Thursday, May 16, 2019

Make Your Bedroom Like a Cave for Your Best Sleep!

I bet this house has a wonderful comfy bedroom!
If you've read our blog for any amount of time, you'll know we are concerned about how many Americans have problems getting to sleep and staying there. Look at these statistics from the American Sleep Association:

37% of 20-39 year-olds report short sleep duration.
40% of 40-59 year-olds report short sleep duration.
35.3% adults report <7 hours of sleep during a typical 24-hour period.
While some of reports stem from health issues, the problem the ASA sees most often is insomnia, with about 30 percent of all adults reporting at least some short-term issues.

How can this happen? We live in the 21st Century, with every possible advantage. We have ways to get exercise even when we can't comfortably go outside. We have access to amazing medical facilities and the best health technology seen in the history of the world. We aren't sleeping on the ground, worried about ear-snakes, with a stone for our pillow. Why can't we sleep well? More importantly, we are we dying from lack of sleep??

There is very likely no easy answer to that question. If there were, someone would have figured it out by now and would have turned that knowledge into a fortune. They'd be laughing at us right now from their palatial moon base mansion, surrounded by their super-intelligent robot monkey butlers.

We aren't rich, nor do we have a moonbase -- yet -- but we might have an idea. See, the trick is to turn your bedroom into a cave -- or make it as much like a cave as you can while keeping the comforts of climate control and lack of bats and spiders. Caves, which is where animals like to sleep if they can, tend to share three qualities. First, they are cool. Second, they are dark. Third, they are quiet. Let's take each of these in turn.
  1. Cool: The idea sleeping temperature for the average adult sits somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, your ideal temperature will vary, but you should not have your bedroom too cold nor too hot. Every person has a "set-point" -- a temperature their body tries to maintain -- and that point falls a bit at night. If the temperature in your bedroom is too far above or below that point, your body will continually fight to either heat or cool. You won't sleep well. As a rule, though, cooler is better. Remember that you can always put on pajamas, socks, or extra blankets. 
  2. Dark: We all know it's tougher to sleep with a bright light shining on you than if you were in a dark room, right? Okay. So we don't need to hammer this point into the ground, but there is a point worth noting. Your body begins to produce melatonin, the so-called "sleep drug", in the late evening and that melatonin stays in your bloodstream throughout the night, for roughly 12 hours. Except that melatonin is very sensitive to light. It hates light. If you keep your lights right before you relax to sleep or, worse, after you're asleep, your melatonin level falls off drastically. How drastically? More than half. Dark is good. Okay? Okay. 
  3. Quiet: A study in 2012 showed links between nighttime noise and increases in cardiovascular disease and stroke in elderly people. A 2018 study showed the louder environment of a pediatric unit may have had direct effects on the children's pain tolerance and recovery time. We've covered the benefits of listening to soothing music at a relatively low volume here before, but the benefits have such positive potential we want to give you that link again. Here, also, is a link to our article on Tinnitus and how sound therapy can quiet the din. The short of it is this: quiet is good but absolute quiet isn't as good as you may think, especially if you're prone to worry. You need some noise, so make sure the noise in your bedroom is soft, regular, and soothing. 
You can sleep well. You don't have to worry about nodding off as you drive home from work. You can greet bedtime with joy and, yes, even some eager anticipation. You can do it! Just remember to make your bedroom like a cave -- cool, quiet,and dark -- and you'll be well on your way. Let us know how it goes, okay?

(Photo Credit: bernswaelz on Pixabay)

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Want to Hear Some Great Bedtime Stories? Look in These Five Places!

Right now, it's pretty much common knowledge that reading bedtime stories to children is good for them and for you. Of course, you should make sure you're reading stories to your own children, because breaking into strange bedrooms and loudly reading a Curious George book is frowned upon in most civilized nations. What you may not know, though is just how good reading is for grown-ups! A recent study at the University of Sussex showed that reading a story for as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress by as much as 68 percent. That, folks, is an amazing return on a small investment of time and attention.

