Entries Tagged 'Caffeine' ↓

Skills for falling asleep, 2 of 2; news blasts for Haiti and Serbia

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 32 of 52.

Exhausted and sedated. Me in bed, 1999, trying to wake up

This post continues last week’s. That entry covers how when I was younger, suggestions for good sleep seemed few and far between, and psychiatry provided no help — in fact, the conventional mental health industry just made things worse, as in this very sad story, published Friday and written by a third-generation Chinese-Malaysian woman living in Kuala Lumpur: after Grace Tan developed insomnia brought on by understandable worries over her right eye’s inflammation, the prescription of twelve different sleep and other psychotropic drugs in a single year, including recommended force-feeding of pills, disabled her, a multilingual translator, world-traveler, and marathon-runner, to the point she’s now diabetic, jobless, and bedridden. There are better ways; perhaps we could pursue them.

Here in the United States, people — even many nominally “progressive,” thinking of themselves as imbued with correct politics — thump their chests and insist they’re fiercely independent rugged individualists who don’t care what others think or feel, but clear-eyed observation is enough to show that they’re, or we’re, stuck in comfort zones and at the mercy of predatory employers, landlords, politicians, and the rest; what’s more, the apotheosis of creating wealth for the wealthy (“work”) maintains a fearful climate in which USians, scared of what bosses think, don’t address their problems aloud, and instead, Gollum-like, quietly recast them as unique and innate specialnesses. The reality is, some 20% of USians take psychiatric drugs (estimates vary), so whatever the particular demons — opioids, alcohol, gambling, the list goes on — it’s likely neighbors and friends are in the same or a similar storm. Rather than die by keeping romanticized pain secret in order to uphold fake pride, let’s learn to enjoy strengthening ourselves, together.

Last week, I advised developing three skills for falling asleep: two related to mindset, and one, the information that’s helped me most with falling asleep, related to lighting. Now I’ll continue with a grab-bag of additional sleep suggestions, mostly revolving around falling asleep, but still touching on staying asleep and waking up promptly. After that, two very quick news blasts on Haiti and Serbia.

Ya gotta knows how to doze

The F&SF issue. Interesting reviews on Goodreads.

Lighting, extra. I discussed lighting and sleep in my 6 August ’21 post, but since then, I chanced across something neat on the topic. SF writer and amateur astronomer Jerry Oltion’s science column in the May/June 2021 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction covers, in a quick six pages titled Let there be light, the history of humanity’s lighting inventions. He starts with the naked eye and proto-humans gaining control over fire an estimated million years ago. Oltion then blazes through (see what I did there) the subsequent history: torches, animal fat lamps, vegetable fat lamps, the central draft fixed oil lamp in 1780 and the hunting of whales for it, candles (including some using beeswax and then paraffin), gas lighting in the 19th century, incandescent electrical bulbs, fluorescents, phosphorescent coating, sodium vapor streetlights, electroluminescence and various light emitting diodes (LEDs), and predicted future improvements to LED technology. There’s no tip in his text directly tied to falling asleep, but I think Oltion’s article is a handy, compact overview to have around on the subject for anyone wanting to delve in deeper.

Caffeine-laced tights. Not necessary, not revolutionary.

Ban caffeine. I don’t mean governments should ban caffeine necessarily (although they have before, and the FDA and US state governments have called or made caffeinated alcoholic drinks, blackouts in a can, illegal), but rather, you should ban caffeine from your own life — save for emergency use. Using a dramatic term like ban in my head helps me stay on the no-caffeine wagon. The very first posts to this blog, nearly thirteen years in the past (see here and here), focused on my trying to quit caffeine after admitting my life was to a great extent controlled by the stupid chemical. Really, it took me a decade of on-again, off-again to cut it out permanently! I basically never have caffeine nowadays. Imagine you’ve never had caffeine before. You’re at a baseline level of wakefulness as a result, assuming all else is equal. Now you have coffee. This is great! Enhanced energy is yours. You keep downing coffee each morning. After several mornings of this, you’re dependent: in the morning, prior to caffeinating, you feel miserable from withdrawal. Caffeinating no longer even brings benefits; merely deceptive pleasure that’s actually from just removing the withdrawal. That’s a theory of caffeine-researching scientists in a May 2008 New York magazine article, and it holds true in my experience. The journalist summarizes the scientists: for habitual users, the “positive feelings we associate with drinking coffee don’t represent a net gain in energy or alertness; they’re really the result of withdrawal maintenance.”

