The Pleasure of REM: Sleep Tracking
  1. The Pleasure of REM: Sleep Tracking


    Both as a neurobiologist and human, I love REM sleep.

    REM sleep is a special stage of sleep. When we are asleep, our bodies and brains cycle through different kinds of sleep every couple hours. At the beginning, the cycles contain more deep sleep and slow wave sleep, both of which help reset the body and mind. Healing happens best in deep sleep, and both get the brain to calm down, clear itself, and make room for new memories and experiences the next day. These stages can be very refreshing, especially after a hard day’s work, but they’re not what I’d call fun.

    In REM, the many different brain bits rehearse whatever they thought was the most salient part of the day, and nothing says all the bits have to agree. For example, when I enter REM, one part might focus on a moment I stumbled, another part might go over an experiment I need to plan, and yet another could be thinking about the tasty lunch place I found. I won’t be aware of what each region is doing, but the part of my brain that stitches together all my senses during my waking hours is still trying to make a coherent reality. And the awareness that arises from that mishmash has given rise to religions and prophecies, and less grandly for myself, nightly entertainment. This is the non-reality in dreams; mine are vivid.

    The dreams of a neurobiologist. Much like anybody else's.

    I know, as a sleep scientist, that everybody experiences sleep differently. I do not know how universal my experience is, but I share it here in the hopes that it might inspire those who are not yet REM enthusiasts. I experience all of my senses, and get a robust emotional ride. I have experienced terror and exuberance and even fallen in love in my dreams. When I was little, I used to have nightmares of being chased, and would wake up afraid to go back to sleep. It took me into my teen years to wake up one night, angry at being chased more than scared. I remember thinking “this is my dream. I get to win.” I went back to sleep, beat up the monster chasing me, and have felt more aware of my dreams since. I wonder how that works, and how common that is.

    That is why I track my sleep. I’m my own guinea pig for many projects, only because getting good sleep data is too expensive and too invasive at present for me to do it at a large scale. My colleagues and I use a mixture of sensors, hormone assessments, and careful logging to build models of sleep that allow us – more and more with each experiment – to predict biological changes from sleep stages gathered by wearable devices.

    The current state of sleep tracking.

    Right now, most sleep trackers seem a little gimmicky, and that’s because they are. But it’s not their fault. The spring bloom of sleep trackers and wearable devices we are currently seeing is our society realizing that sleep is an important part of health, and trying to find a way to start learning about what sleep actually looks like. Since no one knows what the right approach for getting those data will be, there are a lot of experiments going on. Some are done by publicly-funded scientists like me. Some are done by companies hoping their device will be the one. And some are done by citizen scientists. But all of us together are feeling our way into sleep, and each experiment brings the subsequent ones closer to being really helpful. Sleep is in part a response of the body and brain to what is happening to it in waking life, so eventually we might be able to learn all kinds of sleep patterns with predictive medical applications.

    I have used multiple sleep tracking devices over the years for my research, including more than one model of EEG – a mesh of electrodes recording electrical brain activity from my scalp. I have learned that my REM decreases in the days before I get sick, and that when I’m healthy I get about 40% of my night in REM, as compared to 10-20% for most people. Maybe that gives me room for a lot of big dreams.

    I think that one day, sleep will be a vital part of how we track our health and take care of our loved ones as they grow and then age. In the meantime, learning about sleep gets me out of bed each day, and getting REM is enough fun to bring me back each night. I encourage you to try and share some of my sleep joy. Track your sleep or journal your dreams. Or share your sleep experiences with friends and learn about theirs. We all spend a lot of time sleeping. We ought to make use of it, and to enjoy it!

     

    Dr Benjamin Smarr

    Dr. Benjamin Smarr studies the temporal structures that biological systems make as they move through time. An NIH research fellow at UC Berkeley, his work focuses on understanding how physiological dynamics like sleep, circadian rhythms, and ovulatory cycles are shaped by the brain, and how disturbances to those cycles gives rise to disease. Dr. Smarr is also an advocate for scientific outreach, and routinely gives public lectures and visits K-12 classrooms to help promote the idea that by understanding the biology that guides us, we can live more empowered lives.

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  2. Why Skimping on Sleep is a Major Career Mistake
  3. Why Skimping on Sleep is a Major Career Mistake


    There are a number of questions that an interviewer typically asks a potential candidate for a position.

    • “What relevant experience do you have?”
    • “Do you work better collaboratively or on your own?”
    • “What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?"

    An increasing amount of data indicates that it would behoove hiring managers to add another question to their standard list: how well do you sleep?

    At first glance, it may not seem as relevant as a question about their skill set or a gap in their resume. But when it comes to the quality of work that employers can expect day in and day out, sleep quality matters. A lot.

    We’ve already written about how high-quality sleep can fuel your career success. So if the potential work benefits of great shut-eye didn’t inspire you to step up your sleep game, we’re here now to discuss the inverse. Because the negative effects of sleep deprivation on your work life should make bedtime the most important agenda item of your day.

    A Recipe for Disaster

    On the extreme end of things, the consequences of sleep deprivation can be seen in the nuclear disasters at both Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Sleep deprivation also contributed to the Exxon Valdez oil tanker accident, as well as the explosion of the Challenger. A 2004 report also showed that sleep deprivation plays a significant role in medical errors. However, lives need not be at stake for poor sleep to wreak serious havoc on your work life.

