Month: June 2017

Sleep Better Now: 5 Habits to Revolutionize Your Rest

Sleep Better Now: 5 Habits to Revolutionize Your Rest

For my entire life, I have had trouble sleeping. My mother used to tell me that I couldn’t sleep even while I was in the womb. I didn’t sleep through the night for the first two years of my life and my whole childhood was plagued by insomnia. By the age of twelve, I was sitting up from dusk ‘til dawn and drawing concern because I was falling asleep in class. I started taking sleeping pills by age fourteen and couldn’t function without them for years. At seventeen I started working night shifts because I thought that was the best option for an insomniac. As it turns out, working through the night and still not being able to sleep is so frustrating that you can turn into an absolute emotional wreck.

Perhaps you’re not an insomniac; you just want to feel better rested. These tips are still for you: especially so, actually. These are not cures for insomnia, only tips on how to encourage your body to do its job properly.

Image of a person opening a door to an organized bedroom to promote a healthy sleep space

  1. Sleeping Space

Most of the battle with sleep is a mental game. Our brains are complex and sneaky. We don’t realize how much impact some of the smallest habits can have on our subconscious mind.

To understand how our habits affect our subconscious in terms of sleep, I like to compare the concept to algorithms on the internet. Wow, zero to sixty, right? Actually, it’s rather simple. Some algorithms tend to track the things that you search and view in order to tailor content and advertisements to your needs and interests. This is why you may be looking at used car sales one moment, and the next moment, your Facebook newsfeed seems to have a lot of sponsored posts for Toyota. It’s also the reason why you receive helpful search results. When you search something, the results you receive have been generated based on what is relevant to you based on your language, location, and interests. Algorithms in technology mirror the associations we make in our brains. This is why it’s important to be conscious of how you use your sleeping space. Your bed should only be used for two things: sleep and sex. Avoid eating, reading, watching television, using the computer, and playing on your cell phone in bed. Lying in bed at night is like searching, “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” and when you spend a lot of time eating, watching television, etc. in bed, your brain is giving you those activities as your top results. “Sleep” ends up in the second or third results page and I bet you also have a habit of rarely looking at those.

Your bed should only be used for two things: sleep and sex. Avoid eating, reading, watching television, using the computer, and playing on your cell phone in bed. Lying in bed at night is like searching, “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” and when you spend a lot of time eating, watching television, etc. in bed, your brain is giving you those activities as your top results. “Sleep” ends up in the second or third results page and I bet you also have a habit of rarely looking at those.

  1. Coffee and Water

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before: drink more water. Specifically, have at least one glass before bed. Keep a glass of water beside your bed so you’ll have no excuse not to do it. Having a glass of water before bed helps your body stay hydrated through the night. Your body will be able to relax better when it’s hydrated.

During the day, stop drinking caffeine before 3 pm. Caffeine stays in your system for at least 7 hours, preventing your body from naturally becoming tired in the evening. If you think you can’t get through the afternoon/evening without caffeine, eat an apple or two. Apples provide natural energy and won’t leave you staring at the clock, watching the time tick away while you try to fall asleep.

  1. Magic Hour

I call the hour before starting your nightly routine the “magic hour” because everything you do will affect your quality of sleep. Two hours before you want to be asleep you should be thinking about how you’re going to wind down. Ideally, this means limiting the use of technology, not eating large amounts of food, and avoiding stress. Also, try to finish any tasks you want to be completed before you get to the magic hour. Once you reach the magic hour, you should absolutely not be watching television nor using a cellphone or a computer. Even with low screen brightness and special settings, electronics are proven to stimulate your brain in a way that makes it difficult to wind down for sleep. Reading actual paper books and manually writing something like a journal are the two best activities to do before bed in order not to overstimulate your brain.

The magic hour is all about relaxation. This is the time to let go of the energy you’ve been creating to get through the day. You should be actively trying to release tension in your body and calm your mind. Some great things to do during this time are:Image with an open book in the foreground and the background entirely out of focus, washed with green, yellow, and brown tones

–    Taking a bath

–    Going for a walk

–    Drinking tea (decaf!)

–    Chatting with friends and family

–    Knitting/crocheting/sewing/etc.

–    Reading a book

–    Journaling/ making artwork

At first, you may feel as though you should be doing “important things” if you’re used to working until bed, or you may feel bored if you’re used to watching television and surfing the internet. After a little while, you’ll realize how healthy it is to take time this time for yourself and to do it without over stimulating your mind.  Over time, you’ll rest better and you’ll feel proud about the things you accomplish through your magic hour activities. Whether it’s finishing a book you’ve been meaning to read, finally maintaining a journal, or building some muscle from walking every day. It’s a win-win situation.

