by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJune 15, 2020 hypersomnia, insomnia, sleep disorder, sleep hygiene0 comments
Sleep hygiene is a science formulated to help people overcome disrupted rest by removing any barriers that a person might be unknowingly creating that prevent against deep and complete rest. According to the American Sleep foundation, 47% of Americans report poor quality sleep has affected their daily performance in the last month. As mental health counselors know, there is a significant relationship between sleep and well being. Finding solutions for better rest are vital when your health is on the line, research suggests that sleeplessness can accelerate cancer, erode cognitive performance, and it also impacts mental well being in a variety of ways. Did you know that not getting enough rest can activate many mood disorders including bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression? In fact, sleep disruptions are a very common complaint among those who are seeking treatment for mental health disorders. Of course, most people have experienced a sleepless night as a result of a situational challenge or period of stress. There is a lot to lose when it comes to sleep but more than ever so many are so sleep deprived. By now you are likely wondering what you can do to enhance your sleep. This is where sleep hygiene comes into practice. There are some evidence-based ways to help you achieve a more restful state. Simultaneously, there are certain sleep disorders such as parasomnia, insomnia, and hypersomnia which should be ruled out with a medical or mental health counselor.
Know your sleep type! There are two primary types of sleepers, night owls and roosters, night owls are biologically programmed to sleep and wake a little later. Roosters crow at the sun, roosters, will do best to find a job routine that can be done early in the morning. Same goes for night owls, their peak performance will be later in the day. For both of these types of people, constructing a life that honors biology will do a lot for wellness and emotional wellbeing. For example, a rooster shouldn’t take the night shift if they want to feel their best.
Have a good routine- Routine is paramount to having improved quality and quantity of sleep. Find a regular hour in which you can rest. When you achieve a regular schedule, your body will be responding to multiple environmental cues that will help falling asleep and staying asleep easier. You should really be aiming for 7/8 hours per night so plan to go to bed that amount of time before your alarm clock will start buzzing.
Limit screen time at least an hour before bed. Our eyes are brimming with light receptors which are impacted by the screens we look at. When you are reading your email or social media account your brain is getting a large dose of light that signals to wake up! Limit exposure to at least an hour before bed to give your brain a chance to relax.
Spending time outdoors in the morning– The light from the sun helps us to become more alert in the morning giving our bodies higher energy. By maximizing exposure in the early hours we can find our way to relaxation in the evening. If a morning walk is not your thing, some people enjoy ‘sungazing.’
Work out in the am– Multiple studies have shown that working out in the am morning hours does help fitness friends to sleep better in the evening. Interestingly however, having an evening work out has not shown any effect on sleep.
Lengthen your exhale- When using your breath as a relaxation tool, you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system. It works like this, by lengthening your exhalation to be longer than your inhalation, for example inhale for a count of 6 and exhale for a count of 8, do this 10 times. This small but powerful technique is a potent relaxant as you are attempting to drift off to a deep slumber.
Limit Caffeine- Be mindful of what you are consuming, the half life of caffeine is quite long, if you are drinking caffeinated beverages after 1 or 2 pm, it will still be in your system at 8 or 9pm. Try to limit caffeine to one cup upon waking and the same goes with sugar.
Try Essential Oils- Many people find that a calming essential oil will help them achieve a more relaxed and restful state. Scents such as lavender and chamomile are widely used as a part of night time routines.Learn More
by Stephanie McCrackenNovember 14, 2013 mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy, Uncategorized0 comments
What if your eyes, your skin and your brain are very much like tiny solar panels connected to your brain? In some capacities they are! Our skin is the largest human organ and it is responsive on many levels to it’s surroundings and stimuli such as the sun. Most any person who lives in the Northern Hemisphere can acknowledge the effect that the seasons have on human cognition, human emotions, and over all sense of well-being. The seasons change and often along with the departure of summer, fall and winter have a marked increase in Seasonal-Affective Disorder (SAD), seasonal depression, general malaise, and even relationship problems. As a large counseling center, we notice a marked increase in incoming client requests in the colder months. If you want to enhance your happiness, enjoy calm and comfort floating through life like a midsummer’s day? Well then it may be a good idea for you to spend some time with your head in the clouds or at the very least with your gaze directed towards the sky. As the cold air descends upon us most of us retreat into our warm and homes and convalesce with our den instinct, along with more time indoors we experience more darkness and harsh overhead fluorescent light. With this in mind, let us examine the specific benefits of sun gazing, it’s origins, and how to do a solar/sun gazing meditation.