    You Make Poor Decisions

    When you’re sleep-deprived, your prefrontal cortex doesn’t work well, which impairs a whole host of complex functions. Chief among them is the ability to make decisions. According to one study, sleep deprivation “impairs decision-making involving the unexpected, innovation, revising plans, competing distraction, and effective communication.” Yikes. That means it’s harder to make decisions in general, and nearly impossible to make quick decisions when things don’t go exactly as planned (which, let’s be real, they rarely do).

    There are no jobs that don’t require decision-making, whether it’s about who to delegate responsibility to, which marketing strategy to choose, or what product features to add. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that our work lives are just a series of decisions large and small. Which means that if you’re not well rested, it will affect every minute of your workday.

    You Can’t Focus

    Part of the impaired ability to make decisions likely has to do with the fact that it’s a lot harder to focus when you’re sleep-deprived (after all, how can you make a choice when you can’t concentrate long enough to consider the options?). This lack of focus also means that it takes a heck of a lot longer to complete tasks, destroying your workday productivity. So working longer and sleeping less is a bad strategy for productivity.

    You’re Bad with Numbers

    After a poor night’s rest, don’t expect to be a stellar—or even decent—number cruncher. In one study, subjects who had gone 35 hours without sleep performed significantly worse than their well-rested counterparts on arithmetic problems and had much less brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. And this one doesn’t just apply to mathematicians! Quantitative thinking plays a role in most jobs, whether it’s reviewing financial numbers, analyzing marketing statistics, handling payroll and expense reports or managing inventory. 

    You Can’t Read People

    The prefrontal cortex is also responsible for moderating social behavior. When this part of your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders, you’re less able to make jokes or appreciate humor. You also have a harder time reading other’s emotions: which quickly becomes a problem in any work environment requiring any sort of collaboration or human interaction.

    You’re Grouchier

    Sleep deprivation makes you markedly worse at conflict resolution. In fact, you’re more likely to exacerbate the situation, as those who are sleep-deprived are more inclined to bicker and express negativity.

    This also means that you’ll probably have a bad attitude overall – which certainly isn’t going to help you climb the ladder. Rather than tackling new projects with energy and enthusiasm, when you haven’t slept well, you’re far more likely to see a task as a burden and grumble your way through.

    You Take More Sick Days

    One of the physical side effects of sleep deprivation is that it does a number on your immune system. This, of course, means that you’re more susceptible to catching a cold or worse, keeping you out of the office. And while we all get sick from time to time, racking up sick days is certainly not the way to career success.

    The workday equivalent of Catch 22

    What’s most ironic about all of this is that work, more often than not, is one of the main contributors to sleep deprivation. Whether it’s late nights, early mornings, or workplace stress making you toss and turn, your office life can follow you to your bed. In fact, a study by the National Sleep Foundation suggested that a lack of workday productivity caused by sleep deprivation led people to continue to do work at home at night. This led to further sleep deprivation, thus creating a vicious cycle.

    It can be a tricky dynamic to navigate, but what’s important to remember is that, no matter how much pressure you feel to stay up and get to inbox zero, you’ll be a much more valuable employee the next day—and much more pleasant coworker—if you click shut down and get some shut-eye.

    The new path to success?

    Work hard, play hard. It’s part of the American lexicon and embedded in our collective conscience. But if you want to get ahead, it’s becoming increasingly clear that you should also sleep hard. We suggest you start tonight.

    Ready to re-energize your career path? Find out about the state-of-the-art in beds here.

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  4. Advanced Bedroom Feng Shui
  5. Advanced Bedroom Feng Shui


    Feng shui centers around the idea of Qi, which is a flowing life force that basically rules the earth. Qi (pronounced chee) swirls all around us, the vital energy of life. Everything and everyone on earth gives off Qi and is affected by it.

    The words feng and shui are Chinese and literally translate into wind and water. If you think about the wind in the mindset of the Chinese, it translates into human breath. So feng shui represents the most crucial elements of life: wind (the ability to breathe) and water, which composes up to 60% of the human body. No human can last long without either. Not coincidentally, both wind and water are primary distributors of Qi.

    The theory of feng shui is that you can control and enhance the flow of Qi with the design of spaces and placement of objects. You can see why that would be relevant to the bedroom. Since we’ve already done a post about basic bedroom feng shui, 8 Feng Shui Principles for a Better Bedroom, we figure you are already semi-pros on the subject. You know never to sleep with your feet facing the door, to avoid sharp corners, pick a room at the back of the house and choose soothing colors. Now we’re moving on to some more advanced ideas to really bring on the zen.

    Big chandelier

    Skip the monoliths

    No hulking furniture next to the bed, blocking the Qi, making you feel small, obscuring your view or subconsciously feeling that it might tip over and crush you. Likewise, chandeliers and ceiling fans are great, but not over the bed. One surprising tip: huge bedrooms aren’t great for sleep. They can actually make you feel vulnerable, because it’s harder to keep track of what’s going on in a big room. There’s more stuff in the room, and you may not have a good line of sight to the door or the window. This may be a leftover instinct from caveman times.

    Bed placement

    Headboards create a feeling of safety and solidity, protecting your head and also shielding you from anything behind you that you can’t see. They’re a great choice if you must put your bed underneath a window or in the middle of the room. Make sure the headboard is solid and attached to the bed, so you’re not creating a feeling of unease, worrying that it might tip over. Avoid placing your bed near a window, where your body’s Qi may fly up and out the window.

