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. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dreaming of My Muse -- or Not

I know it's been ages since I updated this blog. I apologize (even though I have not received any complaints -- except from the voices in my head.) I have been busy:

My Muse is Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes. Or at least I thought he was. A small part of my eBook was based on dreams I had about my Muse. The first sentence is from my Muse directly. I had read the first paragraph in a dream but by the time I went to write it all down I could only remember the first sentence.

A few months ago I dreamt of reading a book and suddenly heard my Muse's voice. It was great to hear the voice after so long, but yet in the dream I was wracked by pain by the voice. It was pain so bad I could not scream. After a while, my Muse said, "No. I can't put her through this." He fell silent.

And stayed silent for months.

I know it was just a dream, but my Muse seems to take dreams seriously. 

Despite the pain, I do hope I hear his voice again someday.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Your Baby Has a Strangely Shaped Head? Not to Worry!

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) used to kill one out of every 1,000 babies born. Now, thanks in part to public service announcements like the Back to Sleep campaign (started in 1994) these death numbers have plummeted. 

But there has been one small problem in always placing baby on his or her back to sleep -- a funny-looking head.  This is because the skull bones have not hardened.  The continual pressure on the back of head can wind up making the head look a little flattened out.

There have been very expensive and time-consuming "cures" for getting the head to look normal again.  This often involves buying the baby a $2000 helmet, which has to be worn 23 hours a day and re-adjusted every two weeks.  Good luck trying to get health insurance companies to pay for that, America.

I could not find any proof that babies with funny looking heads are any less healthy or intelligent than babies with more socially acceptably shaped heads.  Ask your pediatrician or doctor just to be sure that the flattening is from sleeping position and not from anything else.

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommend many inexpensive things parents can do to avoid both SIDS and a funny looking head:

  • Alternate where the "pillow" is on the  baby's mattress. This means that the baby will have to move his or her head differently in order to see caretakers.
  • Does your baby have a mobile?  See if you can rehang it at different places so the baby needs to change head position in order to see it.
  • Move baby toys about the crib or room so the baby need to change head position to see them.
  • When baby is awake and can be closely supervised, place baby on stomach.
  • When the baby can keep his or her head up, consider getting those strap-in bouncy toys that keeps baby amused and the head from getting mushed on one side.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Medical Conditions that Can Affect Your Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 41 million Americans do not get enough sleep. This leads to more accidents and mistakes made from difficulties in concentration. Lack of sleep also can make people more likely to come down with a work-related illness such as obesity.

Why aren't Americans getting enough sleep? In some cases, medical conditions can be affecting the ability to fall asleep, stay asleep or sleep deeply enough for REM sleep. Here are the main medical conditions that the National Centers on Sleep Disorder Research says interfere with getting a good night's sleep.

Chronic Pain Disorders

If you suffer from a chronic pain problem, chances are you also do not get enough sleep. The condition can make it too painful to sleep. Chronic pain conditions include arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic back pain such as spinal stenosis and pain from severe injuries. Even injuries long healed can still cause aches and pains.

Headache-prone people such as those who suffer from migraines are also prone to experiencing sleep difficulties. Many people with chronic head pain also suffer from a mental illness. The condition with the worst pain is known as cluster headaches, which usually begins about one or two hours after the patient has fallen asleep.

Other Medical Conditions

Some severe medical conditions may not cause pain during sleep but can still interfere with normal sleep. These include diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, HIV, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancers and end-stage renal disease. Many people with Type II diabetes also have sleep problems. People who are overweight or obese are not only more prone to Type II diabetes but also sleep apnea, where the airways close completely many times a night.

Some women also experience insomnia when they will go through menopause. Some will wake up because of drenching night sweats and have difficulty getting back to sleep. These symptoms usually go away when menopause is over.

Psychological Conditions

People suffering from mental illnesses such as major depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders or bipolar disorder commonly suffer from sleep problems. This lack of sleep can then intensify other symptoms of the particular mental illness they are suffering from. This is one reason why medications such as antidepressants make people sleepy when they first begin taking them.

Patients suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have sleep problems such as an inability to easily fall asleep and restless leg syndrome. Harvard Medical School states that some patients ADHD symptoms improved when their sleep problems were treated.

Image: William Blake after Fuseli - Falsa ad Coelum ca. 1790

Monday, July 7, 2014

3 Advanced Lucid Dreaming Exercises

Lucid dreaming is when, while dreaming, you are aware that you are dreaming. This realization can be a fun and liberating experience. There are many books, websites and kits devoted to teaching the basics of lucid dreaming, although some people naturally have been lucid dreaming since childhood.

But after a few months or years of lucid dreaming, the dreamer may want more from their dreams now that they are aware that they are dreaming. The potential is limitless. For example, in Tibetan Buddhism, lucid dreaming is considered training for death. In order to get through the bizarre hallucinations in the death process, Tibetan Buddhists are encouraged to learn to meditate while dreaming. Although dream meditation may not be for everyone, here are three other exercises to try when you next realize that you are dreaming.

Staying Lucid As Long As Possible

This is surprisingly hard. Often, when dreamers become lucid they know that they have the most of the next couple of minutes because they will wake up. But lucid dream pioneer Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. notes that some dreamers manage to stay lucid by spinning in a circle, using a remote control to switch channels or even by asking aloud that they do not wake up. Find out what works best for you.

One problem of having a long lucid dream is that you eventually forget that you are dreaming and think the dream is real life. Do not let this worry you for now. If it happens, it happens. The more you dream lucidly, the more you can begin to recognize when you are dreaming, even if you are convinced you are awake.

Meeting Other Dreamers

Get a friend and decide on a date when you will dream about the other person. Write down whatever you recall of the dream as soon as you wake up. It's highly doubtful that a person's consciousness travels outside of their bodies, but just wanting to dream about a particular person may help encourage a dream about that person. Compare your dream to your friend's and see if there are any similarities.

Don't worry if this exercise seems to fail. Robert Waggoner, author of Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self (Moment Point Press; 2009) chronicles his problems when trying this exercise. But he was able to take his friendships to another level just by discussing dreams. Perhaps friends that do not want to burden others with their problems may find talking about their dreams much easier than talking about their problems.

Problem Solving

Shamans used dreams in order to find clues as to how to heal their patients. Scientists, artists and even students in dream studies often report being able to dream of a solution to a problem they have been working on. "Sleep on it" is a very sound piece of advice for anyone struggling with a decision or creative project. One thing about dreams is that many kinds of censorship or limitations are lifted. During the REM stage, a dreamer's brain fires as much as when he or she is awake.

Think about this problem before you go to bed. Keep a notebook open to a blank page and a click pen or pencil by your bed. When you become lucid in a dream, talk aloud or a to a dream character about your problem. As soon as you awake, do not move. Try to remember as much as you can. Then jot a few details down in the notebook. If possible, do not turn on the light as the shock may make you forget the dream.


"Sleeping, Dreaming and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness." The Dalai Lama & Francisco J. Varela, Ph.D. Wisdom Publications; 2002.
"Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self." Robert Waggoner. Moment Point Press; 2009.
"Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming." Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. & Howard Rheingold. Ballantine Books; 1990.
Scientific American. "How Can You Control Your Dreams?" Jordon Lite. July 29, 2010. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-control-dreams

Image of my dog Hugo napping taken by me.
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