Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

The 10 rules of good sleep

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I wanted to call this “The 10 Commandments of Good Sleep.” But I’m leaving all my books and favorited websites and prior references unopened in an attempt to recall what I’ve learned without directly stealing from any one source. And I’m pretty sure that, during my 2006 yoga teacher training, when I commuted to L.A. every other weekend for six months, I read a bedside table book about insomnia at my friend Gary Tufel’s house, where I often stayed, and it had 10 commandments in the title. So, scratch that.

Ren_120808-1995It was during that training I began to use yoga for help with my own insomnia. Yoga was my refuge from the residual depression left after a difficult divorce and the stress of joining a new family with my boyfriend and his kids in Las Vegas. I took the class to deepen my understanding of the practice, and as that happened, I naturally turned to what I was learning when my legs got twitchy and my mind raced in the middle of the night. I was astonished to see how well a deep squat relaxed my calves and ankles, or a few minutes of seated breath-work put me right to sleep.

Since then, I’ve read everything that’s come my way on insomnia – every book, university medical school report, news story about a breakthrough. And, as a reporter by trade, I probe the habits and discoveries of insomniacs and doctors I meet. I’m no expert, but I’m a well-informed aficionado of sleep science. While every individual’s experience is unique, there are some good rules of thumb. A private yoga student asked me to send them to him, and I thought, why not share them with everyone who reads my blog? I’m composing this blind, as I said above, but I’ll go back and add links afterward for those who want more authoritative references. For now, in my own words, here are the rules of sleeping well…

No. 1 – Be consistent. Keep a regular schedule that includes an hour or so of unwinding before going to bed. Turn out the lights at the same time every night.

No. 2 – Make your bed a shrine to sleep. Don’t do anything other than snooze and have sex there. Otherwise, you train your mind to identify that place with wakeful activities.

No. 3 – Give your body a break. Your systems need some time to shut down. Don’t eat or drink anything but water for an hour or two before bedtime, and don’t engage in enervating or intellectually stimulating activities. (Even some books are too engaging for this period. I’m looking at you, Naomi Klein.)

No. 4 – Give your body a break: Part II. You can’t rest if you’re hungry/full of nervous energy/upset. Get at least half an hour of rigorous cardiovascular exercise, eat regular, nourishing meals and process problems as best you can earlier in the day.

No. 5 – Don’t lie awake. Remember, the bed is for sleep and sex only. (See Rule No. 2.) If you’ve tossed and turned for 20 minutes, get up and do something to relax. Fold laundry, read a book, stare out the window at the stars – whatever lulls you. If you’re hungry, have a light comfort-food snack. (Milk and cookies actually fit the bill, according to some studies.)

No. 6 – Let it go. I’ve heard many people say that what’s keeping them awake is their preoccupation with their inability to sleep. The worst thing you can do for insomnia is obsess about it. I’ve had nights where I had to apply Rule No. 5 two, three times (try sleeping for 20 minutes, get up and have a snack; try sleeping for another 20 minutes, get up and do yoga). But on the third try, at most, it always works. I’ve also had nights where I just lay in bed and worry about the thing I had to do the next day that really required me to be well-rested. And you know what? That didn’t help at all.

No. 7 – Talk to your partner. Or your roommate, or your best friend. I don’t mean complain the next day about how badly you slept. I mean enlist a sleep buddy who can help you stay on your workout routine, or play checkers with you each night from 9:30 to 10, or give you a bedtime massage, or talk you down from pacing the kitchen at 3 a.m. We’re all in this together, and the better we sleep, the better the world will be.

No. 8 – Medicate with care. I’m not a fan of habit-forming narcotics, and many homeopathic cures haven’t been tested well enough to know their side effects and contra-indications. If you need a relaxation-enhancer, try chamomile tea. If you have an occasional ache or pain, take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. If you need more than that, see your doctor.

No. 9 – See your doctor. Like I said, I’m no expert. If your insomnia is fierce and persistent, see a professional. There may be something deeper, such as sleep apnea or depression, at play. I can’t help you with that.

No. 10 – Get seven to eight hours a night. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard, “I don’t need seven hours of sleep; I’m just fine on four,” and had to bite my tongue. If you think that, you’re wrong. Humans may not have evolved to require eight consecutive hours of sleep, but it’s well-documented that our bodies and minds have to cycle through deep sleep a certain number of times a night in order to regenerate and function optimally the next day, and that number of cycles equates to eight hours, give or take. So, unless you like to go to bed at sunset, sleep four hours, get up and write a play or work on your cancer cure for a while, then go back to sleep for another four hours until sunrise, eight continuous hours is your best bet.

Bonus – Enjoy your life. What prevents most people from sleeping happens while they’re awake. If you’re unhappy, do what you can about it. Take up a hobby. Make a friend. Lend a hand to someone who doesn’t have the luxury of a comfortable bed to sleep in. You know that guy who makes people say, “How does he sleep at night?” Be the opposite of that guy.

Written by Heidi Kyser

October 5, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Essays, Opinion, Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

In the eye of the beheld

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Vegas Seven, July 18-24, 2013

Vegas Seven, July 18-24, 2013

Although I’m proud of my recent Vegas Seven feature, “What Is Beauty?” I confess to being apprehensive prior to its release. The subject of the story, Stacie Frazier’s No Makeup Project, speaks for itself, but I worried my exposition lacked sophistication, from a cultural-criticism standpoint.

After all, everybody got a dose of women’s studies 101 in undergrad, right? If nothing else, there was that chapter, during anthropology or communications class, that talked about gender representation and patriarchal mechanisms of oppression. We don’t need to be reminded of these basic truths… we’re ready to go deeper. Right?

