Tag: sleep

What To Eat Throughout The Day To Get A Good Night’s Sleep

Whether it’s overall stress, anxiety related to the coronavirus or other factors, many of us just aren’t sleeping well. Pinpointing the exact cause can be tough, but sometimes the problem — and the solution — are right on your plate or in your cup.

There’s undoubtedly a link between the drinks and foods consumed throughout the day, especially closer to bedtime, that can result in tossing and turning. HuffPost consulted with dieticians to learn more about what foods to eat (or avoid) for a more restful night.

Though no particular food is a magic cure, there are certain food groups or properties that are beneficial to overall health. It’s also important to note that while everybody may need a different amount of sleep (as much as 10 hours or as little as six), many experts define sleep as “good” if it results in you waking up feeling rested.

Look for foods that are high in melatonin

Melatonin is a natural hormone that’s sometimes referred to as the sleep hormone.

“Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of circadian rhythms and with sleep,” registered dietitian nutritionist Shana Minei Spence told HuffPost.

Plain yogurt contains tryptophan, which increases the production of melatonin and can help you get a good night’s sleep.

Though melatonin is produced in the body, you can also consume foods that contain it, like almonds, which you can snack on throughout the day.

And then there’s tryptophan. Foods like cottage cheese and plain yoghurt also contain tryptophan, which increases the production of melatonin and can help you get a good night’s sleep, Spence said.

There’s no real magical hour to consume melatonin, but “the more you consume, the greater effect it will have,” she told HuffPost.

If you’re consuming a large portion of melatonin-rich foods or taking a supplement, Spence recommends waiting at least an hour or 30 minutes before going to bed, respectively, which is the amount of time it takes for the melatonin to have an effect on the body.

Look for foods that contain magnesium

Similar to melatonin, magnesium is another winner when it comes to catching more Zzzs.

“Magnesium’s role in promoting sleep is thought to be related to its ability to reduce inflammation. Additionally, it may help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to interrupt sleep,” Spence said.

Some studies have estimated that up to 75% of Americans are actually magnesium deficient. However, loading up on magnesium-rich foods isn’t too hard, as it’s found in leafy greens, almonds, peanut butter, flax and sunflower seeds.

Kylene Bogden, a registered dietitian-nutritionist and wellness adviser for Love Wellness, calls magnesium “nature’s sleep aid.”

Bogden’s go-to is a hearty Buddha bowl that contains “your favourite nuts, seeds, legumes, greens and tofu.”

“It’s the absolute best and easy-to-digest dose of magnesium for dinner,” she said.

Eat whole foods, not processed foods

Whole foods, which are typically defined as being minimally processed and packed with fibre, are another food category to consume from throughout the day so your stomach is happy at night.

“Whole foods, including complex carbohydrates that are slower digesting, can help keep the body balanced in this way,” said Celine Beitchman, director of nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education.

These foods contribute to overall, balanced nutrition and ultimately prove helpful when it’s time to hit the hay. They help settle the digestive system, while sugary or overly processed meals can lead to spikes in blood sugar.

A few options that Beitchman recommends include a breakfast consisting of whole grain porridge with dried or fresh fruit and toasted nuts, or eggs with 100% whole grain bread. 

For lunch or dinner, try a pan-seared salmon with bulgur pilaf, which is also packed with magnesium. The fish can easily be swapped out for tofu, tempeh or seitan to make the meal vegan.

Drink a warm, caffeine-free beverage before bed

Bogden recommends drinking a cup of chamomile tea, calling it an “all-natural sleep aid.” But there’s another nighttime beverage she loves.

“I swear by golden milk, a turmeric-based almond milk with dates, as a sweetener,” she said.

Golden milk is a turmeric-based milk that can help you sleep better.

The drink — which is traditionally made with either cow’s milk or plant-based milk — gained popularity among the Western world a few years ago. Turns out, it’s quite beneficial to sleep.

“Turmeric is a powerful, anti-inflammatory spice that promotes a sense of calm and aids in digestion, thereby enhancing sleep quality,” Bogden said.

However, she recommends keeping the drink plant-based.

“Cow’s milk can be extremely inflammatory for some, leading to gas and bloating ― not ideal before bed,” she said.

All of the experts agree that it’s not just what you eat, but also when you eat.

“Allow two hours or more between your last bite of food and bed, no matter what you choose to eat, and one hour before when it comes to beverages,”  Bogden said.

And Beitchman suggests spacing your meals four to five hours apart so your body has time to digest the food.

Stay away from caffeine

That late-afternoon cup of coffee might just have you tossing and turning in the middle of the night and into early morning.

“Caffeine — coffee, soda and chocolate — should be stopped for at least four to six hours before going to sleep. Caffeine can stay in the system for up to 12 hours,” Spence said.

Also, if you think you’re playing it safe by consuming a decaffeinated beverage, think again.

Decaffeinated still has caffeine,” she said. “The stimulant effects can keep you up at night.”

Avoid alcohol

Sipping on a glass of wine or downing a few beers to relax in the evening can end up hurting you.

“Most people look to a night cap in order to sleep better, when in fact alcohol before bed can impair sleep quality,” Bogden said, noting that while alcohol might make us fall asleep, it disrupts our REM cycle, “otherwise known as the most restorative component of our sleep cycle.”

Bogden said she asked her clients to use a smartwatch to track their sleep, and they all found that when they cut back on alcohol before bedtime, they experienced less movement and instances of waking up at night.

Keep spicy foods to a minimum

“Spicy foods can be irritating as they work their way through your digestive system,” resulting in discomfort or even pain as the food moves through your gastrointestinal tract, Beitchman said.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to swear off spicy foods altogether.

