Post-Wedding Blues

When I return home from the most magical week of my life in Puerto Rico, I cry for seven days straight. Not constantly, but at least once a day. Each time, it hits me like an avalanche and I can’t believe it’s over.

There is so much love around me in Rincon that it’s hard to let go. It’s bizarre to have all the people you love in one room. There’s so much planning and coordinating and remembering to pack everything, that I don’t even think about everyone actually being together, for us, for the whole week. So when I finally realize that everyone is there for us, my mind can’t process it.

The day of the wedding, I’m a wreck. I’m jittery and nervous and hungry and thirsty and worrying that no one else is enjoying themselves and I can’t believe that today is my wedding day. Prior to the ceremony, we take pictures and I can’t relax. It’s too much. When the pictures are over and I have a little down time, I turn to see everything set up for the ceremony. I can’t believe how beautiful everything looks. It’s too beautiful. My wedding planner, Allison, sees me. “Would you like a glass of water?” Yes, actually, that would be great. Allison hands me a glass of water from the water station she’s made for people as they enter the ceremony. I sit down and take a sip, and the water is divine. Fresh, crisp, lime, and I don’t know what else. It’s the best water I’ve ever drank. Somebody pinch me. I can’t handle this perfect dream.

Friends and family are no doubt excited about the vacation, but they certainly have a lot of questions and concerns leading up to the big week. In fact, they make me want to pull my hair out with all the questions and concerns. But the reaction and appreciation from all our guests is beyond gratifying. It fills me with happiness and purpose, and I want to hold onto that feeling.

Back to the present. Post-wedding, home in North Carolina. The thing that Stephen and I have been planning for an entire year is over. Finished. Completed.

It feels like there’s a hole in my chest. What can I plan next? Maybe it wasn’t the planning I enjoyed – that part is actually quite stressful. But the hosting – that’s the fun part. I loved coming up with an itinerary and mapping it all out and I loved giving people options so that they felt like there was plenty to do (but not that they had to do anything except lay by the pool if they didn’t want to).

Maybe I could host an Airbnb. It would be so much fun to decorate the space, leave guests a note with ‘Things to Do and Places to See’ in the area. I’d love to master the finishing touches: a guest book, nice soap and towels, purified drinking water and maybe even some alcoholic beverages. I suppose I would have to own an apartment that I can rent out if I want to host an Airbnb. I don’t have a spare one of those right now.

…What about hosting an Airbnb Experience?! What would my experience be? That’s easy: a food and wine tour. It would have to be downtown because there’s so many restaurants within walking distance of each other. This could be fun. This is something I naturally do, anyway. Whenever people visit me, no matter where I live, I love to show them around to all my favorite spots. Before Mom and Dad come to visit us in Charlotte, I ask Mom what she would like to do while she’s in town. She sends me a link to a food tour. I look it over and am disappointed in some of the restaurants on the tour. And for how expensive it is, I don’t think it’s worth it. So I make up my own. I have to make everything relatively close to one another because I know Dad won’t want to walk too far (“I thought you said it was just up the road?? How far are we walking here??”) So there’s one place we add to the list that is close, but I’ve never been there. It ends up being disappointing, but everywhere else is awesome (shoutout to Fin & Fino for the best oysters, wine, and bartenders) and we’re able to hit a bunch of places in a short amount of time.

I look up Airbnb Experiences in Wilmington. There’s only eight. Total. (In New York City, there are 210 Food and Drink Experiences, and that’s only one of five sub-categories.) Among the Wilmington Experiences is a Guide to Surfing, Beach Bike and Brews, and a Walking Historical tour. Not a single food tour. This is looking very promising.

Stephen and I head to Toronto for five days. He’s got work conferences, but we’ll call it a mini-honeymoon. While he’s off at meetings, I start my research. Downtown Wilmington restaurants with at least four stars on Yelp. I’m not exactly sure what else I’m looking for – some information about the owners, menu items they’re known for, walking distance to downtown. I compile a list of many establishments and take notes on anything that seems pertinent. I don’t have an angle yet, but if I can create an awesome tour with delicious food and drinks, the other stuff will figure itself out.

While there isn’t another food tour in Wilmington through Airbnb, there is one through a website called Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours. I book two tickets for a Saturday afternoon. It’s time to scope out the competition.

The Sleep Expert

Because I struggle so much with sleep, I am fascinated to learn more about it. Enter a 3-part interview (episodes 47, 48, 49) on Peter Attia’s podcast – The Drive – that came out on April 1, 2019.

Dr. Peter Attia operates a medical practice with offices in New York City and San Diego. He specializes in maximizing performance, lifespan, and healthspan (quality of life). He is a thought leader in physical and mental health. You can read more about his background here. I’ve been following him ever since viewing his dynamic warm-up exercise video that I utilized for coaching my high school Varsity field hockey team.

In this 3-part interview, Dr. Peter Attia interviews Dr. Matthew Walker, author of the international best-seller, Why We Sleep. Dr. Walker is a sleep scientist at Google, where he helps the scientific exploration of sleep in health and disease.

I have listened to each episode at least twice and feel compelled to share excerpts with others for a number of different reasons:

  1. It’s fascinating. It’s also long and dense, so for those people who don’t want to invest six hours listening time, I will give you my Cliff’s Notes.
  2. Both doctors are so smart and say words that I’ve never heard (thankfully I’m a decent speller, so I’m able to Google-guess and find the correct spelling and definitions). Sometimes, when they string enough science-y words together to form a sentence, it sounds like gibberish, so I’ve only taken the pieces that really resonate with me.
  3. The importance of sleep is often underestimated and so interesting. Let’s learn more about it!
  4. Even though I’ve done my best to curate these interviews, I encourage readers to listen for themselves. Besides the wealth of knowledge that Dr. Matthew Walker offers, he also has a wonderful English accent, so it’s a joy to listen to him speak.

The three parts (plus a short follow-up) are:

Part I: Dangers of Poor Sleep, Alzheimer’s Risk, Mental Health, Memory Consolidation, and More.

Part II: Heart Disease, Cancer, Sexual Function, and the Causes of Sleep Disruption (and Tips to Correct It).

Part III: The Penetrating Effects of Poor Sleep from Metabolism to Performance to Genetics, and the Impact of Caffeine, Alcohol, THC, and CBD on Sleep.

Episode #58 – Sneak peak of AMA (Ask Me Anything): Strategies for Sleeping More, Sleeping Better, and Avoiding Things That are Disrupting Sleep. (AMA’s, along with extensive show notes are available to subscribers only, so if you’re interested in subscribing, click here.

The following quotes are by Dr. Matthew Walker (unless otherwise noted) and have been paraphrased. I have included which specific interview the quote is pulled from, along with the time stamp.

WHY DO WE SLEEP?

(Part I, 10:14) “There is no better demonstration of a gigantic shift in conscious state that happens to almost every single living creature on this planet, every 24 hours.”

(Part I, 11:08) “Twenty years ago, if someone were to ask you, ‘Why do we sleep?’, the crass answer was, ‘We sleep to cure sleepiness.’ That’s the factious equivalent of saying, ‘We eat to cure hunger.’ That tells you nothing about the fundamental nutritional benefits of macro-nutrition, but that’s where we were at with sleep. So it was, for me, this perfect collision of fascination in an innate biological problem and universal behavior conserved across evolution, together with the fact that we did it for a third of our lives, plus the fact that science had not been able to crack this nut. It was one of the last great remaining scientific mysteries.”

(Part I, 17:50) Study at Rochester University in rats: “Your body has a sewage system that you’re all familiar with called the lymphatic system, but it turns out the brain has one. It’s called the glymphatic system, named after the cells in the brain that form this system called the glial cells. They used to think of it as the junk DNA. Of course, what we always learn is that Mother Nature is far too efficient to leave inefficiency on the table. It turns out, they form this sanitization system within the brain, so when you go into deep sleep at night, this sewage system kicks into high gear and those glial cells – which surround the brain cells themselves – shrink in size by up to 200 percent, and then all of a sudden it leaves a vast amount of room for cerebral spinal fluid to start perfusing the brain and washing out the metabolic detritus of wakefulness.

“It would be like New York City at night – all of the buildings shrunk down by 200 percent – they became miniaturized, and then there was this big affluent flush that just happened across Manhattan, to clear out all the debris. And it’s essentially good night, sleep clean, that you get this power cleanse at night.”

(Part I, 1:06:34) “If sleep doesn’t serve an absolutely vital set of functions, it’s the biggest mistake that the evolution process has ever made. We now realize from this constellation of evidence, that Mother Nature did not make a spectacular blunder in putting this thing called an 8-hour need of sleep in place. It is the greatest life support system that you could ever wish for, it is a remarkable health insurance policy, and what’s great is that it’s largely democratic – it’s mostly free – and in terms of a prescription from a doctor, it’s largely painless.”

TYPES OF SLEEP

Four Pillars:

  • (Part I, 27:22) “Regularity: how consistent is your sleep schedule? Are you going to sleep at 1am, then 10pm, and all over the map?
  • Continuity of your sleep: is it fragmented? Are you waking up many more times, or is just nice; one long shot.
  • Quantity: how much sleep are you getting and how much of the different stages are you getting? And then independent of how regular your sleep is, how continuous your sleep is, and the amount.
  • Quality: What is the electrical signature of your sleep? Just because you’re getting eight hours of sleep doesn’t mean that you’re getting eight hours of good, quality deep sleep.”

