Building the Skill of Sleep

Having a small window of time in which to sleep has kept me busy experimenting with different ways to maximize that sleep time. There are about nine hours from the time I get home from work to the time I need to wake up the next morning. Obviously eight full hours of sleep is not going to happen during the weekdays. I’ve been playing with my daily schedule and metabolism and meal timing, finding different ways to give myself more time to sleep and to have better sleep.

I haven’t gotten into taking pills for sleep, not even melatonin, despite claims that it’s natural. Something about ingesting potent sleep inducers doesn’t seem good to me. I’d rather bring about sleep through good practices that allow me to come to that state. With that being said, I do take supplements that help with sleep in indirect ways. The most obvious is magnesium. It’s an electrolyte involved in nerve function and bone formation, and is a natural muscle relaxant. This relaxing effect allows for bowel movement, as well as a generalized feeling of calm, when tired. Taking this at night, about half an hour before bedtime, helps me relax.

So far, I have had only small gains in sleep quality and duration from the other tweaks I’ve been making. Small gains, but effective. The one I’ve been sticking to the longest has been exercise in the morning. Getting my kettlebell training session completed in the morning almost always leads to a better night’s rest. I think it lets me use up more energy, and gets my metabolism way high in the morning, setting up for a gradual decrease until bedtime. It also stimulates me, gets the fire burning, first thing in the morning, and I have found myself in an overall calmer and more confident state throughout the day. After syncing my movements, balance, and sense of space with the kettlebell or other training method, I am more in tune with my reasoning capacity and emotional control. Making better decisions from this state of mind keeps me away from manic spikes in mood resulting from bad decisions or bad reactions to things that happen. And that definitely helps me sleep better at night.

The next most consistent practice has been getting out in the sunlight during my lunch and break times at work, and full on sun bathing on weekend mornings at home. Having a solid 20 to 30 minutes of sun soaking fills me with energy, good vibes, and nutrients. It also tells my body that it is day time, and that I’m supposed to be awake and alert. This is sort of like having a circadian rhythm, a well-defined up and awake time versus a down and resting time of day. I really do think this rhythm is good for us, and it’s been helpful to use it as a guide for where I should be at what times of the day. Do I want to eat lunch inside under halogen lights, or do I want to expose myself to the incredibly bright sun? Do I want all the lights on at night when I want to be resting, or do I want to hang out in a darker environment, maybe with some candles lit? Turning the alertness on full blast in the morning and slowly shutting down at night has helped me redevelop a more reasonable sleep and wake schedule.

A third practice has been to eat dinner earlier. My wife and I were eating dinner after 8pm for almost a year in order to spend that meal time together. This was causing problems, though, for both of us. She was burdened with having to prepare meals late in the evening, and was eating more than she needed on most days because she would eat earlier too. I was eating way too close to my bedtime, often going to bed with a full stomach. I would wake in the mornings and sit up in bed, and sometimes hear and feel the food inside me still making its way down my belly. There was no way that was getting digested well. I’ve also read in Chinese medicine that having a full stomach during sleep actually takes energy away from resting and causes fatigue on the organs. I believe it, based on how I felt in the mornings upon waking. So, although it means eating on the train for me, and separately for both of us, we’ve decided to have our dinners earlier. I can’t believe how much of a difference it makes. I feel more energy at night, comfortable at bedtime, and more alert in the morning. My digestion has improved. Before, I relied on coffee and MCT oil for elimination in the morning, but now I’m golden after a swig of water.

One last thing I’ve been playing with is coffee, or less of it. I heard from a neurogenesis researcher on a podcast that caffeine, in the tiniest amount, stops brain cell generation. I’ve been wanting to see what it would be like to not have coffee more often, after having dabbled with it on travels. On the weekends, for the past few weeks, we’ve been holding off on the butter coffee in the morning. Instead, I’ve been making a tomato soup with marzano tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper, and equal amounts of butter and MCT oil that would have gone in the coffee. The result? I felt the same warm reviving energy and brain clarity as with butter coffee, without the caffeine buzz. What does that mean? I’m not even sure, but coffee stimulates to a higher level, and the fats alone still gave the same energy without that hyper wiredness.

