Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ 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

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Aja’s last breath

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I’m waiting to kill my dog. My boyfriend, who’s at work, is making the calls to the mobile veterinarian and pet crematorium, since I am unable to speak the necessary words, ask the logistical questions. How soon can you get there? What’s the extra charge for an evening pickup?

Aja, on her 13th birthday, in 2013.

Aja, on her 13th birthday, in 2013.

You never know if you’re doing the right thing, having a beloved pet put to sleep. But this morning, around 4:30 a.m. – when Aja’s respiration topped 80 breaths per minute, up from her resting rate of 55; and I was contemplating giving her another subcutaneous injection of furosemide, the so-called “water pill” that has kept fluid from rebuilding in her heart and lungs to the point where she could suffer another arrest, her third in five days; and I didn’t want to give her the shot anyway, knowing that she’d already had 40 milligrams of the stuff in the last 12 hours, and that, even though the vet said it’s a good tradeoff, I don’t want to save her heart at the expense of her kidneys – around that time, she got quiet for a bit. I couldn’t hear the rapid, rasping breath I’d been tracking all night. I couldn’t hear anything at all. And I began to pray that my faithful sidekick of a dozen years had stopped breathing and would die in her sleep.

That’s when I knew it was time.

Doctors don’t help much, despite their best efforts. In less than a week, I’ve taken her to four different DVMs, who’ve consulted with radiologists and cardiologists. They have good information, but they are also human beings with pets of their own, and ideas about how they would do things in my place.

“I’m not going to sugar-coat it,” said the emergency vet, who saw Aja after her second syncope (that’s Greek for passing out due to insufficient blood flow to the brain, in her case brought on by mitral valve disease), “the prognosis is bad.” When I asked how long she had, he estimated two months on the outside. Could be two weeks. “But what will those two weeks be like?” he added. “There are many other forms of suffering besides just pain.” Over the following days, I saw what he meant. The three different meds she was on (two for her heart, plus the water pill) were keeping her alive, but she couldn’t go for a walk, or stay comfortable in the same position too long, or do much of anything besides lie around with her chest heaving laboriously.

Except during the rebounds, which have come after close calls with another arrest followed by heavy doses of medication. Then, for a couple hours, she perks up, wiggles her tail, does her customary happy dance, rolls on her back for me to rub her soft, pink belly. She eats, drinks, poops normally. Things look up. I latch onto the Internet articles that describe syncope as a manageable condition, ignore the footnotes about mitral valve disease being fatal, and resolve to give it another day.

“If it were my dog, I’d exhaust all the options,” said the vet I took her to see when my usual vet was off for the weekend. I had gone in, after another difficult night, determined to be realistic and ask about end-of-life options. But he recommended an EKG, further consultation with specialists and blood tests. As I handed my credit card over to the receptionist for the fourth time in as many days, she said, “Good thing you have pet insurance.”

It doesn’t take long to get caught on the hamster-wheel of conflicting advice and information. To break the cycle, I started taking notes. For two and a half days, I meticulously logged Aja’s respiration and sleep patterns, her activities and moods.

“8:30 a.m. – 57 breaths per minutes; trouble getting comfortable… 6:30 p.m. – 55 breaths per minute; sleeping peacefully… 11: 30 a.m. – 70 b/m, labored breathing, congestion; gave 15 mg. shot of Lasix… 9:30 p.m. – 67 b/m, seems relaxed, but breath is rapid and shallow…”

This morning, as I looked back over 60 hours of notes, I realized they had helped me with specifics, such as when I should administer medication or could safely leave her alone for a half-hour errand. But they didn’t help me with the big picture.

What did was wishing my dog would die at 4:30 a.m. I didn’t wish it for me, in the sense that I could no longer bear the difficulty of what I was going through. For Aja, I could sacrifice sleep for a couple months, easy. But I did wish it for me in the sense that her fate rests entirely in my hands. When she eats, drinks, sleeps, goes out or stays in have always depended more or less on me. Now, when she gets relief from the pressure in her chest, the stress of being left alone, that depends on me, too. The reason I wished she would die in her sleep was that it would be painless and quick. I was trying to wish the responsibility out of my hands.

Perhaps most importantly, I realized, I don’t want her to die alone – especially from an attack like the one she had last Wednesday, when she wailed and collapsed, unconscious, vomited a stream of bloody foam and released her bowels on me as we drove, panicked, to the vet. It was a fluke that I was home at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon. What would she have gone through if I hadn’t been there?

Not too long ago, I said to my boyfriend, “You know, it sounds corny, but when I’m in a bad mood, all I have to do is just look at Aja, and I feel better.” That’s not true anymore. Now, even during her rebounds, I look at her and feel a pinch of sadness, because I can see it’s hard for her to breathe. I know she’ll never draw a slow, deep, satisfying lung-full of air again. I can’t control that now, either. But I can make sure she takes her last breath sitting on my lap, held by the human she trusts and loves most.

Written by Heidi Kyser

February 17, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

This fight is far from over

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Last week’s issue of Vegas Seven included a news story about the Las Vegas Valley Public Land and Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument Act. Self-serving linkage aside, people who love to hike, are concerned about environmental conservation, care about historical preservation, are archaeology buffs — pretty much everyone I know, in fact — should have this story on his or her radar. GovTrak.com gives the proposed bill only a 2-percent chance of being enacted, but states one reason as this congress’s tendency to enact so little legislation in general. Those I interviewed seem to believe the bill will live on, be modified, mulled, reintroduced and so on, until it passes in some form. There’s quite a bit at stake (check out the original bill here), and the fight is far from over,so don’t forget about the fossils!