Stages:

  • (Part I, 41:15) “Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep, which has been further subdivided into four separate stages, which are unimaginatively called stages 1-4.
    • Stages 1 and 2 are the lighter stages of sleep.
    • Stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep are the really deep, restorative stages of sleep.
  • Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is named because of these bizarre horizontal shuttling eye movements.”

“As you fall asleep, these stages will go into a battle for brain domination throughout the night. That cerebral wall between non-REM and REM is going to be won and lost every 90 minutes and then replayed every 90 minutes to create what we call a standard cycling architecture of sleep.”

  • (Part I, 56:34) Non-REM sleep: “Different types of memory rely on different stages of sleep at different times of night, so you need sleep after learning to essentially hit the save button on your memories, so that you don’t forget. As long as you are getting say, the first five hours of the night, then it’s likely that you may have been able to protect those memories.
  • Stage 2 Non-REM sleep happens most in the second half of the night. You not only need sleep after learning to save those memories, you also need sleep before learning to get your brain ready, in preparation to lay down new memories.”

Which type of sleep is more important?:

(Part I, 1:11:15) “Your brain has a different appetite for different types of sleep. Think of those different stages of sleep like a finger buffet, and at different times of the night, that buffet is going to be consumed more heavily in terms of the deep non-REM sleep phase. The window of preferential appetite for your brain when it comes to deep non-REM sleep is from 9pm until about 3am.

“From about 3am until about midday, then, the brain shifts in turns of its pattern if you let people just sleep it out. For people who like to go to bed very late and wake up very late, the buffet is going to get hit hard in terms of REM sleep devouring. I make that point that your brain has different taste sensitivities to non-REM and REM across the 24-hour clock face, because it means that if you’re short-changing your sleep by two hours, but you’re doing it by going to bed very early and waking up very early, then you’re going to be losing most of your REM sleep. Most of your REM sleep happens in the very late morning hours and if you’re already awake by 3 or 4am, you’re not getting the chance to get into those REM sleep-rich phases.”

REM Sleep vs. Deep Sleep:

(Part I, 1:18:00) “People will say, ‘How do I maximize my REM sleep?’ And I say, ‘Why do you want to maximize your REM sleep?’ And they’ll say, ‘That’s dream sleep, that’s the good stuff.’ Other people will say, ‘How do I get more deep sleep?’

“Answer: Mother Nature has found this equilibrium – don’t mess with it. It is the Davinci Code of sleep. Stick to it and you’re good to go.”

CONSEQUENCES OF POOR SLEEP

Driving

(Part I, 1:33:30) “Drowsy driving accounts for more accidents on our roads than either drugs or alcohol combined. When you are drunk, you typically react, but you react too late, so you do something but it’s not enough, and you crash. When you have a microsleep, you do nothing. That’s why drowsy driving is more fatal than drunk driving; because there’s no reaction. There is no application of brake, there’s no course correction of steering wheel angle, there is nothing. There is simply a car with no one in control and it’s a 2-ton missile on the freeway at 65mph, with no one in charge.”

Circadian Biology:

(Part II, 29:01) “Social jet lag – where you essentially purge during the week and then binge on the weekend – is problematic, and not just because sleep doesn’t work like that and the studies show that that’s very deleterious to health. It’s because it also is terrible torture on your circadian biology. What happens is that you go to bed at one or midnight rather than 9, then wake up 10, 11 on a Saturday/Sunday. Come Sunday night, you’ve got to drag your body clock back by three hours to get into bed, and you repeat it the next weekend.”

Virility and Pregnancy:

(Part II, 20:11) “Men who are sleeping 5-6 hours a night:

  • Have a level of testosterone which is that of someone ten years their senior. So insufficient sleep will age a man by a decade in terms of that critical aspect of wellness and virility.
  • Have significantly smaller testicles than those men who are sleeping seven hours or more.
  • Have fewer sperm and their sperm will have more deformities.

Women who are sleeping 5-6 hours a night:

  • Have a 20% reduction in FSH (follicular stimulating hormone) which is a critical part of the reproductive pathway in terms of getting pregnant.
  • Have a 30% higher rate of abnormal menstrual cycles.”

“If you put together a couple who is trying to conceive and that couple is on six hours of sleep, this is devastation.”

DISEASE

Alzheimer’s:

(Part I, 19:29) “One of the critical ingredients that they found that the glymphatic system washed away, was a sticky toxic protein called beta-amyloid. Beta-amyloid is probably one of the two core proteins that we know underly your risk for the development of Alzheimers. Ergo, if you’re not getting your sleep at night, you’re not getting that washing away of the toxic Alzheimers protein. Every night, then, you are building up more amyloid in the brain. If you keep doing that night after night, it’s like compounding interest on a loan. It’s just escalating your Alzheimer’s risk.”

(Part I, 38:25) “If you’re getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, you’re going against Alzheimer’s disease prevention and working well towards Alzheimer’s invitation. People will often say, ‘How much sleep do you get?’ I say I’ll give myself a non-negotiable eight hours sleep opportunity, and that’s not because I’m trying to practice what I preach. I don’t want to be some poster child for sleep. If you understood what I knew about sleep and all-cause mortality as well as most disease processes, you would realize that I am being nothing short of utterly selfish in my preservation of an eight hour sleep opportunity. I don’t want to die young, and I don’t want sickness and disease in my life.”

(Part I, 40:09) “Medicine has started to shift from a model of late-stage treatment to early-stage prevention. One of the best preventative actions that you can take on the basis of the science right now, is start to capitalize on your sleep at night.”

(Part I, 1:27:06) “A lot of people out there may be having this sleep machismo moment where they say, ‘I’m in my 50’s, I’m fit as a fiddle, my cognition is razor sharp, and I sleep five or six hours a night.’ We’ve got heads of state, for example, who are saying this, and it makes me sad because you can look at two other heads of state who were very vociferous about their proclamation of the uselessness of sleep: Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Both of them were chest beaters when it came to insufficient sleep. They were very proud of saying that they only got four or five hours of sleep, that they were immune to the effects of insufficient sleep, that sleep was for the weak, and that you could sleep when you’re dead. I don’t think that it’s coincidental, now, looking back, that both of them went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.”

Cancer:

(Part II, 44:00) A study by a colleague at the University of Chicago: “He looks at the relationship between sleep loss and cancer in mice. He took a group of mice, inoculated them with some cancer cells on their back, and then gave that cancer a one month period to grow. Half of those mice were allowed to sleep normally, the other half had their sleep restricted – not total deprivation – just limiting their sleep in the morning and the evening a little bit. At the end of that one month, for those under slept mice, the tumor was 200% larger. It was physically distorting the body. That cancer in those under slept mice had actually metastasized, which is just a fancy way of saying that it had breached the original origin and started to invade other organs, bones, and brain. When cancer becomes metastatic, that’s when we know things can get really dark and grim in terms of life expectancy.”

Sleep Apnea:

(Part III, 26:44) “One study looked at a group of individuals who were in mid- to later life and they had sleep apnea: snoring. (Sleep apnea is a devastating condition. If you snore or your partner tells you you snore, please go and see your doctor, get a sleep test, and get on sleep apnea treatment.) They gave them a CPAP treatment which is this sort of face mask to push the airway open so that you don’t snore and you don’t go without oxygen. About half of those individuals were compliant with the treatment, and half weren’t. Those individuals who complied to the treatment and started sleeping better ended up staving off the onslaught of Alzheimer’s disease by about ten years. This is a causal demonstration that if you course correct sleep, you can actually modify your dementia probability risk.”

Diabetes:

(Part III, 33:55) “You typically see far higher rates of diabetes in people who have untreated sleep apnea, and when you treat them, you see their diabetic profile improve markedly. You also see that they start eating less, their choices of food are better, and they are far more likely to be physically active.”

FOOD AND DIET

Appetite Hormones:

(Part III, 35:00) “Two appetite hormones that regulate food intake:

  • Leptin is the satiety signal – it tells your brain that you are full, you don’t need to eat anymore, you’re satisfied with your food.
  • Ghrelin is the hunger signal. It essentially says, ‘No, you’re not satisfied with your food, you want to eat more.

“When you start short-sleeping people four, five, six hours a night for one week, these appetite hormones go in opposite directions in ways that you wish they didn’t. The leptin signal that’s saying, ‘you’re full’, gets turned down. Instead, ghrelin is actually ramped up, so you start to feel unsatisfied by your food, and you will eat more. You downgrade this red flag of satiety and you upgrade the signal of hunger, which then leads to an increase in your caloric intake. People who sleep six hours a night during the week will typically eat about 300 extra calories during the day (70,000 calories each year; 10 pounds of additional mass).”

Food Choices:

(Part III, 40:00) “It’s not just that you overeat when you are under slept, which you do, and if you pull the all-nighter you’ll typically eat about 450 more calories than when you’re well rested. It’s also the profile of food that you eat. If you give people a food buffet and you say, ‘Eat whatever you want, it’s up to you.’ What you find is that, not only do you eat more, people will eat more from the heavy-hitting starchy carbohydrates together with simple sugars, like pizza, cookies, ice cream, and they stay away from things like macadamia nuts, avocado, and leafy greens.”