From what I’ve seen, only rarely using caffeine brings three amazing boons. First, you can keep some around for an emergency situation, or maybe for something like a job interview where you need to appear peppy. You can sip the caffeine once, reap real benefits, then immediately quit it again without suffering withdrawal. Second, whenever you wake up, you’re instantly ready to go without having to toddle to the beverage and drink it for permission to start your day. Third, cutting out caffeine helps tremendously with falling asleep. The New York article quotes psych professor and coffee researcher Laura Juliano: “You have people drinking caffeine all day and taking sleeping pills at night.” That’s madness! The article also quotes the director of a sleep lab, Charles Pollak: “We routinely ask patients who are insomniacs to discontinue the use of caffeine, or reduce it” But I say quit it entirely. It’s a physiological stressor, contributing hugely to the total amount of stress paralyzing whole populations. Consider that, maybe, you’re not a born failure with a broken brain; it’s pouring corporate sugar-caffeine junk down your throat daily that has a harmful effect on your mental state.

Uhura has had it. Via @swear_trek.

Yet there’s one barrier I haven’t been able to talk people trying to quit it through. Namely, they quit caffeine, then notice no improvement in their sleep problems, and then use that as proof that caffeine-drinking or lack thereof is irrelevant to their issues. They begin drinking it again (like I did during a decade of struggle). So once more: imagine. You’re onboard with Captain Kirk & co., flying through a gaseous planet’s unruly atmosphere. The Enterprise is struggling with five lightning bolt-crazed nimbus clouds, four tornadoes, three hurricanes, two dust devils, and a partridge doing LSD. Despite the dire situation, Spock, in the science officer seat, manages to take out one of the five nimbus clouds with a mighty volley of technobabble. “We’re down to four nimbus clouds, but it’s not any better,” Chekov complains. Then Kirk makes an astonishing decision. He says, “I can’t tell much difference either” — he raises an executive forefinger — “Spock, bring the fifth nimbus cloud back.” Spock narrows his famous brows. “Captain, I find your order illogical.” Kirk shrugs and says, “What is truth?” Surely now Uhura must lay down the law: In the quest to remove difficulties, fewer problems are better for the Enterprise than more, so regardless of the men’s foggy perceptions, there’s no good reason to resurrect the dangerous cloud. Don’t give up after overcoming just one threat; before it’s smooth sailing, the journeyers have to eliminate most or all of the weather hazards. In other words, to improve your sleep, you have to overcome multiple factors — caffeine, glowing screens, tobacco use, lack of exercise, ignoring routines and rhythms, and on and on — before noticing improvement and succeeding.

No more nicotine. Another stimulant to eliminate. As Madness Radio host Will Hall likes to point out, humans have been altering their states forever: it’s a major part of life and presumably always will be. So I don’t mean to be a prude. But coffin-nails should be for special occasions, if at all, and certainly abandoning your natural energy rhythms for cigarette boosts is a bad move. Anarchists buying corporate poison … shaking my damn head.

Avoid alcohol. A depressant to eliminate. To quote from the appendix of Dr Matt Walker’s excellent book Why We Sleep: “Having a nightcap or alcoholic beverage before sleep may help you relax, but heavy use robs you of REM sleep […] Heavy alcohol ingestion also may contribute to impairment in breathing at night. You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol have worn off.” Again, I find alcohol to be a special occasion thing. It does help me loosen up and play guitar better, especially around other musicians, yet the long-term solution to that is to figure out how not to be so stiff emotionally in the first place. When I go months and months without alcohol, I perform better in life overall, including for falling asleep.

Herbal tea to the rescue. To replace caffeine at coffeeshops, or “decaf” coffee which still has a bit of caffeine in it, order herbal tea. It’s caffeine free. There’s a variety of tasty types that offer a range of benefits for different ailments. Some herbal teas induce sleep, so they’re good to add to wind-down rituals. For that, I like Yogi Tea’s soothing caramel bedtime tea and Traditional Medicinals’ Nighty Night Extra.

Miss large meals and beverages late at night. A long-time practice of athletes. To stabilize sugar levels after the fast of sleep, have a little protein immediately upon waking and immediately before bed (almonds work for me). Following morning exercise, eat a huge meal, then taper the portion sizes down as the day progresses. Digesting large meals during sleep distracts the body from, well, sleeping. Too many fluids = gotta pee. However, if it’s really hot, be sure to drink enough water to protect against heat exhaustion and other heat hazards. With the conventional mental health system focusing on Are you still taking your meds? it might seem strange to emphasize so strongly what food and beverages we ingest and digest. But think about it. With arms and legs like rays off to the sides, the gastrointestinal tract is centrally located in the body, suggesting its central importance. The thermic effect of digestion burns lots of calories, i.e., the body expends massive energy on digestion, because it’s crucial. You are what you eat.