And the best part of it all? I yawned so much the first Saturday I tried this, something I haven’t done for so long. I napped and napped, probably about four hours total, and still slept a full night. When I didn’t have coffee, I could tell when I needed to nap or rest. I would yawn or just get a bit drowsy, something I rarely felt when I had coffee. My guess is that I’m not any less tired on the days I don’t yawn. I think caffeine simply holds that sensation at bay. Useful sometimes, but not all the time. This is leading me to think more about how to reduce coffee intake further, while keeping up the fats in my diet. I’ll have to get creative with soups, and maybe get a new thermos for that!

I’m still loving the benefits that fats bring me, and fasting for most of the day, training early, and not having to worry about carbs, protein, fat. As long as I keep my food mostly clean, eat starches later in the day, and exercise, I’m able to maintain good health. The missing piece for me has always been solid sleep. Little by little I’m getting better at it.

Live powerfully.

Break in routine, nothing new with Thanksgiving

Feeling tired today. And training didn’t wipe that away as I’d hoped it would. I expected as much. Thanksgiving week brings with it lots of junk food, namely wheat and sugar, and alcohol too. It also brings a disruption to my daily schedule.

I’ve been training every day, but getting up and going to bed at different times. This also threw off my energy. My main focus this week is going to be to get back on schedule.

The past couple of weeks have been a great trial period of getting my training sessions in at the start of the day. I want to reinforce the sleep and energy schedule that I’ve been building up through routine. I’m finding greater energy from eating dinner and going to bed without excessive delay. I miss out on shows and movies and chill time, but I gain in not being tired and miserable and lazy the next morning. I love the newfound ability to jump out of bed and start living at the crack of dawn, without compromising sleep.

It’s a work in progress. Days like today I learn again from negative feedback how important discipline and routine are.

Live powerfully.

Strength goals, taking breaks, and less sleep days

It was a beautiful morning in Los Gatos. It’s cooled down quite a bit from last weekend’s bake, and the bird songs are sharp through the cool sky. The sun is just glowing.

Did that sound like a radio station?

I didn’t get good sleep last night. Could be the new mattress we got, with the strong odor of plastic exuding from it. Or it might have been too much water drunk before bed.

Training today will be the usual. 100 swings and 10 getups with the 24kg. But it will also be different. I’m going to time myself. I’m not expecting to hit these numbers today, but ultimately I want to do the swings in five minutes and the getups in ten minutes, with a minute rest in between.

Energy is pretty good, my body feels a bit tight from suboptimal rest, but otherwise I am all here. Since I am using light weight in kettlebell training, I’m not as strict about resting 100% every day. Usually I get full rest by day three. It hasn’t been a detriment to my health so far.

Dinner last night was pork belly with lettuce wraps and white rice, Korean style. Used sesame oil and Himalayan salt as a dip, and Korean red pepper paste and fermented bean paste as another dip. Got all my vitamin C, magnesium, and kelp in as usual.

Eliminated (pooped) fully. Remember to eliminate, exercise, eat (Dan John).

This morning I’m having my usual grass fed butter coffee. Grass fed unsalted butter, C-8 MCT oil, chocolate powder, vanilla beans, cacao butter, creatine monohydrate. Sounds like a lot of stuff but I’ve got it all down to a routine, so it’s no big deal. In the interest of budget I’ve been using Colombian coffee beans from a local grocery store. Clean enough, no jitters or headache in the last several months of drinking it.

Wish me luck on the time trial.

Goals and Periodic Training

Last night I spent some time calendaring my goals. I mapped out a very general plan for the next year and a half, till January 2020. If you haven’t done this, try it. You see a clear picture of how long a specific exercise program is going to take. You also realize time is finite, and you can’t do it all. It’s okay, and I think I’ve been changing my approach to exercise.

Dan John (whom, you may have noticed, I have recently been studying and quoting a lot) says any serious athlete has months of training and months of no training each year. They also have years of intense strength training, and years of honing skills with less strength training. On and off periods.

For me, and anyone else in normal occupations and domestic life, the long breaks from training are just as important. As a matter of fact, maybe even more so because I don’t think about time off in a serious way. Training breaks give you time to relax, to scale back from maximum strength and to give room to develop skills. To paraphrase Dan, depravity leads to increase in performance.