“Just make it a part of the plate, not the dominant feature,” to achieve optimal sleep, Beitchman said.

5 Ways To Tackle Our Tiredness When We’re All Doing So Little

If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us, it’s that pandemics are exhausting. 

And with much of the UK under strict restrictions for the second time this year, it feels like the struggle is even more real right now.

Dr Sumera Shahaney, head of clinical operations at Thriva who also works in the NHS, has witnessed a rise in what is often referred to as ‘pandemic fatigue’.

“This is usually felt as an inner weariness or worthlessness – many of the things you might associate with mild depression,” explains Dr Shahaney, who says she often sees this associated with feelings of hopelessness about the pandemic.

“Many people have now accepted that life has changed,” she adds, “but we have lost resilience – we have no control over the future and are unable to see an end point.”

On top of that, we’re entering the winter months, meaning fewer daylight hours to be had (and a drop in vitamin D levels), which can make us feel tired. We’re also more stressed generally, engaging in an awful lot of screen time, moving about far less, and plenty of us are having a rubbish night’s sleep to boot.

And then there’s our social lives, which are completely lacking. Dr Peter Mills, clinical director for Cigna Europe, points out that a variety of experience and interactions are key things that help stimulate our brain and body.

“We are not meant to live like this; we are social animals, albeit some more than others, and we gain energy and inspiration from experiences and from convening with others, which we just aren’t getting right now,” he says.

All in all, it’s a recipe for feeling absolutely done in. So, what can we do about it?

Sort your sleep out

For some, sleep has been a real issue this year. A survey published by mattress company Sleepeezee in August found that 33% of adults reported getting less than four to six hours of sleep a night. 

Even if you’re lucky enough to be sleeping between the recommended seven and nine hours right now, that’s not to say the quality of the sleep you’re getting is good. Studies have found sleep quality has been greatly compromised in the pandemic, which isn’t a surprise when you think about how stressful it’s been.

The Sleepeezee survey found 79% of UK adults are reporting feeling tired most of the time – and screen time isn’t helping matters. Among those aged 18 to 34, 78% use their phone before bed, and 38% while they’re between the covers.

If screen time is an issue for you, sleep expert and author of The Good Sleep Guide, Sammy Margo, recommends setting a technology cut off time, as blue light emitted by your devices can suppress the release of your sleep hormone melatonin, and disrupt your brain’s natural sleep-wake cycles.

“The NHS recommends switching off technology an hour before your bedtime,” says Margo. “Or if you are using a screen, at least turn it to night-time mode or install an app that reduces the blue light.”

If you find yourself craving that bedtime scroll on Twitter, reach for a book instead. And if reading isn’t for you, Margo suggests listening to the radio, an audiobook, or some calming music.

Dr Shahaney urges people to do a sleep hygiene check, which includes reducing screen time before you sleep, as well as establishing a consistent bedtime routine, perhaps with a bath or some relaxation techniques.

“If at all possible, try to make sure that your bedroom is a place where you sleep only, and keep the room cool,” she adds.

Consider your diet

Sometimes it’s all about going back to basics. Registered nutritionist Saadia Noorani says the best way to keep up your energy levels and reduce tiredness right now is to follow a healthy, balanced diet.

As part of this, she urges people to aim to eat regularly, and at the same times each day, to sustain energy levels – and this means eating breakfast. “A healthy breakfast provides the fuel needed for the day ahead and an opportunity to obtain a significant portion of our fibre, calcium and iron intakes,” she says. 

Noorani also strongly recommends getting plenty of iron-rich foods into your diet, such as dark-green leafy vegetables, cereals and bread fortified with iron, meat, and pulses (such as beans, peas and lentils). Being low in iron can lead to anaemia, which can make you feel tired, she adds, pointing out that women and girls are most at risk due to the loss of blood during their menstrual cycle.

Dr Shahaney urges people to be mindful of their vitamin D levels, too, as they might be contributing to tiredness. It’s thought around one in five adults and one in six children in the UK may have a profound vitamin D deficiency. Health bodies typically recommend taking a vitamin D supplement in the winter months – and most people should aim to have 10 micrograms a day. 

Vitamin D is also found in many foods, including oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel), red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods, such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals.

If you’ve found yourself drinking more booze in lockdown, this might also be exacerbating your tiredness. “It’s important to note that alcohol can not only dehydrate you, but also disturb your sleep, leading to tiredness the next day,” says Noorani. Instead, aim to drink more water.

“Sometimes you may feel tired because you are dehydrated,” she continues. “Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids – the government recommends six to eight glasses every day.”

Get moving

To boost energy and reduce stress more generally you might also want to look at introducing some aerobic exercise into your day.

Dr Alka Patel, a GP, coach and creator of the Lifestyle First method, says the ideal time and place to exercise is in the sunlight, within a two-hour window either side of sunrise. “This helps to set the clock for later sleep, with the added benefit of vitamin D,” she says.

Dr Mills agrees that regularly exercising and doing activity daily “will have a positive impact on our energy levels” – although he acknowledges that trying to find the motivation to do so can be difficult.

Just breathe

Breathing has a huge bearing on how we feel. “When we are tired or our energy levels feel low we should stop and take a break to breath,” suggests Dr Patel. “A technique I like to use is box breathing.”

To do this, imagine drawing a square box – either on your palm, on a piece of paper or in your mind. Each side of the square is going to take you four seconds to draw and the whole square will take just 16 seconds and with each line you draw you’re going to do something different with your breathing, says Dr Patel.

