Sleep comes to you, it’s not something you do

Sunset beachAll my life I have been struggling with, what I think is called onset sleep insomnia – meaning trouble falling asleep. Once I have fallen asleep I usually sleep just fine. So not the serious kind that keeps you from sleeping several days in a row, but still incredibly annoying.

I even think I know how I got it. When I was a little boy my parents and all the other families on our road used to gather around for special occasions which usually kept on till way into the night. I thought it quite cool to be up with the adults so I fought my tiredness and stayed awake as much as possible. I can even remember the adults saying how impressive it was for me to be able to stay awake. If I had access to a timemachine, I would fly right back and throw that “trying-to-be-cool-child” in bed! That “coolness” has sort of kept up with me for some time now.

Over the years I have tried quite a lot of different things in order to combat this annoyance – some with more success than others and I will probably come with several pieces of advice in this regard, although truth be told I haven’t yet totally figured it out. But I have found a lot of little hacks and things that work in favor of falling asleep faster. I can still have nights where nothing seems to help and as if planned this actually perfectly leads into what I will describe in this blog post.

As Epictetus famously said:

“Man is troubled not be events but by the meaning he/she gives them”

Meaning nothing is ever really good or bad, it is all in how YOU decide to frame it. Your perception colors the experience. Not digging to deep into this, but what does it have to do with sleeping? Glad you asked!

If you have trouble falling asleep you’ll with guarantee recognize the scenario where you lay in bed trying to fall asleep and nothing happens. You turn to one side – no help. The other side – no help. You start to count sheep – 1,2,3…7…24…78..167…498 – okay this is jus stupid. You try all you can to get to sleep – and nothing happens. If anything you may feel more fresh than when you initially put your head on the pillow. You frame yourself as being bad at getting to sleep. You can’t seem to do it. You put pressure on yourself for being bad at something as simple as falling asleep.

Well this is where this concept comes into play. I actually didn’t pick it up from some famous sleep-article or research paper, but read it in a book that hasn’t really got anything to do with sleeping. It does have a lot to do with how you live your life and how to think, so under that wide umbrella you could say that sleeping somewhat must find itself. The book is the somewhat famous Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. First time I read this book several years ago I didn’t actually finish it. I was in no way impressed with it and probably only got halfway through – but all that is for a different time. Luckily I picked it up and read it again a second time where I really enjoyed it, at least most of it.

But staying on track. If I remember correctly there is actually at least two times in this book where he mentions/touches on this concept. It is only as a strayed out sentence each time and something that could easily be missed. I probably only picked it up because of my long troublesome relationship with sleep, so anytime I see something that has to do with this subject I automatically pick it up or dig a little deeper.

Paraphrasing from memory, the first time this “concept” is mentioned it is written something like:

“I lay there in what seems like eternity but no sleep comes”

And the second time something like:

“It is 5 am, way too early, but no more sleep to be had”

So there are some subtleties in those two sentences that might go unnoticed, but really clicked with me. What he does here is speak of sleep as something that “comes” and something “to be had”. Framing sleep this way, it suddenly goes from something you do to something that either comes or not.

But what is the difference, why is this important. Good question! And “important” might be overselling it, but at least in my opinion rather interesting. The subtle difference between seeing sleep as something you do as opposed to something that comes to you lay in the difference of control.

In general, things you do are things you can be better or worse at, but in the end it is you doing it, meaning your responsibility whether the outcome is good or not. Things that come to are out of your control. They either come or they don’t, not much you can do about it.

Herein lay the interesting difference of looking at sleep. If you think of it as something you do, then you are in control and you can beat yourself up about not being good at it. On the other hand if you see it as something that either comes or not, then it is out of your control. You can’t or shouldn’t beat yourself up over something out of your control does not come to you. It can be really annoying still, but no need to beat yourself up about it.

For me this actually helps when I have evenings where sleep does not seem to come. Then okay, it is not yet time for sleep, then I get up and read and try again a little later when I feel more tired.