I’ve noticed through my life that I unintentionally had very long periods of “inactivity” in between times of intense sports or weightlifting. After rugby season ended in college, I just stopped everything. No gym, no running, no nothing. I got busy with school, for one, and had a girlfriend who later became my wife, so maybe I was distracted by life’s bigger priorities. Same with powerlifting in 2014 to 2015. That was probably the most intense training program I’ve ever put myself through. Once I got done with the meet in March, I couldn’t get myself back to the gym for weeks.

So I’m going to intentionally build in long periods of “rest”. No weights, just light movement practices and maybe team sports here and there. I’m talking months here. If that sounds crazy to you, I’m with you. But I really want to explore this concept of loosening up for a while, and testing whether performance does increase in other ways. I’ll use sports and short runs as a measure of performance.

Takeaways

Spread your training goals over months, and create big down times in between. On a day to day scale, “exercise, eat, eliminate”. Enjoy the bird song.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Rested Decision Making

If you’re in management or an office job, and feel that sleep is not that important, you’re not alone. If you do think sleep is important, but just don’t get enough, you’re absolutely not alone. A lot of people in this world feel the same. I used to think lack of sleep was a cool thing, a war wound, a chip on my shoulder. But I learned the importance of sleep and rest after seeing the difference it made in my performance.

Sleep not only helps with things like strength training and illness recovery, but also with decision making.

I was a supervisor of a call center that handled phone calls with grieving families. There were intense calls and important decisions to be made every day. We operated at all hours of the day. It was hard to get a full night of sleep, let alone a full recharge of my batteries. Most of my years working there were in sleep deprivation.

There was a point where I started to pay attention to my rest. I wanted to recover from chronic exhaustion and tiredness. So I started looking into ways to get more sleep, and to rest my mind when I wasn’t in the office. I found that when I was able to get a full night of rest, I had high executive function. My decision making power was greater, and decision fatigue was offset. I think the biggest reason for this was that I was more able to prioritize.

With a full night of sleep, I was better able to manage my time and tell people “no” or reschedule things. I had more mind energy to deal with the stress of saying “no”, and more foresight as to the importance of doing so. Because I was able to see the full picture, I knew that it was of the utmost importance that I handle the task that mattered most. With insufficient rest, I had trouble dealing with persistent requests from people bringing up non-urgent issues.

When I prioritized well I was able to keep myself from doing spur of the moment biddings from others. Less distractions meant more focus on the important things. This fed a positive feedback loop. I felt better because I was doing things that mattered, and doing things that mattered made my day easier to navigate, and this made me feel even better.

I also felt more positive when I had a full night of sleep. A positive approach helped me say “no” to people in a generous, gentle way. I didn’t have to offend anyone through rejection, and I didn’t have to feel bad about it. I had the energy and mindset to be kind to people, even when they had the most urgent or emotionally charged problems thrown in my face. It was simply a matter of letting them know I would get back to them shortly. And I did.

I was doing the most important, and often the hardest, things, feeling great about it, about getting it done, about the rest of the day getting easier because of that. Prioritizing and keeping on task really does snowball into amazing days, and sleeping a full night increased my chances of doing this. And this really allowed me to treat others with more attention and respect, because I was taking care of myself and my work.

When fully rested, I trust myself more. I have a more positive view of myself, my abilities, and I dive into difficult tasks or situations because I know they are important and I know I can handle them. If I’m tired, this becomes much harder. My self confidence goes down, naturally, because I’m not sure if I have the energy to handle tough situations. How can I when I myself don’t feel taken care of? I think it’s just natural.

Strong trust in myself means I stick to my instincts, follow my gut, and let my intuition lead. In turn, doing this makes me feel better about myself. I’ve gone a certain route based on my own feeling, and found good results. I reinforce the idea that I’m trustworthy and capable.

Lastly, with plenty of sleep, time seems more abundant. I just feel more relaxed, even with deadlines or the end of the day approaching, or in really critical circumstances, because I feel more capable of using my time. I just know that I can handle whatever comes, and things don’t seem overwhelming.

