Getting Restful Sleep Naturally

It's better together.Rumble strips jolted me back from drowsy driving on my afternoon commute.  The sun and hum of the road had lulled me into a trance after I sat down for the first time all day. The bridge rail came way too close for comfort. Guess I need to get better sleep at night.


A study recently released by the National Sleep Foundation cites 27% of adults are sleep deprived. Another of their studies cites 1/3 of American adults are losing sleep over the economy. Most of us struggle occasionally, so I’ve personally tested steps to make falling asleep easier. Here’s what worked for me:

1. TV and internet before trying to sleep

Our eyes, ears and brains are very active while we’re focused on electronic screens—translating pixels and sound bytes into thoughts, pictures, emotions and words.

Some even fall asleep with the TV on. That light blocks the brain from relaxing into the deep sleep that restores the body and brain.

Many people choose the printed page or e-reader instead. The words stay put, and our imagination supplies the pictures. Cool-down time for eyes and brains helps us relax and drift off to dreamland. You’re on your own if you choose suspenseful novels.

2. Consider Circadian Rhythms

During seasonal changes—especially this year– many folks struggle with fatigue. Our body’s circadian rhythms—or body clocks–take some time to reset when we switch to Daylight Savings Time. Traveling through time zones and getting up with children also compromise consistent zzzz’s. The body’s systems work better when they know what to expect.

3. Pump it up early

Walking, Pilates and Yoga keep my Fibromyalgia under control most days. When I miss stretching, my body protests. On days when I don’t get enough exercise, particularly outdoors, I have trouble falling asleep. During and following activity, the heart pumps oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells, which then seem happier—provided I don’t overdo it. If I exercise too close to bedtime, I have trouble wind down. Returning to a resting heart rate takes time after a workout, so I pump it up earlier in the day.

4. Be gentle

Raiding the fridge before bed? Choose carefully if you’d like to sleep well. Sending more than 400 calories to your digestive system before going to bed is asking for heartburn and wakefulness—for many of us. That pizza or big bowl of ice cream doesn’t work for most folks. Something light with carbs might help set it free to rest.

5. Easy Does it.

During sleep, the brain sorts and files all the experiences and information we’ve packed in during the day, saving the important stuff and discarding the rest. If we go to sleep still chewing on regrets or worries, that filing job doesn’t stand a chance.

Just when a good night’s sleep seems urgent for a clear head the next day, I can count on waking up in the middle of the night. The insistent message gets stuck in my head: Get back to sleep!  You don’t have much time…sleep fast!  Shift the focus… I’m glad that I’m at least I’m getting some rest. Thinking positive and listing blessings instead of sheep might work. After 20 minutes of struggling to fall asleep, try getting up and doing something else for a little while. A magazine or journal might help clear the chatter and clear the way for some real rest.

6. One muscle at a time

Progressive relaxation usually helps too. Lying flat in bed it’s easy to scrunch up one set of muscles—say the head and face—hold it with the breath, then completely relax on the exhale. Every muscle in the body communicates with the brain. Moving through the body with this process sends a clear signal to the brain to let go of the day’s stress.

These tips could also rescue our mental health and relationships. We become impatient with ourselves and cranky with everyone else when our brains don’t get enough deep sleep. Processing all the day’s information and emotions is the brain’s main job while we turn the thinking off.  It’s busy choosing what to keep and file into long-term memory, and what to toss. Without enough sleep to clean up the “filing cabinet”, my brain feels as cluttered as the top of my desk looks.

Waking up naturally refreshed is priceless. The new day has so much to offer when we can be fully present and tune in to all the details. Creating a sleep routine that works best for you can be challenging, but your body and brain will thank you.  Who knows, family, colleagues and friends might wonder what you’ve been up to. How does an oatmeal raisin cookie and small glass of milk sound to you?

Check out these websites for more specific information to be your own best sleep detective: National sleep foundation offers tips to help establish a sleep routine. Web MD provides links to other websites for additional tips and sleep aids.

© Sandra Sunquist Stanton MS, NCC, LPC, Connections of the Heart LLC
 For additional articles and information, visit or send an email

What about “Why?”

shutterstock_9626632 writing pigtailsKids—and the rest of us–all make mistakes on the way to learning. We ask “Why?” but they can’t answer. It’s tough to come up with a safe answer to that question. The response “I don’t know.” is accurate, but doesn’t get us anywhere.  An excuse leads to frustration, shame and blame. A lie starts a dangerous spiral into unhealthy choices.

Brain Coaching uses a different approach. All behavior has a reason, and it’s our job as educators to figure out what they need and find a way to provide for it through our planned learning experiences. Maybe the boy needed to move, and he couldn’t think of a way to do it without bothering others. Those girls might learn best by talking about what they’re learning, but that wasn’t part of the plan, so they got in trouble for talking to each other.