    Woman standing at open bedroom window

    Air care

    While clean air is essential for Qi, carbon dioxide is not. Having plants in your bedroom is a contested point of feng shui—as plants often grow at night, emitting carbon dioxide. If you like plants, we recommend keeping them across the room rather than next to your bed and keeping them on the small side. In the morning, open the windows to let out carbon dioxide from your own breathing. A colossal bedroom feng shui mistake: dried flowers. They connote death. #Avoid

    Clothes hanging on chair

    Chaos containment

    Clutter not only stops the flow of Qi, it stresses you out. Get rid of it. All of it. Also stressful? Intense or disturbing artwork in the bedroom. The Delacroix battle reproduction or neon Peter Max poster is better for the living room. Likewise, bizarre or precarious furniture should be banished. Glass tables, grotto chairs and psychedelic pillows should be relocated elsewhere.

    Karma patrol

    The bedroom is no place to hold on to negative energy. Toss your ex’s old sweatshirt and that mix CD in the bottom drawer. Use a sage stick to burn away bad vibes and remember to wave it in the corners, where bad Qi can get trapped. For obvious reasons, if you have an en suite, keep the bathroom door closed. Keep your bedroom door closed, too. The idea is to keep Qi in the room at night, freely circulating.

    window treatments

    Give peace a chance

    Good sleep hygiene is something we often talk about on this blog and, unsurprisingly, it is also good bedroom feng shui. Eliminate noise. Bring nature in with organic sheets. And invest in quality window treatments. Look for ones that block out light and can be easily opened and closed. You want to shut out light when sleeping, but also be able to welcome it into your bedroom in the morning. Ease yourself gently awake with a smartphone alarm that uses chimes or other peaceful sounds. Or get a combo alarm clock/light that brightens slowly, waking you by simulating the rising sun.

    Nurturing relationships

    It’s like dating advice, but good feng shui involves inviting the kind of relationship you want into the bedroom. Symmetry around the bed is good. Go for two lamps, two candlesticks and bedside tables on both sides. Include artwork that depicts a couple rather than a single person. Peonies in the room promote love; avoid single flowers. And never put the mirror over, next to, or opposite the bed. Not only can the reflections be distracting, but feng shui says bad mirror placement is a triple threat. It can magnify problems, make the Qi bounce around the room uneasily and invite others into your relationship.

    All in all

    The more we learn about feng shui, the more it seems grounded in common sense, a light understanding of the workings of the subconscious mind, and even some principles of physics. You know the saying, “Good luck is good planning.” Well, good sleep is good planning, too. We encourage you to give your bedroom a makeover with some of our feng shui tips, and let us know how they work for you.

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  6. Winter is Coming. How to Prep for Daylight Savings Time?
  7. Winter is Coming. How to Prep for Daylight Savings Time?


    I walk to work each day, and these days two things stick out to me. First, the leaves are changing color, which is beautiful. Second, it’s a little darker every morning during my walk. I love the fall, but I can’t help but be reminded that winter is impending. I love winter less. It’s dark more, it’s colder, and even after my super-focused, class-free academic summer research, I find the waning light reminding me of all the things I thought I’d do this year but didn’t. Downer feelings just seem to molder without the sun to dry them up. I take some solace knowing this emotional muddling is a pretty shared experience. That I can identify it as a pattern means I also know the feelings will pass and another year will come, and it means I don’t have to take all such thoughts too seriously.

    Our culture doesn’t have seasons.

    These changes are so predictable that our bodies actually expect them, and try to do some prep work. We might take more pleasure from fatty foods, and those of us with facial hair may find it suddenly easier to grow a Decembeard than it was to make a Maystache. We’ll also start sleeping more, and in general, later. All this makes some sense. Our bodies are helping us hunker down to get through the dark and cold. And when I grew up in the flatlands of central Illinois, that dark-coldness was very real. The funny thing is that I’m now sciencing it up in northern California, where seasons are far less dramatic, but I still feel these seasonal changes. And that points to an important issue – our culture doesn’t have seasons (maybe summer break aside). We work the same hours, we’re expected to keep up the same vigor for productivity and personal day-to-days. And so there’s a conflict between what we feel and what we’re expected to feel.

    This conflict of artificial, socially-dictated time and Nature’s time is kind of like the difference between our circadian rhythms and our modern light environment. Just like with seasons, our bodies evolved to anticipate the day-night cycle, and so our bodies get very confused when the light we see doesn’t match the timing of sunrise and sunset. The sudden perceived difference between internal and external time, like we experience in jetlag, shift work, or even waking up to alarm clocks instead of letting our sleep cycles end themselves, feels crummy. It does damage too, as your body lurches internally trying to realign itself to the new perceived day. Happily, evidence is mounting that this damage heals when time stabilizes. Unhappily, we have a lot of artificial timing signals in the modern environment – think of school schedules, street lights, and smart phones in bed – and chronic disruptions to our sense of time like that can add up to increased disease risk, and even lasting behavioral changes when these are experienced early in life. So we need to have a global discussion about how we deal with time as part of our health and wellbeing, and we’re starting to do that.

    Daylight savings time is a cultural artifact of trying to make social time fit the outside world better.

    When I tell people I’m a circadian biologist, a satisfying number of people now have some idea what I’m talking about. And in one way, seasonal change is often brought into the conversation by way of day light savings time. Daylight savings time is a cultural artifact of trying to make social time fit the outside world better, but it is also an imposed jetlag on most of the population, meaning most of us feel crummy losing an hour, and actually are less able to function for a while, as evidenced by the spike in traffic accidents the next day. Human biology does have circannual rhythms – yearly cycles that change with the seasons – but we don’t know a lot about them, and so building social artifacts to deal with them well is a challenge.