The problem most of us have is that, no matter how much we may want to read, we only have so many hours in a day and we don't get a lot of time to sit down with a good book. We do, however, have another option. Bedtime stories. Specifically, bedtime stories someone else will read to us thanks to the magic of the internet. There are, quite literally, thousands of podcasts, YouTube channels, and websites from which you can get wonderful stories to put you in the perfect relaxed mindset you need at bedtime. We thought we'd share some interesting story sources with you here. Keep in mind we didn't always run to the most popular places for audio stories, such as the main audiobook stores (such as Audible and Librivox). We decided to point you to places you can get something a bit different from the usual fare, something you might just love and want to share with your friends and family.

Ready? Here we go.
  1. Sleep Stories by Calm: You may be familiar with the Calm app, but not quite so familiar with the original stories it has, narrated by some quite-familiar voices. The Calm folks put a few of their stories on a YouTube playlist where you can listen to them for free. Of course, you'll have to pay their subscription fee if you want the full library, but the four stories offered in the playlist are worth hearing more than once. 
  2. HorrorBabble: While we're on YouTube, let's wander over to the scary side of town. The folks behind HorrorBabble have built an impressive library of stories from well-known authors, mostly taken from the public domain. You will get a healthy dose of Poe, Lovecraft, Hodgson, and others, but that's not all. They've begun to build a collection of original stories, written by up-and-coming authors and the channel's main narrator, Ian Gordon. 
  3. Sleep With Me Podcast: Drew Ackerman used to go to sleep listening to late-night radio comedies, which led him to create his own podcast, full of funny and calming stories. The show, which you can find here, isn't your traditional bedtime story fare, though. Drew rambles through his thoughts on the day, his sleeping issues, television shows or movies he's watched, or different business ideas he's cooked up while trying to get to sleep in a voice that'll remind you of Ben Stein. At some point, he ties everything together in a nice little package, but you'll probably be asleep before he gets there. But why not try?
  4. Scare You to Sleep Podcast: I found this show while looking for solid scary stories made just for bedtime. The stories can be uneven at times, as the host pulls in tales from reddit creepypasta boards and original stories written by listeners, but you'll get some top-notch tales here as well. The host, Shelby Scott, has an amazing voice and does fantastic work weaving in sound effects and background noises to immerse you in the story she's telling. It might just be your kind of thing! 
  5. The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio: Do you like detective stories? Great! This show will be your nighttime slumber-maker. Host Adam Graham presents the adventures and exploits of characters like Boston Blackie and Joe Friday in stories guaranteed to pull you in and make you forget the worries and cares of the day. The only issue you may have is getting so engrossed in the stories that you won't want to sleep right away!

What do you think? If you like these, let us know. Also, if you have a favorite place for bedtime listening, share that with us in the comments. We'd love to hear from you! We'd also love for you to check out our pillow, which lets you listen to whatever story you want in cozy and comfortable privacy thanks to our Night Owl speakers!

(Photo Credit: Ramdlon on Pixabay)

Thursday, May 2, 2019

What is Sleep Apnea and How Might It Be Ruining Your Sleep?

In lieu of a "sleep apnea" picture, which is really tough to find, here's a sleepy cat.
According to Dr. Brandon Peters, roughly 90 million Americans report some variety of "sleep-disordered breathing". That is, they have some sort of breathing issue that crops up when they're asleep that affects their sleep quality. Most often, the issue manifests itself as snoring, which is when the soft tissues of the mouth and throat relax and partially obstruct the airway. The lungs pull the air through those tissues, which makes a loud and annoying noise that may or may not wake up everyone in the house except the person snoring and make those people want to grab pillow or some hard, blunt object and silence the snorer with extreme prejudice.

Or maybe that's just how it was in my house...