Here goes:

  • Draw your line across and breathe in for 4 seconds

  • Draw your line down and hold for 4 seconds

  • Draw your line across and breathe out for 4 seconds

  • Draw your line up and hold for 4 seconds

“Repeat as many times as you want to give you a surge of calm and uplifting energy,” she adds.

Be kind to yourself

Right now our stress levels are through the roof and our bodies just can’t handle it.  “As humans, we generate a stress hormone – called cortisol – which is normally released in response to events and circumstances such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and acute stress,” explains Cigna’s Dr Peter Mills.

“Our bodies are not designed to deal with such long and protracted stressful scenarios such as the one we currently face, therefore those stress hormones that are there to assist us in times of danger, eventually shut down.

“Those hormones can only achieve that heightened sense of alertness for a period of time before having to take it down a few notches which ultimately affects our energy levels too.”

Looking after yourself “has never been so important,” he adds, urging people to take time out of their day to have some ‘me’ time. “It’s extremely important to give your mind and body permission to relax, and helps to release those surging stress hormones,” he adds.

When to seek help

Prolonged tiredness and fatigue can also be a sign of some serious health concerns, so when might a person want to get medical help?

Dr Shahaney says you should consider how long the fatigue has been going on for? “If it’s been something you’ve been managing for many weeks or months, it might be time to speak to your GP about it, or get a blood test to check your levels of vital vitamins and minerals,” she says. 

“Extreme fatigue can be a sign of something more sinister and I’d say when it is associated with worrying physical symptoms, such as weight loss, you may want to address it.”

If you think you might’ve had Covid-19 earlier in the year, fatigue is also one of the main symptoms that people are experiencing long after the virus has swept through their system. The issue can be debilitating. 

NHS England has promised to launch 40 long Covid clinics in the next few weeks to help support people with these persistent symptoms. 

You can find out more about post-Covid fatigue on the NHS Your Covid Recovery site. People are urged to contact their GP if: their fatigue is getting worse rather than better, their fatigue is unchanged after three months, or they are worried or have other new symptoms.

Covid-19 is more than a news story – it has changed every aspect of life in the UK. We are following how Britain is experiencing this crisis, the different stages of collective emotion, reaction and resilience. You can tell us how you are feeling and find further advice and resources here.

We Need More Sleep, Less Screen Time. The Pandemic Is Messing With Both

Our screen time is way up and we’re sleeping way less – and we could be making ourselves more susceptible to depression in the process.

A new study found getting a good night’s sleep (seven to nine hours each night) and less screen time offers a protective effect against low mood for people with clinical depression and that same factors also protect those those without any depressive disorder.

The research, led by Western Sydney University, analysed the data of 85,000 people from the UK Biobank. Physical activity and a healthy diet were also associated with less frequent depressed moods – although diet was more likely to be protective in people who didn’t have existing depression, the study found.

Increased screen time and smoking were significantly associated with more frequent depressive moods.

“While people usually know that physical activity is important for mood, we now have additional data showing that adequate sleep and less screen time is also critical to reduce depression,” said lead author Professor Jerome Sarris, from Western Sydney University, who said the study was the first assessment of such a broad range of lifestyle factors that also used such a large dataset. 

The study’s results have never felt more relevant, with more people confined to their homes and our screen time reaching an all-time high during lockdown. 

This summer, OfCom revealed adults were spending a record number of hours  a day online, with twice as many video calls happening, too.

Another survey of 2,000 people by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) in June found more than half of UK adults had spent more time online and on social media (55%) since the first lockdown began, with half saying that they had watched more TV (50%) as well.

Our sleep has also been impacted. While some are sleeping longer hours (a perk of not having to commute, perhaps?), in a recent survey by mattress brand Sleepeezee, 33% of adults reported getting less than the recommended four to six hours of sleep.

On top of that, sleep quality has taken a hit. Wellbeing psychologist Dr Andy Cope analysed data of 50,000 Brits taken from Simba’s sleep and mood tracking app between March 8 and April 25 this year, and noticed the quality of sleep had gradually declined.

A study from Italy revealed a similar pattern. Data from 1,310 people aged 18 to 35 years old, who completed an online survey from March 24-28, revealed many were going to bed later, waking up later and spending more time in bed. They were also reporting lower sleep quality.

The same study found people with depression, anxiety and stress were more likely to have poor sleep quality.

Five ways to help mental wellness and mood

1. Ensure you are getting seven to nine hours of sleep each day.

2. Limit your screen time (especially late in the evening) on computers, smartphones, tablets and televisions outside of working hours.

3. Eat a wholefood diet (lean protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, nuts, sufficient fibre/prebiotic foods, and poly-unsaturated fats), with less processed foods.

4. Limit or avoid tobacco and alcohol consumption.

5. Aim across the week for 2.5 to 5 hours of physical activity of moderate intensity and at least two muscle strengthening sessions per week.

Sleep and depression have a complex relationship. Many people with depression cite problems sleeping, and at the same time, sleep problems can exacerbate depression – so it can be a vicious cycle to break out of.

While the Western Sydney University depression study found a higher frequency of alcohol consumption was associated with less frequent depressed moods in those with depression, researchers said this might be due to people self-medicating with alcohol to manage their mood.

9 Things Sleep Doctors Would Never Do At Night Before Going To Bed

Getting quality sleep affects everything ― your mood, your weight, your immune system and so much more

But for many people, logging a full night’s rest can be a challenge. Less than half of adults (49%) get the recommended seven to eight hours of shuteye, according to a Better Sleep Council survey from March. And just over half of respondents (52%) described their sleep quality as “poor” or “fair.”