For some good reference on the importance of sleep, check out Arianna Huffington. I heard about her book on sleep through the GaryVee show. She has recently been encouraging the world to sleep. In particular, she urges people in top positions of leadership to get their shut eye to help them make better decisions. She sleeps eight hours a day. Even her employees sleep well. And they’re kicking ass.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Mighty Strength Training Recovery Tool

Is sleep.

How I yearn for that delicious, thick crust, the crumbling surface of sleep from which I emerge well rested. I feel like a soggy pie dough, not quite done, damp and tender. I want that oven, set to the right temperature, and to be snug in there until I am golden brown, toasty, and fully set.
I’m still feeling significant soreness everywhere. I completed a second training session two days ago. After five months away from the gym, my strength is not what it used to be. I’m starting the 5×5 powerlifting progression again. The weights I’m using are nearly at ground zero. No problem. I did the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
My mobility is better, though, as I’ve been practicing that regularly while traveling. With the weight low, I was able to maintain good form through all the lifts. I want to move grains of sand with finesse, not die trying to push a mountain.
I can hardly sit on my butt without wincing. The first couple of sessions after a training stall are usually followed by exaggerated soreness, but recovery is taking longer than I expected.
I looked up my old notes on recovery, and laughed. The recovery tool I listed as number one was sleep. It was funny because it’s so basic and so true.
It’s funny that I can have the best food, supplements, and ample mobility exercises, and still not feel close to a hundred percent without sleep. When I sleep, it’s like preparing for war. I take my dose of magnesium, vitamin C, and kelp. I make sure my grounding mat is plugged in and positioned at my feet. I make sure the blinds are closed away from me, so that the sun doesn’t leak through at an angle in the morning. I try my best to keep the room cool. After meditation and journaling, and reading, I finally plug my ears and cover my eyes.
Right now I don’t have the luxury of all that. I discovered that ear plugs cause a little allergic reaction and make me cough. The sun comes up early. Dogs bark. So I need to make do. Still figuring things out.
There is contradictory research out there about sleep and physical recovery. Animals were observed to sleep longer after exercise. People were found to have different hormone responses to exercise, which affected sleep quality and duration. Those who had steady adrenal function also had longer stage 3 (deepest non-REM) sleep. And the few that had changed adrenal function had the same or shorter stage 3 sleep. There seemed to be a compensation between sleep and adrenal function.
But another study showed that people who exercised in the morning did not sleep more or less, while people who exercised in the evening slept more. This led to a new hypothesis that recovery might also take place when a person is awake.
For me, it could be the perception of soreness and tiredness that lingers without ample sleep. Whether it’s psychological or physiological, it makes no difference to me. I need deep sleep, a lot of it, to recover from training.
The bake of life. Sleep. When the juices have time to flow, growth hormone, testosterone, vitamins, minerals, fluids reach each and every cell with nourishment and repair and improvement. The kneading, cutting, and garnishes of life come together in sleep.
Ah, sleep, I will find you!
Let’s do ourselves a favor. Sleep the deepest possible sleep you can tonight. See how it feels in the morning.
Live powerfully,
Steve
P.S., anyone know a good way to keep out noise other than foam ear plugs?
Sleep Hacks
Research

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

What I’m Sitting On Right Now

Hey guys,

Hope you’re having a great weekend. Here’s something that’s been changing my life for the last five years.

I’m sitting on a mat that’s plugged into the grounding plug of a wall outlet. It’s transferring earth’s free electrons to my body. As long as my skin is in contact with it, I’m at a near earthing voltage.

Connecting to the ground is known as earthing.

Free electrons act as antioxidants without the metabolic side effects of food-derived or body-produced sources. Antioxidants are involved in diffusing oxidizing agents that cause damage, both intended and unintended, at the molecular level. Free electrons travel through to body and affect everything from muscle training recovery, infection response, and DNA transcription.

Most of us sleep on beds in rooms isolated from the earth. There’s no electron flow to our bodies during the night, a crucial recovery time. During sleep we go into healing mode and rebuild damaged tissues, fight infection, and process new experiences from the day. It’s important that we have free mobile electrons flowing to our tissues, cells, and DNA during this process.

I’ve been sleeping with this earthing mat at the foot of my bed for the past five years, consistently. When I’m not outside, this is my access to the earth. It’s comfortable, with the hard-to-find conductive cover included in the link below. When I’m at home reading or writing inside, I bring the mat with me.

