Sunday, January 3, 2016

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar ... About Menopause And Insomnia

It’s not easy being a woman, no matter what stage of life you are at.  When a teenager, you have acne and periods.  Each woman has a differing amount of acne or degree of menstrual problems.  If you don’t have your period, you’re either very ill or pregnant, both having their own brand of miseries. 

So don’t be upset when menopause comes around.  At least menopause ends eventually.  Old age is not a worse phase of life – it’s just different.  And then you won’t have to worry about periods, pregnancy or menopause.  I can’t make any promises about the acne.

The All-Nighter

Menopause and insomnia are usually inseparable – menopause will almost always bring on insomnia.  This is considered one of the most annoying symptoms of pre-menopause or menopause.  It is hard to get a full day’s work done when you are drowsy.  You might wake up with a night sweat, have an irritable urinary problems, wake with a persistent food craving, or just plain can’t sleep.  

Worrying about your menopause and insomnia will only make it worse.  Odds are, it’ll be years before the problem goes away by itself, so for Pete’s sake, go to doctor.

Why Me?

The reduction in hormones from your menopause can knock your body temperature around like a football.  Your doctor may suggest sleep aids, depending on you current health and past medical history, but sleeping pills are not always effective.  The best thing you can do is try not to stress out about it and explain to your family and friends what you’re going through.  Keeping up or starting a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise can also help your body deal with menopause and insomnia

Your doctor may recommend a type of hormone replacement therapy to help your menopause and insomnia symptoms lessen.  You can choose from Premarin, made from pregnant mare’s urine, to plant-based alternatives.  You can take pills, patches or creams.  

Other Tips for Dealing with Insomnia

To promote good sleep, cut down on MSG, caffeine, alcohol and smoking.  Herbal teas like chamomile or lemon balm can help you relax, as well as being tasty. 

Keeping your room dark and cool can help the body relax into sleep.  If you can possibly help it, keep your bed reserved for sleep only.  Don’t even read or watch television in bed.  Over time, the body will be subliminally programmed by laying down on the bed to go to sleep.  It’s the same logic as your bladder suddenly having to go whenever you pour water into a glass.

Image by 
Faisal Akram for Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Exercises to Help You Stop Snoring

But I Don’t Snore…

If you don’t, then you probably know somebody who does.  These exercises can reduce the snoring symphony, if it has been determined by your doctor that you do not snore because of illness or injury.  Besides, some people need any motivation they can get to exercise. 

Snoring is caused by something blocking your throat and other airways.  This is often due to loose, flabby neck muscles.  Combine that with the normal relaxation of your body during sleep, and you’ve got the makings for snoring.  Losing extra body fat can not only reduce snoring, but also is good for your overall health.  Exercise doesn’t just mean going to the gym.  It can be gardening, dog-walking or taking the steps instead of the escalator.  Gradually work it in and it will become just another part of your normal routine.

Exercise One:  Sing

Twenty minutes of singing out loud a day can keep your neck and throat in shape.  There are kits and CDs available that claim to teach you the best songs for stopping snoring, but they haven’t been proven to work better than singing any other song.  Perhaps it’s the subconscious suggestion on the consumer that has the kits help.  “Of course this is going to work.  I’ve spent money on it!” 

Exercise Two:  Stick It Out

Stick out your tongue as far as you can and wiggle it about in all kinds of directions, in the same way that got you in trouble as a kid.  If it helps, do it before a mirror.  This can be easily incorporated into your singing regimen, especially if you suddenly go off key.

Exercise Three:  Chew A Pencil

Most people do this anyway, without realizing the benefits to their muscle tone.  Just hold a pen or pencil in your mouth for a few minutes several times a day.  Don’t bite down on it so you tense up, begin to gag or snap the pen in two.  If this step ever hurts, stop and skip it.

Exercise Four:  Yawn

You are probably now tired from all this exercising.  So yawn.  Even if you don’t feel sleepy, just opening your mouth wide often triggers your body to automatically yawn.  And it’s so hard not to when you hear or see someone else yawn.  Just hold your mouth wide open in a big yawn position for at lest three seconds, then gently close your mouth.

And that’s it.  With any other kind of exercise, it takes consistent practice before you see any results.  If nothing else, the muscle tone about your neck and jaws will be much better.

Image: "Self-Portrait, Yawning" by Joseph Ducreux

Friday, January 1, 2016

Nightmare about Getting Health Care

I had a nightmare last night. What's really annoying is that this nightmare is that it hasn't gone away since I woke up. I dreamt that I had flu so bad that it was called "borderline pneumonia." And I had all the symptoms, too --headache, nausea, dizziness, sore throat, body aches. Thanks for reminding me, subconscious.

Anyway. despite my pathetic condition, I was forced to walk over a mile to get any kind of health care. And then I had to walk a mile back. No one would help me with this walk, of course.

The doctor's office was located in a bucolic nook in the woods with a stable next door. The doctor who treated me had more than one car and even a chauffeur but I had to use Shank's mare.

