My close friends and family will know that I am very sensitive to late nights and missed sleep. I can remember being at the world's longest church service, 9 lessons and carols, and after about 6 lessons, it was 10:30 PM and I decided I had had enough. In the front row of the church I started to cry... sad, sad, tired tears.
This was the first of many exhaustion-fueled cry fests, and was where (from my memory), my mother decided that I was like a pumpkin. Like the pumpkin in Cinderella, you know? I can be a beautiful chariot, but when the clock strikes midnight, or about 10:30 PM in my case, I turn into a pumpkin.
Secrets and the stress of this horrible thing on my leg caused me to experience proper insomnia for the first time in my life. I would go to bed tired, but wouldn't be able to fall asleep. When the sun came up I'd get a red bull, or buy candy from the school vending machines to try and wake me up, but every night I would continue to struggle to sleep, managing 30 minutes to an hour of sleep most nights.
It all came to a head the night I went to see my best friend perform in the high school play. I was really proud of her afterwards and gave her hug. Then it was like I had reached my breaking point of exhaustion and the flood gates opened. I could not stop crying.
All this drama because of sleep, or lack there of it.
Since then missing out on sleep has become an indicator of stress, it has been a guaranteed indicator of getting sick, and is therefore one of my main research obsessions. I love to read about sleep.
Here's Why We Need Sleep
Humans, on average, spend about 26 years sleeping. It has been cited to be the time when our body recovers by repairing and building new tissues and cells and memories so that we may enter into a new day better than we were the day before. Sleep is also cited as a crucial time for healing, specifically in our dreams. Our dreams are this crazy part of sleep that are thought to exist so that we have more time to process complex emotions and situations we may have been in, or are thinking about being in in the future.
Sleep is absolutely vital. There are terrifying studies out there that show what happens to a human when they get absolutely zero sleep, and if you somehow get no sleep for 11 consecutive days, you can actually die.
But the consequences on little sleep can actually begin from just a few nights of sleep lasting less than 7 hours a piece.
For some reason we praise the individuals who are able to "function" on very little sleep. They "get shit done", and are real "disciplined, go-getters". A new study has actually found that getting less than 7 hours of sleep over multiple days can lead to impairment that is worse than drunk driving.
This is because the brain is desperate to sleep. It is a vital function and it will stop at nothing to get those recovery processes done, regardless of what you think you're capable of.
When you don't get enough sleep your brain will shut down certain areas of the brain while you're awake in order to allow those areas to achieve micro-sleeps. Unfortunately this can mean that things like fine motor skills, decision making skills, and good judgement can all be impaired throughout the day. You may think you're doing fine on very little sleep, but the chances of you snacking without realizing, or engaging in risky behaviour go up because the areas of the brain that would otherwise control cravings and risk assessment are turned off.
How Can We Get More Sleep?
I like to think of myself as an expert sleeper. I can reflect on my day and know exactly how well I will sleep that night, if it will be easy, or difficult to fall asleep, and how refreshed I'll feel the next day.
There are a lot of factors that go into the perfect night sleep. I'll go through what contributes to my perfect sleep conditions, and then you can pick and choose what you can adapt and control in your life. Everyone is different in some aspects, like the firmness of pillows and the bed, but there are some biological aspects of sleep that are fairly universal. I'll try to keep to those, but throw in a few personal items as well.
1. Get a blue light filter for all devices.
There is some speculation about the efficacy of blue-light blocking glasses, but I still encourage people to get a blue light filter on their phone and their laptop and to set it to sunrise (filter off) and sunset (filter on). Yes, it creates a weird orange hue, but it also means that your brain won't be confused about whether the sun is up or not.
Blue light is the light that is emitted by the sun and lets our brains know that the sun is up and it is daytime and we should be alert. When our phones, laptops, and tablets emit that light, it basically tells the brain that the sun is never going down.
2. Try not to eat too close to your desired bed time
This is one that I firmly believe in, as the hormones in your body that control sleep work with the hormones in your body that control hunger and satiety. So if you eat late at night, you interrupt the production of melatonin with a new leptin cycle (the satiety hormone).
I have always found, with the exception of drunk snacks in bed (although these have their own consequences), that I have a really hard time falling asleep when I eat right before bed. Some people may not experience this, especially if they have worked late night snacks into the routine of sleep, but for me, eating right before bed is a guaranteed bad sleep.
3. Avoid processed sugars before bed
Everyone knows that sugar can cause a "sugar-high", so not eating it before bed makes perfect sense.
What isn't talked about as much is the fact that eating processed sugars before bed can actually throw off the metabolic and recovery processes that go on in the brain during sleep, and has been shown to lead to irritability and anxiety the following day. This is something that I always notice. Especially after an evening out with friends, sometimes I come home and get sweets to snack on before bed, and the next day I usually have to deal with a few existential crises.
