Cherish life. Nourish it.


Sleep, Part 3: Rituals vs Routines

A bubble bath Rituals are a part of every society. They differ greatly from routines, and are much more powerful. How can understanding the difference between the two help us craft a nourished life in which restful sleep plays a part? Let’s see.

Routines can be described as being:

  • Minimally engaging
  • Focused on completing tasks rather than enjoying the process
  • Duty based
  • Tedious
  • Acts contributing little to our sense of belonging
  • Externally motivated
  • A low awareness activity

Rituals, however, are much more nourishing. They:

  • Are fully engaging
  • Tell a story
  • Brighten awareness
  • Are process oriented
  • Foster joy and peace
  • Are internally motivated
  • Are celebration based
  • Add to our sense of belonging
  • Often feature symbolism and create a sense of purpose

Most of us would agree that the second set of options describes a much greater quality of life. Celebrating our life, lifting awareness so we are more conscious of our blessings, and having peaceful moments are all nourishing tools in the quest for best quality sleep. Being fully present in activities of our choice as we slow down from a busy day and prepare for rest will help us feel more connected with our body, and will reinforce the fact that we are worth our own best efforts in self care. 

What rituals might you choose?

  • A warm bath, scented with herbs or natural essential oils
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Listening to a book on tape (bedtime stories for grown-ups!)
  • Reading by soft light
  • Selecting our outfit and accessories for the next day to reduce the morning rush
  • Some slow, gentle stretches
  • Deep breathing
  • Massaging your feet with natural moisturizers

Our life has a story. When we use the power of positive story as a tool for nourishment, we relax into our life, as it is right now, imperfections and all. To illustrate, maybe we are a working mom, or a working single mom, who feels like the last thing she’ll ever have time for is self-care. Just the thought, “I’ll never have time for me”, creates a stress response. It’s a negative story, one based on scarcity (not enough) and a sense of endless sacrifice. Negative stories and stress responses rattling around in our brain are certainly counterproductive for sleep.

But changing that thought to, “I’m going to turn off the TV or computer 30 minutes earlier so I can listen to some music and have a relaxing bath”, creates a sense of purpose, a sense that we are worthy, and that life is manageable.

Maybe we are so busy that we don’t have any TV time to give up: what then? Evaluating and streamlining some tasks around the house will allow you some precious moments for a nourishing bedtime ritual. There is always time for the things that matter. And you definitely do.




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Sleep, Part 2: Melatonin

orange moon This post is chock-full of scientific mind cookies, but hopefully you enjoy understanding the why and how of things, like I do.

Ever wondered why earth’s natural night-light, the moon, is so much more understated than the daylight we get from our Sun? One reason is that light influences our natural circadian rhythms, even in such high functioning areas as hormone levels and neurotransmitters. When sunlight hits the retina of the eye, a shift occurs and all the systems of the body recognize that it’s time to rise and shine.

Later, as the sun dips below the horizon, the body responds to the diminishing light by preparing for rest and repair. One of the key players in this preparation is the body’s production of a powerful hormone, Melatonin. What have scientists discovered about this amazing substance?

  • It is greatly assistive in Immune function
  • It has a major role in the production of sexual hormones Estrogen and Testosterone
  • It’s one of the most powerful antioxidants ever discovered: even more powerful than Vitamin C. Antioxidants help minimize oxidative stress reactions which are known to play a role in Heart Disease, Hypertension, Age-Related Cognitive decline, high cholesterol levels, and Cancer
  • It’s a body-made, side-effect-free sleep aid
  • PMS symptoms can be reduced in some women by addressing melatonin levels

Studies have shown that melatonin production is highest in the young, and drops as we age, as do all our hormone levels. Interestingly, Harvard Medical School has discovered that Aspirin reduces melatonin levels.

