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April 19, 2017

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Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep

By: Pauli Richardson, Wellness Coordinator

It’s not unusual for students to come to Pacific Quest and have difficulty with sleep. It’s a combination of jet lag, anxiety, poor sleeping habits at home, inability to relax, among other factors. Most students are not familiar with “sleep hygiene” or what proper rest looks like. For this reason, sleep is my favorite Pillar of Wellness to teach the students. Sleep hygiene is your lifestyle routine that helps promote sleep. Without it our bodies would not be able to get the sleep it needs naturally. During sleep the body heals itself and balances hormones.

The first question I ask the students is what their sleep routine looks like at home. Then we compare that list to a list of healthy sleeping habits and see how it differs. After taking a closer look, many students realize, they do not have a consistent sleep routine.

Tips for Healthy Sleep Hygiene


For good sleep, it’s important to strive to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. At Pacific Quest, the students wake up at 6:45 AM and they are in bed by 8:30 pm. We teach that this habit is important in helping reset the body’s circadian rhythm, the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.

For some of our students this is the first time they have gone to bed before midnight in a long time. The later you go to sleep the less likely you are to reach deep restful REM sleep.


In addition, it’s essential to create an environment that promotes sleep. Our bedroom needs to be a place that helps us relax. There are many people that eat on their bed, look at phones while in bed, watch TV, play video games, etc. Your bed should be for rest only. When it is not, your brain won’t instantly know it’s time for sleep and the screens may interfere with the brain’s production of melatonin, an important sleep hormone.

At PQ, students get a break from electronics but we discuss what to do once they face those temptations outside of this environment.  I encourage them to journal or color right next to their bed if they need to, and then get snuggled under the covers once they feel sleepy. Students can also request a calming tea to help them relax or learn to make their own with herbs from our garden! Drinking lavender, lemon balm,or chamomile tea is soothing for the body.

HEALTHY HABITSHelpful Tips to Improve Sleep - Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy

  • Avoid Caffeine after 12pm
  • Use essential oils before bedtime
  • Listen to relaxing instrumental music
  • Exercise during the day
  • Close your eyes and visualize a calming nature scene
  • Eat foods with Tryptophan (banana,yogurt,turkey)
  • Get a massage

Meditation is an important aspect of our program and it’s key for preparing students’ minds for sleep. It can look very different from day to day. For example, we have staff play guitar, teach deep breathing, read a poem, do soft yoga poses and sometimes students like to lead their peers in their own guided meditation.  I enjoy teaching the students Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). This is where students start at the top of their head and work all the way down to the feet squeezing and relaxing each muscle group.

It takes effort and dedication to develop good sleep hygiene habits. It is my hope that students will take what they have learned at Pacific Quest and continue to practice taking care of themselves. Quick fixes are not sustainable, and when students learn this they are on their way to living a healthier life. Sweet dreams!

February 5, 2016

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Examining the First Pillar of Health: Nutrition

D2014_10_26_T07_21_26-7-X3At Pacific Quest, students learn that what you put in your body directly affects how you feel. The Pacific Quest diet has been developed to provide balanced and vital nutrition. We take advantage of locally grown foods in Hawaii so that food is always fresh and healthy. We are fortunate to have an incredible local source of beef on the Big Island from the Galimba family at Kuahiwi Ranch.  The students also enjoy fresh fish and a variety of fruits and vegetables that are grown in our organic gardens at PQ or other nearby farms.

We teach the basics of nutrition and how the body uses food as fuel. Purified water and herbal teas are the only liquids provided and students are taught how high sugar diets contribute to fluctuating blood sugar levels, which can cause mood changes and energy crashes. Students learn how to cook and prepare food using the freshest and most natural ingredients.

At Pacific Quest, we believe food is medicine and fuel for the body. We provide whole foods, hypoallergenic, anti-inflammatory, and blood sugar balancing diet, rich in critical nutrients for optimizing health.  The Pacific Quest diet consists of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, local protein sources, healthy fats, limited amounts of dairy and no refined sugars or processed foods.

