Monday, November 25, 2013

12 Steps to Defeat Depression: Mind-Body Medicine Part 2

            In this post we’re continuing with our Mind-Body Medicine to defeat depression. In the last post, I covered Biofeedback, Guided Imagery, Meditation and Muscle Relaxation.
            Today we’ll delve into Music Therapy, Pilates, Relaxed Breathing and Tai Chi.


Music therapy was first recognized as a bonafide treatment when musicians treated injured United States military personnel. It’s used in a variety of ways to improve mental and physical health. Patients may listen to a particular piece of music and then discuss how it affects them. It can also be used to achieve a state of relaxation. Studies have shown that music therapy improves students’ sleep quality and reduces pre-exam anxiety.

(My choice of music can relax my overactive mind and helps me concentrate on the subject at hand, or energize me. I select the genre and tempo based on my mood or activity. Music has always been an integral part of my life. Without it, I feel a potent void and stagnant.)

Music therapy can revive your spirit, get you up and moving, and, for some people, actually reduce pain and suffering.

So don’t forget about music as an important part of your healing process. It can be combined with other treatments, like visualization, to optimize and enhance results.
It can improve mood, reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety. And some anti-depressant medications actually work better with music therapy!


Pilates is a low-impact exercise program developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s. Its aim is to strengthen the body’s core muscle groups. And research does show that people who practice it do increase their strength.

The goal of Pilates is quality rather then quantity, so you may perform only several, repeated exercises during a session.

Pilates studio membership, which give you a personal, trained Pilates instructor, can be expensive, so I’d recommend first getting a DVD of Pilates floor exercises you can follow at home and then decide if it’s something you can and want to pursue.

Although little research has been conducted on Pilates to determine how it affects mental health, I give it a thumbs up for several reasons:

1) It promotes and improves strength and balance;

2) It can give you a sense of body control and awareness (always a positive to the brain); and,

3) You use your body weight for resistance. (That usually results in fewer injuries, if your movements are smooth and controlled.)


Before you read any further, stop to notice how you’re breathing. Is it shallow or deep and full? When you inhale does your tummy expand, or are you a “chest breather?” 
(Hint: Your tummy should expand. J )

Short, shallow, rapid breathing—which is usually caused by tension, stress or anxiety— doesn’t allow you to fill your lungs with oxygen. Without adequate oxygen intake, your blood gets very little of the life-giving and sustaining oxygen to transport to your body tissues or brain. So everything ends up running on a deficit. That translates to sluggish metabolism, dull thinking, possible headaches and depressed mood.

So shallow breathing means stagnant air breathing. You always have a residual volume of stale air sitting in your lungs that you’re unable to push out. When you breathe deeply, you leave only a small amount of that stale air in your lungs; when your breath is shallow, you leave a large amount of it in there. That means fresh, oxygenated air can’t get in!

And when you’re breathing in a rapid, shallow manner, as you do under stress, that actually sustains an elevated heart rate, perspiration and blood pressure.

How it’s done

First, inhale. With mouth closed, relax your shoulders and inhale slowly and deeply to the count of six to ten. Your abdomen should expand. (Don’t be surprised if the first few times you do this you have some discomfort as your tissues expand. They’ll get used to it after several attempts.)

Second, hold. Hold the air in your lungs and count to four.

Next, exhale. Count to six as you slowly release the air through your nose. (We used to have patients exhales through their mouths, but research shows it’s best to exhale through your nose to keep the respiratory tissues moist and to cool the brain.)

Finally, repeat the process five times. Try to perform these exercises twice a day.
Relaxed breathing is a must-do activity if you want to optimize your health along with receiving a host of additional benefits. It’s easy, free and can be performed anywhere. It bathes the tissues in oxygenated, healing blood, which means good stuff gets in and bad stuff can be transported out!

TAI CHI (TAI-chee)

Sometimes described as “meditation in motion” this Chinese-origin activity was originally developed as a form of self-defense 2000 years ago.

I like it because no matter what your age, you can see benefits of decreased depression, increased balance, (especially helpful for older adults), high blood pressure management, anxiety reduction, increased aerobic capacity and improved sleep. It’s slow and gentle, with little to no negative side effects. (The only negative ones may come in the beginning if you overdue a stretch or twist.)

