philosopher Cressida Heyes is thinking and writing about sleep these days. You can view her slide show of sleep images here. She writes, “My next project will be a series of essays on sleep. Stay tuned.” I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say.

fitness · meditation · sleep

Stressed out? Meditation helps, and so does sleep

Image description: Yellow background with a sun reflecting on the water on the left side, a lotus flower on the water's surface with a rippled reflection on the right side.
Image description: Yellow background with a sun reflecting on the water on the left side, a lotus flower on the water’s surface with a rippled reflection on the right side.

I went on a retreat this weekend with some friends. It was at a lakeside retreat centre a couple of hours away and the weather was beautiful. I set myself one main goal this weekend, and that was to get enough sleep.

The retreat involved organized sessions that included guided meditations. I like guided meditation especially when it’s “live” and I’m doing it with other people. But this weekend, I uncharacteristically fell asleep through each of the guided meditations. I could feel myself nodding off and there was nothing I could do about it. Obviously, I needed sleep.

This morning I was chatting with my mother, who recently completed a course on mindfulness meditation. I told her that despite the retreat, I was feeling stressed out at work. I really can’t stand complaining about workload because I have a great job and I realize that, but I do feel overwhelmed. But I mentioned this to my mother and she said, “are you practicing mindfulness?” (I love that she took that course and now is offering mindfulness as a solution to stress!).

She’s right that meditation always helps. Even if I just take a few moments of silence, it can bring me into the present moment where things seem a lot more manageable than when I am worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow.

On the retreat we learned a technique that I have encountered before called “anchoring.” If you’re feeling mental discomfort or distress, think instead of a time when you felt peaceful and content or even joyful. Really focus on that feeling and anchor it somehow (e.g. touching your ring, snapping your fingers, even inhaling an essential oil). If you really connect with that feeling and anchor it in this way, you can use your anchor to bring you back to that sense of peace and contentment when you’re feeling a more negative feeling.

Anchoring is not exactly the same as mindfulness, but it is another process that we can use in meditation. For more information about how to use anchoring to alleviate stress, check out this article, “From Chaos to Calm in an Instant: How to Create a Positive Anchor.”

The anchoring meditation was the only guided meditation that I didn’t fall asleep during. To make up for the others, I took a couple of sessions by myself to sit in silence in a beautiful meditation room they have on site, overlooking the lake. It’s called The Oasis, and for some reason no one ever seems to go there. I love it.

So I meditated, I slept, and I anchored. And yet still I came home with an uneasy feeling. I think one reason this happens after a retreat is that, for me, I have a tough time reconciling that sense of peace with the chaotic pace of my day to day life. I got back to town and went straight out to a birthday party, followed by a different celebratory dinner, followed by an event in someone’s honor. Even though these are all good things, the pace of it all reversed the sense of calm because I had to rush around. I fell into bed exhausted, and felt the urgency of the week’s tasks press upon me as soon as I opened my eyes.

The good thing about meditation, sleep, and anchoring is that you don’t need to be at a retreat centre to do them.

What are your go-tos when you’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed?