We can now add disturbed sleep to the growing list of problems made better by mindfulness training. Apparently, the practice of non-judgmental focused attention on the present moment leaves a residue that stills the brain/mind enough to help the involuntarily sleep deprived get their rest. At least that’s the conclusion from some solid new research just published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
An especially interesting, and useful, aspect of this research is that it was a randomized clinical trial using real-world interventions with real people. Adults 55 and older with at least moderate problems sleeping were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group received a six week sleep hygiene education program. The other group participated in a community-based mindfulness program taught by a certified instructor. They also received sleep hygiene instruction.
The mindfulness group met two hours per week for six weeks. As stated in the NIH clinical trials database, those in this group “will be guided through in-class meditation practices and will be assigned daily meditation homework. Active program components include sitting and walking somatosensory-focused meditation, audio-guided body scan meditation, and loving kindness meditation.” This was the real deal. It was a much more immersive experience than something like just listening to oneself breathe a few times week or relying on one of the increasingly popular mindfulness apps, worthwhile endeavors in their own right but not the same intensity as what this research studied.
The sleep hygiene education group also met twice a week for six weeks. They met as a group so as to provide equal support, attention, time, and expectation of benefit. They were taught “knowledge of sleep biology, identifying characteristics of healthy and unhealthy sleep, sleep problems, and self-monitoring of sleep behavior.” The sleep hygiene component included the kind of advice health-care practitioners—myself included—frequently provide patients with moderate sleep problems. Advice such as no alcohol, caffeine, or screens before bed; establish a regular schedule for sleep; associate bed for sleeping not TV; make bedroom dark, cool, and relaxing; avoid large meals before going to bed; exercise during the day; and (personally my least favorite) avoid napping during the day.
While both groups showed improvements in sleep by the end of the study, the mindfulness training group did significantly better in reporting reductions in sleep problems. Plus, as the authors report, the mindfulness group also showed significant improvements in “secondary health outcomes of insomnia symptoms, depression symptoms, fatigue interference, and fatigue severity.”
We know that sleep problems are significantly associated with poor health outcomes. We also know that pharmacological sleep aids all carry significant risk and have significant side effects. We need effective options other than potentially dangerous meds, especially as the population ages and more people develop sleep problems. And the fact that mindfulness training has now been shown to improve sleep among the involuntarily sleep deprived is an important step towards a more well rested, and therefore healthier and happier, population.
It also means I will be changing what I do in my practice when it comes to patients who report sleep problems. From now on sleep hygiene plus a mindfulness practice seems to be the way to go.
1. Walk outside.
Skip the gym and head for the great outdoors. While exercise is a great boost to your mental health, going for a walk or a run offer even more vital health benefits. You’ll exert more effort and will have increased signs of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem, as compared to staying indoors.
2. Take vitamin B12.
You’ve always known taking vitamins is important, but do you know about the benefits of B12?
A severe deficiency of B12 can lead to depression, anxiety, paranoia and other harmful problems. Get your B12 dosage from supplements or by eating eggs, poultry and dairy products.
3. Write down simple goals.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness says setting simple, well-defined goals like, “I will smoke one less cigarette each day for the next three weeks,” is a great way to succeed. Set goals for yourself in relation to your mental health — such as, “I will take two minutes each day to focus on breathing” — and be as specific as possible.
Once you’ve accomplished that goal, reward yourself!
4. Listen to calming music.
Plenty of studies have shown that performing tasks while listening to classical tracks such as Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major” eases your mind and reduces anxiety. If you’re not one for classical music, opt for other tracks that are slow and soothing.
5. Use lavender oil.
Put a bit of lavender oil on your pillow. It can improve your sleep quality and ease insomnia. If you don’t want it on your pillow, try drinking lavender tea before bed to soak up its healthful benefits.
6. Spend money on someone else.
You know that victorious feeling you get when you find the perfect gift for someone? That’s your happiness levels skyrocketing. People who buy something for someone else feel happier throughout day. And you don’t have to break the bank every time — spending $5 for someone else is fine. It’s the thought that counts for others as well as yourself.
We know this is touted as the mind-clearing fix-all, but it’s for good reason. Mindful meditation increases the brain’s emotional regulator, and combats depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia and more. Start slowly by meditating for 3 to 5 minutes per day in order to get comfortable with silence. Listen to your breathing or use a mantra as a way to focus your mind on relaxation, and soon you’ll be getting 20 minutes or more of excellent calmness.
Your body mass index (BMI) is an estimate of your body fat that is based on your height and weight. Doctors use BMI, along with other health indicators, to assess an adult’s current health status and potential health risks. You can determine your BMI with the calculator below.
Calculate Your BMI
Click this link to Calculate your BMI:
Your BMI is an estimate of your body fat based on your weight and height.— Getty Images
(BMI should not be used to assess a child’s weight because the appropriate weight for a child varies greatly by age.)
Typically, people with higher BMIs have a greater likelihood of developing conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and type 2 diabetes. But many factors — including your family history, eating habits and activity level — also influence your overall health.
BMI calculator results are grouped into the broad categories of underweight, healthy weight and obese.
If you have questions or concerns about your BMI results, consult with your doctor or health care provider.
These are four easy things you can do to make yourself more mentally and physically well:
1) Upgrade Your Diet:
What we put into our bodies is the fuel that we use to run on. Just as there are different octanes of gasoline available at the gas station, you, too, can fuel yourself with higher-octane foods.
Step 1: Cut out fried foods, excessive carbohydrates, sweets and prepackaged foods high in preservatives to improve your energy and health.
Step 2: Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, which make you look and feel better.
The Result: When you take the time to pick out fruits, veggies and meats and prepare a well-balanced meal, you are investing that time in yourself. The process makes you feel accomplished and the upgrade to your diet will make you feel even better.
Pro Tip: If your schedule does not allow nightly food preparation, consider using a crockpot that can stay on and cook food while you are at work or preparing multiple meals for the coming week during the weekend.
2) Improve Your Fitness:
Exercise improves your physical and mental health. Physical activity can decrease stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms. If aerobic exercise is not part of your daily routine, you are not feeling as good as you have the potential to.
Step 1: The key to exercise is to pace yourself. If you have not been active in some time you should to take small steps and set goals that are realistic. When you ease into fitness it can be both enjoyable and highly motivating to achieve your goals. If you set the bar too high you can injure yourself and become increasingly frustrated by lack of progress. Even 30 minutes of walking can improve your health and decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. No matter how cold it gets this winter, you can go to your local mall and walk! Start by walking from one end, to the other end, and back. Next time do this twice. You can walk around your block, bike around the neighborhood or join a local YMCA or another gym.
Step Two: Increase the intensity or frequency of your routine.
Pro Tip: If you are have trouble sleeping, burning calories and working out during the day can burn excess energy and lower stress levels, both of which can improve sleep.
3) Maintain Hygiene:
Taking care of yourself physically can make you feel more comfortable and confident, which can improve your mood. Many times when people are depressed they neglect common things such as shaving, getting haircuts or manicures, and bathing can become more infrequent, as can doing laundry.
Step 1: Take an inventory of how well you are caring for yourself right now.
Step 2: Getting a haircut or manicure can help you to feel better because you are investing in yourself. If you put care into how you look, others will take notice, as well. When you take the time to shave, wear clean and ironed clothes, you will feel better.
4) Create Achievable Goals:
Checking things off of a to-do list and achieving personal goals can be very rewarding. Maybe your goal is to get through a long-neglected pile of mail, return a long overdue phone call or to pay the bills on time this month. Each time you complete a challenge you will feel better and more empowered.
Step 1: If you find yourself in a rut, it is important to set goals that you can realistically achieve. Setting a goal to clean out a box in the garage is likely much more realistic than the goal of cleaning the entire garage. Once you accomplish your first goal and cross it off the to-do list, you will feel good.
Step 2: Now you can build on that momentum and take on a larger goal. For example, you can aim to clean out two more boxes. Before you know it you will have accomplished several small goals which add up to cleaning out the entire garage. Once you begin to achieve your goals it will become part of your routine and you will soon find that that the rut you were in is now a thing of the past.
As you improve the fuel you put into your body, your fitness, the way you take care of yourself and start accomplishing your goals you will begin to feel better. Your new behaviors will become a new healthier lifestyle. Activating these four areas of your behavior, and investing the time and energy in yourself, will improve your physical and mental wellness.
Dr. Goldenberg has written numerous articles about mental health and addiction topics. You can follow Dr. Goldenberg at docgoldenberg.com and http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/how-food-affects-your-moods on Twitter:@docgoldenberg.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the time change in the fall can throw off your healthy schedule, leaving you tired and blue. Barbecues and fresh fruit snacks turn into pasta and potato meals. After-dinner walks or runs are replaced with time on the couch as darkness sets in. For many, late fall means driving to work in the dark and coming home to the same. It’s no wonder you feel out of sorts at the changing of the seasons.
Perhaps the best way to stave off the blues is to schedule time with friends and family. Keeping in close physical contact with the people you love during these darker and colder seasons will help you stay warm inside.
Friendship needs frequent expression to remain alive.
“We are all human, with frailties, foibles, and insecurities. We each need to be appreciated for the uniqueness that makes us individual, and we need to be told that we are appreciated.
Maintaining friendships requires effort and persistent expression, both in word and deed. Tell your friends often how much you appreciate them. Remember occasions that are important to them. Congratulate them upon their achievement(s) and let them know you are there for them whenever they need you.”
Integrative medicine is the practice of medicine that focuses on the whole person and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals, and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.
It combines state-of-the-art, conventional medical treatments with other therapies that are carefully selected and shown to be effective and safe. The goal is to unite the best that conventional medicine has to offer with other healing systems and therapies derived from cultures and ideas both old and new.
Integrative medicine is based upon a model of health and wellness, as opposed to a model of disease. Whenever possible, integrative medicine favors the use of low-tech, low-cost interventions.
The integrative medicine model recognizes the critical role the practitioner-patient relationship plays in a patient’s overall healthcare experience, and it seeks to care for the whole person by taking into account the many interrelated physical and nonphysical factors that affect health, wellness, and disease, including the psychosocial and spiritual dimensions of people’s lives.
Many people mistakenly use the term integrative medicine interchangeably with the termscomplementary medicine and alternative medicine, also known collectively as complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM. While integrative medicine is not synonymous with CAM, CAM therapies do make up an important part of the integrative medicine model.
Because, by its very nature, the components of integrative medicine cannot exist in isolation, CAM practitioners should be willing and able to incorporate the care they provide into the best practices of conventional medicine.
For example, CAM therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and guided imagery are increasingly integrated into today’s conventional treatment of heart disease, cancer, and other serious illnesses—and scientific evidence supports this approach to health and healing.
Coordinating all of the care given to a patient is a cornerstone of the integrative medicine approach. Your primary care physician will work in tandem with your integrative health coach.
Are the detours of life getting in the way of you achieving your health goals?
“It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t. It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.” James Gordon, MD
People often ask me what a health coach can do for them. See what one recent client had to say:
” She kept me on task and her guidance, support and positive attitude were invaluable. I have incorporated many of the changes we made together in my daily life and it feels great! Even small changes can make a big difference. We all know what we’re supposed to do. But having a partner that makes you accountable for actually doing them really makes the difference. I would recommend Lisa highly for anyone wants to change their life for the better.”