The smooth, continuous, flowing movements will take a little time to learn, but it’s low impact, safe, and can be performed almost anywhere. One of the best locations is outside! (I had my first Tai chi lesson on a beach in Mexico. It was delightful!)

If you don’t want to join a class, get a DVD to watch and learn. I do recommend that you initially practice your movements in front of a mirror so you can check your form and body positions. For some internal, unbalanced reason, I always had my right arm lifted higher than my right, and I couldn’t “feel” that mistake.

For an activity that reduces stress, increases flexibility, improves muscle strength and definition, increases energy, stamina and agility, and takes your mind off your problems, it’s hard to beat.

Have fun trying out these activities and adding them to your depression fighting toolbox! And let me know how it goes.

For my United States readers, have a blessed, THANKFUL, Thanksgiving! And Happy Hanukkah to those lighting the first menorah light! We won’t see this combination of Thanksgiving and first day of Hanukkah again until the year 79, 811! Blessings to all, as we remember God’s goodness to all of us! 

If you'd like to learn more about the Thanksgiving-Hanukkah connection (as well as the connection to Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles) go to and read the following articles: "The Hanukkah—Thanksgiving Connection: Who Knew" on their front page, and "A Three-in-One Festival" found in their November newsletter. Click on their "Publications" tab then "Newsletter."


NEXT WEEK: More Mind-Body Medicine: Yoga, playtime, down time, connecting time, and focus time.

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!



Monday, November 18, 2013

12 Steps to Defeat Depression: Mind-Body Medicine Part 1

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

            “So what exactly is mind-body medicine?”
            I’m so glad you asked!
            In a nutshell, it’s an aspect of integrative medicine that helps you control your physical and emotional responses to the world around you.
            Mind-Body Medicine has been defined by Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Amit Sood as “a program that will help train your attention and refine your interpretations so that your attention becomes focused and strong…”
            The Center for Mind Body Medicine defines it as medicine that “focuses on the interactions between mind and body and the powerful ways in which emotional. mental, social and spiritual factors can directly affect health.”
            As I keep repeating, the brain is connected to the body, and vice versa, so if we want to have overall, optimal health we must stop ignoring this critical fact and think more along the lines of being whole body connected.
            The take-home point is: “You might be taking care of your body but what about your mind?” 

            Maybe you aren’t taking care of your mind, or paying much attention to it outside of knowing what you’re thinking or worrying about at any given moment. Many of us know it’s up there, somewhere above our shoulders, but some of us don’t know what to do with it. Instead of trying to take some measure of control over it, we’re more likely to let it control us—rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, anger, frustration, depression, fear and all!

           As Dr. Sood goes on to say, “Impressive advances in neuroscience research have brought to our attention a startling and exciting discovery—the mind can change the brain.”
            Our brain can be soothed and more completely engaged. We can become more resilient, happier, more thoughtful and purposeful or intentional. (Remember the neuroplasticity I described in a previous blog?)

            Many of these activities I learned ages ago as an undergraduate and grad student. I’ve tried them, applied them, researched them and know they work—when you practice them properly and faithfully. (Where I have doubts and concerns, I’ll point that out too.)
            There are 11 I’m going to address. So let’s get started today on the first four: Biofeedback, Guided Imagery, Meditation, and Muscle Relaxation.


Physical therapists, athletic trainers, coaches and psychiatrists have used this technique for years. Exactly what is this technique that’s been effective in 150 medical conditions?

Biofeedback is used to help your mind control your body. But just what in your body are you trying to control?

You’re trying to control involuntary (reflexive) responses: blood pressure, muscle tension and heart rate. My physical therapist is using it on me to help control abdominal and pelvic muscle tension. And, a lot of tension translates into pain. It takes work, but I’m seeing rapid, positive results, which means less pain!

How does biofeedback work?
Electrical sensors are placed on different body parts/areas. (I won’t tell you where my PT places the sensors on me right now!) These sensors then give you audio or visual feedback on your heart rate or how much muscular tension you have in that particular body part.

Then you’re taught how to “feel” the tension, cause the tension to occur (through contractions), and then release it. I used to make it a game in class. And I got really good at. I still lower my breath, heart rate and blood pressure using this technique.