Of course this won’t magically make you fall asleep in less than a minute, but in my experience it actually lightens some of the stress of not being able to fall asleep or waking up early. Well okay, no more sleep to be had.

I will give a lot more tips on sleep in the future, so please stay tuned. Whether taking advice on sleep from one that isn’t an expert at it must be for you to decide 🙂

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Stop worrying – get to the confirmed objective facts

Boat beachThere are numerous articles and blog-post that promises to help you get rid of worry. This won’t be one. Try as you might you’ll never get to a point where you’re free of worry in your life. You will probably have periods with more and periods with less, but avoid it altogether won’t happen. What’s way more interesting and important is how to deal with it once it arrives.

Worry is closely related to anxiety and stress. They are all fear based feelings, that try to tell you that something is wrong in an attempt to protect yourself from whatever it is that causes them. They are totally natural and occurs to everyone whether people admit it or not.

As they are natural feelings, there is no real reason to try to get totally rid of them. What you need is a better way to handle them once they arrive. Today we will focus on worry even though as said earlier; worry is closely related to anxiety and stress and can in some instances it can be hard to know one from the other. But as this advice will work with all of them, there is no real reason to really pinpoint which of the feelings you have.

Worry has a lot to do with control. When you are in total control you aren’t worried. If you had an exam where you knew all the questions in advance and could prepare so intensely that you knew all answers by heart – then you wouldn’t worry. Your brain would probably then try to worry about whether those actually was all the question, try to come up with potential “unknowns” that could hamper with the end result. But if we keep all what-if’s out of the question; you wouldn’t be worried at an exam where you knew you all questions and all answers. You would be in total control.

Seeing worry from this angle starts to point to a solution, or precaution that can help in situations of worry. You just have to be in control, then there is nothing to worry about. Well yes, thank you! I’ll just lock myself into a room where I’m able to control all the variables and live from there. NOT really viable.

What we need to do is take a stoic look at “events”. The stoics made this really good distinction between event. They divided them into 3 groups. Event over which you have total control, events over which you have some but not total control, and events over which you have no control.

The first and the last are the easiest and are the ones you should spend the least time on. If you have total control, then just make it the way you want. If you have no control, then do not worry because your worry won’t change anything.

Going back to the example with the exam. You are probably not worried whether you will show up or not to the exam. You decide to go or you decide not to go. Then that is out of the question. The cynic will probably then see any number of things that could go wrong on the way there. Again, some of those you will have control over, some of them you won’t. If you are worried about getting late, then go really early and spend the extra time waiting at the destination. Being hit by lightning on the way there is not something you can control, so don’t worry about it. These are of course simple examples but, they should be adequate to bring home the point.

Then we arrive at the last one; events over which you have some but not full control. This is where most energy is spent. The final grade of your exam is a good example of this. You can push it in either direction by more or less preparation, but you cannot control it fully. Even in the example of having all questions and answers in advance, you still can’t control the final grade from the censor.

But what you need to do to control your worry, is get to the confirmed objective facts. And the words “confirmed” and “objective” is there for a reason. “If I go talk to that girl and she rejects me, the whole world will laugh at me and my life will be over.” or “If I don’t get straight A’s in all my exams my life will be over.” – That could be felt as very strong facts inside yourself, but to an outside person or even when having the experience somewhat at a distance, it’s totally obvious that those are not “confirmed objective” facts. They are strong feelings, yes. But facts – no.

I love doing this on paper. If I’m very worried about something I start by writing whatever it is that I am worried about on the top of a piece of paper. Then I test my hypothesis.

“If I can’t X then Y will happen, which will be an absolute disaster.”

Then I start by saying am I absolutely certain that Y will happen. Can anything else be the outcome of this? If not, then I start to look at what it will actually mean to me if Y happens. Is it as big of a disaster as I have in my mind. It could mean a minor or major setback, but total disaster?