4. Make sure your room is cool and dark
This is a big one for me. I find that I am very easily disrupted by light and a room that is too hot or too cold. This is why I cover all lights on power bars, and chargers, ensure that I have very good blinds on the window, and if I can control it, I make sure there's no light sneaking in under the door from outside.
As for the temperature, this is something that is different for everyone. The home I live in here in Sweden is kept quite warm through the winter months, so I typically sleep with my window open, or light PJ's while I sleep.
They have done studies on this and apparently the ideal sleeping temperature is between 15.5 degrees Celsius and 19.4 degrees Celsius. I'm not keeping a thermometer in my room to know what exactly the temperature is, so I just make sure it's cool and then I can usually fall asleep much faster than when I'm in a warm room.
5. Make sure I have my stress in check
We have all had those nights where we have 1,000,000 things running through out minds and we just can't fall asleep. This is normal and bound to happen, but you can take steps to limit the number of nights this happens to you.
I try to make my pre-bedtime routine as stress free as possible.
My Fitbit has a relax setting on it that takes me through either 5 or 10 minutes of breathing, and I have found that setting to be helpful when journaling and meditation podcasts are not getting the job done (sometimes the person leading the meditation can have an irritating voice on the wrong day).
There's a reason why my PT clients would always be asked about their sleep (and their water intake) when they trained with me.
Sleep is so important. I hope that this article has done its job conveying that message and I hope you all may have sweet dreams tonight!
In the fall of 2019 I was feeling in a bit of a rut professionally. I had moved to a new country, on a new continent, with a different language, and very different daily responsibilities. I still had my marketing job from back home, and I still had this website and my Instagram page for Riri's Discoveries.
I knew that while I was living in Sweden, I would have a little more time on my hands to work on my online personal training business. In reality, I actually found myself struggling to juggle all of my responsibilities while also trying to experience and explore my new home.
So one day I though to myself, people trust people with followers. If I can just get myself enough followers, spreading my message will be easier. I'll finally be able to reach the people I want to reach.
So I shopped around and found a few websites that could deliver a few hundred followers here, a few hundred followers there. It was a rush to sign on to my Instagram after that and see all of the followers rolling in. Finally I would have the numbers that would make me legitimate in the eyes of passing Instagram-ers.
But similar to The Mask above, it was all fake. And I knew that, but for a little while I was okay with it. For a little while even I was convinced of it, despite knowing that I had paid for inactive and ghost users to follow me.
This new year I have put a greater emphasis on honesty in my life. I work with kids right now and I am always telling them that it is better to be honest, even if you think you might get in trouble.
So I've decided to use an Instagram cleaner service to remove all of the inactive and ghost users who follow my account.
Knowing what I know about social media from the marketing work that I do, successful social media is about engagement, not just followers. If I am going to be putting myself out there and sharing my fitness journey with people on Instagram, I want those people to want to engage. After going through the cleaning process I could be left with 1000, 100, maybe even just 10 people, but if those people are actually seeing the posts and the stories, and they feel comfortable to engage with me and what I put out there, then I feel like I am actually staying true to my purpose.
I am really focused on using my social media, website, and now YouTube - for good. When I became a personal trainer I knew that I had something special to give to people. I know that it won't be helpful or useful to absolutely everyone, but that's okay.
So if you're one of the ones that are left after I purge the users who are inactive, or who follow but don't engage, then thank-you. I hope that moving forward I can put out the content that you want to see and that you find helpful.
Don't forget to do something good for your body today, friends. See you in the next one :)
p.s. I put out my first YouTube video this week to go with my blog post on habits. You can check it out below :)
At the beginning of 2020 I decided I wanted a learning goal for the year. Something to obsess over that would add value to my life personally and professionally. What I found myself gravitating towards was habits and habit formation.
When I was a PT in the gym I remember the hardest part of getting clients to commit to the gym and improving their food choices was always getting them to modify their current habits. I figured making habits my learning goal for this year would be perfect as it will not only improve my life, but will also contribute to my professional goal of helping my friends, family, and followers better understand themselves.
We have all felt these "autopilot" moments in our lives, and they are actually beneficial in some cases. But in the case of self-destructive habits, or habits that lead to unhealthy behaviours, like binge eating and being more sedentary than active, new habits are required to take their place in order to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
This is why I want to learn everything there is to learn about habits, willpower, cravings, and everything else that goes along with it.
Why do we have habits?
Habits and the neurological mechanisms that control them come from the ancient part of our brain. When life was more wild and our only priorities were to stay alive and procreate our brains created a system to ensure we could achieve those things without allocating too much energy or attention to them. Taking down prey was a dangerous task at times and so those who could do it without wasting time ended up being the most successful.
Nowadays our habits help us ride bikes, drive cars, and in exceptional cases, help athletes like Michael Phelps win a gold medal despite his goggles being completely filled with water.
Our brain creates habits so that we can get everyday tasks done without having to give much attention or energy to them. This gives us more energy to pay attention to new things we may encounter in our day to day lives. In this way habits are useful to us.
How do we create habits?