You learn to recognize exactly where you “hold” tension in your body. When you encounter stressful situations outside the treatment clinic, you recognize the tension and are more able to control and overcome it.

If you’re interested in giving this a try, find a trained biofeedback therapist in your area. You shouldn’t go at this alone, unless you want to snag a book at your local library and try it without the feedback bells and whistles. You won’t do any harm trying it this way. 

Guided Imagery

Think of a personally pleasing scene, vision, or pleasant memory, imagine yourself plunked down in the middle of it, engage all 5 senses to “experience” this intentional daydream, and you’re engaged in guided imagery, or visualization!

Try laughing or smiling during your visualization exercise and notice the relaxed, happy (or happier), and contented feeling you’re experiencing. That’s those happy hormones (endorphins) being released into your body, just like they’re released during exercise or crying.  Mayo Clinic calls it “an important tool in treating a variety of health problems.” (If you want to give the smiling or laughing affect a try, go ahead and smile or laugh right now, as you’re reading this, and see what kind of feelings that result.)

This is what else Mayo has to say about it: “Researchers using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning have found that the same parts of the brain are activated when people are imaging something as when they’re actually experiencing it. For example, when someone imagines a serene image, the optic cortex is activated in the same way as when the person is actually seeing the beautiful vista. Vivid imagery sends messages from the cerebral cortex to the lower brain, including the limbic system, the emotional control center of the brain. From there the message is relayed to the endocrine and the autonomic nervous systems, which affect a wide range of bodily functions, including heart, expiration rates, and blood pressure.”

How’s It Done?
First: Relax Put on loose, comfortable clothing and sit or lie in a comfortable, quiet spot. Start with deep, slow breaths in and out through your nose. It’s important that you have no distractions, so leave your cell phone in another room and put an “I’m Visualizing Right Now” sign on your closed door!

Second: Breathe
Now really concentrate on your breathing. Fill up your lungs and pay attention to the stress leaving your body when you exhale. Think of exhaling your stress away. Don’t allow random, distracting or negative thoughts to permeate your mind or interfere. (This will undoubtedly occur, but it will get better or easier to control with each session.) When you’re done dispelling thoughts, return to focusing on your breathing.

Next: Visualize
Now comes the fun part! Intentionally choose a desired image and focus on it. It could be an event, location or person. If your mind wanders, bring your focus back with a slow, deep breath. (If you have difficulty conjuring up a scene, choose a pleasing photograph or picture to look at.)

Finally: Affirm.
Select a positive word or phrase to connect to your vision. This will serve to create a positive image that will be stored by your brain, easily recalled later, and provide your brain and emotions with positive thoughts and feelings. Attaching a word to your feelings “may help to engage both sides of your brain.”

One of my favorite places to visualize is Waikiki Beach, hearing the waves crash onto the beach, envisioning the moonlight on the water, holding my husband’s hand as we stroll along the beach at night. The scene in my mind becomes so real to me that I feel I'm back there. 

I've also been conjuring up images of my precious cat, Tibbs, who breathed his last breath this past Monday. Even though it was a horrifically painful day, and Chris and I shed buckets of tears over the loss of our little furry family member, bringing up pleasant, joyful memories and images of him have soothed our souls and helped us in our grief. Lying on the floor, I can almost feel the weight of his warm body on my chest, the silken fur beneath my stroking fingertips, the rumble of his purr in my ears. It slows my breathing and brings a content smile to my face. Writing a story about something funny he did—at the suggestion of my friend, Judy—brings laughter and healing to my hurting heart and soul.    

And, odd as it sounds—for those of you reading this blog because you’ve lost a baby—envisioning, "feeling" or remembering the baby kicks my daughter Victoria treated me with in utero now bring a smile to my face. It may be too soon after your loss to do that one— without breaking down into hysterical sobs—but there will come a time when it can produce a smile.


Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “to meditate” as: “to spend time in quiet thought for religious purposes or relaxation.”

Other definitions include: to engage in contemplation or reflection; to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness; to focus one’s thoughts on, to reflect or ponder over; to plan or project in the mind.