Dieting:

(Part II, 18:51) “A great study looked at the efficiency of dieting when you are under slept, and they found that your diet is all for nothing if you’re not sleeping well, because when you are under slept (six hours or less), 70% of the weight that you lose will come from lean muscle mass and not fat. In other words, your body will ruthlessly hold on to its fat when you are under slept and not give it away. So you’re losing the thing that you want to keep, which is beautiful muscle definition, and you’re holding onto the one thing that you’re trying to get rid of, which is the blubbery fat.”

Eating Before Bed:

(Episode #58 15:37) “The optimal time to stop eating before bed is about three hours.

  • When you lie down, you’re more likely to get acid reflux; more likely to have digestive issues.
  • You need to drop your core body temperature by about two or three degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep and then to stay asleep. If you’re fueling yourself with simple carbs right before bed, you will actually see a slight increase in core body temperature. So the advice is, don’t go to bed too full, don’t go to bed too hungry. If you do feel as though you ate earlier in the evening and you just need something to take the edge off, try to stay away from simple carbs (those will get translated into energy and ultimately a heat index) and lean more towards protein.”

PARENTING

Hours of Sleep Needed for Teenagers:

(Part II, 1:07:50) “89% of 18 year-olds in the U.S. are not getting sufficient sleep. Even when you’re 16, 17, 18, you’re still needing 9-10 hours of sleep because your brain doesn’t finish developing until it’s about 25.

“If you ask parents, ‘Do you think your teenager is getting sufficient sleep?’ 72% of them will say yes, yet only 11% are getting the necessary sleep, so there is a mismatch here between the parental and child sleep equation. What that also leads to, then, because parents believe that their kids are getting enough sleep, is a parent-to-child transmission of sleep neglect, ie the pulling the covers off on the weekend, when these kids are sleeping in.

“These kids are sleeping in for two reasons:

  • Naturally, their biological circadian rhythm moves forward in time, so they want to go to bed later and wake up later. It’s not their choice; it’s biological. It’s hard-wired. For age 16, 17 you’re looking at a 10-hour period from somewhere between 10-midnight depending on their chronotype, to then sleeping in until between 8:30-10:30 the following morning. The reason that actually is still too early, is because that would be what would naturally happen if you were to let them sleep like that every single night of the seven days of the week, but we don’t.
  • During the five days of the school week, we are getting them up way too early. You can even put them to bed at 9 or 10, and say, ‘Sleep,’ but they can’t, biologically. They won’t be sleeping as well during the week, so at the weekend they’re trying to sleep off a chronic debt that we’ve saddled them with during the week. No wonder they’ve got such a sleep pressure that is forcing them to try and sleep until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Then we chastise them. We say, ‘You’re lazy, get out of bed, you’re wasting the day,’ but it’s not their fault.”

School Start Times:

(Part II, 1:05:06) “We will look back in 20 years with shame that we were having schools start at 7:30 in the morning. For these schools, buses will start leaving at 5:30am. That means some kids are having to wake up at 5:15, 5:00, or even earlier, which in my mind is lunacy. The shame will be present when we consider the impact, and we already know the impact from the studies when we delay school start times. What we see is that:

  • Academic grades improve
  • Truancy rates decrease
  • Behavioral problems and psychiatric problems decrease
  • Number of people who drop out of school and drop out of certain classes decrease
  • Life expectancy of students increases

“Life expectancy increases because of car crashes. There’s a great study in Wyoming: they shifted their school start time from 7:35am to 8:55am. In that following year, they looked at this narrow age range of 16-18 years old, and there was a 70% drop in car crashes. So when sleep is abundant, minds will flourish, and if our goal as educators truly is to educate, and not risk lives in the process, then I fear that we are failing our children in a quite spectacular manner with this incessant model of early school start times.”

(Part II, 1:11:45) “Back in the 60’s, schools were starting around 9 o’clock. As we marched on in terms of ‘development in society in the US’, that time has gone back and back to earlier and earlier start times. It’s been squeezed by the vice grips of work schedules where parents are having to work longer hours and commute longer hours. They have to leave the house ever earlier, so they have to put the kids in school ever earlier. Many of these kids are just sitting there, un-absorbent, like a water-logged sponge. They’re not going to be taking up information. If you look at the data regarding delayed school start times, overall, GPA and SAT scores rocket up; they all improve.

“Which classes get the biggest benefit in terms of the grade improvement? It tends to be not the classes in the afternoon, where they are finally awake because of their circadian rhythm. It’s the classes in the morning, where before, those classes would be starting at 8:00. When you push them to 9:30, they’re doing much better in those classes, and it reaffirms the case that the hit that is going on in terms of the amnesiac impact that early school start times is having, is really in those morning hours, when the brain is not designed to be awake, and it’s certainly not designed to be receiving an education. It’s designed to be asleep, preparing itself for education.”

(Part II, 1:14:07) “You absolutely do learn more efficiently when you have had sufficient sleep, so it’s a forcing function. It’s like zipping a file. The amount of information that can be stored is much greater. But let’s say that to do this staggered system with the bus unions and to make it work out with parents and work schedules, it’s going to require more money to figure this out. It turns out that some of that can be cost savings on the back end because kids get released later.

“There is a time when kids get kicked out of school if they start early, which is this kind of criminal, bewitching hour where the kids are out of school but the parents are not home yet from work. That’s where you see a lot of juvenile crime happen, which is in that twilight hour between the 3-4pm period when they’re out of school to the 6-7pm period where the parents are finally there and they get home. If you look at the cost of that criminal impact of activity in those hours, and then you say, If we were to start schools later, kids get out later, we limit the window of criminal opportunity. The cost savings comes back around and pays for itself.”

Parents’ Responsibility:

(Part II, 1:17:50) Peter says, “Let’s assume you don’t have that luxury. School starts at 8:10 and gets out at 3:40. What can parents do right now to help the kids get as much sleep as possible?”

(Part II, 1:24:50) “Try and limit technology. I know that it’s hard because the genie feels like it’s out of the bottle and it’s not going back any time soon, but to try and maximize their sleep in the face of early school start times, taking the technology out of the bedroom is probably the single best thing that you can try and do.

“Here’s why:

  • Melatonin – We are a dark-deprived society in this modern era, and we need darkness at night to allow the release of a hormone called melatonin. As melatonin rises, it will help time the onset of your sleep. There are great studies being done where, say you use an iPad for an hour before bed. You get about a 50% drop in the melatonin that’s released, so you lose 50% of the signal of sleep timing.
  • Television – It has another mental impact, especially if you’re watching it in bed. That’s not a good idea because then your brain associates your bedroom as the place of being awake and watching television, not the place of sleep, and when you start to form those maladaptive associations, it can be a trigger of insomnia and anxiety. You should only use the bed for sleep and intimacy – that’s it.
  • (Part II, 1:21:15) Sleep Procrastination – “There was a survey done that demonstrated that well over 80% of teenagers admit to waking up during the night to check their phones and check social media. So you’ve got this dependency that is causing this alertness spike to wake you up, and that’s a habit that once it builds, it’s quite difficult to break.
  • (Part II, 1:22:25) “Anticipatory Anxiety – Many people have had that experience where you have an early morning flight, and you’ve got to wake up at 5:30am and you know it. You set the alarm, and you wake up at 5:28 and you are awake like a bolt. That’s an extreme example. A weaker version happens with our phones because most people, the first thing that they do when they wake up in the morning, is swipe and unlock this world of anxiety that just comes flooding in through their phone – emails, texts, social media. You are essentially training your brain to anticipate that wave of anxiety every morning. When you embed that anticipatory expectation in the morning, the amount of deep sleep that you get at night is less. You end up sleeping in a shallow state, and you don’t get the same amount of deep sleep.”

Mental Health:

(Part I, 58:54) “Sleep is emotional first-aid. Bottom line, period. In young teenagers, one of the strongest predictors of suicidal ideation (thoughts of taking their own life), strongest predictors of suicide attempts, and tragically, a very strong predictor of suicide completion, is insufficient sleep and sleep fragmentation. What we’ve been finding is that it’s REM sleep that seems to provide essentially a form of overnight therapy, and it’s REM sleep that resets or re-calibrates the emotional networks in the brain.”

(Part I, 1:01:57) “You often see a parent with a child and the child is crying and they say, ‘Well they just didn’t sleep well last night.’ As if there’s this universal parental knowledge that bad sleep the night before equals bad mood and emotional reactivity the next day. What’s striking, when you look at the data, somewhere between infancy and even now, childhood, not only do we abandon the notion that sleep is absolutely essential and non-negotiable, but we start to stigmatize it with this label of laziness – that you’re slothful, or that you’re child is slothful for getting sufficient sleep.”

THE WORKPLACE

(Part III, 44:28) “If you look at employees who are sleeping six hours or less:

  • Those employees will select less challenging problems. You give them a range of problems and they typically will choose listening to voice messages or doing email, rather than digging in to hard project work.
  • Of the problems that they do select, they end up producing fewer creative solutions to those problems, and that’s an issue because it’s supposed to be creativity and ingenuity that’s driving businesses forward.
  • Social Loafing – Riding the coattails of other people’s hard work. When under slept employees are working in groups or teams, they slack off, and they just let other people work.
  • The less and less sleep that an employee has had, the more and more deviant and unethical they became. For example, they start to falsify data in spread sheets, they start to claim the work of other people, even falsify reimbursement claims.
  • The less sleep that that CEO had had from one night to the next, the less inspiring and charismatic that their employees rated that business leader from one day to the next. Even though they knew nothing about the sleep of that leader, it was evidential in their behavior.”

