Things We Like: Eliminating Electronics For Better Sleep

Post by Kyle St. Romain.

This week I’ll introduce you to a sleep tip that many of you are probably aware of, but do not practice: keeping the phone (and other electronics) away from the bed.

I often think, as do a lot of people I meet, that sleeping with the cell phone, tablet, or other electronic device by the bed is bad for sleep. Why? Because, with your phone at an arm’s length away, we are constantly tempted to check our email or read an excessive amount of news before bed—electronics enable the insomniac in all of us. To help reduce the negative consequences of sleeping in an ever-connected, 24/7 world, I’ve put together three steps to help you get the good night’s sleep you’ve been craving.

Step One: Turn The Screen Off

The first way that electronics affect sleep is by exposing us to unnaturally bright light after. Light inhibits the body’s release of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. This is a natural reaction, and is what helps our bodies stay awake during the daytime; however, when you introduce artificial light after the sun has gone down, your body is tricked into thinking it should still be awake. We all have different light sensitivities, and I didn’t notice the effect until I started reading under a full-spectrum light. While it helped with Seasonal Affective Disorder (the winter blues), it kept me wide-awake and alert far past my bedtime—more than any amount of coffee ever could.

I touched on this idea a while back in an article about color shifting your computer screen for better sleep. This little trick not only helps alleviate eyestrain, but it also helps your body prepare for sleep.

To further resolve this problem, try setting an electronics curfew for yourself. All you need to do is have the discipline to cut out your use of electronics 60 to 90 minutes before you go to sleep. Easier said than done, I know.

Step Two: Eliminate Distractions

Even if our bodies didn’t respond to bright lights, electronics affect us psychologically with the media they display. Have you ever found yourself unable to sleep after a scary movie? It’s likely due to the adrenaline your body produces in its natural fight-or-flight reaction.

Eliminating stress and anxiety triggers before sleep should help your mind stay calm and collected—an essential ingredient for a good night’s rest. So even if you can’t pry yourself away from watching another episode of your favorite show or reading that last-minute email, save the stressful stuff for the morning.

Step Three: Move Your Electronics Away From The Bed

If you’ve been unable to get that restorative sleep you’ve been aiming for, the problem might be sitting right next to you. And even if you aren’t actively using electronics before bed, they can still disrupt your sleep. Anything electronic produces electromagnetic radiation (EMR), which affects your body’s production of melatonin and serotonin. EMR is also thought to make us more sensitive to the fight-or-flight state, which is otherwise caused by psychological triggers like a scary movie or an upsetting email. This is known as the “wired-and-tired” effect, and is one of the reasons we find ourselves awakening from a long sleep, but still feeling exhausted.

To reduce your exposure to EMR, try moving your electronics as far away from the bed as possible.  While it may take a few weeks, or even months to see results, the long-term benefits will be well worth it. After all, there is nothing natural about sleeping next to a cell phone.

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Breakfast in Bed: Maple Morning Cake

Post by Alison Hein.

Kevin and I took an old-fashioned vacation this summer. We unplugged our electronics, stocked up on books and movies, and hopped in our car for the five-hour drive to Vermont. Our “private camp” (otherwise known as a cozy little house) was nestled up tight against the banks of the bountiful Lake Champlain.

We had envisioned lazy days sunning on our tiny shale beach, punctuated only by cooling dips in the lake or sunscreen breaks. Instead, we arrived to a mighty, swelling lake, soon to reach its 100-foot flood mark level, and rainy, rainy days.

So I scouted out the best spots for farm fresh produce, local dairy products and my all-time favorite Vermont comestible – maple syrup. Then I moved my activities indoors to the small kitchen. Perhaps slightly decadent for daily breakfast, this Maple Morning Cake seemed fitting for our sleepy vacation. Lightly sweet, the rich, mellow maple flavor shines through. Skip the buttercream frosting, if you like, and sprinkle the top with some maple or cinnamon sugar.

Cool lake breezes, pattering rain, and blessed silence had us sleeping soundly, dreaming only of the morning ahead and our Vermont maple-y breakfast in bed.

Ingredients

Cake
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 eggs
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup sour cream

Frosting
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon milk

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish and set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the brown sugar and butter. Beat in eggs one at a time. In a separate small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Mix the milk and maple syrup together in another small bowl. Add alternately with flour mixture to the egg batter, until well mixed. Fold in sour cream.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool for at least one hour before frosting.

To make frosting, mix softened butter and confectioner’s sugar together until well blended. Stir in maple syrup and milk, mixing until smooth. Apply a thin layer of frosting to cake using a butter knife or spatula. Refrigerate cake until ready to eat.

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Bedtime Stories: Revolting Recipes

Post by Mark T. Locker.

Even More Revolting Recipes inspired by the stories of Roald Dahl.