One of mediation’s many synonyms is “to chew over” which is what its definition is in the Bible, when we’re told to meditate on God’s word. We’re being told to chew on it, like an animal chewing its cud, regurgitating it over and over; or to work on it like a lion shredding its prey so we can possess it, understand it, be changed by it.

How To Start
Like Guided Imagery, meditation begins with a quiet place, controlled breathing, and dispelling distracting thoughts. Then choose a word or verse on which to concentrate.
When I’m sitting on the floor of my bedroom’s sitting room, in front of a lighted candle that emits a subtle scent of hyacinth, and which is carved into a shape that reminds me of God, my favorite thing to concentrate on is actually a person.

When I repeat the name, “Jesus,” and think of all of His beautiful attributes, my heart, body and mind are filled with joy, peace and love. (A mind-and-body-transforming, heavenly love.) I’m brought to a state of physical relaxation, mental calmness, alertness, (yes, you can simultaneously be calm, relaxed and alert!), and psychological balance. These are all benefits of meditation! (Concentrating on and repeating a word from Scripture also gives me the same effect.)

So, when people tell you that in meditation you need to first “empty your mind,” that’s not necessarily true. (At least it shouldn’t be.) You need to first lay aside distractions and banish those from sneaking in your mind’s door, then intentionally choose that which you will allow in to that delicate, impressionable space.

You don’t want to just empty your mind and then allow any old thought to come in. You want to think deliberately, try to gain control over your thoughts.

Meditation has received rave reviews by researchers because it’s been shown to reduce anxiety, reduce blood pressure, improve attention, improve sleep, decrease chronic pain, improve blood sugar level control, and decrease job burnout. At the very least, it helps you manage a hectic, stressful life!

(I’ve also achieved great results from just concentrating on my breathing for meditation. Often that activity alone puts me to sleep at bedtime.)  

If you desire a meditation training aid, like directions or music-to-mediate-by, go to and search for “mediation.” Or simply google, Mayo Clinic Meditation. That will lead you to videos, tablet and smart phone apps.

Progressive Relaxation Therapy

I love this one! It’s easy, quick and helps reduce depression, anxiety, muscle tension, stress, panic disorder, high blood pressure and improves concentration. (Now who among us depression sufferers doesn’t need that!)

Getting Started
First, choose a chair or floor in a quiet place and remove your glasses or contacts and loosen any tight clothing. Remove your shoes.

Starting with your feet, deliberately tense the muscles and hold the tension for 5 seconds. Then slowly relax the muscles and keep them relaxed for 30 seconds. Feel the tension leave the muscles as you relax.

Repeat this tense-and-hold one more time with your feet and then move up to the legs (calf area). Repeat the 5 seconds of tensing and follow with the 30 seconds of relaxation two times, as you did with your feet. Then move up to the thighs, pelvis, abdomen, chest, hands, forearms, arms, neck, face and head, following the same 5-second tense and 30-second relaxation structure.

Aim for a 10-minute session. Muscle Relaxation can be done anywhere. It helps reduce stress and relax the mind in seconds! It’s also often used in conjunction with Biofeedback.

Have fun trying these mind-body exercises out! Be consistent and persevere. Discover which ones work for you. I think you’ll be pleased with the positive effects you’ll receive, and they’ll become an integral part of your depression-fighting medicine toolbox! If you have any questions about or difficulty with them, please don’t hesitate to ask by responding in the reply box or sending me an email at:

NEXT WEEK: Fighting depression with Music Therapy, Pilates Relaxed Breathing and Tai Chi.

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!



(Some information and quotes for this post were taken from Mayo Clinic Guide to Alternative Medicine, published by Time Home Entertainment.)


Monday, November 11, 2013

12 Steps to Defeat Depression: Sleep!

Regardless of the cause of your depression, it won’t automatically go away on its own. It can, however, be effectively controlled by treatment and often by lifestyle changes.
One symptom of depression is insomnia or sleep difficulties. Conversely, insomnia or sleeping problems can cause depression, so it can be a difficult issue to diagnose and tackle. Studies indicate that you’re at a higher risk of developing depression if you have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
         Some of the symptoms include:
         ~ difficulty falling asleep
         ~ difficulty staying asleep
         ~ poor sleep that leaves you feeling tired upon waking
         ~ feeling sleepy during the day

In addition, if you are pregnant, recently given birth or have hormonal fluctuation, you may have difficulty sleeping and may be have a higher risk of suffering depression.

