Getting more zzzzzzzzs…

Big Yawn

What your sleep says about your health

I’ve always loved sleep. Like, really loved it. I’d sleep for ten or eleven hours a night, regularly. Or until my mother came in and opened the blinds. At least on weekends and summer break. During the school week, and later work week, I’d stay up reading until eleven or twelve, and then struggle to wake up in time for the bus.

What I didn’t realize was that my excessive sleeping was my body’s cry for help.

Sleep is super important. It helps sweep away waste and repair cells and muscles. It helps our brain clean up and repair. It allows our heart and lungs to rest. But most people can do all that in 6-8 hours. I needed 10.

I eventually learned that I was, in fact, sick. All the time. My food allergies were messing up my whole system. When I finally stopped eating the bad stuff and recovered, I needed less sleep. Funny, huh? And when I slip and eat some bad stuff now, I pay for it the next morning. Or the next couple of mornings.

What if you have the opposite problem? What if you can’t get to sleep? What if you sit there staring at the numbers on your alarm clock, watching them change every sixty seconds?

I’ve been there too. Much less frequently. Usually the night before something big. An important presentation. The first day of a new job. Meeting someone important. An early morning flight. These all mess me up.

If this happens to you occasionally on the night before a big day, you’re in good company. Its nerves, plain and simple. If this happens all the freakin’ time, you need to do something about it. Without sleep, you’re kind of screwed. It’s a form of torture, right? Lack of sleep can mean memory loss, lack of concentration, reduced reaction times, decreased performance, and mood swings.

You’re sleepless nights could be caused by poor food choices, using stimulants like caffeine and (I’m sorry to say) chocolate, your mental state, a lack of physical activity, too much screen time, and electromagnetics, which sounds a little woo-woo but trust me, there’s something to this.

I got all excited writing a presentation for a sleep talk, and I created my own 5 Steps to Better Sleep.

5 STEPS to Better SLEEP

  1. SOOTH Your Mind
  2. LISTEN to Your Body
  3. EAT well
  5. POWER Down

Se what I did there?  Pretty snazzy, right?  Yeah, baby. All mine.*

Here’s the breakdown.

STEP 1: SOOTH Your Mind

  • Screen out noise and block light. That one’s pretty obvious.
  • Keep the room cool and well ventilated. Your body sleeps better when it’s cooler.
  • Turn off electronics – wireless, cell phones. Not only are they distractions, but the electromagnetic waves could be activating your brain.
  • Find a comfy mattress and pillow. They wear out after five or so years.
  • Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine. Doing something ritually, like drinking chamomile tea or reading or lighting a candle, sends a signal that it’s bed time.
  • Examine medications for sleep warnings. Take the stimulants early in the day, and the ones that say “don’t operate heavy machinery” near bed time.
  • Racing mind? Write problems down—and then put them aside. Still racing? Try a daily journal. Get it all out!

 STEP 2: LISTEN to Your Body

  • Go to Sleep When You’re Truly Tired. Don’t make yourself wait until a certain, later bedtime if you’re dead tired. Go to bed early. Waiting it out could make you overtired, and then you’re done for. Like a toddler who misses her nap and gets all cranky and won’t fall asleep.
  • Don’t Be a Nighttime Clock-Watcher. If you cannot sleep, get out of bed and go do something else for a bit. Maybe have a snack, some protein and carbs. Then try again.
  • Use Light to Your Advantage. Keep it very dark at night and expose yourself to light right when you wake up. Make sure your alarm clock has red numbers, they don’t register as light in your brain.
  • Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule. This trains your body, and mind.
  • Note how you feel when you wake up – if you’re not refreshed, you’re not getting enough sleep.