What you do — and don’t do — leading up to bedtime matters; your evening routine can impact your sleep for better or for worse.

We asked sleep doctors what they avoid doing before crawling into their sheets. Of course, no one has perfect sleep habits — not even experts ― but here’s what they try to steer clear of: 

1. They don’t watch the news.

“Even though nighttime might seem like the perfect time to catch up on the latest Covid-19 information, we should try to avoid things that can cause anxiety before bed. Unfortunately, nowadays the news is filled with things that can cause worry and other unwanted emotions that you definitely want to avoid if you are hoping to get a good night’s sleep. The news, in some ways, keeps people up late at night the same way that a horror movie can. Images and information regarding violence or fear stimulate your mind preventing you from having a smooth transition into sleep.” — Raj Dasgupta, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine

2. They avoid working in bed.

“With the Covid-19 pandemic, a significant proportion of our population is working from home these days, and as such, your home has become your office. You want to avoid at all costs working from your bed, however, as you want to maintain the relationship with the brain that the bed is only for two things — sleep and sex. 

As you do more and more mentally stimulating activities in bed, the brain slowly develops a psychological association of the bed being a place to stay awake rather than sleep. This, in turn, can trigger people to develop sleep-onset insomnia. Your house is already your office, so during these difficult times, use the bed as your sanctuary — a place to relax, escape work and sleep.” ― Ruchir P. Patel, medical director of the Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona

3. They don’t work out. 

“Exercise in the morning or during the daytime can go a long way to helping improve insomnia symptoms at night, but exercise late in the day can be counterproductive. Many people try to exercise at night with the goal of ‘wearing themselves out,’ but are inadvertently making it harder for themselves to fall asleep.” ― Stacey Gunn, sleep medicine physician at the Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona

If you watch to catch some Zzzs, avoid exercising too close to your bedtime.

4. They steer clear of tense conversations.

“Try your hardest to avoid a heated conversation with your significant other before bed. As the saying goes, never go to bed angry, or bad feelings will harden into resentment. There is research to support the idea that negative emotional memories are harder to reverse after a night’s sleep. 

Plus, anger is a huge turn-off. If you do this repeatedly, it creates an unhealthy pattern, and destroys potential opportunities for sexual intimacy. Confrontations lead to a stress response, which is exactly opposite of what you want if you’re trying to fall asleep easily. It’s important to create a peaceful environment for you and your partner to have a good night’s sleep. Instead of fighting, maybe snuggle up together and watch ‘Love Actually,’ one of my personal favourites.”  — Dasgupta

5. They absolutely do not consume caffeine. 

“Avoid drinking any caffeinated drinks past 2pm. Caffeinated drinks — including coffee, iced tea, pre-work out drinks or energy drinks — act as a stimulant. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors — and adenosine [plays a role in] sleep homeostasis.” — Anupama Ramalingam, sleep medicine physician at the Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona

6. They try to avoid drinking alcohol. 

“Some people end up self-medicating with a nightcap, because it does help them to fall asleep more easily at the beginning of the night. But I recommend against it because it causes the sleep architecture to be disrupted later on, resulting in poor quality sleep. If I do have a drink in the evening, I try to separate it from bedtime, and give the alcohol a chance to clear out of my system before going to sleep.” ― Gunn

Many people try to exercise at night with the goal of ‘wearing themselves out,’ but are inadvertently making it harder for themselves to fall asleep.Stacey Gunn, sleep medicine physician

7. They don’t use electronic devices (without a blue light filter). 

“In sleep and circadian science, we use the term ‘zeitgeber’ — or ‘time giver’ — to describe environmental cues that help us entrain to a 24-hour cycle. Light is the most powerful zeitgeber that signals the brain to stay awake. Prolonged exposure to bright light around bedtime keeps us awake and reduces the amount of sleep we get. Exposure to light at night also suppresses the brain’s natural production of melatonin, a hormone that is released in response to darkness and helps us to fall asleep.” ― Anita Shelgikar, clinical associate professor of neurology and director of the sleep medicine fellowship at the University of Michigan

8. They also don’t keep the lights in their home turned up bright.

“I was reminded during a fishing trip to the Outer Banks [in North Carolina] with my nephews of the importance of avoiding artificial light before bedtime. We were forced to use propane lanterns on the island each night as there was no electricity available. Several of the parents on the fishing trip remarked that the darkness had improved their sleep so much that they might pitch the idea of ‘Lantern Tuesday’ to their spouses: A night each week dedicated to reducing light exposure and improving sleep sounds like a great idea to me!

Exposure to bright light suppresses melatonin secretion. Plus, alteration of the circadian rhythm (or the daily rhythmic sleep-wake cycle) by nocturnal light exposure may contribute to cardiovascular and metabolic disease. What sort of practical steps can one take to avoid bright light? Dim the lights in the home except for a few lamps several hours before bed.” — William J. Healy, assistant professor of medicine and director of sleep quality improvement at Augusta University. 

9. They make sure they don’t spend a long time awake in bed.

“Many of our patients will give themselves a 10-hour sleep window but realistically are only asleep for six to eight hours. Please do not spend more time in bed than you really need. All the extra time in bed awake results in your brain starting to develop an association that the bed is a place to be awake and also sleep. But this, in turn, can result in disruption of your sleep drive and thus result in poor sleep efficiency and sleep quality.” — Patel 

Responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

6 Stretches To Do First Thing In The Morning, According To Experts

At a time when many of us are sitting more than usual and (rightfully and responsibly) going out less, it makes sense that we’re feeling stiffer and less limber. Sitting all day, whether at a desk, on the couch or at the kitchen table, has serious consequences for our physical health.

