Archive for the ‘Relaxation’ Category


Ten Healthy Ideas: Day 6: Pay off Sleep Debt

December 31, 2013

When the golfer Tiger Woods left Stanford and announced he was turning professional, a reporter asked him what he was looking forward to now that he wasn’t going to college any more. He answered: “I will finally get enough sleep.” Apparently Tiger put himself through the same torture test as most college students. He didn’t get enough sleep.

dementIronically, just across campus at Stanford is the world’s leading expert on sleep. Dr. William Dement, a pioneer in the field of sleep research, founded the Stanford Center for Sleep in order to help people the world over understand the importance of sleep. When asked at a major conference years ago what was the number one problem related to sleep, Dr. Dement immediately answered “Sleep debt!”

According to the Sleep Center’s literature, here is what they define as sleep debt:

To make the long story short, each of us has a certain sleep requirement every night that we need to keep us functioning at our optimal level. When we fall short of the minimal sleep requirementwe incur a sleep debt that prevents us from functioning at our best.This debt, if not addressed, can add up over time, very rapidly, and significantly alter our productivity, mood, and even our safety.

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Almost every person needs a minimum of 8 hours sleep a night. In his book “The Promise of Sleep” Dr. Dement estimates that most people incur at least one hour’s debt per night–many people have more. This growing sleep debt causes many of our worst health problems: auto-immune problems, inability to fight off viruses, hypertension, cell malformation (sometimes resulting in benign tumors), malabsorption of nutrients–which cause many other health problems–migraine headaches, joint problems, sight difficulties etc. Not only that, but researchers have determined that over 100,000 die every year in car accidents because one driver was either sleep deprived or asleep at the wheel.

But I believe there are emotional and spiritual tolls we pay when we don’t sleep enough. Dr. Jack Hayford, pastor Emeritus of Church on the Way in Van Nuys, teaches regularly that the best spiritual warfare we can do is to get enough sleep. He says that the Enemy really is prowling around like a lion seeking whom he can devour. Those who have a lot of sleep debt find they have trouble resisting temptation, become irritable easier and give in more often to resentment. These things all cause spiritual deterioration.

How do you know if you have sleep debt? Here are some of the main signs that Dr. Dement says we need to look for:

1. Do you get drowsy during the day? Drowsiness is not a condition of your environment–such as a warm room or a difficult work situation–but rather of your tendency to not sleep enough.

2. Do you need caffeine to function efficiently? Dr. Dement is an advocate for eliminating caffeine completely. If you need that boost in the morning, you are not getting enough sleep.

3. Do you fall asleep in less than ten minutes? If you do, you have a sleep debt. Sleep debt causes the mind to shut down much more rapidly. Normally, a person who gets enough sleep should be able to fall asleep in about 10-20 minutes on average. In addition, if you wake up tired on a consistent basis, you are suffering from sleep debt. After a good night’s rest, you should not have trouble waking up. Any trouble waking up is caused by your body trying to get more sleep to make up for the debt.

4. Are there parts of your day when you have virtually no energy at all? This is common with sleep indebted people.

You should be getting at least 8 hours sleep EVERY night. If you are not, then the sleep debt is going to take its toll on you, your relationships, your health, your work output, your joy, your walk with God and your peace of mind. Every hour less than 8 hours a night is a debt you need to pay back as soon as possible. Here are six ideas that can help you get back on the right track.

1. Have absolutely hard established bedtimes and waking dotttimes. Dr. Lydia Dotto, author of “Losing Sleep” suggests that even migraine headaches can be eliminated by training our internal clocks when they are going to go to bed. I did this for a year once…not changing my bedtime at all. By the end of that year, I could go to bed and wake up without looking at the clock and it was always at exactly the same time. Our body clocks, once they are trained, are that accurate. When you establish waking and sleeping times, you are making sleep a much higher priority.

2. Turn off the television after 9 p.m. Television watching may be called “vegging out” by many people, but it doesn’t have that effect on us. The television raises your Alpha waves above the level of relaxation. You are always on a heightened sense of alert when you watch the tube. Unfortunately, most people assume they can watch television at night to help them relax and fall asleep. Nothing could be further from the truth. You would be much better advised to read a book, crochet a sock or write in a journal than watch t.v.

3. Do not exercise before bed. With the advent of many new “super-routines” more and more people are focusing on getting in one more workout before sleep. This raises your glandular output too much. The body’s circadian rhythms start to slow down naturally in the two hours before bedtime. If you cut into that slowdown with exercise, it will make it that much harder to get to sleep.

