sleep clinic

Sleep observation

Me at the sleep clinic!

Three weeks ago I spent the night in a sleep clinic. I was hooked up to a thousand wires and tubes. The point of this observation was to understand why I sleep walk/talk, and why I have insomnia. I just got the results back. Drum roll please:

The good news it that I don’t have sleep apnea. If you’re unfamiliar with sleep apnea, it’s a condition where you wake up many times during the night because of a loss of breath. Really the only cures for it are losing weight and sleeping with a machine that helps push air into your lungs. Given how hard it was to sleep with all those wires on me, I was glad to hear that I wouldn’t need to sleep with a machine for the rest of my life.

The bad news is that I have an unusually high ratio of slow wave sleep (SWS) and very little REM. SWS is deep sleep and that’s why I’m able to walk around and not wake up. That also causes extreme grogginess in the morning. It can take up to 30 minutes to fully wake up if you are awoken during SWS. The other problem is that when you do get a good nights sleep after a long period of sleep deprivation you might get “REM rebound” which can cause depression. That’s why a lot of sleep aids warn that depression is a side effect. Eke. That would explain why I was watching so much t.v.

Here are some helpful tips the doctor gave me:

  • You need to develop sleep schedule and follow it 7 days a week. That means no sleeping in on the weekends. NOOOOO!
  • Do not read in bed. Do not do anything in bed besides for sleep. If you’re having trouble falling asleep you need to get out of bed and do something boring. My doctor recommended reading the stock page. I found this tip surprising because I’ve always read in bed, and that’s what I usually turn to when I’m having trouble falling asleep. I thought getting out of bed would only wake me up.  But you want to train your mind to shut off as soon as it’s in the bed.
  • The second you wake up turn all the lights on, raise the curtains, and eat your breakfast in front of the brightest window. Soaking in light will quickly force your brain to stop releasing adenosine (the sleepy hormone). I’ve always wanted one of those alarm clocks that start gradually lighting up as it nears your wake up time. She recommended against this. When you’re asleep it should be totally dark, when you want to wake up it should be totally bright. There’s no need to interrupt your sleep with gradual, distracting light. (Since I received this adice on Friday, I’ve been opening my shades the second I wake up and it really does help.)
  • If your bedtime is 12 you should start dimming the lights at 10. You shouldn’t watch t.v., or look at a computer of phone screen for at least an hour before falling asleep. The light from the screens causes you to think it’s day light and messes with your circadian rhythm.
  • If you are getting into a new sleep pattern DO NOT TAKE NAPS. You just have to accept that you’ll be tired for a few days/weeks. You are trying to train your brain into thinking the only chance it will get to sleep is between these certain hours, so you better take advantage of them, brain.

You might ask what this has to do with the HeSoProject.  As I wrote in my About Page, my goal is to wake up every morning excited and happy for the day ahead. A good night sleep is the foundation for a fully lived life. If there is anything that is keeping you from enjoying your days take the time to figure it out. Every part of your day effects your life – make sure everything is alignment with where you want to go.

– A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.  ~Irish Proverb

Things are starting to happen

It won't be this creepy

It’s been a busy week. First I visited the sleep clinic. No help there. After an hour long interview about my sleeping habits he said he would need to watch me sleep – creepy, right? I’m also keeping a sleep log which is actually making me more anxious at bedtime. I keep looking at my watch when I get sleepy so that I’ll be able to put the accurate hours down which only keeps me up longer.

Next, I had my first Alexander technique class. I have a wonderful teacher named Morgan, and since she’s in her final semester of certification, the classes are almost free. If you’ve never heard about good old Alexander here’s a brief description. It’s very popular among actors, musicians, dancers, and general performers because it’s about optimizing movement, being aware of your body, developing poise, and releasing unnecessary tension. I have long suffered from Quasimodo posture – or should I say it’s really my boyfriend who suffers from my Quasimodo posture – so the

Gwyeneth Paltrow in Emma

Kate Bekinsale in Emma

main reason for taking this course is to improve my posture. My role model for elegant posture would have to be Kate Bekinsale.

