Army H.e.a.l.t.h. Arsenal
August, 2017

Sleep Corner

Practicing Mindfulness for a Good Night’s Sleep

Practicing mindfulness before going to bed can significantly improve a Soldier’s ability to get a restful night of sleep.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness expert, Jon Kabat Zinn, says that mindfulness is “The awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”

Soldiers can experience day to day stress from a high operational tempo or even problems related to the home front. They can spend hours before going to bed worrying about these issues or have racing thoughts and concerns that could be keeping them from getting a good night’s sleep. Proper rest is always critical in the safe and successful execution of the missions they are constantly faced with. Mindfulness practice before going to bed requires focus on the breathing and bringing the mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. It can help combat those racing thoughts and everyday concerns some of our Soldiers may be faced with. Below are some tips on how to practice mindfulness before going to sleep.

  • Put away electronic devices: If you have a phone, tablet or anything lighting up your bedside table, it can disturb your sleeping patterns.

  • Stop forcing yourself to go to sleep: We are too smart to trick ourselves to go to sleep on command. Try and let go of trying to make yourself fall asleep.

  • Practice Mindfulness Meditation: Bring mindfulness into your sleep experience. Try a body scan practice where you are just focused on your body and your breathing. Focus on the noticing the sensations of your body and breathing. When we allow ourselves to be in this moment our body can naturally go to rest.

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    Mindful Eating Helps Reduce Over-Eating

    We pay a great deal of attention to what we eat, but we don’t pay nearly as much attention to how we eat it. In our fast-paced constantly multi-tasking society, eating becomes parallel to something else (like watching a particularly engaging show on Netflix). We eat faster without paying attention to our food, and our speed eating keeps our bodies’ hunger/fullness signals from catching up with the amount of food we’re eating. By the time our brains signal that we’re full, we’re really full – uncomfortably full – because we’ve eaten way more than our bodies needed without noticing it. It doesn’t matter how healthy the meal is if we overeat every portion of it.

    But mindful eating can help. We’ve done a piece on mindfulness before, and mindful eating is taking those same principles and applying them to food. Studies have shown that people who practice mindful eating tend to have lower body weights, a greater sense of well-being, and fewer symptoms of eating disorders.

    A classic mindfulness exercise involves slowly eating a raisin for several minutes, focusing on its flavors and textures and the experience of eating it. This sounds difficult – and it is. But eating the raisin becomes a whole new experience, which is the goal of mindful eating.

    While the raisin exercise is a great teaching tool, most people don’t have time to gnaw on every bite for an hour. Below are some other practical tips for incorporating mindful eating into your day-to-day life.
    1. Slow down. Take the time to gently remind yourself that eating is not a race. Savor and enjoy every bite by chewing thoroughly and paying attention to your body’s fullness signals. See if you can find new flavors in your favorite dishes that you’ve never noticed.
    2. Set mindful time. Not every meal can be mindful, especially when eating with others. Instead, consider setting aside some specific mindful time. You can request that the first 2 minutes of dinner be eaten in silence to focus on the meal’s flavors (if you have young children, make a game of it! See who can chew their food the longest and see who can name the most flavors). If you can’t manage it at home, set aside some time during your day to mindfully eat a snack or take a few sips of your caffeinated beverage of choice.
    3. Consider your food. Spend a few minutes as you eat considering how that meal came to be at your table. Consider how the strawberries on your plate had to be grown with sunlight, water and soil, harvested by the farmers, sold at your store, and prepared by you that evening. Cultivate gratitude for the journey that food had to take in order to provide you with sustenance that meal.
    4. Appreciate your healthy foods. You can practice mindful eating with any food. Focusing more on flavors reveal more pleasurable tastes in food to help you enjoy food even more – especially healthier foods.
    5. Focus on all the experiences. Understand and appreciate that there is no right or wrong way to eat, just varying degrees of awareness of the experience of food. Sometimes that experience is that we’re not fully engaged in our food – recognizing that is part of mindful eating as well.

    Mindful eating can be a great way to get back in touch with why we eat. Eating is meant to be an exciting experience appealing to our senses of smell and taste, not a battle between what we want to eat and what we’re supposed to eat. By fully engaging in the experience of eating, rather drowning it in distractions, you can add an entirely new dimension to mealtimes.

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    Q: Does meditation have a religious connection?

    A: Meditation is the act of spending time in quiet thought, of pausing, slowing down and focusing inward. Meditation does not have to be a religious activity. Meditation is not “owned” by any specific religion, nor will it make you a religious person. Meditation is a very personal thing. It allows us to reflect and recharge inwardly.