And if you are in a period of grief, you will most likely experience some type of depression that accompanies sleep disturbances.
Treatment for sleep problems can be a critical part of depression therapy. To help you and your doctor or therapist with your treatment, make sure you keep a detailed sleep diary or journal for at least two weeks. Knowing your sleep patterns and specific problems will help you get the best diagnosis and treatment.

What Kind of Damage Can Impaired Sleep Do?
Impaired sleep can:
~ Severely weaken your ability to fight disease
~ Increase rate of tumor growth and decrease your body’s cancer-fighting
~ Contribute to a pre-diabetic condition
~ Seriously affect your memory by impairing it (Just one night of sleep
   deprivation—only 4-6 hours of sleep—can impact your ability to think
   clearly the following day.)
~ Negatively affect your physical and mental task performance. Of course,
   if you’re suffering from depression, you’ve already noticed impairment 
    in these areas. Lack of sleep only worsens it.

Can You Catch Up on Your Sleep?
Unfortunately, no, you can’t. As one doctor said, “Lost sleep is lost forever.” And worse news is that when you lose sleep night after night, it has an accumulative effect on you.

What’s The Optimal Amount of Sleep?
Recent research indicates 7-9 hours of sleep a night for adults is optimal. Some people do all right on 6-8. Children and teens need much more. Unfortunately, our society and school system isn’t set up to provide them optimal sleep.

So What Can You Do to Improve Your Sleep—Naturally?

Exercise Regularly and Not Too Late in the Evening!!
Yes, I’m back to exercise and can’t say enough good things about it. Thirty minutes a day improves your sleep. Exercising in the morning gets your body charged and working efficiently. This helps you metabolize well and make sure your body’s humming along nicely. Then you’ll be all ready for a good, efficient night’s sleep.

Exercise too close to bedtime, and you may be wide-eyed well past your bed time. Some professionals say nothing past 7:00 PM, but you’ll need to personally judge what time is best to call it quits.

Sleep in Complete Darkness or as Nearly Dark a Room as Possible
Any kind of light filtering into your room disrupts your body’s ability to produce melatonin and serotonin, chemicals that make you fall asleep or feel relaxed. Even the alarm clock glow can disrupt your sleep. So cover your windows with drapes or blinds that have blackout backing. The tiniest amounts of light entering your optic nerve can signal your body that it’s time to get up and get going!

If you can’t get your room dark enough, put on those sexy eye covers you used to see starlets wearing in movies. But make sure the elastic isn’t too tight around your head. That can cause pressure and headaches!

Sleep in Optimal Room Temperature
When my son Parker had a bout of croup at the age of three, the first thing I did was take him out into the cool, humid coastal night air while Chris got the car ready to take him to the hospital. At the hospital, the nurse told me to never set your thermostat above 68 degrees at night, that anything above that negatively affects your respiratory system because the dry heat coming from your heating system dries out your respiratory tissues, making it difficult to breathe. (That’s one way to disrupt your sleep!)
Well, it turns out that studies show that the optimal temperature for sleeping is between 60-68 degrees. Anything hotter or cooler can cause you to have a restless sleep. Your body’s natural temperature drops about four hours after you fall asleep. Keeping it warmed up may interrupt relaxation and disrupt sleep. So drop that thermostat and sleep easier.

Get Those Electronic Devices Away Form Your Bed!
Move those lighted alarm clocks. The optimal distance is 3 feet.

Avoid Using Loud Alarms to Wake Up
They’re too stressful to the system. You don’t want your body jolted awake. Check out using a sun alarm that combines all the gadgets you want with a special light that gradually increases in intensity, just like the sunrise.

Stop Watching Television, Working on Your Computer or Texting in Bed!
These activities can make it hard for you to drift off to sleep. Watching television or working on your computer or texting on your phone before sleep makes it difficult to fall asleep because these activities stimulate the brain. Your brain needs to know that when you’re in your bed it’s time for sleep, not crunching away on your electronic devices. Television disrupts your pineal gland, which produces melatonin, that all-important sleep hormone!