Isabella Sprague, a sports physical therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told HuffPost that she is seeing a large increase in back, neck and hip injuries due to people sitting more and moving less.

“People are sitting in all kinds of crazy positions just because they have to adapt to these new work-from-home scenarios,” Sprague said. “We’re seeing a lot of postural-driven injuries that we used to not see as much of.”

Starting the day, especially during the pandemic, with a few stretches is an ideal way to relieve stress and reduce sitting-induced pains that many people are all too familiar with.

“Consistent stretching offers a laundry list of benefits. This includes increased performance, faster recovery, stress relief and pain relief,” said Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d, an assisted stretching studio based in New York. “When you are at a certain level of inflexibility, you’ll be prone to all sorts of musculoskeletal problems — things you may not even think would be associated with stretching like cramping, nerve pain and spasms.”

Below, experts share the best stretches to do as soon as your alarm goes off in the morning:

Start your day with an open-book stretch.

Sprague tells her patients to start their day with an open-book stretch, which opens up the spine and the front of the shoulders while also increasing spinal mobility. This is especially useful before a day of hunched-over typing, texting or sitting.

For this stretch, you would lie on one of your sides — you can do this in bed — and bend both of your knees up so they’re at about 90 degrees,” Sprague said.

“You then bring both of your arms straight out in front of you on the bed, open up the top arm and twist your upper body away from your bottom arm while looking toward your hand,” she continued. “It’s basically an upper spinal twist. You hold it for a couple seconds and come back to a neutral position.”

She added that an open-book stretch should be repeated on both the left and right sides of the body.

Stretch your arms up above your head.

Stretching helps keep us mobile, especially since our tissue tightens after long periods of staying still or lying down, according to Kelly Roberts Lane, owner of Fix It Physical Therapy in Minnesota. She recommends doing a fairly simple stretch in the morning that is often done at the end of tough spin classes or high-intensity interval training workouts.

Reach your arms all the way over your head and look up. Then, roll your spine down one vertebra at a time until you are touching your toes or are as close to them as you can get,” Roberts Lane said. “Let your head hang. Straighten one knee and then the other to get a deeper hamstring stretch.”

It’s important to hang in this position for a few moments, then roll back up and repeat this full stretch three times, she added.

Try a seated stretch ideal for combating back pain. 

Two of the most important areas to address in the morning are the back and neck due to harmful sleeping positions, Brannigan said.

“It’s very easy to have the spine off-kilter when sleeping in a side-lying position if you’re not using a proper pillow — while sleeping face down can put tremendous stress into the lumbar spine as it compresses the lower back,” he said.

To help with back pain, Brannigan recommends Stretch*d’s Twist & Dipp*r stretch, a seated movement where you put your hands behind your head, twist your torso as far as you can in one direction and then drop your elbow toward your knee. This stretch should be held for two seconds and repeated 10 times on each side.

Brannigan added that this stretch targets the quadratus lumborum, a deep abdominal muscle that is often responsible for back pain.

Doing gentle stretches in the morning can help undo the damage caused by sitting at a desk all day and weird sleeping positions at night.

Stretch your neck, which gets tense after a night of sleep. 

One of Brannigan’s favourite stretches in the morning is the Maybe movement, a simple stretch that focuses on the neck.

To do this, put your arm over your head and rest your hand on your ear. Then, gently push your head toward your bent elbow, holding the stretch for two seconds before returning to neutral. Repeat this movement 10 times on each side. 

Complete a figure-four stretch on your back.

You might remember this stretch from gym class as a kid. Sprague favours a variation of this movement for start-of-the-day stretching.

“I would definitely recommend a figure-four stretch, but while lying on your back,” she said. “You would bend both of your knees up and you would take, for example, your left ankle and cross it over your right knee and then you would hold behind your right knee.”

Once you are in this position, use your left elbow to push the left knee so you are in a figure-four position. This movement stretches the piriformis muscle in the lower leg, a muscle that Sprague said is tight in many people who sit all day long.

She also noted that this figure-four stretch can directly release tightness throughout the lower back and the glute muscles.

Stretch on the edge of your bed.

Variations of the figure-four stretch are crucial when stretching the body after a night’s rest. Roberts Lane proposed a quick stretch that is an additional variation of the effective movement.

“When you are sitting at the edge of your bed, put one heel on the opposite knee,” Roberts Lane said. “You can lean forward or put a bit of pressure on your knee for a deeper stretch. Repeat on the other side.”

This movement helps open and stretch the hip, she said. And for extra movement, you can choose to roll out your ankle as you execute this stretch. You may even want to repeat this a few times throughout the day.

“We have found ourselves sitting quite a bit more and missing out on the trips to the printer and the water cooler at the office during this pandemic,” Roberts Lane said. “It is a good idea to get up from your desk every hour or two and do a few stretches to keep your tissue pliable.”

Roberts Lane stressed the importance of stretching every day, especially given that many people are sitting so much more than they were a year ago. Regular stretching doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment — it can take as little as five minutes but still make a world of difference.

8 Tricks Sleep Experts Use When 2020 Anxiety Keeps Them Awake

The urge to check (and recheck) the never-ending stream of news is stronger than usual these days and our brains are constantly running overtime. Anxiety and stress dredged up the coronaviruspandemic can lead to poor sleep ― especially for those with diagnosed or suspected mental health issues.

“We’re both too connected to the outside world and constantly knowing what’s happening, but also feeling really isolated from the parts of the outside world we actually need to help with our stress, like friends and family, and have less pleasurable activities during the day to help us relax and experience joy. And this affects our sleep,” said Jade Wu, a licensed clinical psychologist and sleep researcher.