Late-Night Shift:

(Part II, 35:55) “Recently the World Health Organization decided to classify any form of nighttime shift work as a probable carcinogen. The proof of evidence that is required by the World Health Organization to make such a statement usually has to be astronomical.”

THE STRUGGLE WITH SLEEP

(Part III, 26:10) “Sleep is not like the bank. You cannot accumulate a debt and then hope to pay it off at a later point in time. That’s why that binging on the weekend doesn’t work. So once you’ve gone without sleep, whatever has happened during that time when you are under slept, doesn’t seem to be reversible. However, that doesn’t mean that from this point forward, it’s a waste of time to start sleeping better.”

Reading Before Bed:

(Part II, 1:27:15) “Patients will say, “I’m sitting on the couch watching television and I’m falling asleep, and then I get into bed and I’m wide awake and I don’t know why.” It’s because your brain has learned the connection between your bedroom being a trigger for wakefulness because wakefulness is what you do there. What you need to do is break that association and get up after 20 minutes, go to a different room in dim light and read a book elsewhere. And then, only where you’re sleepy – and there’s no time limit for this – should you return to bed. The analogy would be this: you would never sit at a dinner table waiting to get hungry, so why do you we lie in bed waiting to get sleepy?”

Light:

(Part II, 1:28:53) “Light, in general, is not great because it will stamp the brakes on melatonin and it will stop releasing it. Your brain is fooled into thinking it’s still daytime, even though it’s actually nighttime. If it’s an LED light, it’s usually enriched in the blue, sort of low frequency of the visible light spectrum and it’s the most harmful to melatonin.

“If there’s a better form of light, it’s the red and yellow – the warm colors. Even if it’s just going back to a classic light bulb which typically is warmer in color and low in wattage. That’s your best light for reading.”

(Part II, 1:30:44) “They used to leave these fluorescent light bulbs on in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for premature babies all of the time. At that point, even though the circadian rhythm isn’t especially robust in infants, they still need that signal of light and dark. When they regularized light in the NICU – when they gave back darkness at night and gave strong light during the day – the infants started to sleep better and three things happened:

  • You saw about a 50% improvement in oxygen saturation in those infants.
  • They put more weight on within the time period, because they were sleeping more regularly.
  • They left the NICU somewhere between 2- 2 1/2 weeks earlier.”

(Part II, 1:32:10) “The reverse experiment was done where they took a group of people who said they can’t get sleepy until about 11pm and were only getting 6-6.5 hours of sleep. They took that group of people to the Sierras – this beautiful mountain range with no electricity and no access to artificial light.

“Here’s what happened:

  • These individuals started going to bed around 9 o’clock, and this wasn’t necessarily because they didn’t have anything to do.
  • They rated themselves as feeling sleepier earlier. Why? Because they were getting the signal of darkness at the natural time.
  • They went from being ardent about the fact that they were only 6.5 hour sleepers and that’s all they needed, to then sleeping a little bit more than nine hours.

“I think this point about going to bed at 9pm is a really important one. Have you ever thought about what the term midnight actually means? It means middle of the night. Now, with the perversity of the industrialized civilization, midnight means it’s the last time to send a few emails, whereas if you look at hunter-gatherer tribes, who’s way of life hasn’t changed for thousands of years, and you ask how do they sleep, they typically go to bed an hour and a half to two hours after sundown, so around 8:30, 9:00. They usually get about 7, 7.5 hours of sleep at night, and then they have a siesta-like nap in the afternoon to make it up to about a total of nine hours.”

Sleeping Pills:

(Part II, 1:53:20) “I’m not anti-pharmacology by any means. If we had a good sleeping pill, I would embrace it and I would recommend it, but right now, the sleeping pills don’t produce naturalistic sleep. They’ve been associated with a significantly higher risk of death, and also, significantly higher risk of cancer.”

(Part II, 1:55:40) Peter Attia says, “My friend says to me, ‘By the way, that Ambien crap that you take a couple times a month, you know that’s not sleep right? And I said, ‘What do you mean it’s not sleep? I’m out.’ He said, ‘You’re confusing lack of consciousness and sleep. If I took a baseball bat and hit you on the head, I could render you completely unconscious laying on the floor for eight hours. Do you think, in any way, that mimics the restorative process of sleep? Not even close, so think of Ambien as a chemical baseball bat to the head.'”

The Ups and Downs of Chronic Pain

I always heard people complain about physical therapy, and now I know why. They expect your life to revolve around it. You want me to do 15 minutes of exercises three times a day AND go for a 10-minute jog? Get real.

But for me, who is so, so sick of living in pain and so, so motivated to not live in pain, I follow orders. Most of them. I’m not jogging 10 minutes a day, every day. I’m just not. Every time Ryan tells me to do it, I add, “pending weather.”

But I’ve got to say, I am crushing my exercises. Every week they get easier and every week Ryan adds on more difficult exercises. At first, it’s a lot of stretching; now, it’s a lot of strength.

Besides my neck and back, Ryan has inadvertently helped with my shoulder issue as well. In high school, I have this thing where my left shoulder won’t dislocate, but the doctors describe it to me as “the discs sliding.” It feels like my shoulder is coming out of my socket. It’s miserable, and it usually only happens while playing basketball because of the motion on defense of bringing my hand down onto the ball and the person on offense lifting the ball up.

Ever since then, I’m gun shy with any type of shoulder movement that might lead to my “discs sliding.” This prevents me from doing certain poses in yoga because I can’t lift my arms behind my head. In half moon pose, you stand with your feet together and clasp your hands together overhead, arms fully extended, elbows touching your ears. I think I’m doing it right, but my yoga instructor, Billy, recently notes that the only thing connected are my thumbs and fingers – my hands are spreading apart. I figure everybody’s hands do that. When I try to clasp them tighter, I can’t. Billy tells me to clasp them first, then extend my arms. When I try this, my elbows are completely bent. I can’t straighten them.

This is a defeating moment. I hate not being able to do something, especially when I think I’ve been doing it right all these years! Billy tells me that the most important thing is that my hands are together – not that my arms are straight. So I just have to do the best I can.

Well this sucks. I go back to physical therapy and Ryan shows me a new exercise. He uses the TRX straps and holds them in his hands facing away from the wall. He slowly walks away from the wall and the straps go up, lifting his arms to a position that I do not like. I immediately tell him, “My arms don’t do that.” As with everything, Ryan gives me no reaction. He just says, “Can’t?”

I grab the TRX bands and hold my breath as I walk away from the wall. Everything in my head is screaming to stop this motion, but Ryan here thinks it’s safe, so I guess I’m trusting him. I hate this exercise. But I can do it. Sort of. I don’t walk out as far as Ryan does, but by the 15th one, I can tell I’ve pushed myself further out.

He has me do another one. This time, lying on my back. I clasp my hands and straighten them, then slowly bring them all the way behind my head. The same script plays out. “I can’t do this.” Ryan ignores me and tells me to do 15.

Somehow, I do them. Breathing heavily and slowly and feeling like he doesn’t understand how DANGEROUS this is for me. But I do them. Weird. The more exercises that I do like this, the more I want to do them. The more I want to push myself further, because it makes me feel strong. I like feeling in control of my body. I like feeling like I have the power to make myself better.

So like I said, I am crushing physical therapy. I’m kind of on a high about it, until I wake up one morning in a lot of pain. I try to stay calm, and I do my exercises. All of them. And guess what? I feel BETTER. No way, how cool is that?! I just made my pain go away. If I thought I was on a high before, I’m really on a high now. I feel like I can do anything.

So I go to a pilates class in the evening. At the end of every class, the teacher tells us to roll our neck around. I never do this because I feel like I might hurt myself. But today is a new day and I’m on a high, remember? I can do anything. I roll my neck.

It’s a mistake. It doesn’t feel right. Shoot.

I go home, feeling some pain in my neck. Hopefully, it will feel better tomorrow.

It doesn’t. In fact, I wake up the next morning in so much pain I think I might cry. I lay down on the floor, on my back, and try to do one of my exercises. When I realize I can’t lift my head, I get scared. I roll to my side and push myself up. Try to breathe normally but I can feel the panic setting in.

Thank God I have an appointment to see Ryan today.

At the office, someone who works there wants me to fill out a form. It’s the same form I filled out on the first day. Sort of like a pain survey. They want to know how I’ve progressed from the first day until now.

Not the day for this, guys. You really don’t want me to fill out this form right now. I fill it out, circling whatever I have to circle to say that I’m in the most pain ever.

Finally, Ryan comes in to see me. I tell him I’m in the worst pain I’ve ever been in. I also tell him how the pain keeps moving around – started in my neck and now it’s in my back. As always, Ryan is calm as can be as he talks to me about my pain and how it works in the body. He keeps talking, talking, talking and I’m barely listening to him because I just want him to FIX ME! I do hear him say something about 48 hours. Every 48 hours something happens in our body where the nerves reset (something like that). I think I only hear this because it sounds like a promise that this extreme pain will only last for 48 hours. This must be what he’s saying. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be so freaking calm about it.