However, snoring can be a sign of a more serious condition called obstructive sleep apnea. What happens in these cases is the sleeper's airway partially or completely collapses, which cuts off their airway entirely and causes them to wake up abruptly. These collapses can happen several times an hour (and in severe cases, over 30 times an hour). Obstructive sleep apnea can be a dangerous condition if left untreated. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates roughly 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, which is a lot, but it gets worse. Up to 80 percent of people with moderate to severe apnea never get an official diagnosis. They figure they have a snoring problem or they just can't get comfortable at night. They might change mattresses or pillows frequently and chalk up their lack of sleep to "that's just how it is".

But that's not just how it is. No one should suffer from sleep apnea without getting proper medical treatment. Let's look at a few signs that might point to the condition.
  1. Loud snoring after which you wake up sputtering or choking. Of course, you'll most likely have to have someone keep an eye on you in your sleep, but I'm willing to bed if your loved one sees you do this, they'll say something. But ask. 
  2. Waking up with a dry mouth, frequently. We all get cottonmouth once in a while, especially during the winter when the air is dry. Frequent dry mouth is an indication you're breathing through your mouth for long periods, which can be an indication of apnea incidents. 
  3. Excessive sleepiness and irritability during the day. We all get tired during the day once in a while. If you're tired every day or find yourself irritable more often than not, you might not be sleeping well at night. Specifically, your apnea episodes might be waking you up during REM sleep, which means you're not doing a lot of dreaming, which means you're not getting a lot of the most restful sleep. Which brings us to:
  4. You have a hard time remembering whether you dreamed. We all go through times when we knew we dreamed at night but we can't remember our dreams. That's normal. If you go a long time and can't remember even having a dream, you may be experiencing interruptions during the dreaming phase of your sleep cycle. 
  5. Morning headache. One of the big signs your brain has not gotten as much oxygen as it should (which will happen when you stop breathing several times each night), is the morning headache. Make sure you didn't drink a lot the night before, because that can also give you a morning headache. Check for vodka. If you're clear, the issue may be apnea!
If you have a couple of these symptoms, don't mess around with them. Talk to your doctor. Ask them to set you up for a sleep test. There are two different types of test -- either at a sleep center or at home. Your doctor will let you know which one is best for the symptoms you describe but you don't have to worry. Neither sleep test is painful and both are very easy to take. Basically, you're going to sleep for a few hours. How easy is that?

So. Let's say you get the tests and your do, in fact, have sleep apnea. What then? Well, your doctor is goig to prescribe you a machine we call a "CPAP", which stands for continuous positive airway pressure. The machine is smaller than a showbox, usually, and pushes air through a hose into a mask you wear while you're asleep. The air keeps your airway open all night so you can get a good night's sleep. Simple. Of course, there is a variety of masks and different kinds of machines. You can sit down with your doctor and go through all the details to get the machine and the mask that works best for you.

The thing to remember here is that your CPAP is designed to let you sleep the way you should. It may seem like a nuisance at first (or even if you're an experienced CPAP user!), but it helps. You can, of course, do other things to help as well. Side-sleeping seems to help people with sleep apnea rest better, with fewer sleep interruptions according to a couple different studies. We happen to know a good pillow for side-sleeping folks, which, as it happens, works very well for people who need to wear CPAP headgear at night! Kind of handy how that worked out, isn't it?

The conclusion here is that sleep apnea is a serious condition that plenty of people have. If you think you may have it, don't wait around for it to fix itself and don't think you have to suffer because that's just how it is. Talk to your doctor. Get the sleep test. Get your CPAP machine. Get a good night's sleep on a comfortable pillow made for side-sleepers just like you.

(Photo Credit: utroja0 on Pixabay)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Can Music Make Bedtime Better for a Child with Autism? We Think So!