Stick to a schedule. Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, seven days a week. Otherwise, it’s like giving yourself jet lag. Monday through Thursday, you’re in a particular city; then you stay up on the weekend, as if flying to a different time zone. The weekend woefully ends, and it’s back to the first city, or maybe even off to a third time zone. No wonder people feel like garbage. When I’m arising at the same time each day, if one night I have to stay up late, then even if I procure only three or four hours of sleep total, I still manage to wake up and drag myself (without drinking caffeine!) to wherever on time. Walker says in his book’s appendix that sticking to a sleep schedule, to the point of setting an alarm if necessary for initiating wind-down, is his single most important tip.

Exercise, cardiovascular exercise in the mornings, do it. Professional athletes aside, don’t exercise hard in the evenings, as the energy can keep you up. In contrast, morning cardio, in my experience, is great for stabilizing someone and their sleep schedule. I like running, but some like swimming, others bicycling. In the past few months, I’ve been learning to jump rope, which is time-saving compared with distance running.

u/gogumara turns jump-rope into artful dance and makes it look easy

Cool temperature in the bedroom. Global warming heat-domes and wildfires don’t help, but if you can, keep your bedroom slightly cool, for instance by sleeping nude or nearly nude, perhaps with sweat-absorbing bamboo sheets (cooler than cotton). Also bamboo pillows and bamboo mattress protector. The ones linked are the ones I use and like.

Hot bath with magnesium flakes before bed. A warm bath is obviously relaxing, including for muscles and sinew. A bath slows you down, necessary preparation for entering and engaging in that enormous eight-hour task of sleeping, one-third of your life, take it seriously. Moving out of the bath means stepping into cold air, and that sudden temperature drop assists with inducing sleepiness (just like the cool temperature in the bedroom). Magnesium flakes are friggin’ expensive, but putting them in the bathwater will help with relaxation, muscle recovery following exercise, and falling asleep. Topical magnesium lotion for massage, same thing. I hear from my awesome primary care physician that there’s a lot more to the magnesium stuff; I just haven’t read much about it yet.

Sleep at night, not during the day. I try to always avoid napping. If I get little sleep on a night, I’ll still drive myself to endure till the next sundown, to keep my sleep schedule intact. That’s served me well. Some cultures have siestas; and admittedly, brief naps can be nice. Elders tend to nap because as people age, bodies apparently produce less melatonin, resulting in trouble with falling asleep, something Walker goes into in great detail about in his book (along with the connection between sleep loss and dementia). In the Why We Sleep appendix, Walker says not to nap after 3 p.m. Stay diurnal. Working at night especially wreaks havoc on humans. One of my favorite bands, R.E.M., conveys the hell of nightshift work in their fantastic 1998 song Daysleeper (“I see today with a newsprint fray / My night is colored headache gray / Don’t wake me …”).

It’s in 6/8 time, which unlike 4/4, somehow makes me think of sleep…

Don’t lie in bed awake if you can’t fall asleep. There are two biological systems governing sleepiness that operate independently of each other. One is our circadian rhythm, where, a little like a sine wave graphed across time, you involuntarily have more or less energy in cycles throughout the day. For instance, it’s well known that people have a slump in the early afternoon (when siestas are generally scheduled in some countries). Similarly, people sometimes get second-wind energy boosts if they stay up super late, as their rhythm fluctuates. Distinct from these circadian waves is adenosine. It’s the “sleep pressure” molecule that simply accumulates in the brain the longer we go without sleep, making us tireder and tireder as time goes on, a positive linear slope, until we finally collapse. Thus, getting in bed for sleep right when your circadian rhythm starts supplying you with a natural energy boost might prevent you from falling asleep. Lying there for hours won’t help; it’ll make you only more anxious about sleep. So get up, keep the LEDs and loud music off, and do something simple like sit in a warm bath reading something not too thought-provoking. The adenosine will add up, and the circadian crest will eventually turn toward a trough, and you’ll be ready for nighty-night. Even fungi and cyanobacteria have circadian rhythms; you can’t fight millions of years of Nature’s rhythms, so learn them and work with them. For instance, I believe there are distinct names for the various cycles in a human’s daily circadian rhythm. I don’t yet know the names; learning them would be a good first step toward being able to identify which precise phase I’m in as I go throughout my days and nights.