    Some people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which peaks as winter is waning, around February. I’ve certainly had a taste of that, though thankfully nothing too severe. Some people experience insomnia with the changing days. Some people just want to sleep all the time. Bright lights in the morning – dawn simulators – can help, and are often recommended as antidepressants for SAD. But I have to wonder whether some of the difficulties we have with winter come from fighting the change instead of accepting it. Just like light at the wrong time of day confuses our brains and disrupts our bodies, it seems possible that light at the wrong time of year might have a similar effect. If that was so, then it would be reasonable that some people would be more sensitive than others, which might account for why some people are more affected than others. This is just a hypothesis, and not one that is easy to test, since I don’t have the money to pay large numbers of people to live without electric lights for years, and then measure if more or less of them get depressed, while somehow controlling for the depressing effects of not knowing what happened in Game of Thrones for so long.

    Winter comes no matter what, it seems.

    Winter comes no matter what, it seems. And anyway, living without technology is not a solution I expect the world to embrace. But I’m curious: did my growing up in a place with severe seasons predispose me to expect big changes every year. Was the lack of that change why living in San Diego was hard for me? How do we begin to know such things – build biological time into personalized medical advice? For both daily rhythms and seasonal rhythms, what I’ve tried to do is appreciate that time matters in our lives. Day to day, and season to season. I think the next step is to understand how those rhythms work in people, and try to discover not just the commonalities of biological timekeeping, but the personal differences that might let us know if, for example, someone from Illinois would be happier where the winter is harsher, because it matches the expectations their body set through early life experience. Or conversely, maybe we’d all be happier if there was enough light to make everywhere seem like summer all the time (we know the answer to that one is “no”, by the way).

    To that end, here are a few tips to help you prep for daylight savings time.

    • Start going to bed earlier.
      Getting an extra hour in the fall doesn’t seem to hurt much, but losing one in the spring is hard. In either case, it’s not a bad idea to make smaller adjustments to your schedule in the days ahead of the change so your body has a smooth transition to the new time.
    • Listen to your body.
      If you feel like winter is really bringing you down, take time to do something good for yourself, and consider getting and using full spectrum bulbs to help you wake up each day.
    • Remember that winter comes to us all.
      If you feel snowed under, you’re not at all alone. It’s natural, and it happens more for some than others. Try to sleep and eat regularly, and if you’re feeling really SAD, there’s plenty of professionals (if not friends) able to help get you through to the spring.

    If you get the chance, make a snow man or woman for me. It’s fun. Living in California, I miss the snow from when I grew up. Thanks in advance.

     

    Dr Benjamin Smarr

    Dr. Benjamin Smarr studies the temporal structures that biological systems make as they move through time. An NIH research fellow at UC Berkeley, his work focuses on understanding how physiological dynamics like sleep, circadian rhythms, and ovulatory cycles are shaped by the brain, and how disturbances to those cycles gives rise to disease. Dr. Smarr is also an advocate for scientific outreach, and routinely gives public lectures and visits K-12 classrooms to help promote the idea that by understanding the biology that guides us, we can live more empowered lives.

    Read more »
  8. A Stanley Cup Champion Talks About His New Bed
  9. A Stanley Cup Champion Talks About His New Bed


    The NHL started its season. If you follow hockey, you know that it’s one of the most challenging and grueling sports to play. Night after night, it’s lots of checking, slamming into the boards, falling onto hard ice and a gonzo pace that never lets up for the entire game. To paraphrase the old Ginger Rogers line, hockey players do everything baseball players do, but with full contact and on skates.

    One can only imagine the effect on the body, even for young healthy guys. Combine it with a vigorous road schedule, and that kind of pounding would create a strong need for sleep. Over the summer, Reverie gave Steven Oleksy, a defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of our Dream Supreme Sleep Systems. Oleksy, who runs a competitive hockey league over the summer, has been sleeping on it ever since.

    How has his journey to great sleep been going?

    Frankly, Oleksy’s journey has been short. Upon trying our bed in at our showroom outside of Detroit, he was impressed. “I’d never been on a sleep system before. I could feel immediately that it was a custom bed,” says Oleksy. And then, when his bed was delivered at home? “The very first night, I noticed a huge change in my sleeping patterns. I didn’t set an alarm clock and hopped right out of bed at 7:30am, ready to go. My legs felt great!” (Oleksy says it so enthusiastically, the exclamation point had to be added for honesty.)

    The very next day, he told a friend the bed “was life changing.” Within the first few days, he noticed other things, too. He began falling asleep fast and sleeping soundly instead of restlessly. “I didn’t even dream,” he says. He also doesn’t wake up groggy any more, rendering his snooze button irrelevant. Oleksy used to suffer from sore throats in the morning. He thought the elevation of the Zero Gravity position, which he sleeps in and loves, helped with better drainage. (Another possibility might be our all-natural latex hypoallergenic mattress; it repels dust mites and bacteria, which thrive in other kinds of mattresses.)

    A job where sleep is crucial

    Great sleep is important to any athlete, but especially to a hockey player. On game days, their schedule involves a busy morning with breakfast at the rink, reviewing video, a short skate and stretching. All this happens before noon. Then most players head back home or to the hotel to nap for 2-3 hours in preparation for the evening’s game. Then it’s back to the rink in the late afternoon to work out, stretch some more and talk strategy. The game follows, with dinner afterward along with a debrief. And then it’s back to the hotel, usually around midnight. A long day, with sleep sandwiched in the middle and also capping off the day. It’s that important to performance.