According to the Center for Disease Control, roughly 1 out of every 59 children has been identified Autism Spectrum Disorder. The disorder, often simply shortened to "autism", is not a single condition, but a spectrum of several different types, which can be severe enough to require constant care and attention. Autism indicators usually show themselves by the time a child is 2-3 years old, which presents a number of unique challenges to parents.

One of the most difficult is getting a child to sleep on time and ensuring he or she can rest well when they do sleep. Early results of a recent Stanford University study show that children with autism take longer to fall into REM sleep and spend less time there than other children. The study also suggests that autistic children are more likely to experience sleep apnea, which will wake them up several times as they have trouble breathing. But the sleep-related problems begin before the sleep actually starts. According to a researcher working in Australia, insomnia is a huge problem.
In the 1990s, Australian psychologist Amanda Richdale found that 44 to 83 percent of children on the spectrum have some kind of difficulty with slumber, based on parent reports. Since then, a growing number of studies using increasingly sophisticated objective methods — including video recordings and FitBit-like wristwatches that track movements during sleep — have confirmed the high prevalence of sleep disruptions in this population.
What they’ve found is that children on the spectrum most commonly struggle with insomnia that delays the onset of sleep. They also get less rest overall than do typically developing children, and frequently awaken during the wee hours, roiling the household. “I still remember the mother of a 19-year-old telling me that her daughter would wake for long periods of time at night, just lying in bed singing to herself,” says Richdale, associate professor of psychology at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.
So what is a parent of a child with autism to do? As it turns out, there are ways to help. The important things to remember is that bedtime routines matter. A lot. Children with autism generally respond well to predictable structure -- things like going to bed the same time every night and having the same bedtime "rituals" (having a story read to them, getting into their pajamas, closing the curtains and turning off the lights, making the room dark and calm).  "Calm" is the watchword. Just as adults need that time of "winding down" that makes sleep come more easily, children on the spectrum need a definite period of winding down, with minimal distractions and a focus on dark and soothing and quiet.

One of the more helpful tools to get there is quiet music or ambient "nature" sounds and there is, at least, anecdotal evidence that using either one can be a real help for parents of autistic children. Let me share one such story. A few months ago, we at My Butterfly Pillow got a message from a customer. She had given a pillow to one of her sons, who is autistic, so he could listen to soothing rain sounds through the built-in Night Owl Speakers. He fell in love with his new pillow. In fact, he told his Mom he couldn't wait for bedtime now so he could drift off to sleep while listening to the rain.

We don't yet have solid science that says listening to quiet music will help your child sleep better. As with anything, you have to experiment until you find what works for you and your child. We do know this: soothing music (most autism and sleep research organizations recommend soft classical music with a regular beat and moderate dynamic changes) or ambient nature sounds do work very well with quite a few people. There are literally dozens of smartphone apps and hundreds of playlists on streaming music services dedicated to those two things. Why are they there? To help people calm their minds so they can sleep. A child with autism who is having trouble sleeping may just benefit from the same thing that benefits everyone else. In fact, you may find it benefits them more, as it might give them a solid anchor on which to focus. Remember, focus is a big deal. So is calm.

Bedtime music can give both. It's worth a try.

(Photo Credit: pettycon on Pixabay)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Good Night; Sleep Tight; Get Your Bedtime Playlist Right!

In his 1697 play The Mourning Bride, William Congreve wrote "Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak." But music has one more charm -- the charm to help you sleep.

According to a recent analysis of several sleep studies, listening to music as you go to sleep "caused significant improvements in sleep quality". The benefits take time to work -- the two studies that showed little to no improvement lasted less than three weeks -- but they do exist. The studies did have some holes in how they were designed, which means they were not conclusive. That is, you can't say "science says sleeping with music will cure all your ills". The best we can say is "listening to music as you sleep helps you sleep better, though how much better or what types of improvements you see can vary", which isn't bad. What's more, none of the studies showed that music made sleep worse. So, according to the analysis, music can help, won't hurt, and is, as this 2008 study concluded, "safe, easy, and cheap".