Then I just work my way through and test all the hypothesis and all my conclusions. The funny part about this is that even just the act of doing this calms me down. I am back in control, I am not contemplating all outcomes and can decide which of them I find most attractive or least disastrous. As said in the beginning worry almost always stems from a feeling of loss of control. Getting this control back, or even just working on getting it back can seriously dampen if not totally rid yourself of worry.

Try it for yourself. The next time you are really worried by something. Write it down and objectively test all your hypothesis and conclusions. I bet you’ll feel the worry lessen almost immediately.

Buy green tea locally and drink more of it

There is no shortage of articles, blog posts or even entire blogs dedicated to sell you on the idea that you should be drinking green tea if you aren’t going to die tomorrow – fat – lonely with only a stray-cat for company. So I won’t dig too much into that.

As a general rule of thumb people will drink things that tastes good or things that have a desired effect – even if this may bear the adverse effect of vomiting or causing you to have a mini-me show up after 9 months – and just to be clear, that’s alcohol – not green tea.

So where am I going with this? If you want to drink more green tea or green tea at all – then it needs to taste really good or have a huge impact to outweigh any lack of seductive taste. And then finally it needs to be relatively easy to make. Matcha tea is probably one of the most beneficial of all green teas, but it is very expensive and quite complicated to make. Some days you may have the time to go through a half hour tea ceremony but to make it a stable part of everyday we probably need to minimize the use of Geishas, Chashitsues(Japanese tea house) and stick to teas that give a somewhat better ROI.

But with that being said – don’t go all cheap-skate and buy bagged green tea from Lipton or any other big-name tea producer. Some of them may taste close to okay, but often times they get very bitter easily and is in my book a bit too far in the “ease-of-making” category compromising on quality and taste.

Green tea is such a good candidate for buying more local and supporting small business owners. I have moved a few times over the last couple of years and each time I have spent some time looking for a cosy, small tea shop where I could buy my favorite tea.

Walking into these shops is an event in itself. My favorite shop these days is like walking into a little part of Japan in the middle of Copenhagen. This cosy small shop that is owned by the most hospitable little Japanese lady, mellowly submerges your senses in a mix of smells varying from the sweetest of teas to the strongest of herbs all the while you are surrounded by rice lamps and Japanese art all giving life to the experience of buying such a small and trivial thing as tea.

Buying from these shops instead of buying from big supermarkets or online both lets you indulge in the comfortable feeling of buying from specialists as was the way everything was sold back in the day, as well as enabling you to smell all the different varieties of tea and getting expert advice from people who is specialised in exactly the type of goods you are there to buy. Supermarkets and online shopping are great for convenience in everyday shopping but for more specialised goods the nothing beats small distinct shops both in terms of overall experience and quality.

The types of tea you can buy here tastes so much better than mass-manufactured bagged tea. You can buy small bags to put the tea into or filters that then has to be cleaned – but this just adds layers of complication. Most green teas bought in these shops can actually just be put directly in the cup and then poured over with hot water. The quality of tea ensures that it does not get bitter from being in the cup too long. Then when you have consumed your tea you just throw the used leaves in the bin and brew a new cup – easy!

Do yourself the favor and go out into the world and enter one of these shops – I will almost guarantee that you’ll get both better quality goods as well as a more rewarding buying experience. It also makes it more likely that you’ll consume more of the holy nectar of life enabling you to grow old while being surrounded by beautiful people and doing backflips.

 

Does foam rolling work? Mobility, warm-up and science.

There has been a lot of different opinions when it comes to foam rolling. Some people swear by it while others says it is a total waste of time and highlights the foam-roller as the most over-hyped accessory in the fitness industry. But now finally there has been some scientific research that looked into the matter and shed some light on it. It will probably not put the arguments to rest and I would be surprised if it’s the last research paper on this subject, but nevertheless it is a good place to start. For good measure the link to the study is in the bottom of this post.

I can’t even remember where I heard about foam rolling for the first time, something inside me says it was probably Kelly Starrett – but whether that is just because he has been at the forefront of the proponents or it was actually the case I can’t remember.