STEP 3: EAT well

  • Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, Excess Sugar and Other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep
  • Balance Fluid Intake. Get your main water in earlier in the day, and just take sips after dinner. That way you won’t have to get up to pee in the middle of the night…
  • Lighten Up on Evening Meals. They can be stimulating, and the need to digest a big meal can lead to an upset stomach. Eat your bigger meals at breakfast and lunch.
  • Get Proper Nutrition. If you’re not getting enough fiber, or essential minerals, that’ll mess up your system too. And too much of the bad stuff can mean you need more sleep than you think to recover.
  • Take probiotics. They’ll help your digestion, which will help your sleep.
  • Detoxify with fresh juice, turmeric, seaweed. Getting out the bad stuff reduces the need for regeneration.


  • Promotes restful sleep.
  • But… cortisol activates the alerting mechanism in the brain. Exercise almost every day, but do it earlier in the day – at least three hours before bed.
  • Nap Early—Or Not at All. If you nap too late in the day, or nap too long (an hour or more) it robs your ability to sleep later. Keep your naps short, or wait and give yourself a better chance of sleeping later.


  • Reduce screen time before bed. Your TV, laptop, tablet and smart phone send a lot of information per square inch into your brain. A lot more than you can process, often. It’s very active information. Declare a curfew on screen time, at least one hour before bed. Read a book, listen to music, do a puzzle. Something in the real world.
  • Reduce electromagnetic exposure. This sounds a little crazy, but think about it. Your wireless network, your cell phone, your cordless phone – they’re all throwing out electromagnetic waves all over your sleep space. We don’t know for sure that they are screwing with our heads, but we don’t know for sure they are not. If you having troubles sleeping, what have you got to lose? Turn ’em off for a few nights and see what happens.
  • Look for “leaking” lights. Those twisty florescent bulbs are especially leaky. Take them out and use LED lights, and see if that helps.

And a special Bonus Step….

Follow Through

  • Stick With It!
  • If at First You Don’t Succeed…
  • Not all sleep problems are easily treated – for example apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy.
  • If your sleep difficulties don’t improve, consult a doctor or a sleep specialist

Sleep Resources — don’t just take my word for it, consult the experts.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if you’d like help getting better sleep. I’d love to work with you.

Rest well, lovely readers.



* Though to be fair, I found all the advice on the internet and just organized it in a snazzy 5 steps.


In which i shamelessly promote the Flying Apron Cafe…

March FA newsletter banner

As you may have gathered I’m super excited about my partnership with the Flying Apron Café in Redmond, WA! Their March newsletter is out, check it out — there’s a coupon for goodies for you local folks, and my article on Gluten Free Living for all y’all.

Flying Apron’s book club is tomorrow night, March 27, 7-8 pm — we’re reading Vegan for Life. Next month’s book is Wheat Belly, April 24th. Hope to see you there some time!


Another rant about gluten free product labeling, sort of

Remember that time I poked fun at food packaging for gratuitous gluten free labeling? I used that cute I Love Lemon tea packet example? “Duh,” I more or less said. “It’s tea, of course it’s safe!”

Gratuitous gluten free labeling of the week

Haha, pretty funny, right? Well, I guess the joke’s on me – look what I found on another tea bag wrapper this week.

gluten tea

“This product contains gluten”!!

At a vulnerable time (see product name, bottom of pic) I reached for soothing herbs, only to realize, in the nick of time, that they were only going to make things worse. I had already purchased the tea, brought it home, heated the water, unwrapped the tea bag and placed it in the cup. Only then, while waiting for the water to boil, did I look over the label, curious about which herbs they put it in. It never occurred to me that I could not drink it. I mean it’s tea*!!

Obviously I am feeling a bit cranky about this (again, see tea name at bottom of pic). Not only was I in physical pain, but now I felt betrayed by the traditional wellness industry. Also, I guess I owe the Bigelow tea company of Fairfield, CT, a big apology. In fact I should be thanking them for being proactive.

