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Published on May 22, 2019

5 Sleep Therapy Techniques for Better Overall Health And Wellness

5 Sleep Therapy Techniques for Better Overall Health And Wellness

While evidence continues to pile up that sleep is the very backbone of mental health, few of the many Americans who are having trouble getting proper shut-eye choose to try sleep therapy.

We’re sadly encouraged to boast about how busy we are or how little sleep we’re getting in a “do-more” culture. Combine busy schedules with caffeine, blue LEDs, ambient city noise, and a host of other maladaptive environmental factors and it’s no surprise that one in three adults is apparently failing to get even seven hours of sleep.[1]

Economically, one study estimates that inadequate sleep costs the U.S. $411 billion annually.[2] More importantly, under sleeping puts our health in jeopardy. Your immune system, memory, microbiome, emotional calibration, and rational-decision making all rely on good night’s sleep for proper functioning. In one shocking study, surgeons made 20% more errors when they’d under-slept when compared to their well-rested counterparts.[3]

Many people turn to sleeping pills to find some respite for their sleep ailments, but the problem with pills is that they simply sedate the cortex without providing natural biological rest. In other words, medications don’t necessarily improve the quality of sleep, just the amount of time you spend unconscious. Just as alcohol can make you drowsy while actually destroying your valuable REM periods of sleep, pills should not be your go-to either when it comes to finding more snooze time.

Why Is Sleep so Important?

“The decimation of sleep throughout industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our life expectancy, our safety, our productivity, and the education of our children.” – Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep

The importance of sleep is often overlooked in our busy modern lives. Yet the very fact that evolution couldn’t design an organism without it (even bacteria follow a circadian rhythm of activity) should tell us how important sleep is for our wellbeing.

Sleep has been shown to make us more creative, happier, more attractive, slimmer, less anxious, and more resistant to disease. Furthermore, it lowers the risk of heart attacks, enhances memory, and allows us to live longer. (For a full analysis of the scientifically-proven health benefits, I recommend reading Why We Sleep, written recently by a top neuroscientist sleep researcher.)

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Given our increasing understanding of the importance of sleep, it’s no surprise that sports teams, like Manchester United, have started hiring “sleep coaches” specifically to ensure that their players get the best night’s sleep possible. These coaches travel around with the team and ensure that air quality, lighting, mattress firmness, and a variety of other factors are optimized to ensure the best night’s sleep possible.

Sleep can not only give professional athletes a big edge over their competitors, but it can also give you a whole lot more mental clarity throughout the day. So if you’re waking up feeling groggy, generally lethargic throughout the day, or just not receiving those crucial eight hours of shut-eye, here are a few therapeutic solutions you might consider.

The Antidote

Luckily, there are effective sleep therapy techniques that can help even the most restless sleepers get more shuteye.

1. Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI)

The most widely-used method of sleep therapy is CBT, which has been shown effective in many patients after 5 to 8 weeks of treatment.

CBT addresses negative thought and behavioral patterns. If you’re tossing and turning in the sheets, it’s often a mental pattern, such as excessive stress or anxiety that’s contributing to the sleep problem. In short, the CBT method involves identifying negative thoughts and beliefs, challenging them, and establishing a more helpful way of thinking.

For example, many people who have traditionally had problems getting to sleep begin worrying and catastrophizing about their inability to get to sleep, which compounds the problem in a snowball effect. CBT allows patients to break out of this harmful routine and create a better relationship with their own mind.

This method is often more specifically applied to insomnia in what’s called Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI). You can read more about this method, here.

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2. Sleep Restriction Therapy (SRT)

The goal of this therapy is to limit the overall amount of time that the patient spent in bed not sleeping, creating a stronger association between bedtime and actual sleep.

Developed by legendary psychologist Arthur Spielman, SRT follows a strict schedule for gradually increasing the amount of time you’re allowed in bed. You begin with the amount of time actually spent sleeping each night on average.

Let’s say you go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 7am but only sleep for five hours. You’d start with 6 hours of allowed rest, going to bed at 11pm and waking up at 5am, for example. You then gradually add sleep in 15 minute or half hour increments each week until you’re sleeping a healthy amount. There are several variations on this procedure and you might consult a sleep doctor or therapist for more detail.