My opinion about it however has stayed somewhat neutral. I am in no way against it but does in no way see it as the holy grail of neither warm-up nor mobility practice. My main use of it has always been to release some tension in the upper back. For this it is absolutely brilliant! But rolling around smashing my quads or hamstrings before squatting for instance never really caught on with me. I have always been a proponent of warming up with the movements you are about to do in your training.

But now the big question is whether I should abandon my usual practice and go all-in on the foam roller or stick with what I have been doing so far?

This first research paper focused on stretching and flexibility of the hamstring by comparing PNF stretching with foam rolling and a control group. For good measure PNF stretching is where you contract and release into the stretch and is generally seen as superior to static stretching and therefore a good and high measure on which to compare foam rolling.

The unsurprising find of the study was that PNF works compared to the control group – we know that. But the surprising find is that the foam-rolling group gained as much flexibility as the PNF group. In other words the foam rolling actually gave as much flexibility as what is otherwise seen as the superior way of gaining flexibility. I had by no mean expected that! I could perhaps have understood if it stood the ground against some weaker static stretching but this finding is quite surprising.

So this leaves me with my original question to answer: will I abandon my usual practice and go on a foam-rolling frenzy. Probably not. For one this study only looked at flexibility and not warm-up. I still believe the best way to warm-up is to do the actual movements you are about to perform to both get blood into the muscles but also get the CNS firing the rigth places. But I must admit that this study perhaps will have me spend some more time foam-rolling, not the least in times where I feel tight in some areas.

There you have it – science now backs foam-rolling. That must be the news of the week from the fitness world, something that is hyped and actually seems to work. It is even affordable if you get the basic version from amazon: BLACK High Density Foam Roller or if you want the Rolls Royce: Trigger Point Performance Foam Roller, Orange

And finally of course the link to the actual study: The foam roll as a tool to improve hamstring flexibility

Awareness in daily living

Almost no matter who you are daily living can be both mundane and boring. Even if I wanted I can’t change that. But I do believe there is value to be had and perhaps I can make a little change in the way you go about your day which will make them seem a little more worth your time.

The thought about writing this post actually came about several months ago watching my then roommate doing the dishes. I have since observed other do somewhat the same.

Awareness can sound very spiritual and fluffy and to some people it might be just that, but in the context I will use it here it’s neither. It is more in the realm of being present. I am quite sure that whoever you are there are times when awareness comes very natural. Usually this is doing things we enjoy such as playing with friends or working on something we love. Making love could and should be an example of this – but most people are way more in their head than their body, thinking about whether they perform, how they look, “does he really like me”, “will she see me again” etc. that they perform the most enjoyable physical act without actually being present in their physical body.

Then how does making love tie into doing the dishes? I’ll get to that.

Unless you’re a Prince(please drop a comment if you are), then you probably have to do with quite mundane tasks in your life. They are tasks that needs to be done but aren’t all that enjoyable. This could be as mentioned earlier doing the dishes. Then why will awareness and doing the dishes ever merge into something beautiful? Beautiful might be overselling it, but they can actually meet and have a nice pleasant conversation.

Doing the dishes from a standpoint of “this is a dull task that involves putting water on plates and brushing a bit” not only makes it more annoying but also makes your end result sloppy. If you do it that way you miss the end result which is actually making the dishes clean. Thats what I observed with previous roommates. They just splattered some water on each plate, knife and fork, rubbed a bit with a brush and then dried them. This often left the dishes with stains that then ended in the dish towel – then you have a dirty dish towel and semi dirty dishes – good job!

The “goal” of much meditation is to bring more focus and awareness into your life. Be more present. Doing mundane tasks is an obvious chance for doing this. Being more aware means being more clear about the objective. When you do the dishes you make sure you do a good job, you do the dishes in order to make them clean. You do not do it as a strange act of splashing a bit of water on things in your sink. You shouldn’t necessarily enjoy it, but you should be present enough to know the objective of your task and do a good job of it.

