Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

Archive for the ‘Opinion’ 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 , ,

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

Car hits kids: A post-script to pedestrian safety story

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The Las Vegas Review Journal sent a news flash this morning about a car hitting two children in front of Culley Elementary School. It reminded me of the time I spent watching pedestrians flee oncoming auto traffic on the streets of Las Vegas while reporting a recent story, Walkers Beware, for City Life.

A public information officer at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department confirmed today’s accident was as the RJ described. It happened near Washington Avenue and Jones Boulevard in the northwest part of the valley, and both kids went to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The PIO had no additional information, such as specifics on injuries or whether the children were in a crosswalk. As pedestrian advocate Erin Breen noted in my story, “non-life threatening” injuries are not necessarily easy to recover from.

This incident, like so many others, underscores our community’s need to address pedestrian safety issues. People who want to get involved can check out efforts like Safe Routes to School and Look Out Kids About, or contact school administrators and public officials to see what — if anything — is being done in their area.

Pink paper makes a stark reminder

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When I saw the paper deliveryman making a tardy 7:30 a.m. round on my street last Friday, Sept. 30, I wondered if it had anything to do with that day’s issue of the Las Vegas Review Journal being pink. I imagined the scene in the printing department – someone in pre-press gritting his teeth and cursing management for their bright ideas.

Real or imagined printing drama aside, it was a worthy endeavor. The black-ink-on-pink-paper edition was designed to call attention to National Breast Cancer Awareness month, which started the following day, Oct. 1. RJ owner Stephens Media donated proceeds from street sales of the paper to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Although well-known, the pervasiveness of breast cancer still surprises me. Two of my aunts have had it, and yet the steady stream of e-mails I got over the weekend thanking me for my story in the special pink RJ took me by surprise. I was reminded that this disease’s power to ravage bodies and lives is such that it has left little of our society untouched.

This month invites everyone to do something, no matter how small. Women can learn to check their own bodies or make appointments for mammograms. Men can make donations to research organization or sign up to run in next spring’s Race for the Cure. Kids can get community service points for school by volunteering with local organizations like the Janet Sue Mason Foundation.

If everyone whose life has been touched by breast cancer does a little, it gets us all closer to the day when we won’t need a month, or a pink paper, as a reminder anymore.

3-Feet law has teeth, but are they sharp enough?

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Up against deadline, an editor from Vegas Seven e-mailed me early last week in a panic. He was finalizing Room to Roll, my story in the Aug. 11 issue, and wanted to know what repercussions, if any, breakers of the new 3-feet law would face. (See the story for more about the law.)

It wasn’t that I hadn’t asked prior to submitting the story; it was that nobody seemed to know. The sources I talked to (including Ryan Pretner’s wife, who’s an attorney, and Senator David Parks, who wrote the bill) only said that it would be up to a judge to decide.

That’s true – but there’s more.

As luck would have it, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department‘s public information office, which hadn’t returned my calls while I was reporting on the story, put me through to someone right away when I called to get the Vegas Seven editor’s question answered on deadline.

PIO Jay Rivera looked it up and told me that violating the traffic law that encompasses the new 3-feet provision is a misdemeanor “with a penalty not to exceed $1,000, six months in jail or 120 hours of community service.”

Heartening as it was to get an answer (although it still didn’t make it in before deadline), it was disheartening to see a penalty that seemed light relative to the harm that can be caused when a car hits a cyclist.

To be sure, not all the collisions in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics I gave in the story are the fault of the motorists, but regardless who’s at fault, the cyclist is more likely to end up hurt – sometimes badly, as in Pretner’s case. If the driver is at fault and he, say, paralyzes someone, burdens him with millions of dollars in medical bills and a life of in-home care, takes away his ability to work… the maximum penalty the driver can receive is $1,000, six months in jail or 120 hours of community service? The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Hopefully, there is the possibility of escalating the charges based on damage done, and of course there is always the civil litigation option.

In any case, the 3-feet law is a good first step to making motorists more aware of their obligation to safely avoid cyclists. The risk of having to shell out $1,000 for a ticket might curb some intentionally aggressive behavior from drivers toward cyclists. But it’s unlikely the end of the fight for bicycles’ fair share of the road.

Which CG will it be?

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Las Vegas City Hall in downtown Las Vegas

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I predict the next mayor of Las Vegas will be a blond female between the ages of 40 and 80 with the initials CG. She will have extensive experience in education, upon which she has based promises to improve education in the city during her term – promises that will go largely unfilled, due to the fact the cash-strapped county and state have jurisdiction in this area. She will, as she has put it, “continue the current mayor’s development of Downtown” – much to the chagrin of Summerlin, which, despite not really needing it, would also love for the city to offer companies like Zappos millions of dollars in incentives to move to its  neighborhoods. Beyond that, I can only say for certain that the next mayor will become best buddies with Las Vegas City Manager Elizabeth “Betsy” Fretwell, who actually does all the hard work (and does a bang-up job of it, according to everyone I asked).

