Category Archives: Sleep

A Sleep Trick

I just read about a brilliant way to lull yourself to sleep — or back to sleep if, like me, you tend to wake up in the middle of the night.

  1. Think of a letter — either at random or start at the beginning of the alphabet.
  2. Visualize a word beginning with that letter, e.g. “apple” for A.  Don’t choose anything you’re phobic about, such as clowns, heights or spiders.
  3. Keep thinking of new words beginning with the same letter (“avocado”, “armadillo”…) and take time to picture each one.
  4. When you run out of images, move on to a new letter.
  5. Keep going until you nod off.

I tried this in the middle of the night and bored myself back to sleep in record time!

Have a great, sleep-filled weekend, and Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are mothers, about-to-be mothers, or have ever had a mother.

Beauty Round-Up

As a public service to those of you who don’t have the time, inclination, or mind-numbingly long plane flights to read magazines, here are seven items that caught my eye recently.

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  • A hot bath burns as many calories as a 30-minute walk. This one really resonates with my inner sloth.
  • Cure for cellulite? The BelleCore Body Buffer, $149, is said to reduce water retention while buffing the skin to release tension and stretch the tough tissue that holds fat cells in place, creating that dreaded dimpled effect. I’d try it myself except that 1) I’ve spent far too much money this month, and 2) my butt and thighs are already flawless. Yeah, right.
  • The Big Five ingredients we need to improve our skin:
    1. Vitamin C, the powerful antioxidant that supports healthy collagen and fights free radicals that break it down. Check the concentration; anything cheap probably has too little to be effective.
    2. Retinol, the “miracle” ingredient that fights acne, smooths and reduces wrinkles and works wonders on sun-damaged skin. Best used at night and be sure to use sunscreen daily.
    3. Hyaluronic Acid (HA), which acts like a sponge to pull moisture from the air into the skin. Caveat: In a really dry climate, it can work in reverse, so slather on a rich moisturizer on top to prevent water loss.
    4. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid increase cell turnover and inhibit enzymes that destroy collagen and elastin to treat fine lines, dullness and blackheads. Without SkinMedica’s GlyPro line, I’d probably look about 80.
    5. It may seem counterintuitive but oils work on both oily and dry skin. On oily complexions, face oil can signal the skin to stop overproducing sebum. For dry skin, layer oil over your HA serum and massage it in. Look for one that’s cold pressed (like a good olive oil) because heat can destroy its active properties.
  • A cluttered environment decreases self-control, increasing the likelihood of impulsive spending, according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research. I’m cleaning up my desk RIGHT THIS MINUTE.
  • More vitamin D correlates with longer telomeres, the protective DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes. Shortened/broken telomeres are linked to blotchy skin, grey or thinning hair, deep wrinkles and other age-related consequences. Salmon, anyone??
  • Layer skin care products in order of “heaviness”. After cleansing and drying your skin (to reduce potential irritation), pat on your serum and let it dry before you layer on anything else. Next, massage in your facial oil. Then apply a rich moisturizer to lock in hydration. Sunscreen is your final product during the day, of course.
  • Tips for growing stronger nails:
  1. File in one direction from the outside to the center on both sides, using a file with 240 to 600 grit. Never metal.
  2. Don’t peel off your gel manicure or chipped polish. But you already knew that.
  3. Dry nails are more likely to break. Rub lotion and cuticle oil in throughout the day to get blood flowing and help stimulate cell regeneration.
  4. An almond shape is the strongest.
  5. According to dermatologists, the only supplement proven to work is biotin (2.5 mg/day, but check with your own doctor). Some recommend MSM, a form of sulphur, to help bind keratin in hair and nails.
  6. It takes six months for a nail to regrow.

By the way, people who make their bed in the morning are 19% more likely to get a good night’s beauty sleep.

Stay gorgeous! xx




Scents and Sensibility

Smell is one of our most powerful senses. The scent of vanilla sparks feelings of comfort, associated since childhood with freshly baked cookies. That’s because your olfactory system is directly wired to the limbic center, the emotional “heartland” of the brain. A whiff of perfume may either remind you of something positive – say, April in Provence – or recall the unwanted memory of an ex or toxic co-worker who used to wear that brand.