When I first saw her in Emma, I couldn’t focus on the movie because I kept thinking, how is this woman’s neck ten inches long? I would have to say she played the role better than Gwyenth Paltrow purely for her posture.

But now for the good stuff! I met with Caitlin Kelley, founder of Africa Volunteer Corps, and avid reader of the HeSo project (hey girl!) yesterday and had a great time. She started this non-profit to help skilled locals find jobs in community development and social progress. While in Tanzania, she discovered that there was a large pool of motivated, highly qualified locals who had no job opportunities. At the same time, international volunteers were taking up job positions that the locals needed.

I saw this first hand when I lived in Mozambique. People working for International non-profits were being paid $40,000-$50,000 to do practically nothing. Sometimes they would just visit a school, take a picture, and call it a day. Their salaries gave them millionaire lifestyles in Mozambique. They had guards, cooks, and housekeepers. They ate at fancy restaurants every night. They spent their days on the beach. They drove alone in 8 seat SUVs when most locals would squeeze ten people into the back of a truck, that’s if they were lucky enough to get a ride. They presented a completely unattainable lifestyle for most Mozambicans which can’t help but cause envy- heck I was jealous. I believe that their presence did more harm than good. There’s nothing they did that a local couldn’t have done and for far less money.

One of the boys at the childcare center we were working with in Kenya

This is an issue that I have struggled with. When I went to Kenya last year my plane ticket alone cost $1,500. I thought, if I just donate that money to a non-profit in Kenya the money would go so much further. However, nothing impacts you more than actually meeting the people who you are helping, and realizing that they are the ones helping you. If I wrote a check I would be done with it, but now those people are always in my heart and I can’t forget them. But at the same time, I was doing construction work, which is not my forte, and there’s hundreds of construction workers there who need jobs.

So to make a long discussion with myself short, nothing changes you as positively as seeing other cultures, and giving back, but I also think there’s a need for an organization like Africa Volunteer Corps that doesn’t look at developing countries like they need to be rescued. They have all the talent, resources, and possibilities they need. That is why I will be working with Caitlin – writing blog entries for the website, updating the spreadsheets, and filling in the cracks. I’m very excited for my new role, and it’s definitely a HeSo fulfilling project. YAH!

And my last bit of good news is that my favorite Blogger, Ree Drummond, is going to have a new show on the Food Network. If you’ve never visited The Pioneer Woman  she posts great recipes, photography tips, and home decorating ideas. I love her sense of humor and style, and I’ve been following her for 2 years now, so it feels like one of my good friends just got a t.v. show deal. I’m also really inspired that she was able to make a huge career out of doing what she loves. She gets a HeSo award!

Lessons from a month abroad

Me in park Guell

I arrived back home yesterday afternoon. I did not expect to get giddy while walking through Immigration, or getting on the subway, or putting my key in the door, but all those things reminded me that I’m coming home. And I was excited to do so. As much as love to travel, I am always surprised by how happy I am to come back home. To have clean clothes. To see my kitties. To plug in electronics without first having to find the stupid adapter that always gets lost in my suitcase. I know I’m weird, but no matter how many showers I take while on vacation, I never feel as clean as that first shower when you get home.

I came home 5 pounds heavier. I would like to think those pounds are filled with wisdom. So here are some very wise things I learned while traveling for a month:

a window in Salamanca

1. No one says it better than my boy, Bill Bryson, “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” This quote was etched into the bathroom stall in one of the restaurants I ate in in Barcelona. Although I’ve read it many times and have appreciated it, I’ve never read it while actually traveling , nor while on the toilet.  As much as I loved seeing all the sights from the tour books, the real joy is in finding a cup of coffee exciting again. Or taking a picture of a window. I mean seriously when do you take pictures of windows when you’re at home? Travel reinvigorates your enthusiasm for life. By the way, can you imagine how long it took to etch that quote into the bathroom stall?