Any further predictions will depend on Las Vegans. Do we prefer the status quo, or are we in the mood for a changing of the guard?

That I can’t predict. To read what I know for sure about the next mayor’s job, check out my article in this week’s Las Vegas City Life.

Written by Heidi Kyser

June 2, 2011 at 9:26 am

Who’s Your Best Friend?

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Cat gassed down/masked down with anesthesia fo...

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A flyer in the lobby of Warm Springs Animal Hospital, where I took my dog Aja to see her vet this morning, reminded me of the recent feature I wrote on Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for Desert Companion.

The flyer wasn’t about Best Friends, though. It was about The Animal Foundation, which was also mentioned in my story. I recalled the 2007 disease outbreak at Lied Animal Shelter, which the foundation operates, as part of the backdrop against which Best Friends began reducing its mobile adoptions from its Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, to Las Vegas. I also cited Clark County Animal Control statistics on animals impounded and euthanized at Lied as evidence that Best Friends’ help is clearly needed in our area.

The flyer I picked up this morning was a stark reminder of how dire the pet overpopulation problem in the Las Vegas Valley has become. The flyer gives the following data (which is not sourced, but presumably comes from The Animal Foundation itself):

  • The foundation receives 50,000-plus animals each year.
  • In 2009, it took in 2,000 more dogs and cats than Animal Care and Control of New York City.
  • It takes in 136 animals daily, on average.
  • Only 13 percent of animals placed in Las Vegas homes come from shelters or rescues; 9 percent come from the foundation.
  • The foundation performs 8,000 spay or neuter procedures annually.

According to the flyer, the number of spay and neuter operations will rise by 4,000 annually starting this year, due to the opening of a new public spay and neuter clinic.

Although the animal welfare world is divided on the best cure for pet overpopulation, at least one person I interviewed for the story thinks spay and neuter laws are the answer. Holly Stoberski, who was on Clark County’s Animal Advisory Committee through 2010 and is on the board of local Heaven Can Wait Animal Society, told me that she believes ordinances such as Las Vegas’ Code 7.14, adopted in 2009, will help reduce the number of unwanted pets in the valley.

As with so many well-intentioned laws and services, the success of 7.14 and Lied’s clinic will depend on enforcement and marketing, respectively. If my neighborhood is any indication of citywide norms, Las Vegans think it’s perfectly acceptable to let their unaltered dogs roam the streets with no identification. Placing flyers in veterinary clinics is preaching to the choir; let’s hope The Animal Foundation is doing much more to get its message to those who are filling its intake rooms with 136 animals per day.

Written by Heidi Kyser

May 23, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Homeowners vs. neighborhoods

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I discovered something curious while working on The little ‘hood that could (Desert Companion, March 2011): the vexed distinction between neighborhood associations and homeowners associations. It wasn’t central to the point of the story – that any neighborhood can benefit from banding together if it’s willing to put in the effort required – yet, erroneous confusion between the two different types of organization may prevent some people from getting in on the action.

The distinction is alluded to in the story, when City of Las Vegas neighborhood planner Yorgo Kagafas says, “I’ve often heard people say, ‘I don’t want my neighbors telling me what color to paint my house,’ but that’s not what neighborhood associations do. They don’t have the power to make rules, only to enforce what the city adopts.”

Who does tell you what color to paint your house? Homeowners associations.

While the two types of group manifest in myriad forms, depending on the circumstances in each case, there are some common, general differences between homeowners and neighborhood associations: Homeowners associations are usually mandatory, dues-gathering groups of residents in a designated area that have the authority to impose and enforce rules related to design and maintenance of that area; neighborhood associations are usually voluntary groups, open to residents in a designated area, that can only enforce (or request enforcement of) public laws governing that area.

So, a homeowners association will collect dues that help pay gardeners who trim your hedges to a mandated height. A neighborhood association will organize a crime watch and call law enforcement to report suspicious activity.

Another way of looking at it would be to say that homeowners associations are profit-oriented, while neighborhood associations are community-oriented. The former focuses on property values in order to protect the owners’ investment. The latter focuses on quality of life; property values are one of its indicators, along with crime rates, owner-occupancy and anything else residents deem important.

People who have a knee-jerk reaction against neighborhood associations should consider this distinction. Although your neighborhood association may take some action you disagree with, such as seeking historical status, it can’t make or enforce any rules that aren’t already on the books. It’s also an open forum, where you are free to express your opinion, providing you’re a resident.

And that’s the democratic process at work, isn’t it?