Separate Bedroom, Anyone?
Because my husband is a snorer, sometimes I think that my grandparents’ idea of sleeping in separate bedrooms wasn’t such bad idea! And recent studies suggest that sleeping with a partner may significantly disrupt your sleep. (And don’t let the pet in your bed either!) It’s drastic, but if your sleep is severely hampered by your spouse, seriously consider this alternative. Or at least try it.

Have a Bedtime Ritual
Having a bedtime ritual signals your brain that bedtime is approaching and helps it to settle down for rest.

Get to Bed as Early as Possible
Different researchers suggest that your body does most of its recharging between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM and that the liver does its cleansing between 1:00 M and 3:00 AM. The catch is that you need to be asleep for those things to occur. Consider going to bed soon after sunset, just like in the olden days, and just like most animals do. I firmly believe it’s what God intended for our bodies to function optimally.

Don’t Keep Altering Your Bedtime
Don’t have a work-week-wakeup time and a weekend-wakeup time. Get your body into a sleep rhythm. Constantly flipping back and forth makes it difficult for your body to get in a healthy sleep—wake groove.

Just Like You Do With Your Kids, Establish a Bedtime Routine
Wash, brush your teeth, pray, meditate, do deep breathing exercises, stretch lightly take a warm bath or shower or indulge in a massage just prior to going to sleep. Find something that helps you unwind and release the day’s tensions. A warm bath or shower raises your body temperature. Then, when you exit the shower or tub, your temperature drops. This is a signal to the body that it’s bedtime and actually helps you fall sleep. (When we get to integrative medicine, I’ll give you more great activities that trigger relaxation!)

Take Your Last Drink of Water (or any fluid) Two Hours Before Bedtime
That will decrease your chances of having to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. (My urologist actually told me no beverages after 7:00 PM, so you might try the earlier time if nighttime voiding is a problem for you.)

No Large, Full Meals After 7:00 PM or Within Three Hours of Bedtime
You need to reduce the load on your digestive system before retiring to bed, and three hours before bedtime is the optimal time, especially if you’re suffering from Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD.

Eat a High-Protein Snack Several Hours Before Bedtime
Protein, like a nice slice of turkey breast, will give you the L-tryptophan that triggers sleep through melatonin and serotonin production. Adding a small piece of fruit to it will help the L-tryptophan get into the brain.

A neuroscientist told us at a recent lecture that eating a banana or drinking a warm glass of milk just prior to bed works well too. (That was my nightly ritual for years as a kid.) Sometimes a small spoonful of peanut butter does the trick.

No Snacks Before Bed, Particularly Grains and Carbohydrates
They’ll likely raise your blood sugar and postpone sleep. Then, when your blood sugar crashes, you’ll most likely wake up and have difficulty returning to sleep. Consuming sugar just prior to bed usually causes problems for me, and then I have a horrible time returning to sleep.

Wear Socks to Bed
Your feet have the poorest circulation than any other body part, and when they get cold, that can cause sleep disruption. A study has shown that sock wearers have less night waking. (My husband disagrees with this one, because his feet are always hot, so you’ll have to try it and see how you respond! Personally, I’m a sleep-with-socks-on devotee.)

 Put That Work Away At Least An Hour Prior to Bedtime
This gives your brain a chance to unwind so you can relax and prepare for bed.

Listen to Relaxation CDs
Some people like the sound of crashing waves, Celtic flutes, forest winds or white noise to stimulate sleep. See what works for you. In college, I often went to sleep with a love song playing. Drove my roommate nuts.

Read Something Spiritual or Uplifting
Keep the mysteries, suspense or detective novels for wide-awake time. They stimulate the brain too much.

Writing in a journal may help you unload your stressful thoughts and better prepare you for sleep. It may also get your brain wired up by replaying the day’s negative events. Try it to see if it works. If it worsens your go-to-sleep ability, journal at another time. 

What If You Can’t Fall Asleep After Going to Bed?
If after ½ hour you’re still staring at the ceiling, get out of bed, go into a quiet room and read until you feel sleepy. DON’T watch TV!