4. Track your sleep and make up for sleep debt. Everyone has nights where they don’t sleep well. (Note: If that is every night for you, talk to your doctor about a sleep clinic. You should be getting a good night’s rest every night and there are doctors who specialize in finding out why you’re not). If you have a night of less-than-ideal sleep, find times during the week to nap. Also, allow yourself to sleep extra on those days you don’t have to get up early.

5. Get rid of caffeine. If you are getting enough sleep, you don’t need caffeine. The caffeine in soda, coffee and energy drinks messes up your biological clock. Of course, because some people have not slept enough for years, it may seem they cannot function without caffeine. That is probably true. But that is like the person who maxes out their credit cards, spends every cent and needs another credit card because they have no more cash. At some point, the madness has to stop. Caffeine is the enemy to enough sleep. Kick the habit.

6. Plan ahead. When I personally started to get my sleep habit back in order I realized my biggest problem is I never planned my sleep well. I would stay up later than I needed to. I never realized that sleep is something to guard, so I didn’t. Planning ahead means that you are home at a decent hour to get to bed at a decent hour, to wake up at a decent hour having procured a decent amount of sleep. Therefore, the planning must start a long time before you want to sleep. If friends want to stay out late and you cannot sleep in, you may be the first one to go home. It may feel like you are the party pooper, but remember that every party needs one and that might as well be you. At least you will be physically and emotionally healthy to accept the ridicule.

Last year, I advised two different people on their sleep debt. Both of them embarked on a project to get enough sleep. Both of them reported better mental health as a result. Additionally, even though neither of them were overweight, they both reported their weight went down as they started to crave healthier foods. It is known that we often crave sugar and carbs when our energy levels are too low. This is often a function of sleep debt as well.

So for all the wonderful things sleep can do for you, get rid of your sleep debt and make sleep a huge priority for 2014.


Ten Healthy Ideas – Day Four: Habit of Reflection

December 24, 2013


In 2006, a Stanford research team studied two groups of people. One group were self-described as heavy Internet users. The other group didn’t use the Internet very often. The researchers put both groups through a series of tests where they had to come to conclusions by analyzing a very difficult series of statements in a field none of them were familiar with. At the end, they had to make a decision about what course of action they would take. What none of them knew was they weren’t being tested for their decision-making ability, but their ability to mentally stay on task.

Not surprisingly, those who used the Internet a lot were more easily distracted. The researchers found that when they introduced noises, background smells, lights and people moving by the window, the heavy Internet users could not concentrate as well as the light Internet users. At the end of the test, each participant was scored by an independent panel regarding the final decision they came to. Overall, the light Internet users made wiser decisions. 

Here is what they concluded. The heavy Internet users had lost the ability to reflect, to ponder the possibilities. They were more easily distracted and could not keep their minds on one subject. In essence, the could not Reflect

Reflection is the ability to analyze and dissect the events of a person’s life, looking for meaning, purpose and possible courses of action. If a person cannot reflect, they will often act impetuously and unwisely. Unfortunately, most 21st century people no longer take any time to reflect. As Nicholas Carr says in his book “The Shallows”, that our

“online intelligence has weakened our ability to reflect, to examine, to imagine and to analyze. We can maintain more information in our brains and yet we have less ability to make good use of that knowledge”.

74 separate times in the Bible the word “Selah” is found. The word means to “stop and reflect, to see deeply into something”. Most often this word is employed in the Psalms after the writer has made a profound or troubling statement. He wants the reader to stop and reflect on how to proceed now that this truth is presented. This was not hard for someone who grew up governed by the slow pace of an agricultural society. It wouldn’t even be that hard for those who entered our world when there was no television, radio, newspaper or Internet. But now that we have all of those, who has the ability to reflect very long any more.

Ten years ago, I was asked to lead a seminar for young church leaders on the skills involved with meditation and reflection. There were 150 people at the conference and they had four options for their seminar. Only one person chose to attend my reflection teaching. I actually had expected this so my feelings were not wounded too deeply. I told the organizer that the only way we could get people there would be to rename it something that sounded more dynamic. The people of our world no longer desire to spend long moments in reflection. What good is there in completely stopping at various times a day? Actually, reflection and meditation are very helpful to all of us.

Health professionals say that time of reflection each day can lower blood pressure, regulate the body’s ability to fight off disease, eliminate the need for most anxiety medication, reduce the intensity of migraine headaches, help to heal overwrought relationships and reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis. But these are just the physical benefits.