The subjective results for me are clear. My sleep is deeper, I feel more relaxed, healed, and richer in mind when I wake. I feel less inflammation. For these benefits, I even traveled with it for the past four months. I earthed in my sleep through Indonesia, Thailand, and Korea!

Once in a while, I’m not able to use it at night. This is usually due to a faulty wall outlet. The kit comes with a tester plug to tell you if the outlet is grounded. An ungrounded outlet is devastating! When I don’t sleep with my mat, I’m more tired because sleep is more shallow. If I have a really tough day, physically or emotionally, and don’t have my earthing mat, I get symptoms like allergic coughing, achy joints, and fuzzy-headedness. I try to make up for the lost time earthing by getting barefoot outside for as long as possible.

The difference from earthing is huge. It’s strange that this simple mat can make such a change. It doesn’t heat up, create crazy vibrations, or do anything but transfer free electrons from the ground to your skin. Even if it’s just a placebo effect, I would still use it for the rest of my life. But I am convinced from my five years of using it that this is not a placebo.

No doubt, being outside barefoot is the absolute best, most direct way to ground yourself. But we haven’t found a comfortable way to sleep on the bare ground yet (just wait). So night time leaves a big earthing void. In my experience, the earthing mat is the next best thing.

Check it out, look through my posts here to learn more, and take the leap!

How earthing balances the immune response – collection of research on earthing

Earthing on the road – earthing in southeast Asia
Explore barefoot – earthing in Arizona and Utah
Earthing, rain or shine – on grounding, lightning, and earthing in Los Angeles

Take barefoot walks to relieve stress – how I dissolved residual work anxiety

Live powerfully,

Steve

Earthing Universal Mat with Cover Kit

Amazon Affiliate Links

Note: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

I link to tools that I have used, found meaningful, and that I believe could benefit my brilliant readers.

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Deep Sleep Dashes Sickness

I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

It had been five days since returning from a three month trip. We were living in a time zone 16 hours ahead of California. I was jet lagged with a runny nose, sore throat, sinus pressure, cough, and body aches. Vitamin C megadosing, sun bathing, and earthing were only scratching the surface. I just wasn’t getting enough sleep.

I don’t know why I didn’t think about it sooner, but yesterday it occurred to me that I should wear ear plugs to bed. Normal neighborhood and house noises, however subtle, were waking me up earlier than I wanted. So I plugged up and covered my eyes from light. I also kept a small fan on to keep the temperature down. The summer heat was adding to this sleep deprivation.

With these simple little hacks, it was cool, dark, and quiet at night.

And damn, but I slept like a log. I woke up like a dragon from it’s thousand year slumber. I swept the blanket aside like it was piles of gold being hurled aside by the dragon’s monstrous, scaly tail. I breathed deep, loving the air as much as the reptilian beast would after such an abysmal sensory absence. Seeing the sunlight filtering through the window, I was the dragon emerging from his cave. I flexed and stretched my fresh limbs, feeling blood surge through my tissues.

The achiness was gone. My nose was no longer runny. The sinus pressure was minimized. There was just the slightest sense of head cold left. I was coughing up green phlegm, which is a good sign for me. Still rusty, but I’m on the downhill side of recovery now.

As I stretched out in the sun, I felt better and better. Sleep, I thought again as I have many times in the past, is such an effective tool for human wellness. A UPenn study showed that flies who slept more recovered and survived longer than their brethren who didn’t sleep as much. Sleep triggered the gene pathway NFkB in flies.

NFkB regulates immune response, in addition to DNA transcription and cell survival. Other studies showed that problems with this gene activation were linked to cancer, inflammation and autoimmune disease, and uncontrolled infection.

Sleep, then, as the trigger for this gene expression, has a lot to do with recovery from illness.

Once again, I can attest to this. One night of good sleep dashed away the effects of jet lag, body aches, and misery. I’m betting that one more night will do away with the rest of this pesky cold. Of course, I’m going to keep up the vitamin C dosage, sun time, and everything else.

One hint to getting good sleep if you just can’t: try staying up instead of napping. A bit of sleep deprivation can help with prolonging sleep later and increasing stimulation of NFkB, as the fly researchers found.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Schedule

There’s something to be said about waking, eating, and sleeping on a schedule.