Watch Out for Any Drugs You’re Taking!
Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can disrupt sleep, so be careful about taking, or combining them. Always check with your doctor, or, better yet, your pharmacist, especially if you’re having sleep problems.

Put Down That Cup of Caffeine!
Once again, you really need to limit your caffeine intake. Some people, like me, don’t metabolize it well and are left feeling wired and shaky long after they finish the last drop.

And pay attention to the sources of your caffeine. It’s found in coffee, tea and chocolate (the darker the chocolate the higher the levels of it). If I’ve had more than one cup of coffee during the day, I’m wide-awake at 2:00 AM. And if I add processed sugar to it, it’s even worse.

So, only one cup of coffee a day, and no caffeinated coffee after 3:00 PM. And if you’re suffering sleep deprivation, try to skip it all together. And that means no more Red Bull or caffeine-infused power drinks!! I’m serious about this. For many reasons besides sleep disruption, they are horrible for your health!

Skip the Alcohol
Yes, alcohol does make you drowsy, but as soon as that effect wears off, you’re wide awake and unable to get back to sleep. Alcohol also keeps you from entering that critical Rapid Eye Movement sleep that recharges and repairs the brain.

Skip The Ambien
At a recent brain science symposium I attended, the instructor told us that the sleep aid Ambien should be avoided. Even though it doesn’t cause dependence, after two days it can cause sleep disturbances and nightmares. So try everything else you can before resorting to this, or any other sleep aid drug.

Avoid Foods That Cause You Problems
Remember that food journal I asked you to keep in an earlier blog post? Well, keep working on it to determine if you have any food sensitivities.
For example: When I eat inflammatory foods, my arthritis flares up and wakes me up in the middle of the night. The pain makes it difficult for me to return to sleep. If I disciplined myself to not cave in and eat them, I’d be much better off and have a better night. Know what ails you, and avoid it!

Lose Any Excess Weight You’re Carrying Around
Now we’re back to diet and nutrition again. But being overnight can affect breathing and increase your risk of sleep apnea.

Keep Naps to a Minimum
If you have to nap, make sure you start napping around 1:00-1:30 PM, nap only for 15 minutes to 1 ½ hours, and don’t start napping after 3:00 PM. The 15 minutes is really just a cat nap, but it can do wonders for the energy system.

Research does indicate that naps are beneficial to older adults, so they get a pass on longer naps, like the hour-and-a-half kind. My mom doesn’t miss hers, and she’ll be 92 in four weeks!

Increase Your Melatonin
You can buy over-the-counter melatonin supplements, but the best way to increase it is by getting out in the sunlight, or using full-spectrum light bulbs in the winter. Melatonin supplements have been shown to increase sleepiness and help you fall asleep rapidly. It also decreases restlessness and helps decrease that daytime drowsiness.
         Warning: The long-term effects of melatonin are unknown. Use it
          carefully, as you would any other sleep aid. Do not use it long 
          term,and use it only under your doctor’s. Do NOT use it along 
          with any other sleep aid.

Get Your Thyroid and Hormone Levels Checked
If these are disrupted, they can cause sleep disturbances and unusual fatigue or jitteriness.

Get Into Bright Light as Soon as Possible in the Morning
Get up, get ready, and get out of the house, even if it’s just for a walk. There’s nothing like fresh air and sunshine to get the system up and working. It will have positive effects for you throughout the day and well into the night. Even if you don’t feel like it, get out of your jammies and head for the door, even if you just manage to walk down the driveway and back.

Identifying the cause of your sleep problems and depression is critical to your health and recovery. It’s when you are sleeping that you are healing and rebuilding protein. Sleep, exercise and nutrition are the BIG THREE to optimal health.

Start slowly, keep that sleep journal, make changes slowly and keep track of the benefits, which may take several days to severalweeks.

I pray that all of you suffering from sleep problems will soon have more restful nights!


NEXT WEEK: We’ll begin Fighting Depression with Mind-Body Medicine.

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!



 An important note: If you are suffering from depression and sleep problems, make sure you tell your doctor about your sleep issues. It may make a difference in the kind of medication you’re prescribed. If you have diagnosed obstructive sleep apnea, sedating types of antidepressants can worsen this condition.