create a nighttime routine

Sleep is more than just a time for your body to rest. This is the time when your bodily functions are actually pressing their own reset button. All of your systems slow down and your muscles and organs work to repair and restore themselves. So it’s important that you have the right nighttime routine to prepare your body for all this work it has to do while you’re sleeping.

If you really want to get the most out of your body at rest, do these 10 things as part of your nighttime routine.

10 things to do before you go to bed

  1. Clean the kitchen – You’re probably thinking I’m crazy but this is like making your bed in the morning. It’s just an important habit and should be part of your nighttime routine. Mornings are generally busy as you’re rushing to get out the door or trying to fit in that workout. The last thing you want to worry about is having to take the time to clean the kitchen. Waking up to a sink full of dirty dishes just puts me in a bad mood.
  2. Stretch – Nothing vigorous required here but just like a good morning stretch is important to wake up those muscles, a light evening stretch is important to unwind from the day. Get into the habit of just sitting on the floor next to the bed and doing a few gentle stretches of your legs, back, neck, and arms. I keep a yoga mat and blocks next to my nightstand to remind me.
  3. Wash your face – This probably goes without saying but you’d be surprised how many people don’t wash their face before bed. Even if you don’t wear make-up, think of all the things in the air your skin is absorbing. Nighttime is when I like to use my heavy duty war paint remover, ie. acids, so my overnight anti-aging serums can really soak in. And make me wake up looking younger. Not really.
  4. Take your pm vitamins – I’ve mentioned this before but there are some vitamins best taken in the morning and others best taken at night. It’s important to research each vitamin you take to learn the optimal time of day to take it.  For example, probiotics are best taken at night because of all the activity going on in your gut while you sleep.
  5. Plan for the next day – If you’re not a list person, become one. Trust me on this. Take five minutes to plan out your next day and write out any appointments or events you have scheduled. Also write down things you need to accomplish that are timely, like scheduling that dental appointment or checking the fermentation of your kombucha (that’s actually on my to do list for tomorrow).
  6. Use lavender – It’s proven that lavender has relaxing effects on the body and can help you sleep better. When my mom was in the ICU after a stroke, she was extremely anxious and agitated and we found that infusing lavender essential oil into the room really helped calm her down. I’ve become addicted to it to calm my mind before bedtime; I keep a rollerball of the essential oil next to my bed and I also made a linen spritz with witch hazel (this also works with vodka but who wants to waste vodka on the sheets?).
  7. Fill a glass with water – Keep it on your nightstand. Remember that your body is really working hard overnight and it needs to stay hydrated. Going 8 hours or so is a long time for your body to go without fluid. I’ve actually trained myself that when I wake up at night (for those 3am worry sessions) for whatever reason, I take a big sip of water.
  8. Use hand lotion – If you’re like me, you don’t use much hand lotion during the day. I always end up with it on my keyboard or I go to pick up a glass and it slips through my hands. So I slather it on at night once I’m in bed (when my hands get really dry in winter, I’ll sleep in gloves to let it really soak in).
  9. Journal – I journal in the morning about what I hope to accomplish that day and then again at night to write down my accomplishments. I try to include a little bit of gratitude along with a few notes about what my next day holds for me. It’s just a good way to clear your mind – to avoid those 3am worry sessions.
  10. Turn off your phone – I’ll be the first to admit, this is the hardest one for me. I have two very needy Millennial kids and I always want to be there for them. But the reality is, we’re on different time schedules. We live in the same time zone but we may as well be on different continents because I go to bed early and they go to bed early. So getting a 1am meme text is not unusual for me. One of my biggest fears is my kids needing me and me not being there. But I learned to turn off all notifications and my kids know that they can call if it’s really urgent.
caregiver and covid

Being a Caregiver in a Time of COVID: The tragedy that’s happening inside, and outside, of our nursing homes

I haven’t seen my mother since February 18. As her primary caregiver, I used to see her every day. Not just to visit. But to feed her. And wash her face, and brush her hair, and to let her know she was loved through eye contact and hugs. But COVID-19 changed that.

Apparently, I’m not deemed an essential caregiver, simply because I’m a family member. Like most nursing homes, her facility is on lockdown. The virus has been especially virulent in these facilities, so I’m barred from visiting her. Last week, I learned that she went 18 hours without eating because there was no one available to feed her. I would have jumped through hoops in a HAZMAT suit to feed her. But because I’m a family member, I’m not allowed in.

My mother had a brain aneurysm that left her completely debilitated. She has aphasia and can’t communicate with language. She can’t walk or move her extremities so someone has to do it for her so they don’t stiffen up. But worst of all, she can’t fully comprehend what’s happening in her world. My brothers and I go almost daily to sit outside a sun-obscured window in the hot Florida sun on a noisy road to talk to her. Just so she can hear our voices. But when we arrive, she closes her eyes. We think it’s her way of protesting. If we can’t hug her, she doesn’t want to see, or hear, us. She doesn’t understand.

Here’s what so many people, especially our legislators don’t seem to understand. Yes, COVID-19 kills this vulnerable population. But so does isolation, and loneliness, and depression. I know of residents who have simply quit eating because of the despair of not seeing their family. This is a vulnerable population in so many ways. Their health can decline on a dime when their standard of care changes even for a matter of days. And yes, some of these people have died simply due to depression. You’ve heard of “broken heart syndrome.” It’s real. 