These are connected in some way. One leads to the next which leads to the next. Sleeping a while after eating the last meal seems to result in better rest than sleeping right after.

Eating seems to require a buffer time before sleep. This may have to do with digestive processes. It might be a primordial defense against aspiration. Or a social evolution, geared toward post meal bonding.

Whatever it is, this buffer period makes it difficult to sleep early when I’ve eaten a late dinner. Almost invariably I’ll stay up for a while, sort of wired on even though I’m tired. On the occasion that I’m exhausted and fall asleep anyway, I wake and find my digestive process stalled.

Incidentally, I found myself getting drowsy much earlier at night after earlier dinners. Four or five o’clock in the afternoon seems to be the magic hour. Starting dinner early allows me to digest and relax for a while, getting into slumber mode before it gets too late at night for a full stretch of sleep.

After discovering this, I’ve tried several times to replicate the result. When I successfully make dinner early, I end up falling asleep much earlier. There just seems to be a natural internal process, aside from digestion, that needs to take place after dinner. Rushing it doesn’t seem to be an option, so shifting dinner time solves it from the other end.

In addition to things like magnesium, meditation, and mobility, try eating dinner earlier in the evening to bring yourself to rest earlier. The tricky part is reorganizing the day to get dinner ready earlier.

To powerful living,

Steve

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Sleep Deficiency Paradox

Sometimes when you most need to sleep you least want to sleep.

But of course not sleeping enough leads to an even greater need for it. And a paradox is established.

The mind loops in a helpless feedback series. Why am I not feeling good? Why am I not doing the best I can do? I must do more. I must try harder. Performance gets worse. And so forth.

The deepest hole you can be in is when you don’t realize you’re in this feedback loop. Mindfulness and meditation enable you to see it clearer when it happens.

But the only thing to do really is to sleep. It’s a strange thing though, sleep. It’s timeout for the mind. And the mind doesn’t want timeout. No one wants to be taken out of the game. Away from the fun. From the possibility of something, happening…

But sometimes we need to override that thought cycle and take charge. It’s okay to shut down. It’s good to retire. Coming back will be even better. The harder core the rest, the more amazing the comeback. I promise.

Drop the FOMO. Sleep.

To powerful living,

Steve

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Meditation Helps Me Sleep

Meditating helps me sleep better.

Sometimes I have a lot on my mind, and can’t fall asleep. I’m tired, but I can’t get into that sleepy feeling. When I’m like this, I meditate.

I usually start by paying attention to my breathing. I don’t even sit up sometimes, just stay lying on my back, and focus on my breaths. In, out.

Sometimes I control my breaths, taking in as much air as possible through my nose, letting my chest open, and slowly hissing it out through my lips. Other times I just let myself breathe normally, and simply focus on the breath as it leaves me.

When I’m really distracted and lose focus on my breathing, I count my breaths on my fingers. I like to go up to thirty, a number I got from the Wim Hoff method in a Tim Ferriss podcast.

But yesterday I went to one hundred, because I was extra awake.

If there are a lot of thoughts swimming around in my head, I’ll start to say the word “Thinking” every time one of them fills my head. Then I’ll let the thought pass. Saying “Thinking”, either out loud or quietly or just in my mind, is a good way to label the thought as a thought. It lets me release the thought and whatever feelings are attached.

Sometimes meditation starts with a game of Tetris. Or reading some of my fiction novel. It’s like warm up exercises before getting into the breathing and thought processing.

The best warm up, and sometimes I don’t even need the breathing and counting when I do this, is journaling. Getting some important thoughts down on paper, reflecting on the day, and writing it out in pen.

It really helps to see things leave my head and stay somewhere else. It’s like therapy. When I’m feeling like I got nothing done, it’s good to see things on paper that I did.

I find that I’m better rested after sleep following meditation. I heard somewhere that when we have a lot on our mind, the first part of sleep is just used by the brain to process it all. So once that’s done, the brain starts to really rest, which doesn’t leave enough time for the resting part.

I couldn’t find the source of that, but here’s something of substance. It’s a study that showed mindfulness meditation significantly helped people with insomnia, fatigue, and depression by improving their measured sleep quality.

To powerful living,

Steve

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