As a school counselor, the most effective solutions seemed to involve knowing and applying what researchers have told us about the brain—what it needs to do its best job. No shame or blame necessary. Researchers have unlimited information that can help us, but who wants to read those intimidating studies?  Brain Coaching has helped me help people of all ages.  Educators, parents, and seniors can make better choices for our kids and ourselves with that information translated into something we can actually understand.

When we confidently work on problems together, without threat of failure, the brain works much better.  The almond sized Amygdala–our internal security alarm– stands at attention watching for anything that has scared us in the past. When it comes around again, that small part of the brain sets in motion a process that shuts down access to the Cortex, or thinking brain. In that mode we aren’t able to access anything we’ve learned, and we won’t take away any new lessons from the experience.  That explains why we really “don’t know” what we did wrong.

Instead of a guilt trip, the child needs support to calm the central nervous system. The Sympathetic “Fight, Flight, or Flee” System must settle down, so the Parasympathetic or “Rest and Digest” System can take charge and access to the whole wonderful brain and all it’s learned so far. Some ways to make that happen include:

  • Deep breathing,
  • Going for a walk outdoors,
  • Reading some light material, and
  • Laughing – On purpose, even without a joke. It is great exercise!

We can then be our best selves and move ahead solving the problem and gaining wisdom from the situation.  What works best for you? Please share your best ideas with the rest of us!

Thanks for stopping by! More Brain Coaching suggestions for schools will follow in future Educator Blogs.


© Sandra Sunquist Stanton MS, NCC, LPC, Connections of the Heart LLC
 For additional articles and information, visit or send an email

Eight Gifts You Can Give Your Child’s Brain

Nothing brightens my day like a baby’s contagious laugh. We can give them what they need to be happy, without breaking the bank. April celebrates the young child. These tips might help you, parents and caregivers, guide your little ones toward healthy brain development.

1. Security

You create his world. If he feels safe, he will be willing to try new things. If he is fearful, he may withdraw, refuse contact and choose to protect himself.

2. Touch

Loving touch soothes the central nervous system for both you and your child. It communicates safety and love. Enjoy snuggles, massage, and rocking while reading to her. These times are short.

3. Fuel Food

His brain doesn’t store the fuel it needs to operate. An infant’s brain uses 70% of his body’s energy. Every day it needs water, fresh fruit, and omega 3 healthy fats. These building blocks create and strengthen connections between his 100 billion brain cells.

4. Music

Both sides of her brain are active when she enjoys music. It’s a workout for her brain. She forms stronger memories when many parts of the brain are involved.

5. Movement

Your child’s vestibular system coordinates sensory input to send to his brain. Dance, skip, clap, and let him help you in the kitchen and garden. These activities provide the movement that gives each experience depth and dimension. His learning becomes multidimensional, richer and easier for him to remember and build on as he grows.

6. Reading and Language

Talking and reading with your child prepares her for reading and learning. Time with you is the best way to help her learn language patterns and support early social development. Does reading the same book over and over again get old? Remember repetition is exactly what her brain needs to learn.

7. Rest and Sleep

During quiet times his brain gets a chance to process his mountain of experiences. When he’s busy, his neurons are busy taking in sensory information. His brain’s original cells still need to be connected to one another. That happens during these breaks.

8. You!

Enjoy your time together. Give her face to face practice matching your expressions and language with everyday activities. Electronic media cannot substitute for time with you. She learns that she matters when you respond to her. Enjoy this together time and make some memories.


© Sandra Sunquist Stanton MS, NCC, LPC, Connections of the Heart LLC
 For additional articles and information, visit or send an email



Max Your Mind with Humor and More

It's better together.What a great group of good sports! Thanks to each of you for your enthusiastic participation in the crazy brain coaching activities we did at UWEC’s 25th Annual Sr. American’s Day March 19, 2013

Without regular “workouts”, our brains slow down and don’t serve us so well. It doesn’t show up in body measurements, but we definitely notice the “fade”.  We know about crossword puzzles, Sudoku, brain training software. But did you know that just laughing is a wonderful brain workout?

Every time you hear a joke:

  • The language center on the left side of your brain makes sense of the words.
  • The message then crosses to the right side of the brain where the right frontal cortex activates stored emotions and social memories.
  • It then shuffles the information until it clicks and you get the joke.
  • Next, a structure deep in the brain pumps out dopamine, a “reward system chemical” that makes you feel good.
  • Your brain stem near the base of your skull makes you laugh.

(Adapted from “Just Laugh” by Pam VanKampen of Northern Area Agency on Aging)

That’s a lot of activity for the split second it takes to laugh at a joke. How about making it a body work out without the joke?