How, though, do you pick the right music? Should you use headphones, earbuds, or a speaker? Where do you get the music? Hey, I'm glad you asked all those questions! As it turns out, we here at MyButterflyPillow love listening to music as we sleep (and steaming videos and lectures and audiobooks too, but let's just stick to music for now). We have a couple of tips for listening to music as you drift off to dreamland. Let's go!

  1. Speakers are better than earbuds or headphones. You know how you move around as you sleep? Try that with a set of headphones on or a pair of earbuds stuck in your ears. If you winced, well, join the club. You're far better off connecting to a speaker, either directly or through a Bluetooth connection. Our Smarter Pillow comes with speakers that will let you listen to whatever you like without disturbing anyone sleeping next to you. Cool, right? 
  2. Pick the music you like. This is usually where a web site suggests you listen to classical music or soothing ambient sounds. That's fine if you like those things. What if classical music drives you up the wall? What if listening to rain sounds makes you...antsy? If you listen to music, listen to music you like. That's where you'll find relaxation. However, you should know that you'll get your best results from choosing music with a tempo that most closely matches the average human resting heart rate (60 to 80 beats per minute). Maybe start with the music of Ed Sheeran or anyone else on this Spotify playlist
  3. Be patient. The analysis earlier in this article suggests it can take more than three weeks to see the benefits of bedtime tunes. Don't sweat it if you don't see immediate improvement. Relax. Enjoy the good music. Remember that good sleep begins with comfort and relaxation. You won't get either one if you're worried about your inability to relax and be comfortable. Don't put that stress on yourself! Just lie back, hit the "play" button, and sleep tight. 

(Photo Credit: minka2507 on Pixabay)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

What is Mindfulness and How Can It Help You Sleep Well?

Let's talk about falling asleep and staying there.

According to a 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll, more than 50 percent of us experience at least one symptom of insomnia at least a few nights a week. A third of those polled said they have at least one symptom every single night! That's a lot of tossing and turning and waking up in the middle of the night. If you ask us, that's far too much! We were not made for poor sleep. You can link any number of health problems to lack of sleep, and those problems can be serious. We're talking heart problems, depression, and high blood pressure, to name only three!

One way to get better sleep is to make sure you have a good bed for sleeping. You need a good mattress and the best pillow you can buy. Of course, we have a pillow recommendation, but that's not the point of this article.

The point of this article is the other big thing you can do to help you get better sleep: meditation.

Wait! Stop! Don't go running off like that. This is not the meditation (or, if you want to be modern and trendy, mindfulness) of the 60s and 70s. You don't need to sit in uncomfortable positions nor learn a mantra. This is simple meditation, geared toward calming your mind and focusing it on what is happening right now instead of rehashing the bad events of the past or fretting over the concerns of the future. You know what I mean, right? You know what it's like to lie awake in bed while your brain replays that time in high school when you embarrassed yourself so hard you thought you would actually die. You know what it feels like to be almost asleep only to have your brain play the "what if" game with you. What if, your brain says, you lose your job tomorrow? What if the car breaks down and you can't pay for the repair? What if someone finally launched that nuclear attack we were so worried about 30 years ago? 

Mindfulness is a way of quieting those memories and worries. And it works! This 2015 study showed that just a "low dose" of mindfulness caused a noticeable improvement not only on sleep duration and quality but also on work performance. We also have this 2010 study and this 2015 study that came to similar conclusions. A little bit of meditation at the end of the day helps a lot.

But what are we talking about here? What are these practices and principles? Fortunately, you don't need a lengthy class or venerable teacher. You need two things: breathing and focus. The simplest mindfulness exercise involves nothing more than lying still and quiet and breathing -- in and out, slow and regularly. As you breathe, focus on your breathing.  Count slowly to four while you inhale then to the same on your exhale. Whenever your brain would wander, bring your thoughts back to counting. Slowly and intentionally. One to four in the one to four out. Then again. You can almost feel yourself physically relax as you breathe slowly in and out and you count one, two, three, four...