It’s the climate, stupid

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Something from my reporting on It’s Getting Hot In Here: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World (Desert Companion, Feb. 2011) kept nagging at me after the story was done.

I had to ask Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, how she would respond to those who don’t believe in climate change or its human-based causes to begin with – considering the report treats them as a given.

I felt stupid, maybe a hint of what a journalist would feel like asking the president of the Anti-Defamation League how he would respond to those who don’t believe in the Holocaust.

Her initial response was something like gasp-meets-laugh. Then, with a sigh, she launched into her I’m-sure-oft-repeated summary of the science on climate change. I pictured a thought bubble above her head reading, “Really, I have to go through this again? REALLY???” – undoubtedly from my own bias more than her attitude.

Asking the question at all wasn’t just an attempt at balanced reporting, but also a result of the immediate culture in which I live. Nevada residents regularly comment on environmental stories in the local press with wingnut talking points about climate change science. (Here‘s a recent example from the Las Vegas Sun‘s letters to the editor.) I have to take into account the beliefs of all my readers, regardless of my own convictions.

The really interesting part, though, came when Huta discussed the coalition’s Ten Things You Can Do To Help Imperiled Wildlife Survive Climate Change. She translated these 10 things into a local lexicon that transcends political and religious beliefs, focusing on fire prevention, water conservation and dust reduction as ways to preserve our desert landscapes.

Now that is something outdoorsy Nevadans can relate to, regardless of their stance on climate change. Whether campers and rock climbers, or hunters and ranchers, the people I’ve met and interviewed over the years who respect and rely on nature understand the interdependency of an ecosystem’s various elements (not including ATVers; I don’t know any of them). No reasonable individual wants to jeopardize the big picture for the sake of one activity or revenue stream.

If we start from that common ground, maybe we can agree on what we need to do to prevent further damage – even if we can’t agree on what caused it, god, man or Mother Nature.

Marriage and Domestic Partnership Live Together

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This morning’s State of Nevada on KNPR covered the one-year anniversary of the enactment of Nevada’s Domestic Partnership Act. Host Luis Hernandez spoke with four guests, two of whom were also sources for my Desert Companion story on the same subject.

The producer of the show, Irene Noguchi, invited me to sit in the production room and watch the discussion live. From that vantage point, I could hear both the aired conversation and Irene’s screening of callers. The behind-the-scenes flurry of calls about marriage and partnership and rights reminded me of things I wanted to say in the magazine article, but couldn’t.

A lot of any story gets left on the cutting room floor or off the air. Readers and listeners will only give journalists so much of their time, and we respect the value of it by giving them what we hope are the most important and relevant points.

Among the parts of this story that had to be cut was one that matters to me (and all my sources) personally: For some couples, a religious marriage is out of the question. Does that mean they don’t deserve the rights afforded to married people?

My boyfriend Peter and I live together, and raise his kids together (part-time, along with their mom) in the house we bought together. Our commitment to each other couldn’t be more apparent. But he’s an atheist and I’m an agnostic. We’re uncomfortable with the idea of being bound by a religious sacrament, which marriage seems to be. (If it isn’t, then why do opponents of same-sex marriage base their arguments on religious concepts, such as the “sanctity of marriage”?)

OK, so Peter and I could become domestic partners. This would definitely make our lives a lot easier. (See the story for more on that.) Still, we would lack the benefits of marriage determined by federal law, because of DOMA. As one of the guests on SON pointed out this morning, we’d be fine as long as we stayed in Nevada, but heaven forbid we get in a car accident in Utah. We would no longer have the right to make life-or-death decisions for each other. That right would go, instead, to next of kin.

In our case, it’s unlikely that either of our sets of parents would deny Peter or me the privilege of caring for one another in a time of need. You never know what can happen, though, and we’re heterosexuals, free from the cultural taboos that further vex the situation for same-sex couples (and prevent even those who do want a religious marriage from having it).

From this example you begin to see that marriage is the elephant in any room where domestic partnership comes up. That’s because the rights and responsibilities bestowed on people by domestic partnership are modeled on those granted to married people, while falling far short of full equality.

Consider the Nevada Domestic Partnership Act, which employs the word “spouse” throughout to describe the relationship – then at the end reminds us it is not to be confused with marriage.

I surmise this is to prevent domestic partners from obtaining the rights that married people have both within and outside their respective states, in the federal jurisdiction, and to keep closed the can of worms that is same-sex marriage.

But why? If marriage is a civil, not a religious, institution, then on what grounds are marriage rights denied? Let me put it another way: If Peter and I choose to live in sin, churches, which define sin, may care, but why should the federal government?

If it doesn’t – and if we fulfill all the other criteria of marriage – then why can’t we get a married couple’s rights without getting a church’s blessing?

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