    One of the biggest sleep challenges a hockey player faces is after the game. “It’s a super physical and intense game,” Oleksy says. “It’s hard to wind down. And often, it’s even harder at home, when I have other people and responsibilities to take care of.”  He finds the massage feature and the soft light of the under-bed nightlight are little luxuries that help him fall asleep.

    Oleksy says “what sets you apart at every level of the game is how quickly you can recover.” And he thinks his Reverie bed really does help. “Those little aches and pains? They don’t bother me much or at all anymore.” Sleeping better maximizes his workouts, improves his mindset and minimizes the effects of constant travel.

    A measurable difference

    Every year, hockey players take assessment tests for power, endurance, etc. This year, Oleksy had his highest scores ever across the board, which he attributes in part to sleeping better. He is also very fastidious about taking care of himself. He eats healthfully and never drinks alcohol, with one exception … if it’s from the Stanley Cup. “It’s my job to stay in shape,” he says seriously. “I’ve noticed that when I don’t sleep properly or am up late, I tend to make bad decisions, especially eating worse.”

    Lately Oleksy has been loving our new Nightstand app. “It’s great,” he says. “It has so many capabilities.” He’s now programming his own sleep routines, with various massage settings and positions of the bed set to run automatically.

    He thinks anyone could benefit from the bed, primarily because everybody needs great sleep. “They’ll wake up, ready to go.” And he thinks it would be great for anybody who suffers from back or shoulder pain. Of course, we love that he’s also been talking up the bed to his teammates, telling them, “If there’s one investment to make, this bed is worth every penny.”

    About life as a Stanley Cup champion

    A genuine and humble guy, Oleksy says his philosophy of the game is that he wants “to be the hardest working guy out there.” He is grateful to have achieved every hockey player’s dream by having been on a team that won the Stanley Cup. And he’s trying hard to cherish every moment of being a champion. “Nobody can take that away from me.” Rather than be annoyed, he’s grateful to the fans who say “hi” and ask for autographs.

    Asked about the Penguins’ chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions this year, he shows he’s learned a bit about the media and interviews, however. He modestly declines to make any prediction. “It’s always hard to tell,” he says, nonchalantly. “We should be competitive.”

    Got it. Continue to sleep well, Steven, and good luck. Your friends at Reverie will be rooting for you.

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  10. The History of America's Most Famous Bedroom
  11. The History of America's Most Famous Bedroom


    Let's forget the current political climate and delve into a more fun aspect of it:  history, decorating, architecture and sleep. We’re talking about the most famous bedroom in DC, the Lincoln Bedroom.

    Most Americans are aware that the Lincoln Bedroom exists. But they’re under the mistaken impression that the current President sleeps there. Or that Lincoln slept in the room, for that matter (he did not, unless it was a cat nap). In fact, prior to 1945, the Lincoln Bedroom, as we think of it, existed as two separate entities – a suite of Victorian furniture purchased by the Lincolns that was constantly being shuffled around the White House, and a presidential office in the original part of the White House.

    A storied room

    Let’s go back to the beginnings of the White House. It was commissioned in 1791 on a site chosen by George Washington, who left office before it was finished. In 1800, despite ongoing construction, John Adams became the first President to experience the joys of living amidst a renovation, without the Property Brothers around to rescue him. At the time, the White House was the largest house in the country, something that remained true until the Civil War. During the War of 1812, the British burned the mansion down a few years after it was finished originally. Thankfully, Dolly Madison had the presence of mind to take the masterpiece painting of George Washington with them before it was destroyed. Obviously, the building was rebuilt after the war.

    the white house

    Period illustration of White House in 1814, after the British burned it down. Photo/art credit: Library of Congress.

    Prior to Teddy Roosevelt, the president and his aides worked on the second floor of the Executive Mansion. During this time, the room now known as the Lincoln Bedroom served as a private office for many presidents, including Lincoln, McKinley, Benjamin Harrison and Taft.

    Lincoln Bedroom 1900

    McKinley’s Office, 1900, Photo Credit: White House Museum

    It’s easy to imagine the difficulties of running a large government in a personal residence. In 1902, Teddy Roosevelt commissioned a separate executive office building on the site, moving the president and his staff into it. That part of the White House is now known as the West Wing. A few years later, President Taft had the Oval Office built within the West Wing. Even after construction of the West Wing, the Lincoln Bedroom was mostly used as a private office for the president or a meeting room for his cabinet, other than a brief period when it became a bedroom for Woodrow Wilson’s daughter.

    Bedroom and furniture finally unite

    In 1945, the White House was in serious structural trouble. Harry Truman undertook a massive renovation that basically scrapped every room down to the studs. Truman decreed that the Lincoln-era bedroom furnishings should be installed in Lincoln’s former presidential office, and that the room should be forever dedicated to Lincoln. Furniture and room were finally united, and it has been the Lincoln Bedroom ever since. The Trumans renovated the room, along with much of the White House, to a classic, pared-down look, albeit with some cheap reproductions.

    Lincoln Bedroom in 1962

    Lincoln Bedroom in 1962, Photo credit: The Kennedy Library

    First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upgraded the Lincoln Bedroom a little in the 1960s, replacing some of the inauthentic pieces. But the room essentially remained unchanged until 2005. At that time, First Lady Laura Bush decided to undertake a major period-correct renovation, retaining the Lincoln furniture and cross-matching between the historic décor of Lincoln’s office and what might be appropriate for a Victorian bedroom.