What kind of globetrotter wants to carry this CPAP crap around the world with them? Image source.

Sleep position. When I was very little, I decided to sleep on my back. I reasoned that if I slept face down, the additional weight from my body would push my heart to beat faster, tiring it out sooner and leading to an earlier death. For some reason I don’t remember, I didn’t consider sleeping on my side, maybe because I found it uncomfortable. Fast forward to my thirties, when now I snore some. The medical industry would want to throw a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine at me (pictured) to combat the apnea/snoring, which is literally gasping for air. That gasping seriously disrupts sleep quality and in very bad cases, it can even kill people in the night. See for instance Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, for whom — in addition to cocaine, alcohol, and other drugs — sleep apnea was a contributing cause of her 2017 death. Well, you know me, I want solutions to increase, not decrease, autonomy. I learned that relative to sleeping on your back, side-sleeping, especially with your head propped up by a big pillow and a hand or two, increases airflow. You want to sleep on your left side because, among other reasons, your small intestine empties to the left, meaning if you sleep on your right side, you’re asking your digestive tract to work uphill for eight hours. I started sleeping on my left side. My sleep quality increased dramatically — I was far more rested the next days — and a co-sleeper confirmed the snoring decreased significantly, enough so she wasn’t bothered. But then I had another problem! My left arm felt tingly during the days, asleep along the left side and left pinky, some sort of odd nerve problem. Via online forums, I learned this is actually a common complaint people have when they start side-sleeping. Maybe the additional body weight newly pressing down on the left side all night long? I asked a sleep doctor about it and predictably, the professional knew not a damn thing. Like a knee hit with a hammer, the doc just spat out predictable responses to whatever I said, no better than if I’d simply searched WebMD.com. Anyway, after an MRI ruled out certain serious worries, I had a nerve test done, where they stuck needles into my left arm and sent electrical jolts into it to move my fingers, just like how in ordinary life, the brain sends electrical jolts to do the same. It was pretty cool! This neurology test identified the problem as originating in my left elbow. So, they narrowed it down. I then adjusted how I splay my arms as I’m falling asleep. I continue putting my right hand sandwiched between the pillow and my head, raising my airway. But I stick my left arm out in such a way as to keep pressure off the elbow. That approach reduced the tingly, arm-asleep issue somewhat. Yet during the night, I sometimes move my arms around involuntarily, meaning it’s unpredictable how much pressure the left arm will get and how much it’ll tingle the following day. The neurologist also gave me a pad to wear around my left elbow during sleep, but I haven’t experimented with it yet, my bad. I do hypothesize that perhaps the whole problem is due to being slightly overweight, and that fixing that by continuing to taper off the psych drugs would help restore normal sleep, maybe making the left arm issue less of a deal somehow? We’ll see.

Sounds like bedtime. Some find that playing white noise or other soothing sounds helps them fall asleep. It can smooth out the random jarring sounds from the outside world, like dogs barking or cars backfiring or, heaven forbid, gunshots, screaming, etc. Luckily, I tend to automatically tune out urban noise, at least here in Seattle, when falling asleep. I know some people find success with earplugs. I used to co-sleep with someone who played ocean sounds when falling asleep, and it was nice because I started associating the ocean sounds with her. That was years ago. Experiment to find whatever works…

Me reading in some bed or other, 1999. Oops.

Use the bed for only sleep and…? If you read advice on sleep, there’s a standard phrase advising readers to use the bed for only sleep and sex. The idea is that mentally associating the bed with non-sleep activities makes it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. But why use the bed for sex, then, since sex isn’t sleep? I asked a sleep doctor the question once, many years ago. He admitted there’s no reason other than convenience. So ideally, partners or someone engaging in solo-sex would use a separate location (such as another bed if there’s one available, or more creative ideas), keeping the sleep-bed dedicated to just that one purpose. Many will read for prolonged durations in bed, but that can be problematic, associating the bed with mental effort instead of with chilling and slowing down. This also means leave your glowing gadgets out of the bedroom. Remember, sleep is a major component of your life, so it makes sense to have an area dedicated exclusively to it.

