Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sleep Tune Up

Today is Day 21 of my 3rd round of Whole30!  Physically, I feel fantastic - my energy is starting to level out (those 3pm crashes are on their way out!), ----, and I'm enjoying one of my favorite Whole30 benefits - better sleep.

Of course, full disclosure - I drafted this post last Tuesday (Day 14), and before a 36 hour birth-a-thon.  So, every night has not been full of sleep, glorious sleep and even-keel energy levels.

One of the best things about Round 3?  I'm really not thinking about food that much!  I was really worried this go-round for some reason - worried because two rounds of Whole30 and I'm not a magical perfect eater who has figured her way out of emotional eating and chocolate/sugar addiction, and I thought that my mind would cling harder than ever to the sugar I was going to be denying it for the next 30 days.  The opposite has turned out to be true.  My brain went right back into Whole30 mode, planning delicious protein and veggie filled meals, with only a passing wistfulness for the glass of wine and dessert I'd be forgoing for the next 30 days.

Because of my brain's remarkable ability to jump onto a Whole30 autopilot (who knew such a thing would exist for me last June when this was such a terrifying new endeavor?), I've actually spent the past three weeks focused on improving other areas of my health alongside the improvements that I'm making by eating a whole-foods, sugar-free diet.

One of the major areas of focus:  Improving sleep!

Living in the city that never sleeps, and working every day with new moms for whom four uninterrupted hours is a luxury, I sometimes feel like I'm all alone on Sleep Zealot Island.  I've been that way mostly my whole life (with the possible exception of college...), and I think it's partly due to my morning-person nature and the fact that my brain and body just shut down when it gets late.  When I don't get enough sleep, I'm emotional, cranky, foggy, and about 30% less smart.

For the most part, falling asleep has never been much of a problem for me, but I find the older I get, the less frequently I can just pass out as soon as my head hits the pillow.  The first days of a Whole30 often negatively affect my ability to fall asleep quickly too, because drinking a few glasses of wine is a great way to ensure I will fall asleep hard! Of course, issue with that comes with staying asleep through the night, but I digress.

As I've been expending way less mental energy on food (can I have chocolate after dinner? how much?  what kind?  can I have another glass of wine? will it really matter if I eat this entire bag of tortilla chips?), I've spent more of my energy focusing on helping myself to a better night's sleep.  I've been (a little) better about not looking at screens an hour before bed, carving out more to read, taking a magnesium supplement, and finally, I'm incorporating the amazing Yoga Tune Up balls to help my to body release tension and my brain to shut the hell up.

Yoga Tune Up isn't so much a type of yoga like Hatha or Vinyasa or Bikram - it's a "fitness format" that focuses not just on stretching and strengthening, but on self-massage, corrective posture, and the awareness to identify and consciously improve problem areas throughout the whole body.  It has been a huge part of my self-care arsenal, thanks to my fantastic physical therapist and to a former yoga teacher who also happens to be a renowned CrossFit coach and an inspiration to my first Whole30, Keith Wittenstein - aka Coach Panda.

For a yoga teacher, I don't always actually use the practice in ways I know I should.  One of the most powerful ways to incorporate yoga into your daily routine is right before bed to wind down and help transition your mind and body from the go-go-go bombardment of daily life to the quiet and ease of sleep.

Below are the two Tune Up techniques I've found to be most powerful and beneficial to sending me off to bed - and bonus points, they reduce the intensity morning headaches to which I've become accustomed.  If you don't have Tune Up balls, try lacrosse balls.

Coach Panda can take you through these better than I can, so I leave it to him.  Click the links below for his detailed explanations and videos.

The Headrest
This is also fantastic to do pretty much any time of day, or anytime you have a headache.  Use two Yoga TuneUp balls in their tote, or two lacrosse balls in a sock.  If you don't have a yoga block, use a thick book or two.  It may feel weird while you're in it, but after you come out you should feel a nice rush of relief from head and neck tension.

The Jawbreaker
This is a must of those of us who clench their jaws or grind their teeth in sleep!  It doesn't take long to gently massage each side, and consistency with this one will yield results down the road.


If you don't have TuneUp or Lacrosse balls, simply doing a few gentle yoga poses accompanied with slow, deep, full breaths in a quiet, dim room goes a really long way toward preparing your brain and your body for sleep.  My all-time favorite before-bed yoga practice is this classic from Jason Crandell, which I'm sure I've raved about on the blog before.

I highly encourage anyone to try adding a little pre-bed yoga - see if it yields results, and tell me about it!

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