Maybe not. Overwhelmingly, the feedback I got on the story was  positive, but what grumbling there was spoke volumes. It could be summarized as follows: “Couldn’t you find any ___ (average-looking, minority, old, etc.) women to include?”

The pool of possible interviewees for my story was limited to the dozen or so women participating in the No Makeup Project shoot to which Stacie invited me. I was able to observe and interview them, learning just enough to determine which ones to follow up with later. I chose Leslie Stein and April Holladay because of their compelling stories of self-acceptance. In the photo spread, I also included Angela Anderson, the oldest participant in the shoot that I met, and Louella Clagett, the only non-white woman there. I had interviewed them both on-site and felt they would add diversity to the story.

What really struck me, though, was the richly ironic suggestion that Stacie and/or I limited our choices to good-looking women only. There was some socioeconomic selection going on, to be sure, since Stacie uses clients of her boudoir photography company, Haute Shots, for her No Makeup sessions. I understood this was because she was asking for a favor–at the least imposing on them for an entire Saturday, unpaid; at most, asking them to take a huge emotional risk for the sake of her personal art project. Maybe only attractive people elect to do boudoir shots (and oh, the subjectivity in that statement!); certainly, only an affluent clientele can afford it.

But looking around that day at the women who showed up, I found, as far as looks go, they were no different from the women I see at work or yoga class. Same variety of body types and facial features. Stacie used her skills to bring out their most visually pleasing traits, because that’s a goal of the project as she conceived it: to show average women how beautiful they really are without makeup. She accomplishes this not just through lighting, angle and pose, but also by getting to know them. She builds a trusting relationship with her subjects that allows them to relax, smile and reveal something from within.

The pertinent point, then, harks back beyond our women’s studies classes, turning the adages of church school and grandma’s kitchen on their heads: true beauty may be on the inside, but we have to see it to believe it. And even then, sometimes, we’re skeptical.

Written by Heidi Kyser

July 26, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Of underwear questions and other indiscretions

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The thing about underwear questions is, they’re usually reserved for people you know pretty well. The media gets abundant latitude in the name of the public good, but still – I felt awkward inquiring about a complete stranger’s  skivvies, even if it was for a story in City Life.

I had to, though. It offered the perfect example of what I understood the story to be about, on more than one level. First, there are some crazy rumors floating around about Mormons (e.g., they wear magic underwear). Second, they kind of set themselves up for it (they do actually get special – although not magic – undergarments through the Temple). It’s time people grew up and learned to air their fears and suspicions in reasoned discussion with their fellow humans. Yet, it’s tough to do that when somebody’s most sacred beliefs are at issue.

In other words, how do you respectfully ask about something as delicate as a stranger’s underwear, if doing so may help dispel prejudice and promulgate truth?

I chose the preemptively apologetic approach: “I’m really sorry to ask this, and I don’t mean to offend you, but you said you were open to anything anybody wanted to know…”

Ladies' underwear advertisement, 1913Awkward,  but effective. After my source Aaron Lowe told me the church’s reasons, as he understood them, for mandating the use of specific undergarments, I felt satisfied with the answer. He described it as a close and constant reminder of his religious faith and duty. He said he could completely understand why other people might find it weird, but as I listened, I didn’t think he sounded weird at all – and someone so reasonable wouldn’t buy into anything crazy. Right? …

Lord knows, there’s need for public debate about all kinds of religious beliefs and practices, but how people engage in that debate can be as revealing as the subject matter itself. Consider reports of evangelical Christian preachers banning their congregations from voting for Romney because he belongs to a cult. If Romney does get the GOP nomination and Mormonism takes center stage, prepare to see lots of people, on both sides of the debate, exposing themselves.

Written by Heidi Kyser

January 21, 2012 at 9:00 am

Blvds Spotlight Is a Timely Reminder

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Kim Schaefer, managing editor of Blvds Las Vegas Magazine, gave me the honor of writing the Spotlight for the current issue.

Blvds LV Dec.-Jan. issue

I wouldn’t normally say getting an assignment is an honor. Not only is it simply my job (an equivalent would be a plumber saying it’s an honor to fix your leaky faucet), but also profiles are not the part of my job that I love best. They seem at the same time too easy and too difficult — too easy because they’re usually about one well-known overachiever on whom there is a wealth of readily available information; too difficult because it’s hard to tell a successful person’s story without falling into sycophancy.

But this was profile was exceptional. I’ll leave it to you to read the article and determine whether you agree and why.

In the meantime, I’ll say that speaking to the subject, Shannon West, came at an opportune time for me. A New Year was approaching, ending one fraught with challenges for my family and community. On top of all the usual stock-taking and resolve-making that Jan. 1 provokes, I was weighing serious questions about my own future. Against that backdrop, West offered  a poignant reminder of what gives life meaning.

This, of course, is different for everyone. I identified with West in that her work and relationships apparently define her. (A point driven home by her saying she’d resolved not to let her cancer define her.) Like her, I don’t place a high value on material possessions or praise; making a measurable positive difference in people’s lives through my actions is how I score personal points.

I’ve spent the first few work days of the New Year at my desk, plowing toward that goal, setbacks and side-tracks be damned. It helps me to think of Shannon West, and some things she said in our interview.

I believe it would also help our neighborhoods, city and state to focus this year on what defines us, or what should. After all, we’re fighting for our survival too, aren’t we?

Written by Heidi Kyser

January 5, 2011 at 12:19 pm

‘Lifeguard’ on DivineCaroline.com

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Have a look at my recent essay, “Lifeguard,” published on Divine Caroline, by clicking here.

Written by Heidi Kyser

September 21, 2010 at 12:46 pm

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