Run away from psychiatrists. Getting hooked on sleep-inducing psychopharmaceuticals is, well, a bad idea, as Grace Tan’s story linked in this post’s first paragraph illustrates. Scary articles about bizarre Ambien behavior pop up regularly. If I use an anti-anxiety benzodiazepine to aid in falling asleep, the next day my mind usually feels fragmented, like all the pieces of memory and emotion from the previous day haven’t been sorted by sleep, giving me no fresh start. A little melatonin is not too bad to take sometimes, especially to cope with unavoidable problems like jet lag. It’s a naturally occuring endogenous hormone. But if you’re doing well with sleep overall, a mere two or three milligrams of melatonin in rare instances is definitely enough — I’ve seen melatonin for sale in stores in single pills of 10 milligrams each, which is crazy excessive, and I can picture people sadly taking it daily after drinking corporate sugar-caffeine all hours.

In Why We Sleep, Walker writes in chapter 14:

“Results, which have now been replicated in numerous clinical studies around the globe, demonstrate that [cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia] is more effective than sleeping pills in addressing numerous problematic aspects of sleep for insomnia sufferers. [The therapy] consistently helps people fall asleep faster at night, sleep longer, and obtain superior sleep quality […] More importantly, the benefits of [the therapy] persist long term, even after patients stop working with their sleep therapist. This sustainability stands in stark contrast to the punch of rebound insomnia that individuals experience following the cessation of sleeping pills. So powerful is the evidence favoring [the therapy] over sleeping pills for improved sleep across all levels, and so limited or nonexistent are the safety risks associated with [the therapy] (unlike sleeping pills), that in 2016, the American College of Physicians made a landmark recommendation […] Published in the prestigious journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the conclusion from this comprehensive evaluation of all existing data was this: [cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia] must be used as the first-line treatment for all individuals with chronic insomnia, not sleeping pills.”

Ergo, the funny little men in white coats aren’t the answer, as the popular two-minute novelty song from 1966, embedded below and created by one-hit wonder Napoleon XIV, hints (“the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time…”):

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia strives to alter basic behaviors and beliefs around sleep. I’m not sure individuals actually need such therapists, though. Therapists can get their clients confined in mental hospitals or hooked on drugs. Maybe just read this post, or Walker’s book, or similar, and implement the ideas yourself? You likely gain more confidence and autonomy that way, anyhow.

Wind-down ritual. It’s good to have a soothing evening ritual that you do daily to slow down and prepare for bed. Mine basically involves checking in with my logbook followed by a hot bath with herbal tea. I’ll read something non-challenging while bathing, to take my mind off things. Nowadays, as night approaches, I really look forward to my wind-down ritual.

Variety, spice, life. Some things I recommend might not work for you; your mileage may vary. For instance, sleepers seem to differ greatly when it comes to napping or preferences for soothing fall-asleep sounds.

Horror stories. Matt Walker’s book Why We Sleep is packed with terrifying facts about just how badly living short on sleep screws up your physical health, your mental health, and your performance on tasks, including intellectual and creative ones. Consider the harm bad sleep inflicts on physical health (chapter eight in his book): scientists conducted

“carefully controlled experiments with healthy adults who had no existing signs of diabetes or issues with blood sugar. In the first of these studies, participants were limited to sleeping four hours a night for just six nights. By the end of that week, these (formerly healthy) participants were 40 percent less effective at absorbing a standard dose of glucose, compared to when they were fully rested. To give you a sense of what that means, if the researchers showed those blood sugar readings to an unwitting family doctor, the GP would immediately classify that individual as being pre-diabetic. They would start a rapid intervention program to prevent the development of irreversible type 2 diabetes. Numerous scientific laboratories around the world have replicated this alarming effect of short sleep, some with even less aggressive reductions in sleep amount.”

Or the harm bad sleep inflicts on mental performance: “Sleep six hours or less and you are short-changing the brain of a learning restoration benefit that is normally performed” — a big reason why early school start times impair young learners. Also drowsy-driving car accidents: “This coming week,” Walker writes, “more than 2 million people in the US will fall asleep while driving their motor vehicle”, usually micro-sleeps, such that per car, “there is now a one-ton missile travelling at 65 miles per hour, and no one is in control” even if only briefly. He adds, “Shamefully, governments of most developed countries spend less than 1 percent of their budget educating the public on the dangers of drowsy-driving relative to what they invest in combating drunk driving.”