Now, when I was homeless in England, I did have to walk three miles round trip (estimated) in order to see the doctor or nurse at Julian House in Bath. But I was homeless and penniless and the medical care was mostly free. This massive walk was annoying but expected.

Now that I'm homed in America, supposedly the greatest country ever, surely I can easily get health care? HA! Now you really ARE dreaming.

Although I no longer have to walk such long distances and have gotten my driver's license back, healthcare is still a nightmare. My fluoxetine, for example, costs about $150 a month. Without this medicine, I am suicidal and cannot sleep. So I have health insurance to pay about $15 a month. However, my premiums are roughly $500 per month. So I'm really paying $515 per month, aren't I?

I also was unceremoniously dropped by my health insurance company last year and had to go through a grey-hair-inducing process in order to gain the plans I have now. I had to get two plans because my previous health insurance plan with dental was eliminated without my consent.

Because health problems are such a literal as well as metaphorical nightmare, I'm going to be concentrating on health problems that can impact your sleep in 2016 rather than just about dreams or sleep disorders in general. Please forgive me in advance if my posts are too biased towards American health care, since that's where I now live.

Image of a hospital room in Denmark for Wikimedia Commons by Tomasz Sienicki.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Ear Plugs for Snoring Sound Good But Your Mileage May Vary

There are many products available for the snorer to stop or reduce snoring.  There are pillows, pills, sprays, herbs, ball devices and even surgery.  But is there anything available for those suffering from living with a snorer?  Yes, there is.  You can try ear plugs to greatly reduce your hearing any snoring symphonies to the sound of silence.

Snoring Basics

Snoring can strain any relationship with dorm mates, roommates or just plain mates.   It is important to know that the snorer doesn’t mean to snore.  It is an involuntary noise made whenever the upper airways are blocked.  The deep bodily relaxation of sleep can press the airway tunnels together.

Snoring can sometimes, but not often, be the sign of a more serious medical condition like sleep apnea, Picwickian syndrome (which can happen in the severely obese), growths in the nose or a stuffy nose.  If the snorer has been checked for these conditions, then he or she has normal snoring, which can take time to reduce.  In the meantime, anyone within earshot can try an ear plug for snoring.

Many Choices For Many Ears

Ears come in a great variety of shapes and widths.  You may have to try several kinds of ear plugs before you find the kind that is effective and comfortable for your unique ears.  Fortunately, any kind or ear plug for snoring is relatively cheap (cheaper than a fast food dinner, usually). 

  • Foam Ear Plug for Snoring:  These are the cheapest and widely available in drug, health, department, and sporting goods stores.  With practice rolling them into narrow cylinders, they can easily slip into most any ear shape.  They take a few nights to get used to, but when you do, you may find a lot of outside noise is muffled or eliminated.  They are disposable.  Some come with cords to help you not loose them, and some don’t.
  • Silicon Ear Plug For Snoring:  These look a bit like a rubber bullet, rounded at the end that goes inside your ear and flat where it sticks out of your ear.  They are considered more sound absorbing, but some people find them too uncomfortable for sleep.  Your reaction might be different form the next guy’s.  These are also disposable.
  • Industrial Strength Ear Plug For Snoring:  These originally were for mechanics or others who had to work with loud equipment.  They are usually made of PVC foam or polyurethane.  They come in many shapes from little cylinders to rattles.  They are more expensive as lots of times they are reusable. 
  • Beeswax, Cotton and Lanolin Ear Plug For Snoring:  They are advertised as being comfortable, reusable and effective, but they are harder to find.  I've never personally tried them because of the cost so I have no idea how effective they really are.
Image by Toby Bateson for Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

How Long Is the Perfect Nap?

I am a big fan of naps. As the Mayo Clinic points out, naps aren't for everyone, but I love them. The one good thing about working from home is that I can nap more or less when I like. However, sometimes I feel worse after a nap than before I took the nap. Over time, I've discovered that nap length greatly affects how well I'll feel when I wake up. So how long is the perfect nap?

The Experts Disagree

Granted, I'm not a doctor or medical professional but I read a hell of a lot about naps and sleep. And all I learned from this reading is that there is no agreed-upon length of an ideal nap. For example, the Mayo Clinic recommends naps of 10 - 30 minutes. The Cleveland Clinic recommends 10 - 15 minutes only. In contrast, Dr. James B Maas (and others) authors of Sleep For Success: Everything You Must Know About Sleep But are Too Tired to Ask  (AuthorHouse; 2010) states that you should try naps of either 20 minutes or 90 minutes, arguing that you need to complete the first two stages of sleep in order to get a quality nap.

Your Mileage May Vary

As Sleep for Success points out, the best way to find out what length of nap works for you is through experimentation. And how do you experiment with naps length? Why, by taking naps, of course! Base your findings on naps taken during "normal" days and not when suffering from the flu or when taking any medication that drops you like a dead fly. For me, I need to be in the bed (not necessarily asleep but laying down not moving) for about 90 minutes in the mid to late afternoon.

Broken clock image by Audriusa for Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Leaving Work Behind to Relax and Sleep

One of the reasons people find it hard to sleep is because of stress. I've often read advice to leave work at work and not to bring it home with you.  Time at home should be a time to relax and rejuvenate.  Besides — you are at home and not at work and cannot do the work even if you’re thinking about it.  So why worry about it?