As we get older, especially after age 70, our sense of smell tends to diminish. Some reasons are physiological but disease, smoking, and exposure to harmful particles in the air also play a role. Losing your sense of smell not only lessens pleasures such as eating, it can be dangerous — if, for example, you can’t smell smoke from a fire or a build-up of natural gas.clown-362155_640

By the way, “old people smell” is a real thing, and has nothing to do with cleanliness. That grassy or greasy odor, called nonenal, is a natural result of the aging process, resulting from deterioration of the skin’s antioxidant defenses. Both men and women begin producing nonenal around age 40 and hormonal changes such as menopause can make it worse. Since it isn’t water soluble, nonenal stays on the skin no matter how hard you scrub. The good news? You can reduce odor by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting plenty of rest, avoiding stress, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation.

What NOT to do? Overdoing perfume to compensate, especially if you can’t tell how much is too much!

Certain scents are known to improve your sleep, boost your mood, relieve stress and make you smarter.

LAVENDER: Cooperation and Relaxation. A bath or shower with lavender-scented gel can send you off to dreamland. A lavender room spray may “encourage” meetings to run more smoothly. (I’ve tried this, and it may be coincidence but it worked!)lavender-1117275_640

LEMON: Brain boosting. Got a big presentation? A UK study found that cognitive performance and mood improved when wearing participants rubbed lemon balm on the inside of their wrists.lemon-1117568_640

ORANGE: Stress, Anxiety, Digestion. Citrus aromas are often useful for curbing stress and anxiety, as well as helping with nausea and digestion. Massage therapists and acupuncturists at the Mayo Clinic augment therapies with mandarin essential oil. Could work for you, too!orange-15046_640

ROSE: Anxiety. From calming the nervous system to improving mental strength, inhaling a rose scent produces an anti-anxiety effect similar to diazepam.

rose-113735_640SANDALWOOD: De-Stressing. Recent studies have confirmed that this traditional meditative aid and natural sedative also reduces anxiety.

VANILLA: Mood Improvement. There’s a reason we find it so soothing. Scientists have found that this warm, sweet scent activates the limbic system in our brains, conjuring restful emotions and relieving stress and anxiety.

JASMINE: Sleep. This scent increases brain waves associated with deep sleep. That can mean a more restful night and greater alertness the following day.flower-363278_640

GRAPEFRUIT – The Multi-Tasker Studies have shown the women wearing a grapefruit scent were perceived to be much younger than their chronological age. Other evidence suggests that the aroma can help curb depression and enhance memory. And researchers at Osaka University in Japan found that sniffing grapefruit reduces food cravings and boosts metabolism. Maybe that’s why that “grapefruit diet” has been so popular!grapefruit-1647688_640

A few tips about candlescandle-1039538_640

Do you love scented candles, but hate the way they sink down in the middle or leave dark marks on your container or wall? There’s a simple explanation: If the wick gets too long, the flame produces black smoke and the glass your candle’s in can overheat.

Here’s how to get the most from your expensive candles:

  • BURN IT EVENLY: The first time you light your candle, let it burn for two hours to ensure that the top is entirely melted and then put it out. Any hardened wax around the sides will tunnel downwards the next time you light it.
  • TRIM THE WICK: Use a wick trimmer to keep the wick short – only a few millimeters in length.
  • CENTER THE WICK: When you put out the candle (and while the wax is still liquid) re-center the wick. This will prevent it from blackening the container the next time you light it.
  • FIX TUNNELING: If a tunnel begins to form, burn the candle for 30 minutes until the edges are soft, then put it out. Allow the wax to cool a bit; then gently push it down with your finger. Re-light and allow the candle to burn for one to two hours to level the wax.

9 Quick Sleep Tips

If you’re finding sleep a bit elusive these days, here are some tips I’ve collected this week.