    Research into historical writings and photos of the room gave insight into the original hangings, colors and patterns from the era. It was decided to go back to the original green and gold color scheme. A custom rug with a suitable Victorian pattern was made in England, where the original rug from Lincoln’s office was likely made at the time. A Victorian mantel was installed, luminous yellow drapes were hung, and the furniture was reupholstered in yellow, which is how the room remains today.

    Lincoln Bedroom, 2005

    Lincoln Bedroom, 2005. Photo credit: White House Historical Association

    About that furniture

    As for the furniture itself, it’s not the typical bedroom suite of furniture. The ornately carved Lincoln Bed is solid rosewood, now banned for use in furniture because the Brazilian rosewood tree has become endangered. The bed is absolutely massive, at over 8’ long, 6’ wide, and nearly 8’ tall. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln purchased the bed when she undertook a large renovation of the White House; however, historical documents show no evidence that Lincoln ever slept in it. Several other presidents did, however, including Calvin Coolidge, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

    The suite also includes a sofa, three matching chairs and four chairs used for Lincoln’s cabinet meetings. One of the weirder twists of the Lincoln Bed in a democratic nation is that Benjamin Harrison had a crown made for it. Other presidents (or their wives) apparently rather liked said crown, actually keeping it and embellishing on it. There’s much talk about the Lincoln bed hanging swags in historic documents. Mary Todd Lincoln had purple swags made for it, which Laura Bush had her designer emulate.

    Perhaps most importantly historically, it is thought that the Emancipation Proclamation was written, debated and worked on in the Lincoln Bedroom. The room also contains one of just five known copies of the Gettysburg Address signed by Lincoln himself.

    Lincoln in his office

    Unusual photo of Lincoln in his office, 1863, Photo credit: White House Museum

    Recent years

    Since the 1980s or so, the Lincoln Bedroom has been used as an executive guest room, oftentimes as a perk for influential players in both parties, sigh. Let’s not go there. It’s a lovely, historic room, in every period. Sleep well, friends.

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  12. Best New Bedtime Picture Books
  13. Best New Bedtime Picture Books


    There’s something special about reading a bedtime story with a child. Many kids are extra sweet at bedtime, so you get quality time and bonding to the max. You’ve likely already shared your favorite classic books with your kids or grandkids. Several times, right? Goodnight, Moon. The Hungry Caterpillar. The Velveteen Rabbit. The Missing Piece. Green Eggs and Ham. They’re all so wonderful, sigh. But eventually, you need some new material. So what can you read with them now?

    Have no fear. We recently went to a good bookstore for kids in search of best new picture books that might wind up being classics.

    We’ll start by sharing our own criteria for what makes a good picture book. It must have a good, engaging story. The writing has to sparkle. The pictures need to feel fresh, graphic or otherwise charming. It needs to be human. And the book needs to be original in some way, not the same old sappy stuff and clichéd stories. Lastly is the “it” factor: the book should evoke some kind of emotional response. Ultimately, we need to empathize. Or laugh. Or be delighted. Or enlightened. Truth be told, our standards are very high, and most books wind up in the rejected pile.

    Looking for books that have won prestigious children’s literary awards like the Caldecott or Newbery medals can be helpful, but not always. They’re usually easy to spot, with large embossed gold or silver stickers at the top. We’ve found these awards generally guarantee a certain quality of writing and illustrations, but don’t necessarily mean you’ll get a good, engaging story. It also seems like books with a sense of humor are often overlooked by the judges. So don’t limit yourself to award-winners.

    After weeding through books for several hours, we’re happy to report that the genre is alive and well. Here are some newer bedtime books on the shelves right now that are worth a look. The books don’t have an age range on them, so we guesstimated.

    Unlike Other Monsters

    Unlike Other Monsters

    Written by Audrey Vernick, Illustrated by Colin Jack
    Children 5-7

    Zander is a monster. And monsters do not like or need friends. Until a little red bird hangs out with Zander and interrupts his world view. A humorous story with fun, active illustrations. More here.

     

    Still A Gorilla

    Still a Gorilla

    Written by Kim Norman, Illustrated by Chad Geran
    Children 3-5

    Cute story about a young gorilla who longs to be someone else. Big, flat, almost Japanese-style illustrations. For the pictures, think Curious George meets PokemonMore here.

     

    Octicorn

    Hello, My Name is Octicorn

    Written by Kevin Diller, Illustrated by Justin Lowe
    Children 6-8

    Half unicorn, half octopus, Octicorn feels insecure because he’s different. In the book, Octicorn works through all the reasons he’d be a good friend. Turns out, they’re excellent reasons. Expressive, earnest, mostly black and white illustrations with a splash of color. Nice story for a child who’s different or to teach kids about tolerance. More here

     

    Pigeon Drives The Bus

    Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

    Written and Illustrated by Mo Willems
    Caldecott Honor Book
    Children 5-7

    A mischievous pigeon tries every excuse and guilt trip in the book, all the ones that kids typically use to try to get their way. Simple, doodle-style illustrations that evoke an old-style cartoon. We think most kids will be able to see themselves in this book, a great quality for a book to have. More here

     

    Day The Crayons Quit

    The Day the Crayons Quit

    Written by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
    EB White Read-Aloud Award
    Children 7-10

    Duncan wants to color but his crayons are tired. So they all go on strike. Each crayon writes him a hilarious protest letter based on its typical duties by color. Red is mad that he has to work so hard year-round, especially Christmas. Beige is tired of being the poor man’s brown. Full disclosure: we are in love with this book. The “delight” factor is high. Just buy it! More here. 