SRT has been shown to be the most effective sleep hygiene technique.[4] The downside, of course, is that it’s not a quick fix. It does take weeks of diligence to recondition your sleep schedule and see results.

3. Meditation/Yoga Nidra

Meditation can also be used as a form of sleep therapy. Mindfulness, a state of mind achieved through meditation, has been defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist who created Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), as,[5]

“the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally.”

By learning to experience one’s thoughts, emotions, and sensations closely without judging them, meditators can calm down and prepare their minds for sleep.

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Mindfulness meditation allows individuals to shine a light into their inner mental programs in what’s called introspective metacognitive awareness. In doing so, you’re able to form a better relationship with your thoughts, ease anxiety and alleviate a host of other mental turmoil that may be preventing sleep.

There’s a specific method of Vedic meditation called Yoga Nidra that is an excellent way to slip into sleep.[6] The practice involves breathing deeply, setting an intention, rotating one’s awareness around the body (which tires out the somatomotor regions of the brain, which process sensory information, and then often counting backward.

The practice may also include visualizations, depending on the particular set of instructions. Yoga Nidra has been practiced for thousands of years and is effective at shutting off the “narrating mind,” the voice in your head that won’t keep quiet when you’re trying to get to sleep. Especially in the early stages of doing Yoga Nidra, it’s helpful to listen to a teacher or guided audio recording.

Here’s an example of Yoga Nidra:

4. Hypnosis

Hypnotic techniques put patients into a relaxed and suggestible state wherein their thoughts and beliefs can readily become “reprogrammed.” For those unable to change their harmful negative thought loops using CBT, they may find hypnosis a suitable alternative.

The hypnotherapist employs subtle suggestions to “relax,” “let go,” and other trigger words. While your brain’s rational CEO in the neocortex is largely responsible for rumination and other thought patterns that might be keeping you awake, hypnosis allows the hypnotherapist to permeate your subconscious mind and plant code there that will help you fall asleep quicker.

5. Breathing Exercises

Breathing directly affects your autonomic nervous system, which in turn influences your mental activity. Sometimes, trouble getting to sleep is associated with an over-active “fight or flight” sympathy nervous system, and breathing is a quick way to put the breaks on this mechanism.

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There are several aspects of the breath that influence your mind-body system. Here are 3 important aspects of a calming breath that can immediately influence how your mental state:

  • Breathe smoothly: The opposite of this would be a jerky, staccato breath. Rather, you’d like there to be a constant flow of air entering and leaving your lungs between pauses.
  • Breathe rhythmically: What’s important here is that your breath has a consistent ratio of inhale to exhale. To further calm yourself, you might try exhaling for longer than the inhale in a fixed ratio of say 4:6. Four seconds of inhalation, followed by 6 seconds of exhalation. When practicing, it can help to use a metronome to find a rhythm at first (free phone apps are available).
  • Breathe into your belly: So-called “belly breathing” uses your full diaphragm and ensures that you’re using your lungs as they are designed. If you’d like to see proper diaphragmatic breathing just watch how a baby breathes naturally.

All three aspects of breath work to activate the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system, calming down your body and mind.

Bonus Sleep Tips

You also might consider these sleep hygiene strategies to improve your sleep, which include:

  • Going to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • Making your room as dark as possible and relatively cool in temperature
  • Avoiding your bed unless you’re sleeping
  • Not eating or exercising right before bed
  • Taking a hot shower before bed
  • Getting sun exposure in the morning
  • Journaling your thoughts before bed or reading fiction
  • Avoiding naps after 3pm
  • Avoiding alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other drugs
  • Dimming house lights and shutting off electronic screens two hours before bedtime, or at the least use a blue light filter like f.lux
  • Bonus: using a white noise machine if you live in a noisy neighborhood

If problems persist after implementing these changes, it might be worth contacting a professional sleep physician or specialist to improve your sleep.

The Bottom Line

Sleep is not just a “hack,” it’s a necessity. While people spend billions on supplements, exercise machines, and diet books, there’s a free area of great improvement that would benefit many.