  1. Nightly Routine

Similar to the sleeping space, we often underestimate the power of routines. Even if you’re not a particularly logical person, your brain still likes order and routine. The human brain loves patterns; that’s why we form habits and addictions. In the case of our sleeping spaces, our brains often accidentally form associations which are a hindrance to us, whereas with nightly routines, we can use patterns to tell our bodies that it’s time to sleep. When we form a nightly routine and keep to it, our bodies will naturally want to complete the sequence. That way, nights when we don’t feel tired and we worry that we won’t be able to sleep, we can do our routine as usual and our minds will realize that it’s bedtime, subconsciously at the very least.

Your nightly routine should be relaxed and comfortable, including some or all of these things:

–    Stretching/yoga

–    Changing into comfortable sleeping clothes

–    Hygiene rituals (brushing teeth and/or hair, showering or washing your face, etc)

–    Drinking water

–    Doing bedtime meditation

 

  1. Bedtime Meditation

Now, you’ve done all of your preparation and it’s time to lie down and sleep. If you’re anything like me, this is the point where your head reaches the pillow and your eyes fly wide open. Hello, second wind. Usually, this is the point where I’m thinking to myself, “I have never felt more awake in my entire life.” When I experience this cruel plot twist, this is what I do:

Step 1: Focus on the present. I think of everything that’s still running through my mind, acknowledge it, and tell myself that I will think about it tomorrow. Once I’ve said I will think about it tomorrow, I push it from my mind and move onto the next thought. It takes practice and focus to really put the thoughts to rest but it gets easier the more you try it.

Step 2: Practice self-appreciation. I think of a few things that I did well that day and I pat myself on the back for it. I give myself some compliments and cut myself some slack.

Step 3: Meditate. Focus on breathing, usually breathing in and out to the count of four, sometimes with a 2-second pause between each inhale and exhale. Think to yourself, “I can feel my feet between my blankets, warm and cozy. I can feel my calves becoming heavy, pressing into my mattress. I can feel…etc.,” focusing on each part of my body from bottom to top, breathing evenly as I go. Again, it takes practice to be able to keep your mind focused, but it gets easier as you do it more often. If you have trouble focusing on your internal monologue, you can download mindfulness apps which have guided meditation audio tracks.

If you’re still not able to sleep, after roughly half an hour, get up and do something. Get out of your bed and read a few pages of a book. Have a light, nutritious snack. Drink some more water. Then, go back to bed, and try again. Lying in bed trying to force yourself to sleep will only wake your mind up more.

Image of a person sleeping with their feet in the foreground and the rest of their body covered in a blanket

If you use these simple tips on a regular basis, you’ll find yourself sleeping better in no time. It feels like a lot of effort for a while, and you may fall out of the habit on weekends and with vacations, but even just incorporating some of these things into your lifestyle will make a big difference in the long run. If you take anything away from this article, let it be the concept of letting yourself relax. Life is a crazy ride; give yourself some credit, cut yourself some slack, and get some shut-eye.

Solo and Single: Travel and Relationships

Solo and Single: Travel and Relationships

 – Traveling and Leaving a Relationship Behind –

Quitting your job, giving up your living space, putting your belongings into storage, selling or parking your car, and saying goodbye to the people you care about; these are the scary first steps to becoming a nomad and a vagabond. One thing I wasn’t ready to do before I left was to leave my relationship at the gate, but some time on my own in a strange new place quickly showed me that I had to do so if I wanted to really embrace my new adventures. Beginning to travel and live abroad is sometimes an emotionally complicated process, especially when you have strong ties to the place you’re leaving behind. I don’t think I truly realized how strong those ties were until I had severed them, but I knew immediately, and I still know now, that I made the right choices and I am happy with who I am because of them. Image of sunrise at Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi, Thailand

It was January 2017 when I flew from Toronto, Ontario to Phuket, Thailand. I was about to begin a 6-month program teaching English and earning my ESL certifications. The future was looking brighter than I had ever imagined it could, but it was also very uncertain. I knew I was going to Thailand, but I did not know if I would visit other countries while I was overseas. I knew that I would be overseas for 6 months, but I did not know if I would go back to Canada when those 6 months ended.  I knew my contract was for 6 months, but I did not know if I would get another job straight away and create a new life for myself overseas. All of the possibilities for where my life was going were incredibly exciting, and I was embracing the unpredictability of it all, but I wondered how much of my old life I would have to put to rest in order to make the most of my experiences.

