Thursday, April 28, 2016

“Insomnia”; By Stephen King: A Review

I know the book isn't really about insomnia, but I couldn't resist sticking this old review of mine from Helium and Yahoo up here:

At first, it sounded like a great idea.  The master storyteller of weirdness, Stephen King, writing a novel based on one of the weirdest conditions a person can have – insomnia.  However, the result is disappointing.  Only long-time Stephen King fans familiar with his Dark Tower series will find any worthwhile bedtime reading with Insomnia (Viking Press; 1994.)

The Good

A bad book by Stephen King is still a much reader read than a good book by most other pop fiction writers.  Characters are well-drawn to the point where you do not need to be told who is talking in order to know who is talking.  The fictional town of Derry, Maine is also familiar territory for King fans and for anyone who has lived in a small suburb.  The dogs in the book even become fully detailed characters in their own right.

Perhaps the best thing about Insomnia is that it does highlight the problems of domestic abuse without ramming it down the reader’s throat.  Although other issues like abortion, putting parents in old-age homes and insomnia are mentioned, but with as much finesse as King can do on the subject of abuse.  This is a major theme in King’s entire body of work, especially in Dolores Claiborne (1993) and Rose Madder (1995) where both protagonists are abused women.  As always, King shows that not only supernatural creatures are monsters.

The Bad

Insomnia is mostly made up of some good chunks stuck together with long expository passages.  Mainly, it’s a minor book in the Dark Towerseries, even though it was never marketed as part of the series.  However, if the reader is not familiar with the Dark Tower series, then a lot of small, seemingly out of place details in Insomnia is going to be baffling.

The main struggle in the book between good human verses bad Otherworld Creature gets far too long and complicated for even a King fan like yours truly.  When the main reason why our protagonists have insomnia is revealed, it’s an anticlimax.  The answer is just not satisfying enough.

The Ugly

There are some incredibly vivid moments in Insomnia that are far more haunting than the actual plot.  A dog licks the hand of the monster that immediately afterwards kills her.  A mother is plotted against by her daughter-in-law to place her in a senior citizen’s home.  A battered woman with a screaming baby on her hip stumbles into a grocery store.

But the weirdest image is that of a two-person airplane is flown into a building here a major speech is being held and many are killed.  Remember, this book was published in 1994, which, on reflection, makes that particular scene even more bone-chilling. Of course, King probably got the idea from when a B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945.

Stephen King in 2007 by Pinguino image from Wikipedia

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Iron Deficiency and Fatigue

When you’re tired all of the time, live becomes very stressful.  It’s hard to concentrate, make decisions or even do simple tasks.  And it’s almost impossible to get any enjoyment out of the tasks you do manage to get done.  If you’re tired all of the time and yet are getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, you really need to go to the doctor.  Although constant fatigue might not seem like a problem serious enough for the doctor, it is.  It could be all you need is a simple once daily iron supplement.

And, as always, please don’t use this blog post in the place of your doctor’s diagnosis.

 Signs and Symptoms

People who have iron deficiency (and this writer is one of them) tend to know because they’re tired all of the time.  Now, unfortunately, this is also the symptom of more serious issues such as clinical depression (which I also have, which makes things nice and complicated).  So, how did my doctor figure out that I had iron deficiency?  I had these other problems, too:
  • I have very heavy periods
  • I was not having my menopause
  • I’m a tea drinker.  Tea can interfere with iron absorption. So I'm screwed.
  • I can’t eat beef because it makes me ill (do not know why)
  • After a week of taking an iron supplement once a day, I felt better!  (That sorta clinched it).
But this is just me.  According to the Mayo Clinic, many people get other symptoms with iron deficiency besides fatigue.  They include:
  • Brittle nails
  • No appetite or very little appetite
  • A craving to eat really, really weird things like candle wax, hair, dirt or pen caps
  • Sore or swollen tongue
  • Restless legs syndrome
Read The Directions

You don’t want to take too much iron.  More is definitely not better with iron supplements!  You risk liver damage by taking too much iron.  Although my iron supplement’s label says to take three times a day, my doctor advised me to only take it  once a day to see if that’s all my body needed — and to avoid overloading my body with iron.

Popping an iron supplement or switching to foods rich in iron will not automatically get rid of your constant fatigue.  But it sure helps.  You also need to exercise for a half hour at least five times a week.  You also need to watch caffeine intake and learn how to relax without chemicals.  All of this can help you get enough energy to get through the day.

Hope this helps.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Stress of Getting Out of Bed

"Scorpio: Stay inside. Don’t breathe."   – Dennis Miller

I hate getting out of bed.  It’s often the worst part of my day.  It’s even worse when my dreams have been so fabulous that real life pales in comparison.  So I get a lot of stress getting out of bed.  I can’t be the only one.  Over the years, I’ve been able (mostly) to deal with this stress.  Here are some tips on how to cope with the stress of getting out of bed.