All these changes in routine and normalcy undermine our nightly zzz’s, according to Wu. Between the upending of our daily routines and the constant fretting about the future, many of us are in a stress-sleep cycle that’s hard to break.

And that can have damaging consequences: The physical effects of poor sleep are far-reaching, from a weakened immune response to cardiovascular problems. While asleep, our brain completes functions that it only can at rest ― making room to absorb new information and skills, building creative capacity, and solidifying beneficial memories. Plus, being deprived of sleep can exacerbate anxiety and make it trickier to regulate our emotions during waking hours, further adding to the stress we may already carry from this particularly hellish year.

So, how can we reclaim our sleep when our minds are in chronic overdrive? We asked sleep experts to share their personal strategies for getting some shut-eye this year.

First, recognise that interrupted sleep is a normal response to 2020.

Sarah Silverman, a sleep psychologist, said it helps to remember that waking up during the night is a normal response to stress. So it makes sense that many of us are probably sleeping less than usual.

Acknowledge that this is the problem, Silverman said, instead of immediately getting frustrated. Reminding herself that this is a common problem right now eases her anxiety a bit so it doesn’t add to the stress already waking her up.

Make your bedroom a location for sleep only ― not a place where you work, exercise or check news.

People are spending a lot more time either in the bedroom or someplace near it. We’re using our sleep space as a home office, gym or gathering area ― and that can have unintended effects on our brains.

Even if you aren’t bringing your laptop into bed, it can be very stimulating to have your desk in the bedroom, because your desk is where you work, socialise and scarf down a quick lunch, said Kimberly Truong, the founder of California-based Earlybird Health and a board-certified sleep physician.

“We might also be having important financial conversations with our spouses in bed, because our kids are doing online school in the next room,” Wu added, or we might be doomscrolling in bed more frequently.

What your mind once considered a resting place now becomes associated with negative news and wakeful activities such as being productive, creative and hardworking. If you can, try to do other activities outside your bedroom and keep your bedroom designated for rest.

Wake up at the same time each day and only crawl into bed at night when you’re ready to go to sleep.

Silverman, Truong and Wu all wake up at the same time each morning to set their bodies up to be sleepy at night. On some days you may take longer to feel sleepy, Wu said, but this is normal, particularly if you didn’t do much activity during the day.

“I always keep in the back of my mind that eventually my sleep system is going to kick in and allow me to sleep,” said Silverman.

Instead of tossing and turning because you aren’t ready to sleep at your usual 10 p.m. bedtime, she recommended climbing into bed only when you feel like your body is really ready to fall asleep.

Move your body a little bit each day in a way that feels good (bonus points if you do this outside).

During the day, Silverman, Wu and Truong said they prepare for sleep by spending time in the sunlight and being physically active.

“We release endorphins when we exercise and this boosts our mood, which helps us become more able to weather the stressors we encounter, and that makes us better able to sleep,” Wu said, noting that moving your body also builds up your sleep drive, as your brain will want to rest after an active day.

Exposing your body to as much sunlight as possible is also important, Wu said. The amount of light exposure you get during the day preps your brain for sleep when it gets dark. In the shorter, colder days of fall and winter, it can be more difficult to get sunlight, but even a short walk when the sun is out or sitting in the backyard can be helpful. And if sunlight is really scant, Truong suggested trying light box therapy in the morning to ensure your internal body clock stays healthy.

Keep to a routine of regular meals.

Truong noted that having three to four meals at set times during the day can help with getting proper rest.

This is mostly because eating regular meals keeps our circadian rhythm synchronised to the passage of the day. Your brain knows when it’s morning, afternoon and night based on what meals you’re eating. When meal patterns become haphazard, it can lessen the distinction between day (or wakeful hours) and night (or sleeping hours).

Figure out the difference between your body being sleepy and your body being tired.

“The causes of sleepiness look very different from the causes of feeling tired,” Silverman said. For instance, your body might feel tired during the day due to mental fatigue from the barrage of negative information. But according to Silverman, this does not necessarily translate into being able to fall asleep. And trying to sleep could backfire.

“If you try to force yourself to sleep when you’re tired but not sleepy, you’ll end up fighting against your own body and getting more stressed out,” Wu said.

Learning to differentiate between tiredness and sleepiness helps you give your body what it needs. “When you’re tired, you feel exhausted or depleted, and the cure for that is rest,” Wu said. This could be taking a shower, going for a walk, doing breathing exercises or enjoying a TV show or book. 

“When you’re sleepy, your eyes are rolling and hard to keep open, your head is nodding, you can’t concentrate, and the cure for that is to sleep,” Wu said.

If it is already nighttime, then start your nighttime sleep. If you’re incredibly sleepy during the day, Wu is a believer in taking a 30-minute catnap, as long as you don’t start using these naps to catch up on lost nighttime sleep. “If you’re having a lot of frequent nighttime trouble, I would cut out the naps,” she said.

Get out of bed if you start to have anxious thoughts.

“As we carry on with our day, there’s a lot on our plates and we’re always on the go. It’s not usually until nighttime [that] things quiet down and you’re left with yourself and your thoughts,” Truong noted. “Having very stimulating thoughts or high anxiety thoughts leads to a stress response, such as increased heart rate and sweaty palms, that makes it difficult for one to fall asleep.”

If you’re lying in bed when this happens, it’s easy for the bed to become associated with anxiety and stress. To break this pattern, Silverman said, “It’s better to physically get out of bed and ideally go to another room to have this thought process take place somewhere else.”