In my opinion, if there’s one aspect of our lives we don’t pay enough attention to, it’s the whole third of our lives (if you’re getting enough of it!) spent slumbering on the pillow.

After reading this article, you have all the tools you need to optimize your sleep and, in doing so, potentially transform the quality of your waking hours.

Featured photo credit: Zohre Nemati via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] CDC: 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep
[2] Rand: Sleep Report
[3] The Lancet: Sleep Deprived Versus Rested Surgeons
[4] Kaiser Permanente: Sleep Restriction Therapy
[5] Front Behav Neurosci.: Into the Moment
[6] Yoga International: 5 Benefits of Yoga Nidra

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Liam McClintock

Founder of FitMind, Corporate Mental Wellness

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Last Updated on June 24, 2019

15 Easy-to-Make Crockpot Freezer Meals for Busy Nights

15 Easy-to-Make Crockpot Freezer Meals for Busy Nights

You work all day, and you come home exhausted and hungry. Naturally, the last thing you want to do is to spend hours in the kitchen cooking dinner. If you love cooking, but your busy schedule doesn’t allow you to cook every night, you can simplify your life by making crockpot freezer meals. These meals will allow you to still eat homemade, healthy, filling dinners without the countless hours and enormous effort spent in the kitchen. You can store the simple ingredients in freezer bags and put them in the crockpot when it is time for dinner, or you can cook over the weekend and stock your freezer with delicious ready meals that will make your life easier. Here are 15 easy-to-make recipes to make delicious dinners for busy nights!

1. Cheesy Tortellini With Ground Beef

Cheesy tortellini with ground beef

    This is a perfect crockpot freezer meal that even your kids will love. The best thing of all is that it’s incredibly easy to prepare. All you have to do is crumble some ground beef and combine all the recipe’s ingredients in your crockpot. The other ingredients needed for this super delicious meal include tomatoes, herbs, and onions. Tortellini is one of the most commonly ordered meals when eating out, but this way you will get to eat a homemade, healthier version of the popular dish. Find the recipe here.

    2. Cranberry Pork Roast

    Cranberry pork roast

      Cranberry pork roast is a gluten-free meal that everyone can make, regardless of their culinary skills. The dish requires only these few ingredients: onion, cranberry sauce, bone-in pork shoulder, and honey. To prepare this mouthwatering dish, simply combine all the ingredients together in the crockpot and let them cook. If you don’t like pork or if you prefer not to eat it, you can easily use beef as a substitute without impacting the flavor. Click here to see the recipe.

      3. Greens and Beans

      Greens and beans

        Greens and beans are the ideal dishes if you want a dish that is both delicious and nutrient-dense. Combine vegetable broth with beans, garlic, kale, escalore, and Parmesan, and let cook. The result will be a dish with a soup-like consistency that will fill you up and provide you with a lot of vitamins and minerals.

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        As a bonus, if you or someone else in your family suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or some other common types of arthritis, greens and beans can reduce the inflammation. That’s because kale and other veggies rich in Vitamin K are anti-inflammatory and are known for relieving arthritis. Click here and start cooking!

        4. Chicken Curry

        Chicken curry

          That is yet another gluten-free recipe that you’ll love to make. Chicken curry requires basic ingredients such as tomato paste, coconut milk, honey, onions, and garlic, in addition to chicken and curry of course.The result is a sweet and spicy dish where different flavors are perfectly balanced. Find the recipe here.

          5. Honey Sesame Chicken

          Honey sesame chicken

            Honey sesame chicken is a simple and effortless dish that delivers an amazing taste. To make this wonderful recipe, you have to combine all the ingredients except for the sesame seeds and green onions and let them cook. Use the sesame seeds and green onions for garnish when serving. Click here for the full recipe.

            6. Mushroom Spinach Stroganoff

            Mushroom spinach stroganoff

              In this warm weather, many people opt to eat lighter food that is easy on the stomach. Mushroom spinach stroganoff fits the bill being a vegetable version of a famous comfort food that you and your family will love. The dish requires simple ingredients such as sour cream, onion, garlic, ketchup, vegetables, and mushrooms. This dish is very simple to make, and thanks to your crockpot, you won’t have much work to do. Find the recipe here.

