Help! I Can’t Sleep!

One of the most common concerns amongst patients with cancer is difficulty sleeping. I hear this from my patients all the time…

I can’t fall asleep. My mind is racing.

These medications are making me jittery (thanks a lot, steroids.)

I awaken multiple times at night.

I am too exhausted to sleep.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a good tool for combatting both stress and anxiety, and insomnia. 

One study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing found that this type of meditation improved sleep quality and reduced overall fatigue in women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. 

There are several ways to perform this exercise. I will detail one method here that utilizes breath and muscle tension/release. 

  1. Find a comfortable position lying down (or whatever position you choose to sleep in.)
  2. Gently close your eyes and bring your awareness in to your breath.
  3. Take 3 slow deep breaths, focusing your attention on the movement of air.
  4. Beginning at the crown of your head and progressively moving down through the various muscle groups in the body to the tips of your toes, progressivly tense and relax your muscles one group at a time like so: Bring your awareness to the muscle group. Upon inhale, tense the muscle. As you exhale, relax and release any tension in the muscle allowing it to rest heavy.
  5. Once you have moved through your whole body, return your attention to your quiet, natural breathing.

Another good method is using a visualization; for instance, slowly pouring warm liquid light down the body.

For the next few weeks, if you sign up for my email list at, I will send you a free 10-minute progressive relaxation using warm liquid light. If you are already on my email list and want a copy, shoot me an email at and I’ll send it to you.

May you sleep peacefully!

Mindfulness for Longevity

Do you want to live a longer, healthier life?

Some very interesting research is being done on if and how mindfulness meditation can extend your life.

What has been found is that regular mindfulness meditation not only extends your life, it also maintains your wellness during that time.

All of our cells contain chromosomes. These house the DNA/genetic information for our very existence. Chromosomes are capped on the end with repeating sequences called telomeres. When we are young, we have long, luscious telomere caps that serve to protect the genetic information in our genes during cell division. Thus, genes can function properly. As we age, telomeres shorten as segments are lost during cell division. The function of genes begins to fade as the chromosome length shortens.

Telomere length predicts survival overall, and survival from specific potential causes of death including heart disease and cancer (1).

In other words, people with shorter telomeres are more likely to die of any cause, including cancer.

How is telomere length maintained?

Our cells use an enzyme called telomerase to maintain telomere length. It serves to replace telomeres back onto the ends of chromosomes when they shorten during cell division.

What can you do to lengthen telomeres?

Mindfulness meditation! Research on meditation has shown that telomerase levels are increased in individuals who meditate. This results in maintenance of longer telomeres.

Lavretsky and colleagues published their results in 2015 (2):

After just 8 weeks of meditation for 12 minutes per day, telomerase levels increased by 43%!!! This is more effective than any drug or supplement ever sold.

Through meditation, you can literally reverse the aging process at the cellular level.

Dr. Linda Carlson and colleagues have studied this in breast cancer patients, showing that participation in a mindfulness based cancer recovery program resulted in maintained telomere length in healthy cells relative to controls (3).

In sum, meditation has direct effects on our DNA at the cellular level to create more optimal conditions for a longer, healthier life. 

Start or continue your practice today with this free meditation series:

Tool #8: 4-7-8 Breathing

Today I’m going to teach you another breathing tool that is commonly used in yoga called 4-7-8 breathing. 

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Place your tongue just behind your upper front teeth and relax your jaw/mouth. Leave it there for the whole exercise.
  2. Exhale any air in your lungs through your mouth.
  3. Now, take an inhale through your nose counting to 4.
  4. Hold your breath for the count of 7.
  5. Slowly exhale through the mouth making a whooshing sound for the count of 8. 
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 for an additional 4 breaths.

When and why should you do this type of breathing?

4-7-8 breathing has been shown to be helpful to reduce anxiety, to help with falling asleep, to control/reduce cravings and to reduce anger responses. 

Deep breathing appears to deactivate pathways in the brain that trigger anxiety.

You may also find it helpful to use when you are meditating and find your mind wandering off frequently. Introducing this breathing exercise helps focus your attention back on the breath in the present moment. 

If you like this exercise, you may also find this post on diaphragmatic breathing to be helpful.

As always, I hope to hear from you below with your thoughts on this exercise!

Tool #7: Building Your Happiness Muscle

Have you ever had one of those days when you wake up and from the moment you get out of bed, negativity sets in? 

Maybe you are rushed, or worried about something happening later that day. 

Maybe you are in pain.

Maybe you checked Facebook and saw a terrible news story.

Did you know that you can actually work to build your own resilience and positivity when faced with these negative feelings through mindfulness?

Our brains are naturally wired to focus on the negative. This is what saved us from the saber tooth tigers in prehistoric times. 

By consciously bringing to mind the positive, you can build the parts of your brain that help you think and feel more positive.

Here’s how:

  • When you have a good experience, however big or small, notice it. You enjoy a warm cup of tea. Your child smiles at you. Your favorite song comes on the radio. The warm sun shines on your skin. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, just something that induces some amount of joy.
  • When you notice something positive, stay with the feeling for 30 seconds. Practice feeling it in your body.
  • Where is it? What’s the quality of the sensation? For instance, you might notice warmth in the chest. You might feel a smile on your lips. You might feel a calming, slow vibration in your heart. Whatever it is, notice the feeling of it in your body.

Focusing on positive experiences releases the feel good hormone dopamine. The more frequently and longer you focus on these positive moments, the more you build your “happiness muscle” and enhance the neural network involved in these good feelings. 

Repeat this process many times a day. It won’t take long to notice that overall, you are feeling happier and calmer in your daily life.