By February, I had decided that 6 months in Thailand would turn into 3 months and then 3 months in Laos because of school holidays in Thailand and an offer I received for teaching Novice Monks in Luang Prabang. With all of my plans constantly shifting, I knew that I needed to devote all of my time and attention to what I wanted for myself.

So, what was it that I would have to leave behind? What would I have to put to rest? Well, primarily my relationship. After seeing each other for a year and a half, I ended my relationship with one of the most compassionate and supportive people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing; and I am better for it.Image showing my past relationship. My ex-boyfriend and I kissing on New Year's eve 2017, less than a week before I left for Thailand.

Ending my relationship was not a decision I made lightly. We had been through a lot together and we really did suit each other so well. He had been my rock while I had to move houses three times in one year, one of which being into his apartment. He encouraged me while I changed jobs for the first time in two years and then had to change jobs again 6 months later. I had been a rollercoaster and somehow, he managed never to question whether he wanted to be along for the ride. He had known that eventually, I would be heading overseas. He was excited for me and proud of me for doing what would make me happy. When I left, it was with the intent to maintain a long-distance relationship and eventually, for us to travel together.

As I mentioned, few of my original plans stayed intact. I was constantly adapting and my plan for our relationship had to adapt as well. Through the decision to end my relationship, these are some of the most prevalent things I have come away with:

  1. Total Independence

I have always been an independent person. I’m used to looking out for myself and doing what I have to in order to achieve my goals. I realized, however, that in taking my life in this new direction, it had to be by myself. I had to truly learn how to be alone and focus solely on my ambitions. Being totally self-reliant and focused has led me to my choice to stay overseas past my initial 6-month contract. It has led me to form new friendships and network connections which have provided me with insight and experiences that are extraordinarily helpful in furthering my career and my personal development.

  1. A Clean SlateImage of myself in front of Big Buddha in Phuket, Thailand, February 2017

Even though I quite like who I am, I am keen to learn and grow as a person. I wondered who I would become through all of these new adventures and I thought that to truly start anew, I needed to completely cut my ties to my old life. Of course, there is still my family and I still keep in touch with old friends, but none of my decisions are based whatsoever on the impact they will have on these people. There was just no way to maintain that objectivity while in a relationship. Recognizing the necessity of starting from scratch was arguably the best thing I have done for myself. It has allowed me to create this life, exactly as I please, and enjoy where I am with the pride that I got here entirely by my own devices.

  1. Time

Not that my relationship wasn’t worth dedicating time to because it was worth it while it was the main thing bringing me joy and comfort. However, when I embarked on this new journey, my priorities changed from how I interact with the people around me to how I interact with myself. It’s the classic analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs: I have to put the time into furthering my career and my personal growth so that I can comfortably dedicate time and effort to the people and causes that I care about later. Once I began to reassess how I would spend my time, I immediately noticed how much more effective I was in my work and how much more I enjoyed my solitary free time. With teaching and freelancing, my time is spread very thin, I am always working, but I enjoy my work so much that it would actually be a sacrifice to take the time to maintain a relationship. A relationship just isn’t right for me at this point in my career and that actually feels rather liberating.

  1. Self-Appreciation

Every day is something new for me, with new knowledge, new experiences, new people, and new places. Every day I learn, I grow, and I look at where I am with amazement. I have not been this happy in my whole life and possibly for the first time in my life, this happiness has come from my choices and my actions. So much of what I have said may sound selfish, with all of the “I’m only looking out for me” sentiments, and maybe it is selfish. If I’m honest, I am completely okay with this brand of selfishness. This kind of selfishness is acknowledging that I am worth the effort. I’m a strong and courageous person who is deserving of this dedication. Learning to truly love and appreciate myself has had a profound effect on me that will undoubtedly lead me to have healthier relationships in the future and to love and care for people at no detriment to myself any longer.Image of myself in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand in January 2017

Change is exciting, but it is also daunting. There are days where it’s overwhelming to always be playing things by ear and thinking on my feet. Sometimes I miss having someone by my side, cheering me on. When I feel this way, I look to my friends, new and old, and my family. I’m blessed to have a lot of wonderful people in my corner with such faith and pride in me. I’ve come to know that uncertainty builds character and I am not weak for feeling unsure, I am strong for acting in spite of it.