I know what you’re thinking: “This is a cookbook! Who in their right mind reads their child a cookbook at bedtime?”

My response is: who doesn’t want to be lulled to sleep with visions of delicious, gooey delectable treats? Rivers of fudge and fluffy marshmallow clouds? C’mon! Plus, all the recipes in this series are inspired by delectable (and sometimes disgusting) descriptions from Roald Dahl’s stories. From “Hornets Stewed in Tar” to “Tongue Rakers” to “Noshnibblers” the variety of names and dubious combinations is actually a pretty entertaining read. Each recipe is accompanies with an excerpt from his stories, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The BFG to a bunch I’ve never heard of.

Here’s the caveat. As hilarious and fun as it would be to whip up a batch of Stickjaw for Talkative Parents, what makes these recipes fun is what makes them horrible as well. Most are heavy on the corn syrup, marshmallows, chocolate, or sugar. Not to mention food coloring. My son and I love to look at the pictures and read the names of the recipes, but it is highly unlikely that we would make most of these, ever. Except maybe the Nishnobblers. Because you spread chocolate over bubble wrap, which makes for an awesome effect:

Bon appétit!

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Things We Like: Sleeping Underground

Post by Kyle St. Romain.

As you can probably tell, I get a bit of wanderlust during the summer. After all, we are ingrained from childhood to expect three fun-filled months of vacation every year. In our adult years, we can’t let little details like work, bills, and other responsibilities get in the way. Am I Right? In any case, it never hurts to daydream a little bit.

My daydreams recently led me to a novel place heralded as “world’s deepest hotel room.” Located in the depths of Sweden’s Sala Silver mine, the aptly named “Mine Suite” (not to be confused with the Hotel Mine Suite in Istanbul) offers a truly unique sleeping experience.

Mining first began in the Sala Silver Mine in the 1400s and continued until 1908. Operations resumed briefly in the mid 1900s, and the mine is open now only as a museum/tourist attraction with sleeping accommodations to boot. The mine is said to be one of the best preserved of its kind in the world. Enough about history though, let’s get back to the underground room…

The Mine Suite is about 500 feet underground (155 meters) and will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of 3890 Krona/night ($575 USD). It’s depth and location makes it one of my ideal sleeping environments: cold (be sure to bundle up, temperatures have been known to get down to a brisk 35°F), damp, dark, and downright awesome. Reading through travelers’ reviews, you’ll find that some of the drawbacks are that the bathroom is located outside of the suite itself, and showers are only available on the surface. Better plan accordingly.

If the Mine Suite is as much of a budget breaker for you as it is me, there are also more affordable rooms available on the surface, starting at 460 Krona/night ($68 USD). I’m sure either accommodation provides an exciting experience.

As a guest at the Sala Silver mine, you’ll also gain access to guided tours through the labyrinths of underground tunnels dug over the years. Guest reviews unanimously agree.

So what are you waiting for? The summer’s about half way over, and it’s fine time you started planning your next adventure. And if your travels take you to Sweden don’t miss the chance to see this man made wonder.

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Breakfast in Bed: Strawberry Smoothies

Post by Alison Hein.

When the summer temperatures skyrocket and remain relentlessly above 90 degrees, when the air is so thick with water it’s hard to breathe, when the air conditioner gulps and strains to keep up the good fight against Mother Nature – those are the rare times when I don’t want any breakfast. My solution? An icy, frothy tall drink lush with fresh fruit and thick as a milkshake, tasting of summer and chilling like winter – a Strawberry Smoothie.

While fresh fruit/milk drink combos have been around for a long time, food historians generally believe the smoothie is a 20th century concoction, first appearing in West Coast health food stores during the 1920s, then later becoming popularized in the mid-1960s. Regardless of their history, they are delicious, nutritious, thirst-quenching and easy.

You will need a blender. After that, all you need is some fresh fruit, a handful of ice, and a little imagination. I like to put some low-fat vanilla yogurt in my smoothies – not just for thickness, but for a bit of protein. Experiment with different kinds of fruit, add a drop of honey or some protein powder. You can even use frozen fruit, and omit the ice entirely. Whatever you come up with, I’m sure it will be a recipe for a smooth, chill breakfast in bed.

Ingredients

2 cups fresh strawberries, plus 2 strawberries for garnish
1 cup ice
½ cup low fat vanilla yogurt


Preparation

Rinse strawberries and gently pat dry. Hull strawberries, except for the two garnish strawberries, using a small paring knife. Carefully cut around the green stem of each berry in a conical shape. Discard leaves and white inner part of berries. Make a small slit in the bottom of the two berries to be used for garnish, and slide one over the rim of each glass.

Place ice in blender. Add hulled berries and yogurt. Purée until thick and smooth, about 1 minute. Pour into glasses, add a couple of straws, and enjoy immediately.

Makes 2 smoothies.

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