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              7. Stuffed Peppers

              Stuffed peppers

                If you’re looking for a healthy, simple, and delicious recipe, you’ll love this one! These crockpot stuffed peppers are easy to make, and they require only a few ingredients such as ground turkey or beef, onion, garlic, bell peppers, and pasta sauce. This meal will remind you of grandma’s kitchen. You can find the recipe here.

                8. Cilantro and Lime Chicken

                Cilantro and lime chicken

                  Summer is the perfect season to experiment with more exotic flavors, and this meal can help you do just that. To make cilantro and lime chicken, you will need to combine some simple ingredients such as lime, jalapeno peppers, fresh cilantro, and salsa. The result is chicken that is super tender and that you’ll want to make over and over again, so get the recipe here.

                  9. Beef Fajitas

                  Beef fajitas

                    This is an excellent meal for busy weeknights. The best thing about this recipe is that the required ingredients are probably already there in your kitchen. The recipe is also quite simple — combine all the items in a crockpot, cover, and let cook.

                    The result will be beef and peppers that melt in your mouth. You can easily pair this beef fajita with rice and tortillas and get a meal that the entire family will love. You can find the recipe for this delicious beef fajita here.

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                    10. Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

                    Asian chicken lettuce wraps

                      Asian chicken lettuce wraps are sweet, slightly salty and very easy to make. All you need to do is add the chicken, red bell pepper, carrots, soy sauce, honey, garlic and the other ingredients to your crockpot and let them cook. You can also replace the chicken with beef or turkey if you like. The presence of different flavors gives this meal a summer flavor you are sure to love. Learn how to make this meal here.

                      11. Hawaiian Chicken

                      Hawaiian chicken

                        This dish enjoys phenomenal exotic tones due to pineapple and lemon flavors. To make this yummy crockpot freezer meal, you need skinless chicken breasts, peppers, ginger and corn starch, in addition to the iconic pineapple and lemon. Learn how to make this perfect summer dinner here.

                        12. Beef and Barley Stew

                        Beef and barley stewd

                          Beef and barley stew is as healthy as it is delicious. Not to mention it’s incredibly easy to make. Besides the beef and barley, you’ll also need carrots, peppers, herbs and beef broth. The result will be a mouthwatering stew that you can serve alone or over white rice. Get the recipe here.

                          13. Meatball Soup

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                          Meatball soup

                            This soup is very delicious, easy to make and quite versatile. You will be able to swap ingredients and experiment to find your perfect combination. To make this meatball soup, you will need to combine meatballs with pasta sauce, chicken broth, carrots, beans, zucchini, and onion. You can view the recipe here.

                            14. Turkey Black Bean Chili

                            Turkey black bean chili

                              Everybody loves chili and for good reason — it’s very delicious, and it’s a perfect combination of different flavors that balance each other out. To make this chili, you’ll need ground turkey, tomato sauce, black beans, paprika, frozen corns, and a few other ingredients. You can get the full recipe here and have this delicious dish ready when you come back from work on those busy nights.

                              15. Ham and Pinto Bean Soup

                              Ham and pinto bean soup

                                What makes soups special is the fact they’re tasty, healthy and filling at the same time. This soup is no exception. The best quality of this ham and pinto bean soup, however, is its simplicity; it requires only five ingredients: ham, beans, ketchup, salt, and water. Learn how to make this soup here.

                                Conclusion

                                With a demanding work week and a busy schedule, it’s normal to have a low energy level by the time you get home. If you don’t feel like standing in the kitchen and cooking dinner due to this, you don’t have to resort to junk food. These freezer crockpot meals offer you the perfect solution for healthy meals that require minimal preparation. You can either combine each recipe’s ingredients in a freezer bag to be thawed and cooked in a few minutes, or you can cook your meal and freeze it to be used later, it’s up to you.

                                This article showed you 15 easy and simple recipes that you can make using your crockpot. All of these recipes contain anti-inflammatory foods whether it is in the form of vegetable, herbs or spices to improve your overall health and wellbeing.

                                Featured photo credit: Google via bettycrocker.com

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