But more importantly, wtf Traditional Medicinals? You couldn’t find a way to make this “herbal dietary supplement” without the gluteny bit? It looks like roasted barley kernels are the culprit. Really, was the barley so important that it was worth reducing your market size by hundreds of thousands of people**? According to Chinese medicinal theory*** barley helps with reducing heat, which is useful for reducing cramps and discomfort, but there are heaps of other herbs and grains that do the same thing, including millet and amaranth (non-glutinous) and the dandelion greens and nettle leaf already in the tea.

I am beyond annoyed. I guess it’s a reminder that not everyone reaching for traditional remedies has the same set of issues, and that we need to be careful not to be lulled into a false sense of security at having found a natural wellness community. Darn. I was hoping to find a safe space where I could let my guard down a little, but apparently I need to be ever vigilant. That said I am still all for natural wellness. Just remember to read the labels.

Be safe out there!


*  Okay tea purists—I know that technically it’s not “tea”. Real tea is made from the leaves of the tea plant, creating what we know in the U.S. as black tea, green tea and white tea. Everything else are herbal concoctions, but for convenience we call them all tea. Like how we say we’re meeting for coffee and then you order some fruity frozen slushie instead. You know who you are 😉

**  I am too annoyed to look up the statistics this morning, but trust me, lots of people are estimated to be gluten intolerant or allergic

*** From Healing with Whole Foods: Ancient Traditions and Modern Nutrition, by Paul Pitchford, one of my new favorite books

Out of Gas

Winter Storm 2008 Part IV delivered.  While we didn’t get the excessive, dangerous winds of a few years back, we did get a bunch more snow and a nice layer of ice.  The driving wind blew ice crystals into every nook and cranny, including the drainage ditch (or as i like to call it, the moat) in front of my house.  This makes walking (and, i imagine, driving) a bit of a guessing game.
Yesterday I took my neighborhood walk in my ski clothes – they were just warm enough.  And they still fit!  I saw a few car tracks and some boot tracks.  No other people out walking.  The wind was still blowing, though more mildly than the night before, and there was still some swirling snow.
During today’s walk (still in ski wear) I saw a few people out walking, two snowmobilers (right down the street!), and a decent procession of cars on the main roads.  A lot of people had been out in the park and schoolyard.  I also 6 snowmen and one snow fort.   And it was almost sunny (or maybe it was just the glare), with a little peak of blue sky.
One curious side effect of the storms – a gasoline shortage.  A few years ago we had gas shortages when power outages closed down gas stations.  This year it’s the icy roads – gas trucks can’t make it to gas stations, espectially those up in the mountain areas that have recently become crowded suburbs.  I made sure I had some gas in the car this time around.  I was hovering near empty during the big power outage and it really limited my options.
The other place dealing with a supply shortage is the airport.  A lack of de-icing equipment and liquid has resulted on hundreds of delayed/cancelled flights at SeaTac and Portland airports.  It looks like a disaster.  People have been there as long as 3 days, sleeping in the terminal.  I am so glad i didn’t plan to go anywhere for this vacation. 

Winter Storm Watch 2008.. Part IV

Really, this is just getting excessive now.  We’re on guard for storm four. The first two were a bit of a letdown, but number three really delivered. And i have a feeling number four will be one to remember.
I went out on the roads today for the first time since Wednesday.  Everyone is going very slow, very carefully, and i didn’t see any accidents.  I did see the occasional stuck car, and amazingly no one hit them.  People got out and helped push, and there was some impressive backwards driving and avoidance maneuvers.
I also learned more about my neighborhood – did you know there was a Mail Boxes store in the little center on 124 and 85th?  Neither did I.  But it saved me from driving all the way down 85th to the downtown Kirkland post office to mail my non-denominational holiday cards and a present.  Given all the sliding I saw, i didn’t want to try out that hill.
I am now set for Storm IV, which promises not only more snow but also very high winds.  And you know what that means … power outages!  (See my posts from Dec 2007, Dec 2006, and probably Dec 2005.)  I have my cell phone and iPod charging right now, i have plenty of gas in the car, extra batteries for the flashlight and CD boom box (circa 1992), and fresh fruit and vegetables to fend off scurvy. 
Assuming no giant tree branches fall on my house, i’m all set until the thaw… which should be Christmas day.  Merry Christmas!