After what feels like way too long of a lesson in pain, he has me lay on my stomach. When Ryan does “manual” work on me, it’s not some relieving massage. He presses on my spine. Sometimes it feels good, sometimes it feels like nothing, and sometimes it hurts. Today, it hurts. He also does this thing where he presses down and it might crack. I’m trying to breathe through the pain because I hope that there will be relief on the other side, but it really does not feel good. I should probably say something, but I don’t. The last press really hurts, and does crack a little. Ryan tells me I can sit up.

I feel like sitting up isn’t really in the cards for me at this moment. But Ryan just told me to sit up, so Lindsay, sit up! It’s not hard. But I can’t move. I exhale a deep breath. “You OK?”

“Yup,” I tell him. But I am not OK. I can’t sit up! OK, Lindsay, you can do this. I exhale again. Now, I take my left hand and press down onto the table, hoping to leverage myself up. But I can’t do it. I collapse back down. Feeling like you’re paralyzed and can’t move is definitely one of the worse feelings I’ve ever experienced.

“OK, stay down.” Ryan takes my left hand – I’m still pressing it down on the table – and puts it down by my side. He takes me through a breathing exercise. “You’re going to breathe in for six counts, hold your breath for six counts, then breathe out for ten counts.” Tears are streaming down my face. I can’t catch my breath. Ryan counts, and I try to slowly breathe in. My breath is shaky. By the time he takes me through the exercise three times, I’ve caught my breath. “Better?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think you can sit up now?”

“Yes.”

I worry for a moment that I still won’t be able to sit up, but I sit up, as you do when you’re perfectly able to do something. I wipe my face. That was horrible. I’m so emotional. I’m scared and I’m in pain and I’m so pissed off that this is happening when I thought I was doing so well!

Ryan is talking again. He always makes it seem like everything that is happening to me is perfectly normal. He has me do a very simple exercise. It’s demeaning. I feel like someone just put the training wheels back on my bike after I’ve already been riding without them for a year. But at the same time, I’m happy I can even do the exercise.

We’re done for the day. Ryan has me lay down with some ice for twenty minutes. I lay in the dark room, alone, and tears start coming again. I feel so defeated. The ups and downs of this process are frustrating. I’m getting married in a month, and Stephen and I are doing a dance that involves jumps and flips. What if this pain creeps up during my wedding week?! This is not ideal.

But just like Ryan said, the immense pain only lasts for 48 hours. (It’s weird how he always knows.)

It’s only been a few months since I started going to physical therapy. I have to keep reminding myself that Ryan said it can take about a year to feel better. A whole year. I am making progress, I know I am. There will be good days and bad days. I have more of an understanding of what the pain is and that it’s not as scary now to feel the pain that I’m feeling, I have tools to make myself feel better in the moment, I have the knowledge to realize that if I can make my pain go away with an exercise, I shouldn’t immediately follow that with an intense workout, and I know that if I have a flare-up, it shouldn’t last more than 48 hours.

Slowly but surely.

How to Get Married in Rincon, P.R.

Rincon Map - Marias Beach
Map of Maria’s Beach in Rincon, Puerto Rico

If you’re planning to get married in Rincon, Puerto Rico, you’ve made the right decision. My husband (!) Stephen, and I, just returned from the most magical week in that adorable little surf town. Below, I outline every aspect of the best trip of our lives.

WEDDING PLANNER

Outside of location, the most important decision is the wedding planner. Especially because we don’t live on the island and are trying to figure out everything through email and phone, it’s important to have someone on site who knows the area and the vendors. Look no further than Rincon Events. Allison and Cassandra are EVERYTHING. I cannot stress how incredible they are at their job. I could write a whole post just raving about how much I love them (because I really do), but for the purposes of this post, just know that hiring them will be a sure way to make your wedding exactly what you want it to be.

I would also advise, if it’s at all possible, to visit Rincon prior to the wedding so that you can meet Allison and Cassandra in person (and to see all the venues – more on that later). Meeting them in person really seals the deal for me. Allison is a combination of strong and soft-spoken. She speaks with a quiet confidence – she knows what she’s doing. Her calm sense of being immediately makes me feel like it is necessary to have her help us because Stephen and I are (so) high-strung. Cassandra is Leslie Knope. She’s on top of everything. She’s meticulous, organized, detailed, and so friendly. She’s someone who can command a room and keep people in line while still making everyone love her.

If you hire Rincon Events, they will also do the catering for your wedding. Congratulations, you will now have the best food at your wedding and all your guests will be raving about how amazing everything tastes. You’re welcome. Allison is a chef and her team is amazing. If you take nothing else from this post, hire Rincon Events to plan and cater your wedding.

VENUES

We opt to rent houses near Maria’s Beach because of the proximity/walking distance to other villas, as well as restaurants and bars.

Villa de Zecheo

Villa de Zecheo reception area
Cocktail Hour and Reception area at Villa de Zecheo

The actual wedding is held at Villa de Zecheo. It is a dream. It’s also where we and some of our friends stay. A 7-bedroom gorgeous villa. One guest tells me, “This is the nicest place I’ve ever stayed.” We have the ceremony in the front yard and it’s the most picturesque yet simple scene (you can also have your ceremony on the beach but I’m so glad we don’t). Cocktail Hour surrounds the pool (also gorgeous) and the reception is in the yard area overlooking the ocean. I don’t know how to describe it other than gorgeous. And perfect. This villa is made for weddings. Eric is the concierge – he’s so accommodating and on-call for anything we need – groceries, beer, water activities, transportation, etc. Evelyn does the housekeeping. She’s there every morning from 9am-12pm cleaning up our huge mess from the night before (every single night is basically a party) and leaves us clean towels. Always with a smile on her face. She tells me the morning after the wedding that she “can’t wait to see the pictures.” She’s adorable. She doesn’t go into the bedrooms – just cleans all the common areas – so you’re on your own for the week.

VDZ ceremony 2
Front yard wedding ceremony at Villa de Zecheo

Favorite things about Villa de Zecheo:

  • The Pool – it’s awesome. This is where we mostly hang out.
  • The Views – every floor has balconies with incredible views and comfortable places to sit.
  • The Service – Eric and Evelyn are lovely and make us feel so welcome the entire week.
  • The Location – walking distance to multiple wonderful places (more on that later).
  • The Venue – did I mention that this is a perfect wedding venue?? Especially for our group of 65 people (although it accommodates up to 175 people).

Drawbacks about Villa de Zecheo:

We love it, so I’m just nitpicking… a full bathroom does not accompany every bedroom, so some people have to share. It doesn’t seem to be a big issue for our group of friends, but that’s easy for me to say as I stay in the bridal suite with a full bathroom adorned with two showers. Water pressure isn’t great (at least it isn’t in the bridal suite). Finally, the two biggest bedrooms which are on the first floor – essentially the nicest bedrooms – do not get a lot of natural sunlight. They’re very dark rooms.

Tips if you’re staying at Villa de Zecheo:

Bring refillable water bottles. They have filtered water but it’s not cold, which is fine, but I feel like I don’t drink enough water all week. If you’re staying with a big group and have purchased groceries for the week, have someone in your group organize the groceries so they’re all in one place. There is a kitchen on the first floor and the second floor and the groceries are spread out. It’s confusing for people and they don’t seem to eat as much food because they don’t know where to find it. Finally, when ordering groceries through Eric, I figure they’ll have some basic condiments at the house (hot sauce, ketchup, mayo, mustard), but they don’t, so be sure to order that stuff, too!

Villa Playa Maria

VPM garden villa
The Garden Villa at Villa Playa Maria

My family stays next door at Villa Playa Maria. This is a 9-bedroom gorgeous villa (OK, last time I’m using the word gorgeous.) We do not utilize this as an actual venue, but weddings can be held here for a smaller number of guests – up to 75 people. Elizabeth is the concierge here. She is wonderfully accommodating. Even though I don’t stay here, I email, speak on the phone, and meet with Elizabeth prior to the wedding week. She is prompt and answers all my questions with professionalism and kindness. My family has nothing but rave reviews of the place. They also have an incredible chef they work with named Gaby. He cooks a number of meals (lunches and dinners) for my family and they are all absolutely delicious.

VPM top floor view
Top floor balcony view at Villa Playa Maria

Favorite things about Villa Playa Maria:

  • The Accommodations – each room has its own access and full bathroom. They also have light maid service every single day. The place is immaculate and … very pretty.
  • The Location – walking distance to multiple wonderful places (more on that later).
  • The Views – incredible.
  • Yoga/Dance Floor – uhhh yeah. It’s on the second floor, outside, shaded, with a perfect view of the ocean. I lead two workout classes up here and it’s awesome.
  • Refillable Water Bottles for all! – and cold filtered water. My family members walk around with these water bottles all week. It’s adorable.
  • Sunscreen dispensers onsite – like, the good stuff. Organic and all that.

Drawbacks at Villa Playa Maria:

  • Tiny Pool – and because it’s not very big, it warms up a lot in the heat.
  • For any older people, there are no bars in the shower to hold onto (apparently, this is a slight issue).
  • For the Master Suite (where my parents stay), you have to walk a far distance (up the stairs and all the way around), to get up and down.