But how is melatonin actually made in the body? An amino acid, Tryptophan, is converted into 5HTP, which is then converted into serotonin, and finally into melatonin. For the scientifically curious among you, here’s a map:

But wait, you say, isn’t serotonin our natural antidepressant? Indeed it is.  Serotonin is one of our most important neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the most powerful substances in the body, as electro-chemical signals, they are where the action is. We ‘spend’ our serotonin when we experience events where we feel we have no control, i.e., other people’s behaviors, mean bosses, bullies. We also expend serotonin when we feel a sense of dissatisfaction about our own life. In a perfect world, we would have enough serotonin to cover all of those emotional expenditures, and then there would be a little serotonin left over from which the body could make its nightly melatonin.

However, it’s no news flash that we don’t live in a perfect world, and most of us are quite overspent in the serotonin department, which leads to diminished melatonin levels. DISCLAIMER: this article is not an endorsement to run out and stock up on tryptophan, 5HTP, or melatonin. These are powerful substances, and should not be used by anyone without qualified professional instruction. 

Now, back to our moon: before the beginning of the Twentieth Century, artificial light was a rare and often experimental experience. Most homes didn’t start to incorporate incandescent bulbs until about a hundred years ago. The book “Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival” by TS Wiley does a great job of explaining how this societal change has profoundly altered our melatonin levels, sleep and body chemistry.

To counteract these influences, home-brew (body-made) melatonin can be improved by following the same habits and suggestions discussed in our first article on sleep, here:


Sleep: must it be so elusive? Part 1

Woman Sleeping Slumber. Shuteye. Forty winks. A visit from the sandman. Whatever you call it, we can’t live without sleep. And yet many of are attempting to do just that: get by on far less sleep than is optimal for wellness. While well-publicized sources encourage us to get 8-9 hours per night, the average person gets closer to 4-5. What are some of the consequences?

Poor sleep contributes to:

  • Weight gain
  • Lowered Metabolism
  • Insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Poor memory and limited ability to concentrate
  • Increased inflammation
  • Reduced liver function and detoxification
  • Increased cravings for sweets the following day
  • Depression and anxiety

Are sleeping pills the answer? Most who have experimented with prescription drugs have found that in the long term, they only worsen the problem, and greatly diminish short term memory and attentiveness the day after their ingestion. Besides, logic would dictate that it is not possible to have a deficiency of a drug, which is not part of natural body chemistry.

Sleep is a multi-system effort in the body, and a number of aspects of body chemistry and lifestyle habits need to be optimized to get our best, most uninterrupted rest. This section will deal with some of the lifestyle aspects to be aware of, and later articles will delve into the chemistry of sleep.

Sleep can be improved through:

  1. Keeping a regular schedule: Set a regular bedtime, and stick with the schedule, even on weekends. If you are used to going to bed in the wee hours of the morning, start by moving your bedtime 15 minutes earlier every couple of days until you are getting to bed early enough to reach a 7-9 hour goal.
  2. Get some sunlight on your face early in the day. Take your work breaks outside, walk the dog in the morning instead of after dark, keep the blinds open at home or work.
  3. Reduce artificial light exposures in the evening. Change out your light bulbs to lower wattages. Reduce tv and computer time in the evening–the light from these back-lit devices is especially stimulating to the nervous system and diminishes the chances of getting into restful sleep quickly. If your favorite programs come on later in the evening, they can be recorded and played at a time that they will not influence your rest.
  4.  Regulate the temperature: cooler temps lead to more restful sleep. Around 65F/18C seems optimal.
  5.  Reduce noise: in urban environments, it can be difficult to eliminate noise entirely. Some find that a fan or white noise machine helps tune out barking dogs and traffic noises effectively.
  6. Don’t eat a heavy meal right before bed: Allowing a minimum of two hours between the end of a meal and bedtime makes a difference for many, as does reducing the spicy and fatty foods, which can contribute to heartburn.
  7. Alcohol:  while it may appear to relax us, alcohol always interferes with sleep quality and frequently causes wakefulness from about 2 am onward. Minimizing alcohol use can be a great sleep aid.
  8. Caffeine: Caffeine from coffee and chocolate, and its cousin Theophylline, found in tea, can take up to 12 hours to be eliminated from the body, and should best be used early in the day, if at all, by people with insomnia.

Our next article will deal with some of the biochemical aspects of good sleep, including the link between Serotonin and body-made Melatonin.