Whew! Almost fell asleep there. See how well it works? And the very best thing is, anyone can do it, even while you're awake at your desk at work. You don't need a special app or anything! Of course, if you do want some guidance, you can find it easily from any of these mindfulness apps, all of which have a pretty solid free component to them.

Now all you need is a way to listen to the meditations in a way that won't disturb anyone around you. You could use headphones or earbuds, but if you sleep on your side, those will get uncomfortable pretty quickly. What you really need is a pillow with some Night Owl Speakers built right in so you can listen to calming night sounds while you slowly breathe and count yourself down to restful sleep. Yeah, something like that would be about perfect.

We do not endorse mindfulness on the edge of a cliff,
but what works for you, right? Don't fall off!

(Photo Credits: Olichel and AlainAudet on Pixabay)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Is it Time to Change Your Pillow? Let's Find Out!

Well, she has the pillow part right,
but she seems short four walls.
When was the last time you replaced your pillow?

Most people don't pay much attention to their pillows. We might swap one out if we spill something on it, the dog chews it up, or the cat uses it as a claw-sharpener. Beyond that, though, we just don't think about how old our pillows are. Then again, we might run to the other extreme, buying a new pillow every couple of months because the last one we bought was too soft or too hard or too big or too small or too...wrong. Just wrong. So we need another one that turns out to be just as wrong as the last one, but in a completely different way.

The general rule is you should replace your pillow every six months or so if you have one of those $5 Walmart or Target cheapies. If you have a good memory foam pillow, you can go as long as 36 months -- three whole years! -- before you'll need a new one. For most pillows, you can go a couple of years before you should replace it.

But how do you know?

At this point most web sites would give you a whole bunch of tips with links right back to their own pillows, because they're trying to sell you their pillow just as hard as they can. We're not like that here. Oh, don't get us wrong. We do want you to buy a My Butterfly Pillow. We'd love to sell a couple billion of our Smarter Pillows to everyone, everywhere. But we're not going to spam you with links to do it, nor are we going to be super-annoying about asking you to look us over.

We'll just give you a few tips we hope you find helpful, or at least entertaining:
  • If your pillow squashes flat every time you put your head on it, it's done and you need a new one. The easy way to tell if you have a dead, flat pillow is to try to fold it in half. If you can fold it easily, it's time to retire it. 
  • If your pillow smells...unpleasant, get a new one. Normally, you can wash a pillow cover (and you should! Often!), but over time sweat and makeup and drool and spilled wine gets through the cover into the material of your pillow itself. That stuff can make you very uncomfortable. Worse, it can make you sick. Don't do that to yourself. Just get a new one. 
  • If archaeologists keep trying to break in and steal your down pillow because they suspect the feathers inside it came from an actual dinosaur, get a new pillow. But make sure to sell them you old one, because it's probably valuable! 
  • If you can't remember the last time you got a new pillow, get a new pillow. Pillows are not that expensive -- not even the really high-quality pillows like you might see for sale at certain helpful pillow-based websites (*coughcough*). If that's not enough, let us say two more words to you: dust mites. Ew.
  • If your pillow is made of wood, stone, or jade, please get a new pillow. Also, you may be an ancient Egyptian or Chinese Empress. Check on that, too.
Just remember, your choice of pillow is every bit as important as your choice of mattress, sleep wear, and blankets. Make sure you have a pillow you really like and that you replace it when it no longer gives you the rest you deserve!

I guess when I mentioned the four walls, I
should have specified an actual house.
(Photo Credit: Engin_Akyurt one and two on Pixabay)

Make Your Bedroom Like a Cave for Your Best Sleep!

I bet this house has a wonderful comfy bedroom! If you've read our blog for any amount of time, you'll know we are concerned abo...