In former times, Native American tribes held a yearly sun dance to the approach of the revered summer solstice. The native peoples worship the sun and as a part of the ritual, the sun gazers would dance, fast, and stare directly at the glowing orb in the day sky, this was intended to be an act of communion and rebirth with the earth’s rhythms. As a newly re-popularized trend, Sun gazing is enjoying its resurgence; many of us note that we must reconnect with the earth and her rhythms if we are going to enjoy the full capacity of our health and wellness. Some people report that by staring directly into the sun for 30-60 seconds each morning they enjoy greater vigor, energy, alertness, and focus. You might be wondering “but don’t your eyes get damaged from that?” Many of us recall our mother’s telling us as mall children, “Don’t stare into the sun, you will lose your vision!” After a bit of research, we haven’t been able to find any evidence that supports that claim. In fact, sun gazers note more acute vision and even ocular regeneration as some benefits.
Having trouble staying energized during the day or falling asleep at night? Solar powered meditation may be something you could try! The retina contains several kinds of photoreceptor cells; one of them is specifically responsible for regulating the circadian rhythms which is the bio-chemical/ hormonal process of sleeping and waking. When allowing the sun to contact the open eye, melatonin, one of the primary sleep chemicals is then commanded by your brain to decrease its production. Sleep comes in sync by increasing nighttime melanin production which causes deeper, longer nighttime rest. Contact with the sun will simultaneously increase production of serotonin which is a “feel good” chemical, this neurochemical is targeted in many of the popular anti-depressants on the market today. Just a minute of the suns luminosity can help you sleep better which gives you heightened energy and you can even feel happier in your new found heightened mental and physical acuity! Let us not forget that vitamin d is also synthesized via sunshine and that supports bone health as well as mood!
There is still one more noted and interesting benefit to sun gazing, that it the purported enhanced function of the “Third Eye.” The pineal gland, commonly referred to as the “Third Eye” is a curious part of the brain, it is largely associated with mystical, spiritual, and even psychic purposes. In MRI images, many ordinary subjects show a Third Eye that is atrophied or calcified. On the other hand, many of those who are deemed very spiritual, for example the “Dalai Lama” types show something completely different in this sacred mental cavern. In MRI scans performed on monks while in deep meditation, the pineal gland pulsates an ethereal blue light. Simultaneously, shaman and others who participate in Ajauhausca ceremonies also are said to be decalcifying and developing their pineal gland. Sun gazing is yet another way that we can enhance the powers of your Third Eye thereby heightening spiritual energy.
STEPS FOR SUNGAZING SOLAR MEDITATION
It is a good idea to sun gaze during the first hour or two after the sun has risen or right before it is setting, there are lower concentrations harmful ray spectrum’s during those times. As you begin this practice, aim for the goal of ten seconds during your first day and add an additional ten seconds each day until you work up to one minute which is the maximum suggested time to sun gaze.
1) Raise your hands and aligning your posture towards the sun, tilt your head back to expose your throat chakra and allow your feet to be anchored firmly on the earth. Focus on opening yourself to the energy of the sun and allow your eyes to fall upon the space directly above or below the sun.
2) Breathe deeply through your nose allowing the breath to expand inside of you as you hold your breath for a moment and allow your chest to fall slowly, evenly and gently from out of your nose for 10 seconds-60 seconds.
3) Notice how you feel before and after your mini meditation.
4) A Pro Tip: Turn your inner gaze softly towards your nose where the third eye can be found. This specifically targets the pineal gland and helps in rejuvenating it, you may notice that after your eyes have been warmed you can see many colors and flashes of light while maintaining soft, steady, and abundant inhalation and exhalation. One of the keys is to maintain awareness, mindfulness, and gratitude for the abundant warmth and light. With practice you will be transported to a hypnotic space. People who regularly practice this note that while the sun formerly appeared to be motionless it now pulsates and radiates many colors while they are gazing at it.
Take notice of your energy levels after spending this 2 minutes connecting with the sun and the earth. Do your best to find the time to incorporate this small but powerful exercise into your life for the next 30 days just to see how much of an effect that it has upon your mood and energy. Remember that the body takes time to adjust so one month is plenty of time to really obtain the myriad of benefits. If you miss a day here or there that is ok, doing your best is more than enough. Some people find it easiest to incorporate sun gazing as a part of my morning walk. If you are plentiful on time and are able to do the evening meditation as well then even better for you, otherwise many people find that once a day is more than enough. Remember if the sun is powerful enough to cause the trees and flowers to bloom, to cause the seasons to change, imagine what it can do for you! NAMASTE!
Wishes for brightness, wholeness, and health,
Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Therapy, Marriage and Family Counseling
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233