In no particular order:

  1. Have a small amount of milk or plain yogurt before bedtime. The proteins are soothing and will keep you from waking up hungry.
  2. Turn the thermometer down to 66.2 degrees F, which is apparently the optimal sleep temperature.
  3. Read something relaxing for 30 minutes to calm your brain.
  4. Lower all lights as soon as the sun goes down to jumpstart the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, as soon as possible.
  5. Do some yoga stretches and deep breathing – you can even do these in bed.
  6. Drink a cup of South African red rooibos tea before bedtime. Its medicinal properties are believed to improve restfulness.
  7. Sniff mint every two hours. Peppermint is said to be calming.
  8. Keep a sleep diary to note your natural patterns. It may be perfectly normal for you to take an hour break in the middle of the night as long as you fall asleep again, so don’t let it stress you out.
  9. Drink Montmorency tart cherry juice a couple of times a day. It’s packed with sleep-inducing melatonin as well as antioxidants. In a 2012 study, subjects who drank it for seven days had higher levels of melatonin as well as improved sleep.


Pillow Talk

Did you know that by the time your pillow is two years old, half its weight may be comprised of dust mites and skin cells, along with mold or mildew? YUCK. That disgusting fact alerted me that it’s time to replace our pillows. You too? First, I decided to do a little research—and save you the trouble!

Pillows affect sleep quality and how well we rest/recharge. Experts warn that the wrong pillow may contribute to neck and lower back pain, sneezing, and arm or shoulder soreness. Here’s a quick way to see if yours is past its prime:

Do a fluff test. A fluffy pillow means that fresh air can travel through it, which provides better cushioning and support. Fold your pillow in half to see if it unfolds on its own within 30 seconds.

Mine are definitely sluggish. That seals the deal: it’s time to go shopping!

I asked my chiropractor, who treats my chronic neck and shoulder stiffness, what to consider. He explained that you want to sleep with your head in neutral alignment, i.e., not leaning too far forward or back. The key is matching your pillow to your sleep position, which may mean that you and your partner need different types:

Back Sleepers need medium support. If the pillow’s too thick it pushes your head too far forward. If it’s too soft, your head sinks down to the mattress. Extra thickness and firmness in the bottom third will cushion your neck, and a pillow you can smoosh around lets you find the right level of comfort.

Side Sleepers need a firm or super firm pillow to help support the neck. A thicker pillow provides an even sleeping surface to help keep your head, neck and shoulders in a horizontal line.

Stomach Sleepers may not even want a pillow. If you do, choose one that’s soft and fairly flat to keep your neck in line with your spine and prevent extreme turning to either side. Placing a pillow under your stomach may help avoid lower back pain.

Mixed Sleepers (that’s me): People who shift sleeping positions during the night do well with a medium-thick pillow you can move around. If you usually wind up on your stomach, go softer.

Confirm your preferred position:

  1. When you’re about to fall asleep, spend a few minutes in different positions to see which feels most comfortable. If you lie on your back for a half hour and don’t nod off, for example, chances are that’s not your favorite.
  2. Notice your position when you wake up, and keep a list so you can compare over a few days.

Fill ‘er Up: There’s a seemingly endless variety of materials and terminology. Some experts suggest having a pillow “wardrobe” to meet different needs, but that can get awfully expensive. If you generally prefer a soft pillow but suffer from occasional neck pain, try using a travel or throw pillow to add extra support.

Down: Soft, lightweight and lofty, down—the inner plumage of ducks and geese—is the most luxurious of all fills and often the most expensive. “Loft” refers to the height of a pillow when it lies flat; i.e., low loft is thin and high is thick. “Firm” is industry-speak for compact while “plush” is pillow talk for cushier. If you want one that’s tall and squishy, for instance, pick “high loft, plush.” “Low loft, firm” will be thinner and more dense.

A natural insulator, down is resilient, breathable, can be moved around to give you support where you need it, and lasts longer than synthetic fills. The best pillows are supposed to last ten years. However, if you’re going to replace them after two years anyway, why spend a ton?

Fill power measures the volume of a single ounce of down, and more down equals more comfort and insulation. Look for fill power of at least 500. Below that level, the fill may contain a lot of feathers or small, damaged down clusters that won’t stay fluffy.

Feather vs. Down/Feather: Feather pillows aren’t as soft as down, and quills can poke through the fabric. A 50/50 mix is a better bet: it combines the softness of down with the firmness and springy support of feathers. Use pillow protectors to avoid getting jabbed!