If your mind is 10 different places and none of them are with your physical body doing the dishes you end up doing a very bad job, maybe dropping plates or glasses. This is exactly the same as with making love without being present – you can’t enjoy the experience if you’re not actually there. You’ll end up doing a bad “job” and perhaps even setting yourself up for anxiety next time around.

Of course this won’t suddenly turn mundane tasks into pleasurable experiences and sometimes you’ll just be in too much of a hurry to do anything other than storm through them. But just once in a while try to be a little more present while shaving, doing the dishes or cleaning. Even though it is mundane tasks there is still satisfaction to be had from doing a good job rather than a sloppy one.

Perhaps in time you’ll end up being a “artist of the mundane”.

Drinking water vs absorbing water

Most people probably drink too little water. They kill their thirst with some sort of bottled or canned alternative containing either none or lots of calories. Steering somewhat clear of that discussion I will focus on the ones who actually do turn to water whenever they feel thirsty and only uses the bottled and canned alternatives as a treat once in a while.

Once you find yourself in the latter group, you’re golden right? Not quite – but if you feel you’ve already done all you need to – then do not read on – but if you’re interested in one little missing piece of the puzzle, then please; read on.

There are somewhat differing views as to how much water we actually need each day. Of course this also heavily depends on who you are and what you do. Luckily our body is pretty well suited to telling us when we are thirsty – if then only we remember to answer this calling with the right substance – meaning water. But adding to this, a little tip is that you can also monitor the color of your pee as this is a pretty good indicator of your current water levels in the body. It should be almost clear – the more yellow it is the more you’re in need of water. Of course your morning urine will almost always be yellow – but from there it should be pretty close to clear.

But even this advice will not necessarily keep you in the sweet spot – because you can also have too much water – then you start excreting all the nice vitamins in your body – which by no means is the goal. I was in this group. I drank lots of water and had always done so. But my frequent trips to the toilet left me questioning whether I actually absorbed any of this water or it just sort of had a fast-track route through me.

Researching a bit on this lead me to a somewhat controversial mineral; salt. Lots of people almost swear that this kills you as fast as saturated fat did some years back. They will scan through all ingredients in everything they buy looking for this big read flashing sign saying “RADIOACTIVE” or “salt” as they sometimes spell it. Of course this is not the way to do it – just as well as only eating food covered in salt isn’t. As with anything – moderation is king!

Your body needs salt especially in regards to the topic of this post – absorption of water. Salt plays a vital role in your cells absorption of water. And why is this important – the important part must be just drinking the water, then the rest takes care of itself. Well not quite. As mentioned earlier if you aren’t absorbing the water it just sort of runs through you without actually doing any good – or as much good as it’s supposed to.

For your cells and your muscles to work properly they need the water, but not just running past them – they need it to enter. This is where salt comes into play [reference].

But then how should you go about having the right amount of salt to absorb the water? Is it a matter of putting more salt on your meals?

In my experience this doesn’t quite solve the problem. It is as if you need rather large quantities of salt on your food to get around this issue and to be fair you probably do not drink all your water around your meals. And now you can probably see where we are going…

Adding salt to the water itself. But if you’ve ever heard good ol’ advice on how to make people puke you will probably connect the dots and look like a big question mark. Saltwater is very efficient at making people puke if they have eaten something they shouldn’t – but the amount and quality of salt is key here.

You shouldn’t add kilos of ordinary table salt to a small glass of water and call it a day – or you may – because you’ll be feeling very bad afterwards if you manage to drink it. What you should be doing is buy some quality salt and only adding very little to your water. My go-to type is himalayan salt like this: Himalayan Crystal Salt – Dark Pink but no need to buy it of the internet you can probably find it in your local shop. If it looks something like this – then you’re probably golden. Billede 09-08-15 15.02.07

I add a small pinch between two fingers to my can of 2 litres – which equates to 8-10 small pieces. It doesn’t taste like salt at all and I am very adverse to the taste of saltwater, so I wouldn’t be able to drink it if it did.