     

    Mixed Me

    Mixed Me

    Written by Taye Diggs, Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
    Children 6-9

    Written by actor Taye Diggs, this is about Mike, a mixed race boy with an awesome head of curly hair. In a rhyme, he proudly explains who he is to the world, with love and support from his parents. Colorful and modern illustrations. Exuberant and freeing text. More here. 

     

    On The Night You Were Born

    On the Night You Were Born

    Written and Illustrated by Nancy Tillman
    New York Times Bestseller
    Children 2-5

    Sweetest book since Goodnight Moon. A parent poetically recounts the events of a magical night. On the night her child was born, word rang out across the land. The polar bears danced and all of nature celebrated. A book that is validating, comforting and just all-around AWESOME. More here. 

     

    Quit Calling Me Monster

    Quit Calling Me a Monster

    Written by Jory John, Illustrated by Bob Shea
    Children 6-9

    An engaging rant by a monster about being called names, even though he rather deserves them due to bad behavior. A witty romp with a protagonist who rather reminded us of Oscar the Grouch. Endearing, active illustrations. More here.

     

    The Wonderful Things You Will Be

    The Wonderful Things You Will Be

    Written and Illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin
    Children 3-5

    A lovely rhyme as a new parent speculates on all the possibilities life may hold for her child. Somehow this book perfectly walks the line between schmaltz and honest emotion. Charming illustrations. More here.

     

    Voice Of Freedom

    Voice of Freedom/The Fannie Lou Hamer Story

    Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
    Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
    Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
    Caldecott Honor Book
    Coretta Scott King Award/John Steptoe New Talent
    Children 9-12

    This book is a serious work for children and somewhat hard to explain, because it deals with racism. The youngest of 20 children, Fannie Lou Hamer was born to sharecroppers and grew up to be a civil rights leader. Carole Boston Weatherford, a writer of many books about African American heroes, has taken the true elements of Hamer’s life and translated them into a compilation of different short stories and prose. The result is moving, sad, joyful, angry, inspiring and true. The fine art illustrations are incredibly beautiful and unique. This book would be best read a few pages at a time and discussed in detail between adult and child. More here.

    Lastly

    If you want to look for picture books on your own, we’ll make a plea for going to a good local brick-and-mortar bookstore. It’s way, way easier to find good books in person than online, unless you already know exactly what you want. In a bookstore, you can always read the entire book, unlike online where you just get a preview. Plus bookstores are places full of knowledge and great vibes, the kind of business that’s great to have in your neighborhood.

    Happy reading, and may your little one drift off to sleep easily, enriched by a great book and your loving, undivided attention.

    Pregnant? New parent or have small kids? Tired? Get tips and info on our special site for exhausted moms. 

    Ready to start sleeping better?

    moms need sleep

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  14. Zoned Out:  How to Minimize Jet Lag
  15. Zoned Out: How to Minimize Jet Lag


    Summer travel season is in full swing. Maybe you’re jetting off to the coast, or to a sunny locale. Many of us also go on business trips from time to time, or even all the time. So jet lag happens. Feeling tired after a serious time-zone change is a real thing. You don’t want to waste precious vacation time or productivity by feeling out of it for several days, nor do you want to feel like a zombie when you return home. While it’s probably inevitable that you’ll feel a bit tired while adjusting to a time-zone change, there are ways to mitigate the effects.

    Woman Yawning

    What causes jet lag?

    Jet lag occurs when there is a sudden change in the alignment of environmental time cues, notably sunlight, relative to the body’s internal timing, which is also referred to as the circadian rhythm. So flying across time zones tends to have a similar effect as working the afternoon or night shift. Both situations cause the individual and his or her environment to be out of sync.

    The reason jet lag causes negative effects is that the body has more than one circadian rhythm. Instead, every cell keeps its own internal time. Local networks of cells (tissues) allow pretty good coordination within organs. For example, even though individual liver cells keep time internally, most liver cells align to each other so that you can think of “liver time” as a thing. However, time is much less well coordinated across different organs.

    Windows to the soul

    Your eyes are windows to the brain

    Cells in your eyes have their own individual clocks which run on their own eye time and are sensitive to light. And these are particular culprits in jet lag, because they are the key communicator of light cues to your brain, since your brain doesn’t get any light exposure itself. So while your eyes are communicating directly to your brain about light, they’re not communicating to the clocks in your liver, bones, etc. Those organs and tissues tend to rely on other cues, strongly influenced by metabolic cues, like when you eat, go for a run, etc.

    Further complicating the jet lag equation is that your eyes and brain, because they are more affected by light, generally adjust within a day to your new setting. However, your other organs and tissues can only catch up to the new time at the rate of about an hour a day. And they adjust even more slowly if they get conflicting information about time, which happens if your eating and exercise habits don’t align with the light in your new environment. What these different rates of adjustment mean is that while you get used to a new time, the clocks in your body fall out of their normal alignment. As long as the normal alignment of organ times is disrupted, your organs will be doing things when other organs aren’t ready for them – like your stomach making acid when you’re not actually about to eat, giving you ulcers or acid reflux.

    When your body clocks are out of sync

    The misalignment of body clocks, which doctors and scientists call internal desynchrony, is what makes us feel bad when we have jet lag. As long as our body systems don’t line up, it is normal for us to feel unwell. It’s the body’s way of telling us that something is not right. Again, we can expect to feel that way about one day per hour of time zone change, given how long it takes our organs to move into alignment. It may take even longer if you’re traveling to an area that’s a much higher altitude than where you currently are.