If you plan to have a big group flying in for your amazing wedding week, I highly recommend using both Villa de Zecheo and Villa Playa Maria. There are two other villas that are walking distance to these. One is Casa Palma Azul. This villa was under construction after the hurricane so we were unable to consider them, but are since up and running. The pictures online look stunning. The other is Por Fin Dogmans. This is the most affordable of all the villas in this area. Definitely great for a big group on a budget! I know friends who have attended a small wedding here as well. (You can walk directly to Villa de Zecheo or Por Fin Dogmans from Casa Palma Azul, then through Villa de Zecheo or Por Fin Dogmans you can walk on the beach to Villa Playa Maria – see map above.)

Hacienda Miramar

HM rehearsal dinner
Rehearsal Dinner at Hacienda Miramar

The final villa we use is for my husband’s family (still not used to calling him my husband!): Hacienda Miramar. This is also where we host the Rehearsal Dinner. Our initial idea is to use food trucks and keep it casual with tacos and pizza. I am really excited about the idea of food trucks, but this idea is nixed for two reasons:

  1. We don’t find two food trucks in Rincon that we absolutely love and we don’t want to compromise on delicious food.
  2. The driveway to Hacienda Miramar is incredibly steep, so our wedding planners let us know that it might be a tall order for a food truck to make it up this hill. They’re not kidding. It’s like a mountain. When Stephen’s parents ask in advance if they’ll be able to walk anywhere and I tell them absolutely not, the driveway is insane – Stephen thinks I’m exaggerating. But he forgets. When we arrive in May and he goes over to visit them, he remembers that yes, this thing is really, really steep.

Stepping onto the property at Hacienda Miramar is like stepping into another world. It’s the first venue we visit on our trip six months prior. We’ve already been in town for a few days and I’m beginning to wonder if we made the right decision. The town is cute, but it seems to have some grit to it. I’m wondering if the venues are going to match our expectations. We follow Allison and Cassandra in our car up the crazy driveway. When they finally let us in the gate, we pull in and step out of the car. We walk to the back yard and all I can do, besides smile stupidly, is start jumping up and down. Yes yes yes yes YES! Are you kidding me?! This place is stunning. The views of the ocean, the breeze, the infinity pool. It’s breathtaking. It’s nothing short of magical.

We also have a smaller event here for our extended family only – about 30 people. It’s a Paella Cooking Class/Demonstration led by Allison’s team. This is a huge hit with so many of our family members who are extremely into cooking. The food is amazing – two types of paella, a Caesar salad, and garlic bread. And of course, the scene is beautiful (remember, it’s at Hacienda Miramar).

Hacienda Miramar pool
Pool views at Hacienda Miramar

Favorite things about Hacienda Miramar:

  • The Venue – it’s the most beautiful 360 degree views of the ocean and town; the breeze this high up is so nice.
  • The Pool – too cool. It looks awesome.
  • The Kitchen – huge, beautiful kitchen for cooking. We hire Allison’s team to be the private chef for Stephen’s family for the week and they do not disappoint.

Drawbacks about Hacienda Miramar:

  • Accommodations – we don’t realize that there won’t be a concierge service like at the other villas. There is no one there to clean up, answer questions, or help with anything. Stephen’s family is on their own for the week.
  • Location – being so high up makes it difficult to get anywhere without a car. They are the only group a little far away from everyone else (a 7-minute drive).

La Copa Llena

We rent out this restaurant for our Welcome Cocktail event. It’s right on the beach, with amazing views of the ocean and sunset. It’s mostly outside, but for parties, they require you rent a tent. Initially, we want to do a short party – two or three hours with some passed appetizers, and then let guests stay and order dinner from the restaurant if they prefer. But if you rent out space at La Copa Llena, you have it for the night. They will not re-open the kitchen with their regular menu. Since we don’t want our guests to have to figure out dinner on their own after Welcome Cocktails, we decide to do two passed apps, a family-style sit-down dinner, and extend the party from 5-10pm.

During our visit six months earlier, we get to see the venue, but the restaurant is closed and we never get to try the food. Cassandra’s husband is actually the head chef here, and she assures us that the food is delicious. It’s not that I don’t trust her, but I would feel much better if we could taste the food before deciding what to order for all our guests.

In short, I am blown away by the food. It’s so, so, so, so good.  Passed apps of croquettes and poke. For dinner, a delicious salad, followed by fish with an incredible sauce and a side of rice, followed by some of the best steak I’ve ever eaten, accompanied by chimmichurri sauce, potatoes, and vegetables. It’s safe to say that every single guest is blown away by the food.

PLACES NEARBY

Rincon is a hard place to describe if you’ve never been there. When we initially let our friends know about the place, some immediately start Googling nearby places to check out. When looking at Google Maps, everything appears to be very close. Most places appear to be walking distance, but this is NOT the case for most places. For example, when looking at the map above, The Beach House looks close to Villa Playa Maria, but that is one heck of a climb! Rincon does not have many sidewalks, the roads are narrow and steep, and the drivers give zero fucks. Walking can be a little dangerous – especially after dark. It’s smarter to get driven around.

That said, Villa de Zecheo, Villa Playa Maria and Por Fin Dogmans are all very close to each other and only a short walk along the beach (see map above). They are also walking distance to a strip of exceptional food/drink places. Our favorite, hands down, is Jack’s Shack, an adorable food truck that serves breakfast, lunch, coffee, and smoothies. Do yourself a favor and go for both meals. For breakfast, a green smoothie and breakfast wrap. For lunch, the fish tacos with their housemade pineapple hot sauce. Everything they make is awesome, but these are my personal favorites. Follow them on Instagram to keep up with their hours (it varies with the seasons).

Next to Jack’s Shack is an adorable little bar called El Bohio. They are only open on the weekend during our wedding week, so be aware that their hours don’t seem to be fixed. They have fun juices, smoothies, and cocktails. Yum.

Finally, is Calypso Cafe. Sadly, I have still never been here, but plenty of our wedding guests have. Calypso Cafe is great because it’s always open, day and night, seven days a week. It’s a full-service restaurant. Some of my family get in very late on Tuesday night and end up going to Calypso for late-night burgers and fries – they look delicious. My cousin orders a beer while she waits. The food comes up fast, and she asks, “Can I bring this beer with me?” The bartender looks at her and says, “You’re in Puerto Rico. Yes, you can bring the beer with you.”

OTHER LODGING OPTIONS

We do not use Tres Palmas Inn and Villas, but it can host up to 200 people for a wedding. I don’t get the chance to see it in person, but it looks beautiful online. Because it is on Marine Land, they are a bit stricter with the noise, so if we used them, the DJ would have had to stop playing at 11pm (we are able to keep the music going until midnight – huge plus).

On the other side of Villa Playa Maria is Maria’s, a luxury oceanfront vacation rental. It’s not as new and doesn’t have as much natural sunlight as Villa Playa Maria, but still beautiful and incredibly well-maintained. Elizabeth is the concierge for both.

A couple of our guests also stay at Blue Boy Inn (a 15-20 minute walk on the beach to Villa de Zecheo) and Fisheye View Rentals (not walking distance but only a 5-minute drive) and love it. The one hotel in the area – Rincon of the Seas – will block out rooms for your guests if you prefer. The hotel is fine for guests who want to be on their own and can’t/won’t commit to a villa early on (their loss!).

WINE

Stephen and I love good wine. We’re at that point where we’re not super knowledgeable about it, but we appreciate it, and we just can’t drink the cheap stuff. Rincon is not exactly known for wine, so we do some research and find this little place called Tinto Wine Shop. It’s an adorable shop, the owners – a couple named Tiffany and Dan – are wonderful, and we’re very impressed with their ever-changing selection. We ask them about sourcing the wine for our wedding week events, and they are happy to do it.

They send us a very long list of all the wine that they have access to, and we send that list to Stephen’s cousin, Laura, a Master Sommelier (too cool, I know). She does us the kind favor of combing through the list and letting us know all the good ones – there are many. We go over the shorter list with Stephen’s Dad (he also loves wine), and the four of us nail down which wines we want for all the events.

Allison and Cassandra are fine with this, except for Welcome Cocktails at La Copa Llena – we’ll have to choose from the bar’s selection of wine for that event. We send that menu along to Laura as well, and even though it’s a small wine list, the five wines we choose for that evening are delicious.

TRAVEL

There are three airports that you can fly into when traveling to Rincon. The most convenient airport is in Aguadilla at Rafael Hernández International (BQN). This airport is only 30 minutes outside of Rincon. The flight times aren’t always the most convenient, but if you live on the east coast, there are direct flights from JFK and Newark.

The second airport is in Mayaguez at Aeropuerto Eugenio Maria De Hostos (MAZ), which is about a 20-minute drive to Rincon. Folks flying into MAZ will first have to fly into San Juan (SJU) and then take a puddle jumper to MAZ.

Finally, one can fly into San Juan at Luis Muñoz Marín International (SJU), and then rent a car or grab a shuttle to Rincon, a 3-hour drive.

OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST

Photograpy: Allison and Cassandra send us a list of possible photographers and we go with E. P. Anderson because we like the look of their candid shooting style. Elliot is wonderful. He’s laid back and friendly while still being professional and direct. He also shoots our engagement photos in San Juan six months earlier. We love him.

D.J.: Again, we’re sent a list of possibilities and go with Elijah at E.J.K. Entertainment. We’re not completely sure he’s what we’re looking for because there’s a lot of techno stuff we find about him online and we definitely don’t want that type of music at our wedding, but Allison and Cassandra assure us that he’s the best. He’s their favorite. We take the gamble (which we now know is not a gamble – anything Allison and Cassandra suggest is a win), and our guests are on the dance floor all night. Elijah even makes a point to meet with us a few days before the wedding, just to touch base and say hi. My brother, a real curmudgeon who doesn’t have much of anything nice to say to me all week, says to me at the end of the night, “This is the best DJ I’ve ever heard at a wedding.” …Elijah rocks!

Hair and Makeup: Katie at Blushing Brides. This is the only option I’m given and man am I lucky. Have you ever had airbrush make-up? It’s incredible, natural-looking, and feels like nothing! Katie is extremely intuitive and able to know just what I want for both my hair and make-up.

Videography: Soul’s Anchor Studio. Husband and wife team Jose and Cristina are so sweet. Jose makes a point to speak with us on the phone to get to know us a little better. We don’t want any of the packages they offer because all we want them to get is our wedding dance, and they happily oblige.

Waterfall Tour: If a small group has time for an Airbnb experience, go on the Waterfall Tour with Gio to the San Sebastian Waterfalls. Gio is the most magical human being on the planet (we love him so much, we invite him to the wedding). The waterfalls are incredible – there’s a rope swing, cave, and plenty of scary jumping from high places! At the end, grab delicious mojitos and yummy food from the local Puerto Rican bar. Such a cool experience.

Surf Lessons: Rincon is known for surfing, after all. One of our guests take a private lesson with Melissa at Puntas Surf School. He raves about it.

OTHER SHOPS/ RESTAURANTS

Tamboo views
Tamboo views

Ode to the Elephants: If you’re up for a short drive, this is a must. This Thai restaurant serves the most delicious food and amazing cocktails with excellent service.

La Cambija: The place all the locals talk about. Unfortunately, I can’t speak from experience only because it doesn’t work out with our schedule, but this place is supposed to have the best and freshest local seafood.

Tamboo: Amazing location on the beach. I only have drinks here, but my family has dinner here and loves it.

Pool Bar Sushi: Such a cool spot – would you believe there’s a pool next to the bar?? Head chef is our very own wedding planner, Allison. I’ve mentioned this before but she is amazing and her food is amazing.

The Beach House: The best views! And because it’s up so high, it’s nice and breezy and not as bug-gy as other places. Great place for sunset and they’re always open.

The Uncharted Studio: If you’re looking for a cool tank or T-shirt that isn’t your typical “vacation buy”, this place has some really cute tops for men and women.

Ocean State of Mind: I don’t get to check this place out but my hair stylist tells me about it when I compliment her incredible necklace and earrings – both from this shop. All the jewelry is made locally.

A FINAL NOTE

According to Urban Dictionary, Island Time is “the time vacuum created by the ocean’s presence. Everything moves nice and slow. This carefree aura even has the ability to travel with islanders and can engulf you in their presence.”

Island time is a real thing. Don’t hate it; embrace it. Planning a wedding is stressful, but all of the people mentioned above are incredibly talented and professional and take their work seriously. Sometimes, people might not get back to you as quickly as you might expect or prefer. Please know that they have not forgotten about you. They know what they’re doing and they’re doing it. I promise!

Now go get wedding planning and enjoy the process!

A Cool Bride

groomsmen
Stephen and his groomsmen giving their “fresh face” look

I want so badly to be a cool bride. The easy-going, laid back, happy bride who goes with the flow. But I am not a cool bride.

We all arrive on Tuesday and the wedding isn’t until Saturday. I have all week to spend time with loved ones and, therefore, tell myself that the day of the wedding won’t feel so big. But it does.

I’m not sure how to describe my state of mind on the day of the wedding. It’s not great. I’m anxious and nervous and tired and restless and a little hungover. Stephen and I are so healthy leading up to the wedding with our diet and low alcohol intake, that this entire week of drinking has taken its toll on me. Even though I’ve gone to bed by 10:30pm every night, I’m still not used to it.

I have to hang out on the second floor of my villa with my bridesmaids and hair stylist all day. I keep looking around the room thinking that they all must be bored. They surely would rather be somewhere else – relaxing by the pool, hanging out with friends. But I don’t have it in me to host or be interesting or strike up conversation.

All I keep thinking is, how come nobody told me I was going to feel like this? But at the same time, I’m struggling to decipher what it is that I’m actually feeling. Am I OK? I am and I’m not. It’s too much waiting and sitting. It would be great to listen to a podcast or something to pass the time, but I don’t have it in me to listen to anything right now. That’s what it is. I feel like I can’t do anything except sit here. I wish I could drink to take away the nerves, but I want to be completely present and (mostly) sober for the ceremony. Stephen and I also have to perform our dance, so I’m nervous for that, too. We’ve been planning this day for so long, and I’ve been thinking about this day for so much of my life, that now that it’s here, it just feels like too much. I’m in disbelief.

Thankfully, Nina takes over as DJ and plays some music. I request Disney for a while, and this makes me feel slightly better. Then Kelly starts dancing as she steams my dress. This will become my favorite moment of the “getting ready” portion of the day. Laughing feels good. It takes the edge off, if only slightly.

Finally, it’s time for First Looks. This is the first time Stephen and I get to see each other (since about 9am this morning when I said, “Bye, love you, see you soon”).  The photographer – Elliott – has me stand outside on the balcony alone, with my back to the door. I try to take in the moment. It’s peaceful. But there’s this overwhelming feeling that it’s my wedding day and oh my God, how crazy is that?!

first looks
First Looks

After what feels like forever, I can hear the door open. Maybe Stephen touches my arm, I’m not sure, but when I turn around, I’m so happy to see him. He looks so handsome and crisp in his black suit. His eyes well up – he’s very emotional – and clearly happy to see me as well. We kiss and laugh and tell each other how amazing the other one looks. Elliott gives us a minute alone and I’m grateful for it. We check in with each other, asking how our days have been going. I get the sense that he’s had a bit of a rough time today, too, but his anxiety already seems to be melting away.

Now it’s time for some family pictures. It’s quick and thankfully not too, too hot up here – especially because we’re not in the sun. I still have trouble smiling so much. Elliott tells me to blow out through my lips every once in a while to relax my mouth.

The bridal party heads outside for some pictures, and here’s where I really start to lose it. I’ve got a bouquet of flowers in my hand, a veil with a train on my head, and of course a long skirt and high heels. Then, we have to walk on the grass, and my heels start sinking into the ground. I’m stepping on my skirt, and I keep forgetting that I’ve got this veil on my head. And I’m sweating. And Stephen wants to know, “What’s wrong?”

Nothing!! Everything!! Ah! Anna Rose finally turns to me and says, “This is the hardest part of the day, babe.” She says it with such wisdom and a sort of promise that I can do this and it will all be over soon, that I take a deep breath, pull my shoulders away from my ears, and try my best to relax. OK. I can do this. We’re taking pictures for Christ’s sake. On my wedding day. How bad can this be?

bridal party
Bridal Party in front of Villa de Zecheo

It’s not bad. And it is fairly quick. We tell Elliott in advance that we want most of our pictures before the ceremony. He suggests that we get some with the bridal party after the ceremony, but we give him a hard, “No.” Our compromise is that the two of us will get a few pictures on the beach, but everyone else is free to enjoy Cocktail Hour.

The ceremony is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. We get married in the front yard under this huge, gorgeous ceiba tree. There is greenery everywhere and pineapples line the aisles. I’m overcome by how beautiful everything is and that it’s my wedding day. It’s hard to process it all. It’s hard to comprehend that it’s actually happening. It’s hard to simply look around and enjoy it.

pineapples
It’s too pretty!!!

After the ceremony, Stephen transitions into a cool groom. So happy to be here and talk to everybody and enjoy and BE PRESENT. Because being present is the real key to being cool.

Not me. Where are Kelly and Nina? Let’s go. To my bedroom! I need your help getting my veil off! Out of my way, people!

So no, still not a cool bride. I rush to get my veil off, and now I need to get Stephen so we can go on the beach, quickly, for pictures. A tray of beef sliders appears and I grab one, desperately, as if I haven’t eaten today. I have. I had a huge Italian hoagie for lunch, but I’m so jittery and I’ve been looking forward to these sliders since we tasted them six months ago, that I scarf it down. (It’s just as delicious as I remember.)

beach relax
Post ceremony pictures on the beach

Something finally shifts when I’m on the beach with Stephen, walking barefoot in the sand, listening to the waves and looking at the sky and the ocean. Elliott is taking pictures of us and I’m not concerned about how I look at all. We did it. We got married! And it was beautiful and perfect and now Stephen’s my husband. I finally feel a safe and cozy kind of happy. Not that frantic anxiousness from before. As we’re walking off the beach, we’re met by our videographer – we only hired him for our wedding dance, but he asks if we’d like to get some shots of us walking on the beach. I smile and without even thinking, tell him No… but thank you so much! …As I continue to walk straight past him. I’m going to Cocktail Hour.