Eating nutritious food, free of refined sugar, artificial chemicals and harmful substances helps our adolescents and young adults feel better and have adequate energy for optimal engagement in the therapeutic process.IMG_0001 (2)

We emphasize the importance of eating in a relaxed setting to optimize digestion. The students are encouraged to chew their food well and take their time to eat. The basics of nutrition are discussed as well as the building blocks of a healthy diet. Pacific Quest cultivates the students’ appreciation of the evolution of their food from the soil to their plates while they harvest and cook many of their own meals.

Pacific Quest’s list of typical foods:

Protein: fish, eggs, yogurt, lentils, tofu, beans, chicken, beef, nuts, seeds, and hummus.

Starches: pita, oats, gluten-free pasta, taro, potato, rice, quinoa, corn tortillas and sweet potato.

Vegetables: tomato, zucchini, carrot, broccoli, eggplant, celery, cauliflower, squash, beets, onion, green beans, kale, spinach, corn, peppers, radish,

Fruits: apple, papaya, banana, passion fruit, guava, pineapple, watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, orange, and avocado.

Herbs: dill, garlic, lemon, lemongrass, lime, thyme, rosemary, basil, ginger, cilantro, parsley, fennel, nasturtium, turmeric, green onion, and mint.

Nuts: cashews, almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts and soy nuts.

Seeds: pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

Condiments: parmesan cheese, soy sauce, braggs amino acids, coconut oil, olive oil, salt, pepper, vinegar, honey, peanut butter, yogurt.

Whey protein powder: weight maintenance supplement.

Snack: consist of granola, raisins, soy nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and cashews.

Water: The students drink 96 ounces of water daily. We encourage them not to drink a lot of water while they eat as it will inhibit digestion.

November 10, 2015

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Study Update: The Newfound Effect of Sleep Deprivation

“Consider the implications for students pulling all-nighters, emergency-room medical staff, military fighters in war zones and police officers on graveyard shifts.”

This statement comes from Stanford University postdoctoral fellow Andrea Goldstein-Piekarski. But what, exactly is she referring to?

Sleep, or lack thereof, is one of the most influential powers affecting our mental and physical well-being. A new study coming out of UC Berkeley further emphasizes this fact. The study proves that sleep deprivation lessens our ability to read facial expressions with accuracy. Don’t think it’s groundbreaking stuff? Think again.

Sleep Deprivation & The Brain

“Sleep deprivation appears to dislocate the body from the brain,” says professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley, and senior author of the study, Matthew Walker. Results found that not only does the sleep-deprived brain have trouble distinguishing between threatening and friendly faces, but there is a disconnection in the neural link between the brain and heart that enables our bodies to process distress signals. A lack of sleep also creates a lack in appropriate heart-rate response when viewing various positive and negative facial expressions.

Adolescent Sleep Patterns

Adolescents are known for their erratic and sometimes odd sleep patterns, but it is crucial to know when a greater problem exists in order to help quickly prevent related issues. “Insufficient sleep removes the rose tint to our emotional world, causing an overestimation of threat,” says Walker. “This may explain why people who report getting too little sleep are less social and more lonely.”

Biological sleep patterns naturally shift later during adolescence, often making it difficult for teens to be able to fall asleep before 11 pm, according to the Natural Sleep Foundation. Teens also typically live different lives on weekdays vs. weekends, resulting in irregular sleep habits throughout the week, throwing off their biological clocks. Along with this, teens also need more sleep than adults—between 8 and 10 hours is optimal for proper functioning. Combine these facts together, and it’s clear why most teens do not get enough sleep.

Sleep Issues May Signal a Larger Problem

Teen sleep issues can sometimes predict several other problems, possibly related to drinking and drug use. These issues can also be a sign of teenage depression. Identifying a true sleep issue, and the subsequent problems resulting from it, is crucial to helping your teen lead a productive, risk-reduced life. Pacific Quest understands the value of a good night’s sleep. All students participating in both our adolescent and young adult wilderness therapy programs get at least 9 hours of sleep every night. A set schedule works to reset their natural circadian rhythm, so students can begin to get rest that is necessary for meaningful change to take place during waking hours. Once students learn to manage their sleep issues, they are able to allocate more energy on self-care, emotional issues and daily responsibilities.

Irregular young adult and adolescent sleep patterns are just one sign your child may need help. To learn about more signs, download our free Parent’s Guide here.

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