After doing this my frequent trips to the toilet has stopped. I do not drink as much water but feel better. My body seems to actually make good use of the water instead of just being a fancy water fountain that carries the water from the tap to the toilet. If you can recognise any of the symptoms then try it yourself.

“Nailing” perfect sprint technique; high knee, quick recovery and toes up with one simple tip

I absolutely do not consider myself an expert on sprinting as it, at least by track & field terms, is not something I have done my entire life. But what I do consider myself quite an expert on is biomechanics and applying well researched concepts to actual sports specific training. And with the title of the blog containing “Keep It Simple Stupid” I am quite a sucker for simple tips and tricks, which is exactly what this is.

I have never been a particularly bad sprinter, meaning that I was always able to run rather fast and accelerate very quickly. Having always been fascinated by sprinters this ability has somewhat stuck with me through all my different sports and training methodologies. But starting track and field sprinting really opened my eyes to how much specific technique and applied methodologies that are to a great 100m race.

I can pinpoint numerous things I am working on to reduce my 100m times, but one of the things that I really found hard to comprehend was the notion of the high knee lift. How could lifting my knee higher in any way improve my speed? For all I could see it would take longer for me to lift the knee meaning a reduction in frequency – the knee lift in itself did not from my view yield any result. The high knee lift had to come from something else. Adding to my skepticism I think that I had read somewhere that the high knee lift came as a result of the force production on the ground – meaning more force production = higher knee lift and not that the knee lift in itself “did anything”. This sort of made sense to me until I read a piece that totally shattered that view.

Another common advice getting thrown around is to recover your leg quickly and keep your heel close to your butt when recovering your leg. What this advice ends up doing is mimicking “butt-kicks” which is actually not what we are looking for. We are not trying to recover the heel all the way up to the back of the butt, but we are trying to make the lever as short as possible to quickly recover the leg and have it ready for the next step. A better analogy is keeping the heel close to the hamstring which is actually closer to what we are trying to obtain.

Finally there is the “toes pointing up” that comes together with the high knee lift – this puts tension on the calves and enables for a more explosive force-development through the ankle by way of the “stretch reflex”. These three things along with numerous other techniques is what the new athlete has to think about while sprinting max effort – and oh – remember to relax while you’re doing it…

There is actually great debate as to exactly what makes for the perfect sprinting technique. All scientific papers seems to have a very hard time really pinpointing what the “right” technique is, but one thing that seems to stand out across all scientific papers is the fact that all great sprinters have very short ground contact in common. Thereby saying that they are able to produce tremendous amount of force in a very short timeframe and then quickly recover the leg.

What I was not able to comprehend was as said earlier how lifting my knees higher could help achieve any of this. But luckily someone explained it to me in a way that made biomechanical sense to me.

Getting your knees higher achieves a longer travel for your foot to enable it to punch the ground harder. This is the same analogy as if you were to punch a sandbag really hard, you would not start with your hand 1 inch away from it – you would pull it back and then punch. The same goes for high knee lift – what you are doing is pulling your knee higher in order to explosively and violently punch the ground harder.

When this was explained to me, it suddenly made sense. The reason for teaching high knee lift is that it has been found to be the way you can punch the ground hardest and produce the most amount of force. Now my brain was on track with why – then the next step was how?

Luckily there is a little tip that at least for me made everything just click. High knees, quick recovery close to the hamstring and toes pointing up. The very simple tip is to imagine that there is a long nail sticking out of your opposite knee that you need to step over each time you recover your leg. If you do this, even just walking slowly you will realize that in order to do so your toes will automatically point upwards to get over “the nail” and you automatically pull your heel close to your hamstring and not back up towards your butt and finally in order to get “all the way over” this imaginary nail you need to pull your knee high – in short everything that is taught as good sprinting technique. Try it out for yourself – for me i just sort of made everything click – so hopefully it can do the same for you.