Written by Heidi Kyser

July 30, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Create a Change Is ‘All Things’ to DC Readers

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Flip to the All Things department in the most recent issue of  Desert Companion, KNPR’s arts and culture magazine, for my story about Create a Change.

Lately, I’ve run into several Las Vegas nonprofits that, like Create a Change, are  geared toward teaching people how to grow their own food. They include Growing Great, the Tonopah Community Garden and Project Angel Faces. A distinguishing feature of Create a Change is the celebrity chefs, who visit participating schools during harvest time to teach kids how to use the fruits, vegetables and herbs they grow in recipes they can cook themselves.

During our interview, Executive Director Tiffany Twohig told me that celebrity chefs are to some kids today what celebrity athletes were (and still are) to most kids when I was one. Bring up Gordon Ramsay, she said, and you’ll get the “Oooo”s and “Ahhh”s that, in my childhood, were reserved for the likes of Michael Jordan. Tiffany and her mom and Create a Change co-founder Candace Maddin hope chefs’ pop icon status will help seer in kids’ minds the organization’s overarching message that the best food you can get is the kind that travels the shortest possible distance between a plant and your plate.

I’m starting to get the feeling that the edible garden trend is more than a phase, but it will be interesting to see how those who advocate gardening to solve problems such as poverty-related malnutrition and childhood obesity will reconcile their goals with the growing need for water conservation in the Las Vegas Valley.

Of course, if we eradicated lawns, the point would be moot, but that’s for a later post. For now, let the gardens grow, and we’ll see if kids start to figure out that carrots actually don’t come from carrot factories.

Written by Heidi Kyser

November 11, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Days Like This

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Days like this, I don’t love my life.

I’m walking my bike home from coffee with a publisher because, for the fourth time in a month, I’ve gotten a flat tire. Yes, I know how to change a flat tire. Do you think I didn’t try that?

My hands are covered in bike grease, which has undoubtedly stained at least one article of my clothing. The breeze keeps sticking a clump of hair in my lip balm, making a diagonal line across my watering eyes. My nose is running, and I forgot my handkerchief. I look up and see a dirty, disheveled man walking his moped a half-block ahead of me. “I’m like him,” I think.

After arriving home to find we’re out of spare inner tubes for my bike, I see that Peter’s rescued Border Collie has exorcised his separation anxiety by knocking over the recycling bin and strewing plastic and glass containers around the carpet. Some of them were not completely empty.

I wash my hands and sit down at my computer, where I find an e-mail newsflash from the R-J reminding me what I learned yesterday from the Daily Beast: I live in the city with the stupidest population in the U.S. Following that is another flash about police in Louisiana finding the remains of a 12-year-old Las Vegas girl whose mom and boyfriend probably killed her and dumped her body in the wilderness.

My momma did not say there would be days like this. My momma said, “Count your blessings,” and “You reap what you sow,” and – my personal favorite – “Every cloud has a silver lining.” My momma said I would be famous, change the world and buy her a house someday with the millions of dollars I’d make in the movies or curing cancer or whatever Nobel Prize-worthy pursuit I chose. My momma said I could do anything I put my mind to.

I was always a good student, and I learned everything she taught me. As I was walking home today, I did feel ashamed for being so grumpy on such a pretty autumn day. Approaching my house, I realized how lucky I am to live in a nice area with big trees and friendly neighbors. I thought of the guy with the moped. Is he homeless? Chances are, he is. I opened my refrigerator to look for lunch, and wondered if there was some way I could share my blessings with him.

I used to believe you reap what you sow, but I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve seen Peter plant and fertilize and water plenty of crops that produced something completely different from what he expected, or nothing at all. Besides, that sowing-reaping expression smacks of the same annoying fatalism people reveal when they say, “I believe everything happens for a reason.”

I don’t believe that. I am certain some things happen for no reason whatsoever. Case in point: Carmen Electra’s fame.

I prefer the idea of karma. Generally, your attitude in life will determine how things work out for you. That’s not to say certain results shouldn’t be expected from certain actions (e.g., earning a master’s degree should improve your job prospects… shouldn’t it?). It just also takes into account that some things – like a child getting kidnapped and killed – happen by no fault of the person they strike. The part you can best control is how you handle what life throws at you.

Despite her Christian-based platitudes, in the big picture my mother was dead-on. I wanted to be a writer, and I am one. Work is scarce, but the way things are going, I’m lucky to have assignments at all. Besides, nobody stays in this business for the money; I love what I do. (Ma will have to buy her own mansion, I reckon.)

And there’s a silver lining lots of people in my position are starting to notice lately. For a writer, there couldn’t be a more compelling time and place to observe than Las Vegas in the Great Recession. It’s like having the opportunity to go back in time and document the Dust Bowl from Salina, Kan. Lots of excellent journalism will come of it, I predict. Some of it may be mine.

I may yet get that Nobel Prize, Mom. If I don’t, though, you can be sure I’ll handle it with the gratitude of someone who has walked her bike home, frustrated and scared, but surviving in hard times.

Written by Heidi Kyser

October 27, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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