Not bringing work home with you is easier said than done.  Especially if you are like me and telecommute.  And more and more, people are working from home.  So, how do you leave work worries at work time so that it doesn’t lead to ruining your free time?

If You Do Telecommute

Have only one room in the house where you work.  That is your office.  You do not bring any phones, laptops or reports to other parts of the house.  Especially do NOT bring any work material in the room where you sleep (if you can avoid it).  When you work, you do it in just the one room.  That’s it.  No exceptions.  If you pick up a phone in a non-work room and the caller wants to talk work stuff, walk to your office to do it.

Over time, your subconscious will be programmed to associate your work room with work.  Ever suddenly have to use the toilet when you just glimpse a restroom door?  That’s the same principle.  A familiar work room lets your brain know "Now it’s time to work." And the opposite as well "I’m not in the work room — I’m not working."

Transitioning Ritual

Another way you can help let your subconscious know that it’s time to leave work behind is to some sort of small ritual when you come home (or go to another part of the house to relax).  Some people do this by changing clothes.  We shed our work persona and problems as well as our work clothes.  Remember when Mr. Rogers would take off his shiny black shoes and put on his loafers when the show began?  That’s sort of the idea.

One thing I do is that I put on classical music CDs to let my mind know that it’s time to leave work problems behind and just relax.  When I work, I either listen to nothing, or listen to pop, blues or world music.  Taking a hot bath or shower is another great way to help leave work at work.  Meditation is another way to at least get your mind to relax for a few minutes or before bed.

No Short Cuts

Using chemicals like alcoholic beverages to transition from work to home or before sleep is not recommended.  They can not only wreck your health, but your body gets used to them. Then, you need to drink, ingest, snort or shoot more and more of the "tranquilizer" in order to physically relax.

It takes practice and gentle mental reminders to get used to the idea of leaving work behind once you get home.  Be patient with yourself and laugh at yourself, if that helps you to relax.  Even if you work at home, you don’t have to take work home with you.

Hope this helps and sweet dreams.

Image from Just Bedding Blog.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Make Your Doctor Appointments Less Stressful

The New England Journal of Medicine reports that 9 out of 10 doctors think that 1 out of 10 doctors is an idiot.  –  Jay Leno

I don’t know about you, but going to a doctor’s appointment is not my idea of fun.  I’d rather clean a stable full of horses that had too much bran added to their feed than go to a doctor’s appointment.  I’m talking about specialists or for a check up here — not about emergencies.  If I have an emergency, I’m usually too unconscious to get stressed and wake up in the hospital.  But when you make an appointment months or weeks in advance, you have enough time to get very stressed.  Here are some tips on how to make your doctor’s appointments less stressful.

Before The Appointment

Make the most of your brief time with the doctor by writing down all of the questions you have and taking that list with you to the appointment.  If you’re like me, you will feel too stressed by the journey, the wait and the smell of a doctor’s office to be able to think calmly and rationally.  So, I write down the questions before the appointment at a time when I’m more relaxed and rational. 

Also, depending on how much time you have before the appointment, find out if anyone in your immediate family has experienced the same medical problem you are currently experiencing.  This is stuff the doctor will need to know, and will most likely ask you during the appointment, anyway.  This can help make you feel more in charge of your condition and feel less hopeless.

You also need to bring a list of all of the current medications (even over the counter meds), alternative treatments or vitamins or herbal supplements you are taking.  The doctor will need to know all this in order to help you more quickly.  These lists can help make your doctor’s appointments less stressful because you are acting as a helper to your doctor, not just expecting the doctor to do everything.

Expect To Wait

Due to the nature of their work, it is an extremely rare event to see a doctor at the time your appointment is.  Expect to have to wait a while — like about four hours, at least.  This is because people tend not to get injured or suffer sudden illnesses on schedule.  Your doctor will drop appointments to take care of someone with an emergency health problem.

So, take a book, a bottle or water, comfortable shoes, a pillow — and settle in for the long haul.  If you go into the appointment expecting to wait, then you will be less upset and disappointed if you are told you have to wait.  During the wait, you can also play some games in the waiting room.   The games definitely make doctor’s appointments less stressful.

Don’t Take The Doctor’s Attitude Personally

Doctors are generally overworked, so they might seem to be rushing you without meaning to be disrespectful.  Some doctors find that in order not to feel overwhelmed from their patient’s pain, they try not to learn their names and refer to them as "the migraine" or "the dislocated shoulder that never healed".  Again, this is not meant to be disrespectful to you.  This is their way of doing their job the most efficient way they can.

If you think the doctor is not going to be able to help you, ask them point blank "Do you believe me?" or "Have you ever dealt with anything like this before?" Your health is too important to try and be polite.  Except for the bill, you don’t owe a doctor anything else like loyalty or treat him or her as medically infallible.  If you and your doctor just aren’t getting anywhere, your doctor is obliged to help you look for another doctor.

Hope this helps. 
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