Truong suggested journalling to capture the anxious thoughts you’ve had throughout the day before you carry them with you into the bedroom. For 30 to 40 minutes after dinner, she free-writes, jotting down any thoughts that come to mind without any judgment.

Engage in mindless activities, like folding clothes or doing dishes, before you go to sleep.

Experiment with cutting out scrolling through messages and news feeds at night, Wu said ― especially if you’ve noticed you feel tense and start worrying when your head hits the pillow.

Having a consistent evening routine of enjoyable but mindless activities in the couple of hours before bedtime can support sleep. 

Wu likes to prepare her baby’s clothes and bottles for the next day. “Doing something rote that requires me to use my hands, such as folding clothes or preparing baby bottles, is almost mesmerising and meditative for me,” she said.

She also finds that she falls asleep within 20 minutes of starting to listen to an audiobook that she has already heard before or that isn’t otherwise difficult to put down. 

Meditation and relaxation techniques are another sleep aid. Truong suggested doing gentle stretches or body scanning, which involves mentally checking in with your body from head to toe, one area at a time, while breathing in and out.

Visualisation meditation, which has a number of variations, can also help. You might visualise yourself in a place that evokes feelings of joy or peace while engaging in deep breathing or picture an image that assists you in letting go of anxious thoughts. Truong gave an example of picturing each anxious thought, one at a time, falling on a leaf floating down a river, and the river taking it away.

This Is What It Means When You Dream About Work

If you dream that your workplace is on fire, you’re not the only one having this nightmare. Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, a dream analyst for over two decades, said dreams in which offices go up in uncontrollable flames are common among her clients during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Fire catches and it spreads, much like the virus,” Loewenberg said, speculating about the connection. 

Although dream interpretation is not an exact science, there are psychological reasons why people report they are dreaming more lately. 

“Crises tend to stir up our dream life. Just as we’re thinking more dramatic, emotional, intense thoughts by day when a crisis first starts, it activates our dream life,” said Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School and the author of “Pandemic Dreams.” 

“You see an uptick of dreams in general, but especially, obviously, anxiety dreams,” she said.

Barrett noted that for some people, changes with work have given them more opportunity to sleep in or take naps, and that can also increase dream recall. 

One poor woman said that her recurring nightmare was just about the box on the Zoom screen with her boss in it.Deirdre Barrett, psychologist and author

Barrett has been surveying people about their vivid coronavirus dreams since March. She observed that most of the dreams people have about work are negative, such as dreams about losing a job or working under dangerous conditions.

One woman whose job is to deliver food in a nursing care centre had a long-running dream in which the building was flooded, lights were shorting out and some type of monster was prowling the hallways, Barrett said. “All this time she was trying to do food delivery, what she does in waking-life, but just every horror movie thing that could go wrong in the place where she delivered food was happening.“

Health care workers tended to have recurring nightmares about respirators failing in both realistic and fantastical ways, Barrett said. For remote workers, Zoom was a common haunting feature.

“One poor woman said that her recurring nightmare was just about the box on the Zoom screen with her boss in it,” Barrett said. “She found the interactions with him on Zoom so stressful, and she was so afraid that she was going to lose her job.”

In general, Loewenberg said, the common dream scenarios people have around work are being naked on the job, being unable to complete a task or having sex with a boss. 

Being naked at work is a common dream scenario. 

Loewenberg noted that just because these scenarios may happen in your dreams, it doesn’t necessarily mean you actually want them to happen. If a co-worker appears in you dream, she says, they can represent unresolved conflicts within yourself.

Take the dream about being intimate with a boss, for example. Loewenberg said it could mean that there are characteristics about being a boss that are attractive to you. “Where else in your life do you need to take more action, be more authoritative?” she said you could ask yourself.

If you want to find meaning in your dreams, Loewenberg recommends keeping a journal to track how you are feeling, what you were struggling with during the day and what you dreamed about in sleep. This should help you connect the dots between the two, she said. 

If there is a dream that recurs, for example, “take a look at the outstanding emotion in that dream,” Loewenberg said. “Was it stress, was it fear, was it anger, was it sadness? What in your real life and work, in particular, is causing that same emotion?” 

If you do dream about worst-case scenarios at work, don’t see it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. First, ask yourself if what you dreamed is a realistic possibility.

Sometimes, dreams may help you problem-solve. In one 2010 study, scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center told 99 participants to navigate a 3D maze as quickly as possible. After their initial training, the participants either got to take a 90-minute nap or were told to remain awake. The nappers who dreamed about the maze ended up showing significant improvement in navigating the maze compared to those who did not dream and did not nap.

Put what you see in your dream life in perspective. If you do dream about worst-case scenarios at work, don’t see it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. First, ask yourself if what you dreamed is a realistic possibility, Barrett said. 

Those unpleasant scenarios you imagine at night could be helping you prepare for what’s to come during the day. Science journalist Alice Robb, author of “Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey,” noted that Finnish neuroscientist Antti Revonsuo developed a threat simulation theory for why negative dreams are common. He argues that these dreams can be our body’s biological defence mechanism to keep us sharp. 

Take the classic dream in which you go to class for an exam and forget to bring a pencil, Robb said. 

“You work through those anxieties in your dreams, and then you’re more likely to set an extra alarm or make sure you’ve done your studying,” Robb explained about the theory. “It actually kind of desensitises us to those stressful situations that come up in real life and improves our performance.”

Your Intense Pandemic Dreams Might Be Helping You – Here’s Why

If people have been wearing face masks in your dreams, you’re not alone. Research has shown our dreams now regularly represent a Covid-19 world – and it could be our brain’s way of learning new rules or behaviour. 