At the end of the book, Walker concludes:

Within the space of a mere hundred years, human beings have abandoned their biologically mandated need for adequate sleep — one that evolution spent 3,400,000 years perfecting in service of life-support functions. [… This] is having a clear [negative] impact on our health, our life expectancy, our safety, our productivity, and the education of our children. This silent sleep loss epidemic is one of the new public health challenges we face […] a radical shift in our personal, cultural, professional, and societal appreciation of sleep must occur. I believe it is time for us to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep, without embarrassment or the damaging stigma of laziness. In doing so, we can be reunited with that most powerful elixir of wellness and vitality […] Then we may remember what it feels like to be truly awake

Good news. If you prioritize sleep, you now have a secret weapon. You’re no longer a sleep-machismo type, self-sabotaging by needlessly burning the candle at both ends and bragging about how few hours you sleep. Instead, you’re stronger and healthier, more attractive, more productive, and more creative! Walker makes up a fictional advertisement for sleep:

Amazing breakthrough! Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?

“The ad,” he explains, describes “the proven benefits of a full night of sleep.” Imagine doctors putting that on a prescription pad!

Brick by brick. If this all feels overwhelming, simply pick one bullet-point to experiment with and implement in your life. Baby steps. It’s better to spend a month mastering a single improvement than it is to not do anything or try to do everything at once and fail. And remember, if you implement simply one little thing, you, like Chekov and Kirk, might not notice improvement. You just have to keep going, adding more bullet-points until you finally do succeed. Good luck!

News blasts: Haiti and Serbia

Haiti. My posts two weeks ago and last week discussed the assassination of tyrannical Haitian president Jovenel Moïse just a little over a month back. As recently as June, intense gang violence in the capital city was displacing thousands and contributing to buildings being burned down and to rape. The assassination then added more instability in a place already suffering from famine. Now, on Saturday morning, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck western Haiti. The prime minister Dr Ariel Henry said on Twitter the Haitian government will declare a state of emergency. While the earthquake this morning, because of its location, isn’t as devastating as the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010 that destroyed critical infrastructure and killed hundreds of thousands, today’s disaster has killed hundreds so far and significantly adds to the chaos in the country. On August 2, the UN Security Council said the possibility of a peacekeeping mission in Haiti has been formally raised; this morning’s earthquake increases the odds that will happen, I suspect. I’ll continue news-blasting about the unsolved assassination next week.

Update Sunday August 15: More than 700 deaths in Haiti due to the earthquake now, according to the Haitian civil protection office, which also notes nearly 3,000 injured and nearly 7,000 homeless. The tropical storm Grace is hitting the country, too, with heavy rains forecast for Monday, further complicating relief efforts. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states in a 3-page PDF report from today that the “quake could not have come at worst time for Haiti, which is still reeling from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on 7 July and escalating gang violence which has resulted in the internal displacement of around 19,000 people in the country’s southern peninsula, greatly worsening an already precarious humanitarian situation, with some 4.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance prior to the quake.” The report also says their Emergency Operations Centre “has been fully activated and search-and-rescue operations are ongoing with support from international partners. Preliminary assessments are being carried out under the leadership of national authorities, but it will likely take days, if not weeks, to fully assess the scale of damages and humanitarian needs.” The most urgent humanitarian needs are likely to be for medical assistance, water, sanitation, and hygiene. Here are photos from the earthquake compiled by NPR.

Badassery in Serbia. Yesterday the AFP published this fun article: Cave hermit gets COVID-19 vaccine, urges others to follow. Below, I embed a photo from the article and the 90-second video the AFP posted on twitter.

70-year-old Panta Petrovic: “The coronavirus does not pick. It will come here to my cave, too.”

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Skills for falling asleep, 1 of 2; Haiti news blast

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is number 31 of 52.

The photo shows a child in bed reading. The child is me.
Me in bed reading, 1988

From my teens until my early thirties, the whole ordeal of trying to fall asleep was a nightmare for me. I was frequently late for high school; a gruff principal, patrolling the hallways, would bark “Why are we late!” at me as I dragged myself into the prison-like building. I never had an answer for him. Subsequently, paid-jobs were a challenge back then too, as a result of the sleep problem. Psychiatrists generally said there was little to nothing I could do about it, besides swallow their pills and pay their bills. Many people, not just psychiatrists, told me I was defective and needed to get on federal disability. There seemed to be no answers anywhere.