Note: I’ve read that there’s no scientific evidence that down or feather pillows exacerbate allergies or asthma but there are lots of synthetic options if you don’t want to take a chance or have ethical concerns.

Down Alternative Fill is made of synthetic or natural fibers designed to mimic the luxurious feeling of down at a lower price. Brand names include Primaloft® and Down-Free™.

Like down alternative, synthetic fills such as polyester are hypoallergenic and machine washable.

Made from polyethylene and other chemicals, memory foam is a dense, sponge-like material that continually molds and adjusts to your head and neck. Pillows come in various shapes and offer good support, especially if you have issues with your neck, shoulder or spine.

New memory foam usually has a chemical odor, which may give you a headache. Before putting them on your bed, let the pillows air out for a few days in another room. Memory foam pillows don’t “breathe” and tend to retain heat. They’re best if you don’t move around a lot since they won’t adapt quickly to a different position.

Foam: Look for higher density to reduce breakdown and maintain support.

Latex pillows, made from the sap of rubber trees, are firm, elastic, resilient and come in different shapes. Latex resists mold and dust mites and may improve back and neck alignment, as pillows are often contoured for neck support. They stay cooler than memory foam but don’t have as much “give”, and they tend to be heavy as well as expensive.

Wool and cotton pillows aren’t susceptible to mold and dust mites so they’re another option for allergy sufferers. They’re generally quite firm—not the best choice if you’re a stomach sleeper or like a squooshy pillow.

Specialty pillows, designed for specific needs, may be helpful but research is inconclusive and they’re often costly. Caveat emptor!

  • Cervical pillows have extra cushioning in the bottom for neck support.
  • Water pillows can be customized for density and support, so they’re often recommended by chiropractors and physical therapists.
  • Cool pillows may be helpful for hot flashes and night sweats.
  • Oxygen-promoting pillows claim to increase oxygen in the blood by up to 29% to help you breathe more deeply.
  • Anti-snore pillows are designed to lift the chin to keep airways open. Worth a try if your significant other is keeping you awake!
  • Positional pillows claim to help people with sleep apnea stay in an ideal position and reduce tossing and turning during the night.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • More expensive isn’t necessarily better.
  • Higher thread count (minimum 300; experts recommend 500-800) means a pillow will feel plusher and be more durable.
  • Try before you buy. If you can’t lie down in the store (and don’t mind looking a little weird!) stand next to a wall in your usual sleep position with your head against the pillow, and ask someone to check if your head is tilting one way or another. It should align with your spine.

I’m dreaming of a good night’s sleep with some fresh, new pillowzzzzz!



Perchance to Dream

FullSizeRender(5)As I was tossing and turning the other night, I started thinking about how sleep has become the Holy Grail for a lot of people our age.

Whether it’s the result of menopause, stressing about retirement, anxiety over your kid’s latest relationship, or the fettucine alfredo you knew you shouldn’t have eaten, getting your zzz’s can be a challenge.

So I started reading (yep, at 3 a.m.) about tips for a better night’s rest. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Don’t exercise right before bedtime (unless it’s sex-ercise, which will knock you out faster than Muhammad Ali). Working out raises your body temperature and being cool, not hot, helps you sleep more soundly. (Exercising earlier in the day on a regular basis helps tire you out by bedtime.)
  1. Don’t watch TV, use your computer or check e-mail right before bed. Blue light from these screens signals your brain to shut off melatonin production – that’s the sleep hormone – and messes with your circadian rhythms, your normal sleep/wake body clock.
  1. Keep your bedroom cool and dark – add shades or curtains or wear a comfy sleep mask to shut out the light.
  1. Use a humidifier to avoid getting congested.
  1. Insomniacs secrete more cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone our bodies release when we’re stressed. One way to shut down obsessive thoughts? Make your to-do list or write down stuff that’s bothering you an hour or so before bedtime. Rub your neck, arms and shoulders when you get into bed and take some deep, calming breaths to help relax.

Another trick that seems to work is to eat a little peanut butter on whole wheat toast or crackers an hour before bed. Apparently the combination of complex carbs and protein provides enough fuel to keep you from waking up hungry, but isn’t hard to digest. Plus, it boosts levels of feel-good serotonin.

Sweet dreams, my friends!