Don’t Drink A Lot Before Going To Bed

The bladder is your internal alarm clock, but it can backfire on you if you drink a lot of water or herbal tea or alcoholic beverages before going to bed, hoping a full bladder will help getting out of bed easier.  Usually, all this means is you have to wake up a few times during the night, interrupting your sleep.  The worst is when you wake up a half hour before you need to get up, dying to go.  When you’re done, what’s the point in getting back in bed?  And you’ve lost a half hour of sleep.

Get A Pet

Almost any pet except a scorpion will greatly encourage you to get out of bed.  As soon as they suspect you are awake (but still have your eyes closed), they will whine, squeak, paw, bite the bars of their cages until you actually get up and feed them.  This is a great way to cut down on the stress of getting out of bed.  It leaves you with no choice.

Don’t Argue With Yourself

On the days you have off, or if you telecommute and really don’t need to use an alarm, you can still stress out before leaving your bed.  It feels so nice and cozy and the world outside is cold and far too busy.  What can you put off to stay in bed an extra ten minutes?  The deliberation inside your head can quickly bring up feelings of guilt ("I should get up") to panic ("Can’t I fake an aneurysm today just to stay in bed?").  Your life is stressful enough without arguing with yourself.  Just get up!

Have A Laugh

The first thing you think about in the morning when you wake up can help color your whole day.  This is not to put any pressure on you.  But it does help.  Perhaps you could pin up jokes or cartoons where you can see them from your bed, or next to your alarm.  (Like the Dennis Miller joke above for us Scorpios). This is another time having a pet can help you get out of bed.  My dog will roll on her back for a belly rub when she knows I’m awake.  It’s kind of hard for me to stay grumpy when I’ve got dog bellies to rub.

Hope this helps.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

When You Have a Song Stuck In Your Head

One sleep problem I have is being bothered by an earworm all damn night. Perhaps, you, too have suffered from earworms.

I have this theory that hell is being stuck with only three CDs of incredibly bad music.  There’s probably more to hell, but the music is what really rubs the salt into your wounds.  Whenever I come across a song that really turns my stomach, I think, "That’s on the 3 CD Soundtrack to Hell).

But it can incredibly stressful when you have one of these musical mutations stuck in your head for days on end.  I remember when I had "Achy Breaky Heart" stuck in my head for about a week. I’d rather get a root canal than have that happen to me again. 

The Pet Shop Boys

The song I currently have stuck in my head is the Pet Shop Boys’ "It’s A Sin."  I figure it’ll go away when the Pet Shop Boys CD I bought will finally arrive in the mail.  This isn’t as stressful as I happen to really like the song.  But what do you do when you have a song stuck in your head that you abhor?

Substitute Another Song

This is the "fighting fire with fire" approach.  Songs that get stuck in your head are often have incredibly simple melodies that keep on repeating.  The only problem is that you have to find a song you like that fits these criteria in order to smother the original song.  Songs I find useful to help break up "Achey Breaky Heart" from my head include:
  • Rugby songs (those in England know what I’m talking about.  These songs have absolutely nothing to do with rugby.
  • "The Yellow Rose of Texas"
  • "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
  • "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt"
  • "On Top of Old Smoky"
  • "Bingo"
  • Meow Mix jingle (any commercial jingle will usually dislodge even your most cherished of songs)
  • "It’s A Sin" by the Pet Shop Boys
Chewing on Cinnamon Sticks

I just discovered this folk-lore remedy while researching this article, so I’m not sure how effective it is.  But any port in a storm, I say! 

Sing the Entire Dreaded Song Out Loud

This is another folk lore remedy for getting rid of horrible songs.  This does sometimes work — but you have to know all of the lyrics.  I can tell you right now that I haven’t brought myself to Google the lyrics to "Achy Breaky Heart".  I’m afraid that in some horrible case of mistaken identity, my computer will be seized by the police looking for whatever it is they look for when they seize computers.  They’ll find I’ve looked up the lyrics to "Achy Breaky Heart".  I’ll never hear the end of it.  It’ll go on my tombstone.

Listen to Running Water

It’s hard not to worry about a song stuck in your head, but worry only compounds the song’s hold upon your brain.  What sometimes helps for me is to go listen to a fountain, a river, a rainstorm or my fish tank.  I suppose you could listen to radio static, but that sound drives me mental, so I don’t use it.  The running water sounds trigger a relaxation response in me.  They also usually don’t have any rhythm to them, so I can’t match the song to the water. 

Hope this helps.

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.
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