Winter Storm 2008… Part III: The Big One

Winter Storm 2008 finally delivered!!
I’ve got around 5-6 inches here in Kirkland, and I heard that both the I-90 and the 520 bridges were closed this morning.  From the Seattle Times:
The morning commute on Interstates 5, 90, 405 and Highway 520 was snarled by disabled cars and buses. Eastbound traffic came to a stop on the West Seattle Bridge. And on Highway 520 near Marymoor Park, westbound traffic was still stopped at midmorning, blocked by stranded vehicles and extremely slick conditions.
Not surprisingly, I was unable to access my work email for a few hours – 60,000 people all dialing in remotely, who’d have thunk it would be a problem? 😉

Winter Storm 2008

Turns our we did get some snow – yay!  Nothing worth "storm watch" status, but it was certainly good to be alerted.  And my house looks awfully cute…
Right now the roads are a little icy in some places on side streets, but main roads are clear.  Wednesday we might get more snow.  We’ll see.

Time Again for Winter Storm Watch …2008!

Well it’s my birthday again, and here in Seattle that means it’s time for a great big winter storm.  During my first year in Seattle giant wind storms closed both of our floating bridges on Dec. 12.  Every few years since we get another big storm on my day, inconveniencing me and my friends on our way to my celebration. Hello, it’s my birthday – can the weather please cooperate?
This year is no different. While they’ve cancelled the major storm watch, it’s super windy and rainy right now. Just trying to get from Bellevue to Kirkland this afternoon over a half hour.  Wind gusts were making the 520 bridge crossing into a game of chicken, backing up 520 traffic all the way to the surface roads.  I had to turn around on Lake Washington Blvd, head back into Bellevue, and try another way home.
When i got home all of the trashcans on the street had been knocked over (of course it’s trashday…), so I had to climb into the drainage ditch (or, as i like to call it, the moat) to pull mine out.  The wind is whipping through the pine trees across the street – my gutters are going to be full of pine needles again.
And of course i planned a party up in the mountains tonight.   There has been light snow on the pass so far, with one pass closing.  The roads are currently open.
If nothing else, tonight should be an adventure.  Another good story in the history book of Sondra birthdays.

Happy Non-Denominational Holiday!

Ever since i was a little girl i’ve longed for the trappings of Christmas.  Not the Christ part so much, just the presents and the lights and the tree.  My mom also longed for at least some of the celebratory aspects.  Hannukah, while not the worst holiday in the world, just couldn’t compete with the industrial complex of a holiday that our Christian neighbors enjoyed year after year.
My dad, though, was very clear on his holiday stance – we were Jewish (or Jew-ish, at least), so there would be no Christmas for us.  No tree, no lights on the house or electic candles in the windows, no stockings hung over the mantle (and we had a nice one…).  Nada. He told me that when i grew up and moved out, i could have all the trees i wanted.  But not in his house.
When i grew up and moved out, i moved in with a similarly non-religious but anti-Christmas Jew.  My ex, just like my father before him,  ba-humbugged the holiday spirit right out of me.  And again i thought, "if and when i get out of here, i am doing it UP."
So here I am, in my own house with my own living room and porch and mantle (a nice one).  And old habits die hard.  The first few years alone, in the condo, i didn’t get a tree because the space felt too small.  The last few years, in the house with the dog, I didn’t get a tree because i wasn’t sure what Jimmy would do with all the lights and decorations.
And now i am just stuck in a rut.  I have strung up lights on the porch and in the little pine trees out front, but that’s as far as it’s gone.   So i am open to suggestion.  What would you do?