Habits are created through something called a habit loop. We may not even realize we are creating habits, but new habits are being formed every day. Think about when you go to the door and have to put on your shoes. Which shoe do you put on first? If it has laces, do you bend down to tie your laces, or prop your shoe up on something. This is a task that most of us perform every day and therefore our brains created a habit to make it easier for us.
The habit loop includes 3 parts: Cue/Trigger, Routine, and Reward. In the case of the shoes, your cue is going to the door with the intention of leaving the house. The routine is putting on the shoes. The reward is having shoes on to protect your feet when you go outside. It is as simple as that.
Some habits are far more complex than this one, but for the sake of keeping this article simple, I'll just stick to the common habits you may encounter every day.
If you want to create a new habit you need to first figure out what your cue will be. Once you have a cue that you can reproduce every time you want to activate this habit, then you need to create the routine that follows. Let's say you want to start going to the gym in the morning. Your cue would be waking up and maybe having a cup of coffee. Then you would get your gym gear ready and head off to the gym. There is your routine. The final piece is very important. The reward is what makes the habits stick. If your brain can experience something positive, like a rush of endorphins, then it will deem this a beneficial habit. For some, simply getting themselves to the gym is the reward. For others, they may need to incorporate something physical to reward themselves for going to the gym. This could be posting about it on social media and getting support from friends, or having their favourite protein shake after the gym. Anything that adds value and can behave as a reward after a desired routine is created will help to solidify the habit.
What about bad habits? Can we get rid of them?
A bad habit will look different to every person. The way someone perceives something bad is subjective to their personal experiences, values, and ideas for what they want their life to look like. So if you want to change a "bad" habit in your life it is important to know that the brain is pretty tough to change, but not impossible.
Knowing that habits are created via the habit loop (cue, routine, reward), if you can identify the cue for a bad habit, then you can interrupt the habit before it begins to play out. In this case you will need a little help from 2 friends - belief and willpower.
Willpower, as observed by many studies, is a finite resource that we can train to become stronger. Every day we are provided with the amount of willpower we have trained ourselves to use on a regular basis. If we wish to have more willpower than we have now, then we have to put our willpower on a training program, slowly adding more and more instances of willpower into our lives.
The second friend, belief, is sometimes a tough friend to count on. Your ability to believe in yourself is based on a lifetime of others believing in you (or not), and your own individual practice of believing in yourself.
If you can get belief and willpower on your side, then changing a habit is much easier. All you need to do is identify the cue for the bad habit, then interrupt it with a new routine. For example, let's say you have a cue of every day on your way home from work you stop by a coffee shop and pick up a coffee and cookie. After months of doing this, those cookies are starting to add up and your bank account isn't loving those regular expenses. So your cue is driving home from work. To change the routine you can do something like take a different exit and take a new route home. You could even go to the coffee shop and get just a coffee, but no cookie. This last option is the least disruptive but will require more willpower. You could even offer to have a carpool with a colleague, creating a new environment in the car when you are going home that would likely distract you from even thinking about the coffee and cookie.
For the final piece, there needs to be a reward to make this habit change worth it to your brain. So when you get home, maybe you make your own cup of coffee. You could prep a different snack to have when you get home, or treat yourself to some relaxation time with Netflix or some music. Whatever the case may be, just make sure the reward is worth it.
My final tip for changing habits:
Don't overwhelm yourself. You may have a number of habits you would like to create for yourself, and that's great! But the mind can only handle so much change at one time. Be patient, and try to only tackle 1 or 2 habits at a time.
If it is any motivation to you to take things slowly, research has found that when individuals start to change just 1 habit in their life, the probability of them beginning to naturally and unconsciously change other habits increases.
They call these keystone habits. They are the habits that once created/changed create a ripple effect through all of our habits and can change our lives in so many more ways than we originally thought.
So take it easy on yourself and try changing just 1 habit in the next month using the cue, routine, and reward loop as your guide.
I am sticking to my 2020 goals of committing time to this website again. My first act has been a few more blogs on the website, but my second is far more exciting!
If you go to my Fitness Page you'll now find 2 freebies on that page. Each freebie targets a different area of the body and provides you with 5 new workouts to add to your routine. The workouts are complete with a warm-up, a couple sets of exercises, cardio, and core exercises.
I really want to make fitness accessible to as many people as possible this year and I can't think of a better way than to offer workouts that are completely free for you to try!
If you go to the Fitness page you will also another exciting announcement. The next step for me to make fitness accessible is to upload a series of at-home workouts. These will for a minimal cost as they will require more time and production on my side of things, but they will still be great value for your money (no more than $10!).
I understand that gym memberships can be expensive and the gym can be an intimidating place. By creating workout videos for mini-workouts you can do at home, you will now have a chance to get moving without breaking the bank, or putting yourself in a situation you aren't yet comfortable with.
Looking forward to all of the exciting things I hope to offer you in this coming new year!
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's most recent research, her travel adventures, and her personal fitness journey.