Researchers in Finland have analysed the dream content of almost one  thousand people and found we’re regularly dreaming about the virus and social distancing. 

Over the course of a week, 811 people agreed to share the content of their dreams. The research team then used artificial intelligence software to identify common themes in their reports, which they termed “dream clusters”. 

Twenty of the dream clusters were classified as bad dreams, and 55% of those had pandemic-specific content. 

The results showed that we’re dreaming about failures in social distancing, coronavirus contagion and personal protective equipment, such as face masks. 

Other themes that emerged were dreams featuring hugs, handshakes and crowds – but these were often associated with negativity or words such as “restriction” or “mistake”. 

“We were thrilled to observe repeating dream content associations across individuals that reflected the apocalyptic ambience of Covid-19 lockdown,” said lead author Dr Anu-Katriina Pesonen, head of the Sleep & Mind Research Group at the University of Helsinki.

“The results allowed us to speculate that dreaming in extreme circumstances reveal shared visual imagery and memory traces, and in this way, dreams can indicate some form of shared mindscape across individuals.”

More than half of those who participated in the study also reported an increase in stress during the pandemic and these people were also found to have higher  incidences of bad dreams. 

But speaking to The Times about the research, Dr Pesonen said these dreams may actually serve a purpose as they suggest our subconscious is trying to learn the new rules of living.  

“We measured the dreams in a period where people were forced to learn a new code of conduct,” she said. “People were dreaming about not being able to touch, or about making mistakes in distancing — this suggests it’s about learning. Dreaming helps us to consolidate changing our behaviour.”

If you’ve been struggling to sleep during the pandemic or have been plagued by Covid-19 nightmares, sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor previously told HuffPost UK you should take some proactive steps to regain control over your dreams.  

She advised spending 10-15 minutes in the early evening writing your worries and thoughts down on paper, exercising during the day to prepare your body for good sleep and keeping a basic sleep routine, such as a consistent bed time. 

When Being Tired Is Actually Depression

Depression may be among the most common mental health issues, but it is still often misunderstood. Many people assume that the condition manifests itself in really overt sorrow and hopelessness. But the symptoms tend to be much broader, and often more …

How Often Should You Wash And Replace Your Pillows?

Content warning, this could turn your stomach: 

Viewers have been left horrified after a woman filmed herself deep cleaning her partner’s “nasty” pillows after he refused to clean or replace them for 10 years. 

A TikTok user by the name of Margaret documented the process of stripping the three stained and yellowing pillows while her boyfriend was at work, and the end results were incredible. 

Firstly she soaked the filthy pillows in a bathtub with two dishwashing tablets and Borax (a natural mineral found in many detergents and cosmetics) before adding bleach to the mix. 

@itsamemargieo

This was worth driving to 3 different stores to find borax #pillowwashing#cleaning#ScienceAtHome#satisfying

♬ Steven Universe – L.Dre

After some prodding and swirling in an attempt to wring out the dirt, Margaret got “impatient” and placed the pillows in the washing machine and then dryer for 54 minutes.   

The video has racked up more than 1.7 million views and people are understandably repulsed. 

“I don’t know why I feel like I’m witnessing a crime right now,” one TikToker wrote. 

“Replace the whole boyfriend,” commented another while others posted about his hygiene, causing Margaret to explain she bought new pillows but he won’t use them because “he’s attached to these.” 

The good news is that there are moves you can make to extend the life of your pillows when it comes to hygiene, the first being washing your pillow case every week.  

So, how often should we wash and replace pillows? 

Experts say pillow cases should be washed weekly, and the pillow itself should be replaced every three months. 

The concern is less about the pillow breaking down and more about the host of critters and debris that can be found in the pillow you lay your face on night after night. 

Dirt, oil and dead skin cells get trapped there, which may lead to acne. Dust mites, which belong to the spider family, also like to hang out in the crevices of your pillow. 

“You can’t see them, but they’re concentrated in things like bedding and carpeting,” says Mark R Neustrom, DO, of Kansas City Allergy and Asthma Associates.

Dust mite accumulation can cause very real health problems, namely unpleasant reactions in people who are allergic to the bugs. Neustrom says that of all people with allergies, around two thirds of them may be allergic to the types of dust mites that congregate indoors.

A TikTok video of a woman washing her boyfriend's pillows for the first time in 10 years has gone viral, fetching 1.7 million viws

And unlike allergens like cat dander, the protein that triggers reactions to dust mites isn’t typically airborne, he says, so symptoms that are particularly strong first thing in the morning is a good sign the problem might be your pillow. Anyone with year-round nasal symptoms also might want to get tested for a dust mite allergy, he says.

“Always change your pillowcases weekly when you strip the bed. Changing and washing pillowcases may need to be done more frequently if you have an eye infection, or other lesion on or around your face/head,” Mary-Louise McLaws, Professor of Epidemiology in Health Care Infection and Infectious Diseases Control toldHuffPost Australia. 

“Weekly changing of pillowcases extend the life of the pillow and keeps dirt/infection from entering your skin.” 

The deep cleaning and soaking process of “stripping” has gone viral on social media platforms recently with audiences realising a quick round in the washing machine doesn’t always cut it to remove tough grime. 

Stripping pulls out hidden gunk from clean clothes using a concoction of detergents.  People have been left shocked by the dirty water left over in the tub after washing their already “clean” clothes. 

Follow cleanfluencer Go Clean Co’s  method below to try out stripping. 

With additional reporting from HuffPost US LIFE.