2. An oldie, but a goodie: try new things. I didn’t want to see flamenco, but it blew me away.

Me trying out new water

While dining out, the worst food I had was when I was feeling homesick and ordered what was familiar to me. Pizza and hamburgers just don’t cut it in Spain. The best food I had was when Mike and I decided to order the strangest sounding thing on the menu. Duck ham (seriously that’s what it said) on top of duck liver pate was out of this world. I can’t believe I almost passed that up for french fries. Other great treats were bull tail ( YUM!), and onion jelly with sheep cheese and walnuts. While walking back to the hotel every day, we knew the fastest way to get back, but we always made a conscious effort to go down a different street, and for that we saw some amazing views, beautiful graffiti, hidden gardens, and old churches. If we only followed the path we knew we would have missed out on a lot.

3. Spanish is hard.

4. A lot can be done while sitting at a cafe drinking coffee. You can’t help but reflect on your life, how it’s going, and where you want it to go. I don’t know if it’s those little tables, or if it’s using a saucer, but you start to ask yourself the big questions. How do I want to spend my money? How do I want to raise my kids? What kind of lifestyle do I want? Do I really want the noise and chaos of NYC? Maybe I should live on a boat for year. Waiter, one more cup please.

5. Ok, because I love Bill so much I’m going to include one more quote. “I mused for a few moments on the question of which was worse, to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted, or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored.” Here’s one of the catches of traveling a lot – you become jaded start to compare countries. Instead of appreciating each place you visit you say “oh, the Hermitage was far superior,” “this doesn’t hold a candle to the canals in Venice,” or ” It’s no Kathmandu.” This is a horribly pompous attitude to have and I know I’m guilty of it sometimes. I was reminded of how much I hated it when I met a one-upper in Salamanca. When I said I liked the bread, he said, “Really??? You have to try the bread in Paris.” When I said I loved the Cathedral, he said, “Really??? You have to see the Hagia Sofia, in Istanbul.” When I told him that I had seen it and that you really can’t compare the two, he then said, “Well it’s no Notre Dame.” I’m not quite sure how to prevent that snobby attitude, but maybe just being of aware of it is the first step.

6. People can be extremely self-conscious. While on our way to a restaurant we saw a toddler running around a fountain. He was having so much fun that we decided to sit on a bench and watch him. He ran around the fountain maybe five hundred times. It was super slippery and he must have fallen an equal number of times. Each time he fell he would crack up laughing. and then start over again. He was insanely adorable, and we could not stop laughing. Eventually his dad picked him up to leave and when he walked past us he asked with an accent that sounded like the Terminator, “You find something funny?” At first I expected him to laugh like it was a joke, but he looked like he was about to kill us. I was shocked and really I couldn’t get it out of my head for days. How could he be so offended by us laughing? I thought it was obvious that we were sharing in the kid’s joy. My only guess is that he thought we thought his son was stupid, or that we thought he was stupid for letting his kid fall down so much. Either way, why was his first assumption so negative? It makes me think, did I ever get self-conscious because I thought someone was laughing at me, but perhaps that were laughing with me?


7. I learned that when I’m tired, hot and hungry I become Traysaurous. It’s not pretty. I think I scared off I few kids – and maybe Mike too. No, actually he was brave enough to take this up close picture. On a serious note, I’m tired of always feeling tired. This trip has not only prompted me to take flamenco classes, but I’ve also decided to go to a sleep clinic. For years I suffered with insomnia, restless sleep, and sleep walking/talking. My roommate in Salamanca told me I stood up in the middle of the night and said, “this tent is filled with bees,” and then I tried to open an imaginary tent zipper. My brother told me that I woke up one night and asked if I could pay for the bus ticket with American cheese. One of the most annoying parts of this trip was that I was sleepy almost every day. I wanted to wake up fresh and ready to see the sites, but instead Traysaurous came out a little too often. I think my quality of life would greatly improve if I could get 8 hours of fantastic, uninterrupted sleep. With no bees or American cheese.