Later I learned a lack of skills was a common issue among prep-school graduates. I think the private K-12 idea was that youth needed to be taught to decline Latin nouns in all five declensions (poeta, poetae, poetae, poetam …), but the very stuff making up much of life — cooking, cleaning, and or even readying to fall asleep — didn’t need to be taught. Instead, it was to be dispatched by paid caregivers in the shadows, so the soon-to-be adult aristocrats, for their careers, could rearrange paperwork abstractions for banks or thinktanks or their parents’ businesses. Though I use the words tips and suggestions below, I really mean skills, abilities people have to learn or figure out; humans aren’t born knowing these things, so if they aren’t taught them and are too short on time or too weakened by corporate destruction to discover them for themselves…

As regular readers of this blog (or my twitter feed) know, across the last six or so years, I’ve intensely studied various health topics and dramatically changed my health practices accordingly. Nowadays, I’m able to fall asleep fine and get up regularly at, say, 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., to go jogging and then work public school substituting assignments lasting a month or more. Just this past workweek, I had to stay up till 4 a.m. creating detailed lesson plans — a requirement for a course I’m taking to get certified in teaching English to speakers of other tongues — yet after finishing, I was able to nab three, four hours of sleep and still trust myself to wake up in time to start, at 9 a.m., teaching the language learners from around the globe with the instructor watching, grading my performance. Clearly I’ve figured out some things about sleep.

I wish I’d learned these sleep skills earlier in life — as many do, especially those with strong employment histories — so in case others haven’t yet, below I provide tips for falling asleep. I don’t directly address the challenges of staying asleep or waking up promptly, though my suggestions will also aid individuals struggling with those two issues. I should note this post is written from the perspective of a single guy in his mid-life. I’ve occasionally had noisy roommates nearby, or partners with whom I’ve co-slept, but I can’t tell you the first thing about what it’s like to simultaneously deal with sleep and an infant, or other parenting circumstances.

Below I discuss three skills for improving sleep, especially falling asleep; next week I’ll finish up with additional ones. After the three sleep-improving suggestions, I’ll provide a news blast for the assassination in Haiti.

How to catch Zs with ease: three ideas

Recognize sleep’s importance. Imagine you spend a third of your life practicing the saxophone. Every day, for approximately eight hours total, you play scales and arpeggios, rehearse great saxophone songs, improve your sight-reading, learn how to repair the instrument, and more. Then a wild jerk appears and jabs his finger at you, saying, “If you dedicate a third of your lifespan to the saxophone, you should simply ignore the details and let whatever happens happen.” Obviously, the dude’s line of thought is ridiculous. Becoming an excellent saxophonist requires developing many different skills, planning and carrying out practice regimens, identifying and pursuing specific artistic goals, and so on. Ignore all that and your saxophone dream is over. Yet people with trouble sleeping often treat their problem the exact same way as the jerk. I did; confronting the challenge was too overwhelming: I was so far behind my peers that it was easier to make up postmodern reasons for why falling asleep well supposedly wasn’t worth worrying about (and I didn’t understand it was a skill I could study and develop). Almost everyone on Earth is going to spend a gigantic chunk of their lifetime asleep, maybe even a third of it, plus the time spent arranging sleep. So, sleeping is one of the biggest components of being alive. Therefore treat it as such, respectfully: read about sleep, experiment with different sleep practices, talk with friends about sleep, etc. Educate yourself on the topic.

To get good sleep, you have to fight for it (gently) every single day. Embedded immediately below is a 23-minute youtube video titled “Good Sleep — A Key to Good Mental Health: Ideas of a Former Therapist” by Daniel Mackler. The video has lots of helpful tips for good sleep, particularly in terms of mental health and psychosis. I really recommend watching it. The best concept I personally took away from the video is his idea that daily, you have to pour effort into ensuring you’ll get good sleep that night. He puts it like this: “The conscious part of me has a job, has a responsibility to set up my life so that I can sleep well.” To put it my own terms, each day, including each evening, the world will conspire to keep you up late or to otherwise ruin your sleep. For example, friends/family/telemarketers/spammers will call or message, enticing you to stay up and talk instead of winding down for bed. Capitalism will insist that resting is weak and that strength is burning the candle at both ends, as with the leech (“middleman”) company Fiverr’s advertisement from New York City subway cars, pictured above. Frightening or distracting noise might pollute your environment, preventing you from calming down for sleep. If you don’t battle these things daily, if you just ignore it all and let whatever happens happen, the myriad enemies of good sleep will completely take over. You have to battle for your sleep; for instance, by the late afternoon, start thinking ahead about how to ensure you’ll get enough good sleep that night.