Laughter Yoga’s been around since 1995, there are 8,000 Laughter Yoga clubs across the world. Now it’s sweeping our nation because it works out the body’s muscles, our breathing systems, and especially the brain. You don’t even have to have a sense of humor, it uses no jokes or comedy. Groups of people do simple exercises, make eye contact with each other, begin with “fake” laughter, and soon genuine laughter takes over. Someone said they feel as good after Laughter Yoga as they do after a good cry. Endorphins flood the brain connections, and everyone has a great time. In Eau Claire, Jodi Ritsch M.D. will be starting a new season of classes next summer in their new center. For details, go to  Jodi says, “If you can breathe and laugh, you can do Laughter Yoga.” You Tube examples can get you started with some friends or even by yourself. Give it a try!

Humor Heals! Research studies detail many cases, including Norman Cousins’ where people successfully beat their ailments through humor and nutritional support. Cartoons, jokes and funny stories work more of your brain than simply reading. It can tune our minds, help us learn, and keep us mentally loose, limber and creative.

Seniors at our workshop listed their top 20 sources from “Good Old Days on TV”that they turn to when they need a good laugh:

I Love Lucy, Carol Burnett, All in the Family, M.A.S.H., Smothers Brothers, Dick Van Dyke, Seinfeld, Howdy Doody, Sheriff Bob, Art Linkletter’s “Kids Say The Darndest Things”, Bill Cosby Show, Jackie Gleason, Honeymooners, Three Stooges, Little Rascals, Amos and Andy, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Laurel and Hardy, and George Burns.

Reaction was mixed on slapstick, but it was fun remembering together.

The “real” Dr. Patch Adams tells us, “We have to get people laughing because:

  • It provides balance in people’s lives
  • It helps people cope better
  • It helps them stay well

Laughter is powerful!”

Some thoughts for the road…

“Each humor event you experience makes you grow a little bit…the brain has expanded and taken on new connections.” William Fry, M.D.

“Humor is something that causes a tickling of the brain. Laughter is invented to scratch it!” Hugh Foot

What makes you laugh?  How about the grandkids?




© Sandra Sunquist Stanton MS, NCC, LPC, Connections of the Heart LLC

For additional articles and information, visit or send an email

Welcome! Brain Coaching to Max Your Life

Mind Maxing: Where Body and Spirit Merge for Peace

Mind Maxing: Where Body and Spirit Merge for Peace

Welcome Back to Brain Coaching!

Thanks to all of you who have continued reading the archived blogs. It feels good to be back posting current information after lots of help from tech professionals.

While away from the blog, I struggled with Breast Cancer and am cancer free, Praise God!  It was a long, difficult, but revealing journey, which left me with peace, insight, and trust in God. My husband has been dealing with lung cancer since 2009–never a smoker. Accepting the things we can’t change has been a spiritual workout for both of us, but we are stronger for it. We are so grateful for friends and family who supported us daily in prayer and with thoughtful acts we didn’t even know we needed. Now we are ready to resume “new normal”. Each day is indeed precious.

Brain Coaching remains my professional focus.  Neuroscientists at Boston’s Learning and the Brain Conference asked educators to translate their life’s work into usable information and bring it to the people who can benefit.  I’ve been Brain Coaching ever since. As a school counselor,  I was often asked “Why do they/I do those things?”. While we tried to keep a positive focus, this question often led to blame, shame, guilt, and no resolution to the problem. When we looked objectively instead at the brain’s role, needs and operation we were better able to find positive,  effective solutions.

My neuroscience background got an extra boost when the B.R.A.I.N. Team of Eau Claire County, a group of professionals I volunteer with, received “First Five Years” training from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. While research studies are behind the information we teach, our audiences seem to prefer learning from experience based stories and hands on activites.  Works for me!

The alphabet soup behind my name?

NCC- Nationally Certified Counselor NCC since 1984

LPC -Licensed Professional Counselor LPC (Wisconsin License)

BCC- Board Certified Coach – National Certification for Heath and Wellness, Life and Personal Coaching

Since I “retooled” Connections of the Heart LLC after retiring from school counseling, I’ve been studying, speaking, writing and coaching with a backdrop of neuroscience— Brain Coaching. I received my Board of Certified Coaching (BCC) certificate in 2012. What can I say? I’m addicted to learning, and look forward to working with you. I’d love to speak for your group, write an article for your publication, or become your thinking partner and encourager through 1:1 Health and Wellness Coaching.  Hard to believe this weeks’ “Max Your Mind with Humor and More” was my 93rd presentation, which over the years have taken me across the US, to Canada, China and long ago to Bitburg Air Base in Germany.

My schedule and list of publications are posted on my website. I’d love to add yours to the list!

This blog will offer tips rotating monthly between

(1) Early Childhood for Parents and Caregivers
(2) Boomers and Better
(3) Educators

Brain Coaching will be the common thread at all these levels. I’m hopeful that we will be able to learn from and encourage each other. Please feel free to comment, raise your questions, and share things that work for you.

Can’t wait to hear from you!


 ©Sandra Sunquist Stanton NCC,LPC,BCC, Connections of the Heart LLC For additional articles and information visit www.ourbrainbuddies.comor email






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