You see, personal touch is immensely important to residents of nursing homes who are approaching the end of their lives. They need to feel loved. Human connection. Physical connection. In my mom’s case, it’s our only form of communication. She must feel like she’s being punished. Or abandoned. I’ve heard from others who say that their loved ones feel like they’re imprisoned. It makes me think of those children who were separated from their parents at the border and the despair and uncertainty they must have felt. Nursing homes have become cages.

Before her stroke, we were an exceptionally close family. We all lived in the same neighborhood and saw each other daily. I didn’t leave her side for the first 100 days following her illness – literally. My brothers and sister-in-law and I took turns sleeping on an air mattress on the floor next to her bed. But in this era of COVID, according to the government, we’re not caregivers. We’re visitors.

I’ve spent my quarantine lobbying the governor, the president, their wives (I thought as daughters themselves they’d understand), state agencies and anyone who would listen, for ways to allow family members to safely access their loved ones. I offered to have that horrible lengthy swab shoved up my nose daily, I begged for just one hour once a week, I offered to meet her outdoors, distanced 10 feet. But no one would listen. Yet they can spend countless hours, and days, debating and tweeting about the need for quarantine-weary residents to have access to breweries and gyms. 

So why have we not been able to come up with safe ways to allow family members to see their loved ones? PPE, distancing, tests, barriers, temperature checks. There are solutions. I’m sure you would be hard pressed to find a family member who would refuse any of these requirements in order to see their loved one. Workers deemed “essential” have been provided immense support from their employers and government leaders to ensure their safety. But wasn’t I essential to my mother? Our legislators are stuck in reactive mode and not a proactive mode where common-sense solutions would prevail.

Listen, I’m not faulting these facilities. They are chronically understaffed and without family members coming in daily to help out with their loved ones, they’re doing double duty. Like parents-suddenly-turned-homeschool-teachers, no one was prepared for this. 

To this day, my mother just continues to cry when I show up. Try explaining to someone with 3/4 of a brain that there is an international pandemic and the government has barred you from seeing her. I try to connect with her by taking her my grandmother’s homey Southern casseroles, but I have no idea if she eats them, or if they transport her tastebuds to another place and time.

After six months, our governor finally took note of the outcry over this, dare I say, abuse. He announced that he was ready to talk about opening up nursing homes. Rapid tests were the answer! Family members could get an instant test at the facility and if the result was negative, they’d be allowed to see their loved one (with restrictions on masking and distancing, of course). Whomp whomp. But those rapid tests are in short supply. So it could be weeks, even months, until they are available in nursing homes. Never mind the fact that everyone from politicians to baseball players to celebrities have access to them. Somehow our elderly population does not qualify in the hierarchy of importance when it comes to allocating rapid tests. And yes, I know that many of these groups who have access are private payers. But why can’t our government understand that residents of nursing homes are dying due to loneliness. A rapid test could allow a loved one in to visit and be a true lifesaver. 

What this issue needs now is attention. And action. We can’t keep putting these lives on the back burner – many of these residents are facing the end of their lives. They are not a throw-away generation. Reuniting them with family needs to be a priority.

My mom could die before I get to hug her again. I am not a visitor. I am family. I am a caregiver. Our voices need to be heard.

Yeah, I know my life sounds glamorous and many of you are sick of seeing my posts from exotic locales. Even I get envious of my fellow travel writers’ posts. They always seem to get invites to places on my dream destinations list.

For those of you who don’t know how this business works, let me dispel some myths and open some eyes.

First, there is real work involved. Hard work. Once I get an invite to a destination, generally from a PR firm or visitors bureau, often I have to compete with other writers for that slot. We have to present story angles, submit previous articles we’ve written, and in many cases, get an official assignment from a publication that says they’ll publish our story. And this is really hard work. You generally have less than 100 words to sell a magazine editor on your story and why they should buy it. And they can get dozens of these pitches a day. Most go unanswered.

So that’s just step one. Then comes the trip. I’ve been on trips that last for five days (11 in the case of Jordan) where we are up at 7am and don’t get back to our hotel until 11pm. And sometimes we’re changing hotel rooms every single night. At night, we still have to make time to record our notes and do social media posts. So the days are long. A daily agenda is set for us as our “host” generally wants us to see and do as much as we can squeeze in.

I mentioned those social media posts. This is generally a requirement on most trips. We have legal requirements to meet on these posts as well, especially in tagging our hosts and specifying that it’s a hosted trip. I have friends who spend an exorbitant amount of time creating videos and stories to add value (note to self: get better at this).

We’re always building our social media networks as this is one of the qualifications we’re judged on. We manage our follower counts and engagements (tip: those likes and comments make us VERY happy).

Once we get home, the real work begins. No time for writer’s block as we have deadlines to meet. We’ve got to write the story which takes hours and days, edit photos, fact check, edit and then submit the article, which can come back with rewrites requested.

I’m certainly not complaining because I do love it.  I only do it part time but many of my colleagues do it full time and rely on the compensation to make a living. So it’s a real job.