I’d like to say that I am now a cool bride. Alas, I am way too concerned with what time it is – I need to get changed into a different skirt and shoes before everyone sits down for dinner – so how much time do I have?? Does anyone know what time it is? Who has a watch?

I wish that I could stop being such a spaz, but I am on this timeline and I just can’t relax. My friend Abe smiles at me and says, “Is this the best day of your life, or what?”

You’d think I could just say, ‘Yes, of course! Absolutely. I am so happy.’ But I can’t. I’m too high strung. Is everyone having a good time? What time is it?

merry wedding.jpg
A Christmas bar

I look around. This venue is outrageously beautiful. The bar is Christmas-themed and the bartender is even wearing snowman earrings. I am surrounded by 65 people who love me and Stephen and are here just for us. I CANNOT HANDLE THIS.

I realize that relaxing and hanging out is just not going to happen, so I head to my bedroom to change with Stephen, AR, and Natalie. We all hang out in the bedroom together and I feel a little better. It’s easier when there’s less people around.

It’s time for our first dance. I’m so nervous. I can’t believe it’s finally here. The DJ quickly checks with us to see how we’d like to be announced – it’s not Mr. and Mrs. Vafier since I’m keeping my last name (didn’t realize that this would be absolutely assumed by literally everyone), so we tell him Steve and Lindsay will be just fine.

The butterflies and nerves have taken over. Stephen walks me out onto the dance floor and we’re slow dancing to Paper Planes, by Alexander Jean. We’ve practiced this so many times. I’ve imagined the real thing so many times, and now it’s here. So surreal.

As soon as the dance ends and I sit down at Table 1 with Stephen and some of our bridal party, I finally breathe a sigh of relief. A plate of food is brought out for me – so much special treatment as a bride! I eat my food, and drink my wine, and talk with our friends.

I think that I do finally turn into a cool bride. It happens during dinner, after my maid of honor, Kelly, gives her speech. It’s the hands-down best speech I’ve heard in my entire life (but I suppose I’m biased). It’s hysterical and heartfelt and Kelly’s comedic timing makes everyone in the room question why she doesn’t do stand up comedy professionally. I’m crying happy tears as I hug her, and as soon as I sit back down, I am able to let go and have fun.

And I really do. I go on to have the best. night. ever.

Best YouTube Ab Workouts

Stephen and I are in wedding preparation mode, so besides healthy eating and minimal drinking, we’re also working out a lot. In addition to our separate gym-going, we do an ab workout together every day. We alternate finding a video on YouTube, trying to find different variations to keep things interesting. The video times range from eight minutes to 15 minutes (usually on the shorter side).

It’s incredible that we’ve been doing this for three months and every time I search “abs” or “ab workout” on YouTube, different videos pop up that I’ve never seen before – even if they’re not new or recent. There are so many to choose from.

I have now found my favorite videos and instructors. If you’re so inclined to do some ab workouts on your own, below is a list of my favorites:

Lots of instructors mention the importance of tucking the hips under and pressing your lower back into the ground to protect it. I learned all about tucking the hips under in barre classes, but Stephen never really heard the phrase before. This girl, Maddie, explains it better than anyone else. Her videos and workouts are great because they’re challenging but doable, and not only does she keep a timer in the corner of the screen, it also beeps when it’s counting down from 3, so you always know exactly how long you have left in an exercise.

Fitness Blender workouts are very clear and easy to follow. They are no frills, no music, no personality; but good ab workouts.

QuickFunAbs – The video and sound quality is not very good, but I like this British guy and his socks. And at the end of his routine, someone off-screen throws him a water bottle. It makes me laugh every time:

There’s nothing I can’t stand more than a chick working out with her hair down. Not only does Pamela look too pretty while she’s working out, she NEVER smiles. On top of that, her ab workouts are so hard and she never stops moving. It’s insane. So while I can’t stand her and I call her names every single time I do one of her ab workouts, mad respect.

Blogilates: Cassey Ho is a sweetheart. She’s got a great personality and explains the moves really well. Her workouts are hard and the video quality is really good. She’s got so many videos. Below are three of my favorites, but you can check out her YouTube channel here for a whole slew of them.

Rebecca Louise: is the best!!! Rebecca Louise is absolutely adorable and I love her workouts. Sometimes, Stephen and I struggle to get through them because we laugh too much. She’s sweet and encouraging and rarely stops talking. #IcanfeeltheburnRebecca!

Rebecca Louise’s YouTube channel

 

The Wedding Diet

I don’t like the word, “diet.” For the same reason I don’t own a scale and only weigh myself at the doctor’s office at my yearly check-up: because it messes with my head. It immediately makes me feel bad about myself and definitely brings on all sorts of feelings of unhappiness and self-loathing.

But you know it’s coming when you plan to get married. The Wedding Diet. Even if I don’t say it out loud, I’m thinking it. And if I don’t say it, Stephen’s saying it. He does not have issues with food or a poor relationship with his body, so he can say “diet” all he likes.

I have made leaps and bounds in the whole food and body image thing over the past few years. I’m mentally and physically healthier than I’ve ever been in my life. Mentally because I don’t count calories or obsess over ever morsel I put into my mouth. Physically because I’m consistently working out, eating real food – and cooking a lot, too – drinking much less than I used to (so not every night – way to go, me), and not eating late-night snacks (that’s a big one).

Still, I can’t help but be pulled into the idea that I need to look my best on my wedding day, and by best I mean, the best I’ve ever looked. Initially, this scares me, because I’m afraid that I’ll fall back into unhealthy habits. Afraid that I’ll become obsessive, count calories, and torture myself. On the contrary, I have grabbed hold of the “Wedding Diet” mentality with fresh, healthy eyes.

When I did the 7-Day No Late-Night Snacking experiment (in three parts: Part I, Part II, Part III), I found that when I didn’t eat a snack, it did feel terrible in the moment. It made me feel so anxious and like I was depriving myself of something I needed. It made me very irritable. The next day, though, I would be elated. I would feel good. So I realized that a little pain now is a healthy thrill later, and that is way better than the reward for eating that snack. So now, when I think about eating that snack, I also think about how I’m going to feel the next day. I never used to be able to do that. I couldn’t see past the beautiful green ramekin with two servings of Cheez-its in it and a glass of wine with a show on like Revenge or Gossip Girl to go with it. I looked forward to it so much. I looked forward to it every day. It was like I earned those Cheez-its and that wine and that show.

But then I’d feel like shit the next morning. I’d hate myself. I’d feel depressed. And by noon, I’d look forward to it all over again.

So now I’m on a Wedding Diet, which I hope turns into a permanent change in lifestyle, because I feel great. People say that getting married is the best diet, and I’m surprised at how true that has been for me. I’ve had every intention to be doing the things I’m doing now, I just didn’t have as much motivation. What is the diet? It’s not really a food thing. I eat everything. Sure, I try to eat healthy and cut out sugar when I can, but I will also happily eat steak and potatoes, burgers, wings, even fried food sometimes (even though I said I was definitely going to cut out fried food – oh well). It’s less about the food and more about how much and when I’m eating it.

FOOD. I try to stop eating when I’m full. No matter how much is left on my plate. This is still hard for me. I always feel like I need to finish my plate. It’s this innate feeling that I don’t want to waste food and weirdly, that I’m never going to eat again. I also have been trying to eat slower. I’ve always been a fast eater. I attribute this to growing up in a family of five where if you didn’t eat fast enough, you definitely wouldn’t be getting seconds if you were still hungry – sometimes not even firsts.

GYM. Obviously, I’m working out a lot. I’ve always been a gym goer, but I haven’t always been so excited about it. I LOVE working out, now that I’ve found what I love. I go to a gym that offers bikram yoga and inferno pilates. Best of both worlds. So on top of going to the gym five or six days a week, Stephen and I are doing a 7-10min ab workout together every day. We alternate each day who has to find a video on YouTube. It’s actually kind of fun, and it’s only 10 minutes out of the day so it’s easy to motivate ourselves. Plus, I’ve been working on creating my own workout.

ALCOHOL. I have become such a light-weight! And I love it! I used to throw back three glasses of wine a night, easy. Now, I sometimes go a whole week without drinking.

LATE-NIGHT SNACKS. Finally, the late-night eating. I don’t eat after dinner. It started with – “I try my best” to not eat after dinner. I did that for a couple months. I wouldn’t want to torture myself, so I’d snack on dried mango or pistachios. And you know that as soon as I’d be conscious in the morning, my first thought was that freakin’ piece of mango I ate the night before that I didn’t need. And was that really worth it? Most times, no. Sometimes, yes. Either way, I tried to be as kind to myself as I could, because making changes is hard, and building healthy habits takes time.

Now, though, as we’ve gotten closer, it’s become a finite decision to not eat anything after dinner. This is probably the biggest and most effective change I’ve made. Sometimes when I think I’m feeling hungry but really I just want a snack, I think about how I’m going to feel when I wake up the next day. I also find that complaining helps. Just constantly telling Stephen, “I’m hungry,” to which he replies one of the following: “You’ve done a 24-hour fast before,” “It’s OK to be hungry,” or he simply laughs and shakes his head and tells me, “You’re so dramatic.”