When we have a time of reflection, we can clearly see the patterns of our lives. Recently, I walked a person I am mentoring through exercises where they had to reflect on their life. At one point, the person got agitated and wanted to stop. When I asked them why, they realized that anger was bubbling to the surface and felt overwhelming. I had them focus on what they were angry about. Soon, elements of their marriage relationship came to mind. Piece by piece, this person worked through their anger and sense of defeat. By the end of 20 minutes, they no longer felt the anger. The next day, my mentee called me and expressed shock about something else. They had been suffering with a sense of fatigue mid-morning for several weeks. For the first time in all those days, they felt energized in the middle of the day. They realized that the meditation time had alerted them to an inner anger that was robbing them of energy.

I usually suggest people have at least a ten minute reflection in the morning and the evening. This can be combined with exercises like the Well of Reflection or a few other exercises I am going to mention in upcoming articles. It is good to have a journal around to keep track of insights.

As Socrates so eloquently told us “the unexamined life is not worth living.” When was the last time you examined your life in any depth? Have you observed some subtle motivations that you need to get a grip on? Do you see how your anger and fears are with you more than you would like to admit? Are there dreams you have been shoving down because you haven’t taken the time to process them? How are your relationships really going? Have  you taken stock of your closest friends and loved ones to determine if  you are acting in a healthy way toward them?

All of these are questions that can only be answered if a person takes time to reflect. In order to accomplish a meaningful time of reflection each day, it is necessary to answer the following questions:

  1. What will stand in my way of doing this daily?
  2. What do I need to stop doing so I can reflect?
  3. What do I hope to get out of this?
  4. Why am I not already doing this?
  5. What would be the best time to do this so I will accomplish it every day?

My Top Feel Good Movies

June 10, 2011

If I want to improve my mood with a movie, there are many I could choose from. Here are my criteria for putting a movie on this list:

1. Positive message and very little violence: This is why I would leave Shawshank Redemption, Hotel Rwanda and Braveheart off this list.

2. Believability and Accessibility: Would these things happen to real people? Therefore, though I love the Princess Bride, it isn’t on this list.

3. I could watch this with my family: I want to invite my wife and kids to watch a feel-good movie with me.  I really like The Green Mile, but my wife would walk out on the execution scene.

4. Happy Endings: I am a sucker for happy endings. I want a movie to leave me feeling better than I felt when I started watching.

So, here are my top twenty movies to lift my soul…in this order:

20. Up (okay, so houses can’t really fly with balloons…but it still fits the other criteria).

19. Erin Brockovitch

18. August Rush

17. Temple Grandin

16. Remember the  Titans

15. Rudy

14. Stand and Deliver

13. The King’s Speech

12. We Are Marshall

11. Field of Dreams

10. Secondhand Lions

9. That Thing You Do

8. A Beautiful Mind

7. Chariots of Fire

6. The Blind Side

5. The Pursuit of Happyness – When he gets the job after all that work, our hearts glow with his

4. October Sky – I am so moved when dad sets off that rocket.

3. Freedom Writers – The best teacher in America

2. Mr. Holland’s Opus – I could watch him walk up and take that baton a hundred times and still be moved

1. Hoosiers. When Jimmy Chitwood sinks that final shot, I cry and cheer. I know it’s coming and it still gets me where I live.



September 23, 2008

Every movement needs a “poster child”. For those not aware of the concept, a “poster child” is someone who fits as a perfect example of a bad example. For instance, the poster child for bad parenting is Brittney Spears. Or the poster child for bad moviemaking would be “Heaven’s Gate” (watch it sometime…I dare you to stay awake for the whole four hours). The poster child for fiscal irresponsibility is this current Congress.

But I have a new movement to proclaim. The “Quietness” Movement. This is a movement I want to start where every person seeks some moment of quiet in each day. I believe it would transform society in a week. The poster child for this movement would be Mark Broder. He was picked up two years ago for driving on a Minneapolis freeway while he was practicing his violin. He was steering with his knees and had placed the car on cruise control. Amazingly, he was not able to manipulate his knees quickly enough to miss Read the rest of this entry ?


Hammocks are from Heaven

June 25, 2008

Where else could hammocks come from? My kids bought me this freestanding hammockMy hammock for my birthday yesterday. It can be brought anywhere and you are suspended above the earth in free-floating ecstacy. Even the dog leaves me alone up there. This is the exact hammock they got me (minus the woman in it of course) and I have already logged my first two hours of reading time in it. Actually, I was asleep in about five minutes, but the book stayed with me, so it still counts as reading time.

There are few inventions that combine peace, comfort, portability, sunshine and godliness into one package. This might be the perfect invention of man. We have reached the pinnacle.

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