    So what can you do to minimize jet lag’s negative effects?

    Get a head start on adjusting to the new time

    To some extent, you can get ahead of your trip by adjusting your timing at home. Go to bed a little earlier or later, maybe shift your eating, waking and sleeping schedules an hour toward the time zone to which you’ll be traveling. Sports teams are beginning to do this more. They are training at the time of day that will be local time for the event, so that when the athletes fly and play the same day, their bodies are expecting to play at the right (internal) time. For example, athletes in New York might practice at 7pm in if they plan to fly to California for a 4pm game in a few days.

    Get all your timing cues aligned

    Sleep, exercise, and eat on local time so that your body gets the same time information to all organs, no matter what cues they’re sensitive to. Getting bright light in the day is also important, just like making sure it’s dark when you sleep. Going outside helps with the former, and using a sleep mask can help with the latter, especially if you don’t quite sleep on local time the first day or two. Earplugs can also be beneficial.

    Woman in spa

    Give yourself a break

    Internal desynchrony disrupts your body as well as your ability to think and act. For the first 24 hours, you’re likely to be a bit under the weather, no matter what you do. So build in a day to relax when you arrive. Taking it easy for a day allows your body to focus on realigning itself and recovering, which is hard to do if you put additional stress on it by going gung-ho when you first arrive. Chilling out poolside isn’t lazy; it’s a smart move and an investment for the following days.

    Accept that which you cannot control

    We do not know of any superhumans outside of the movies. A normal human being is going to feel fatigued for a few days when traveling across time zones. So be aware, follow these tips and make the most out of your trip.

     

    Dr Benjamin Smarr

    Dr. Benjamin Smarr studies the temporal structures that biological systems make as they move through time. An NIH research fellow at UC Berkeley, his work focuses on understanding how physiological dynamics like sleep, circadian rhythms, and ovulatory cycles are shaped by the brain, and how disturbances to those cycles gives rise to disease. Dr. Smarr is also an advocate for scientific outreach, and routinely gives public lectures and visits K-12 classrooms to help promote the idea that by understanding the biology that guides us, we can live more empowered lives.

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  16. Summer Getaway:  Little Inn, Big Comfort
  17. Summer Getaway: Little Inn, Big Comfort


    Nestled near the bay in picturesque Petoskey, Michigan, is a little hotel with immaculate grounds, spotless rooms and an exceedingly unusual point of view.

    In the world of moderately priced hotels where it competes, there’s a numbing sameness. Quilted coverlets in swirls of seafoam green and mauve. Plus faux oak. Lots of faux oak.

    Not the case with the @ Michigan Inn and Lodge. And no, the “@” is not a typo. The rooms are modern and well-appointed. Not a smidge of oak in sight. And that’s just for starters.

    To say the Inn’s owner is a renegade is a bit of an understatement. Dave Taylor revels in being different. “We’re doing things no other hotel is doing. I check things out on Google. Google doesn’t lie,” he says. Case in point:  he has a hair salon on site, and every room booking comes with a free haircut. #YesReally

    Petoskey is four hours north of Detroit. It’s a perfect getaway spot and most visitors must drive to get there. So Dave installed 72 carports in his parking lot.

    And let’s talk about the food at the inn. Food all day long, all you can eat. From 6am to 10pm in the cafeteria. His website encourages customers to “Come hungry and with long hair.” #AgainReally

    Whatever sounds like fun to Dave and his customers might like, that is what Dave does.

    Upgrading the experience

    It should come as no surprise that Dave thought comfortable beds would be nice for his customers. But nothing traditional would do; Dave went all out. He installed our Reverie Dream™ sleep systems throughout his hotel in late October 2016. Turns out he was right: his customers rave about them. “My customers have said every nice thing that could be said about those beds,” says Dave. Trip Advisor reviews of his hotel ever since the switch have included overwhelmingly positive and frequent mentions of the “amazing” beds. #Truth

    What to do on your Petoskey getaway

    Petoskey is on Lake Michigan in Little Traverse Bay, in an area noted for lakes, woods, outdoor activities and its overall laidback vibe. Hiking and kayaking are definitely in order. Or take the more chill route and stroll the beach looking for the area’s famous Petoskey stones. For shopping and strolling, check out the city’s historic Gaslight District.

    The Gaslight District was frequented by Ernest Hemingway, the area’s most famous former resident. He spent his youthful summers at the family cottage in Petoskey, writing some of his earliest work there. This includes the acclaimed Nick Adams short story series. The Michigan Hemingway Society hosts an annual conference in Petoskey; this year it’s October 14-16. There are also Hemingway tours year-round. No bullfighting or giant marlins in Petoskey to write about, like in his later work. But there are some nice bars, including the City Park Grill, which was Papa Hemingway’s favorite and is still in business.

    The northern Lower Peninsula has also grown into a major wine producing area. The vineyard of the Harbor Springs label, aka Pond Hill Farms, is a short drive from Petoskey. It gets great reviews on Trip Advisor, just like Dave’s hotel. You can tour the vineyard year-round, as well as the working farm. A café, winery and brewery are all on the premises, so there’s plenty to do, see and sample for the whole family.

    If you go …

    Follow the @ Michigan Inn and Lodge on Twitter. Anyone who does, gets a 20% discount, which also applies if you want a second haircut. Carports are first come, first served.  Of course, enjoy those comfortable Reverie beds. Please tell Dave we said “hi!” and post a photo of your new haircut on our FB page or Instagram feed

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