    Some of the meditation techniques practiced today have their roots in the Buddhist faith. However...practicing meditation does not make you a Buddhist. Today there are people of all religions and people who are not at all religious practicing meditation for a variety of reasons.

    The benefits of meditation show us that meditation is a good practice for any and all walks of life.

    Mindful Moment

    Mindfulness improves both physical and mental health. Make the choice to live your life moment by moment.

    Bottom Line

    We say that mindfulness is a "practice" because it is something that we should strive to continually do throughout our day. We may never be perfect at it, but if we continue to make an effort to be more mindful, the benefits are still there.

    Mindfulness can help even the most stressed out people sleep better. Soldiers may especially benefit from practicing mindfulness before bed. Setting aside time to practice in the evening can be a good way to deal with heavy thoughts before trying to catch some shuteye.

    Mindful eating is a great way to reduce over-eating. By paying attention to our senses as we eat, we become more aware. We will start to become more satisfied and full and enjoy our food more than when we eat without thinking about it.

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    Featured Recipe: Bolognese with Pappardelle Pasta

    Beef Bolognese is a classic Italian dish that originated near Bologna, Italy (hence “Bolognese”!). You may recognize it from the common North American version you see in restaurants – spaghetti Bolognese. As it turns out, this version is almost unheard of in Italy. The traditional way of serving this dish is with wide, flat noodles that hold more of the sauce in each bite. But we’ve found that it tastes just as good with whole grain noodles! Substituting whole grain noodles adds fiber and protein. The extra fiber and protein help you to feel full and energized.

    This recipe takes up to an hour from start to finish (not counting prep time for the veggies), so it’s a great recipe to prep the night before and throw in the crock pot or instant pot. Cooking the sauce long and slow helps add to the flavor. The sauce will keep well as leftovers and can be used later in the week for another pasta dish, or even as a filling for a sandwich! (Italian Sloppy Joe’s on whole grain buns, anyone?)

    • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided into 2 tbsp and 1 tbsp
    • 1 pound ground turkey (93% lean)
    • 1/2 cup carrots , 1/8-inch dice
    • 1/2 cup yellow onion , finely chopped
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1 cup brown mushrooms , 1/4-inch slices*
    • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
    • 28 ounces crushed tomatoes , canned (San Marzano variety or vine ripened)
    • 1/2 teaspoon oregano , chopped fresh, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/6 teaspoon black pepper
    • 10 ounces whole wheat noodles
    • 1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves , chopped for garnish
    • Parmesan cheese, for garnish
    1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy saucepan. Add the ground turkey and brown the meat well, stirring occasionally about 5-7 minutes and using a large spoon to break up the pieces until the beef is no longer pink. Transfer cooked meat to a medium sized bowl. Wipe the pan clean with paper towel.
    2. Turn heat down to medium-low and add remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Add the carrot and onion to the pan and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, stirring often – about 5 minutes.
    3. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add sliced mushrooms and cook for two minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for one more minute. Stir in the browned meat.
    4. Add the crushed tomatoes and oregano and stir well to combine. Simmer the sauce over medium-low heat. Cover the pan, leaving a small opening for steam to escape. Cook until the meat is tender and the flavors have melded, at least half an hour and up to an hour**. Stir every 10 minutes. Add some water if the sauce starts to look dry. Season sauce with salt and pepper, more to taste.
    5. About 20 minutes before the sauce is done cooking, bring a pot of water to boil. Cook the noodles according to manufacturer's direction.
    6. Divide the pasta amongst 4 bowls. Top with beef bolognese sauce and garnish with shaved Parmesan cheese and parsley.
    *No room for mushrooms? If you’re not a mushroom fan, you can compensate for the lack of texture/heartiness with cauliflower or a little additional meat. Otherwise, feel free to leave them out. If you’re using cauliflower power, add it at the same time as the carrots & onions so it has enough time to cook through.

    **Why is the cook time so long?? Cooking the sauce over low temperature for a longer time does two amazing things. First, all the great aromatics, vegetables, and meat flavors become concentrated as the liquid reduces slowly over time. Secondly, the heat and acids naturally found in the tomatoes tenderizes the meat and allows it to break down, giving a nice soft texture. You can easily let this cook in the crock pot or pressure cooker overnight.

    Nutrition Information:
    Servings: 6      Calories: 368      Carbs: 43g      Sugar: 6g        Fat: 14g          
    Protein: 22g       

    Featured Exercise: Front squat

    Featured Recipe adapted from Jessica Gavin.