Lighting and glowing screens. Cutting out light, especially glowing screens, as the night approaches has been the single biggest improvement for my sleep — ever. Quoting from chapter thirteen of the excellent book Why We Sleep by neuroscientist Dr. Matthew Walker:

“Before Edison, and before gas and oil lamps, the setting sun would take with it […] daylight from our eyes, sensed by the twenty-four-hour [circadian] clock within the brain […] tiredness, followed by sleep, would normally occur several hours after dusk across our human collective. Electric light put an end to this natural order of things. It redefined the meaning of midnight for generations thereafter. Artificial evening light, even that of modest strength […] will fool your [brain’s] suprachiasmatic nucleus into believing the sun has not yet set […] Sleep in modern humans is delayed from taking off the evening runway, which would naturally occur somewhere between eight and ten p.m., just as we observe in hunter-gatherer tribes. Artificial light in modern society […] tricks us into believing night is still day […] Artificial evening and nighttime light can therefore mimic sleep-onset insomnia — the inability to fall asleep within twenty-five minutes. By delaying the release of melatonin, artificial evening light makes it considerably less likely that you’ll be able to fall asleep at a reasonable time […] Just when things looked as bad as they could get for the suprachiasmatic nucleus with incandescent lamps, a new invention in 1997 made the situation far worse: blue light-emitting diodes, or blue LEDs […] evening blue LED light has a more harmful impact on human nighttime melatonin suppression than the warm, yellow light from old incandescent bulbs, even when their lux intensities are matched [… humans] stare at LED-powered laptop screens, smartphones, and tablets each night, sometimes for many hours, often with these devices just feet or even inches away from our retinas […] It has a very real impact on your melatonin release, and thus ability to time the onset of sleep [… in a study,] Compared to reading a printed book, reading on an iPad [glowing screen] suppressed [sleep-inducing] melatonin release by over 50 percent at night. […] iPad reading delayed the rise of melatonin by up to three hours […] Unsurprisingly, individuals took longer to fall asleep after iPad reading relative to print-copy reading […] individuals lost significant amounts of REM sleep following iPad reading […] the research subjects felt less rested and sleepier throughout the day following iPad use at night [… also there was] a lingering aftereffect, with participants suffering a ninety-minute lag in their evening rising melatonin levels for several days after iPad use ceased — almost like a digital hangover effect.

Emphasis added

Occasionally people say “dark mode”-type settings on digital devices help, but I doubt they help very much, since the problem existed severely enough with mere incandescent bulbs prior to 1997 and the invention of blue LED light. And it’s an option provided by the foxes who are guarding the henhouse.

Ideally, as the evening ends and night arrives, I shut off all glowing screens — hopefully around 8 p.m. — though sometimes paid or unpaid work requirements interfere. I use either natural light from windows, and/or soft warm yellow light from incandescent bulbs, to conduct my night-time routine (e.g., reading a non-challenging book in the bathtub prior to bed). As soon as I can, I turn off those incandescent bulbs, too. I make my bedroom as pitch-black as possible. And, right before bed, I don’t take one last quick look at my email: even a few seconds of that artificial glow is enough to falsely tell your brain it’s suddenly daylight.

Recently, when I was visiting Texas, I stayed in a motel room with a smoke detector on the ceiling straight above the pillows. A little green light on that smoke detector glowed all night long above my eyes. So the next day, I obtained duct tape and covered the light up. Elsewhere in the motel room, I used handtowels to block various lights, such as the glowing display on the air-conditioning unit. A pitch-black bedroom helps hugely.

From time to time, I go to one of West Seattle’s beaches in the evening to watch the sunset, which seems to help regulate sleep.

The sun is wonderous, gifting us all life free of charge (yep, everything in life is free), but artificial light pollution, particularly in urban environments, is an under-discussed problem. I really recommend, from Adam Kendall’s blog Ideas for saving the world, the post “Fixing light pollution.” I’ll excerpt it:

I think every street light should have a lid on top of it, so the light doesn’t go up into the sky. I think every building taller than 10 floors should have all their lights turned off from 10pm to 6am every night. I think every building between 5-10 floors should have all their lights turned off from 11pm to 5am. I think every street light except for those at crosswalks and street intersections should be turned off from midnight to 4am every night. I think every household should get four to eight free trees to plant around their house, so that the tree cover blocks household light from escaping into the sky. I think every street should be lined and covered with trees too, to help block the light from escaping into the sky. While doing all of that wouldn’t eliminate all light pollution, it would reduce it by a lot, enough to be able to go to a city park at night and see a night sky filled with stars as if you’re in the wild. Our cities should be lit up at night by the stars in the sky, not our artificial light. Turning cities dark at night would be good for the environment too. Our light pollution is drastically harming the lives of nocturnal species. It effects the migration patterns of birds. Cities are basically dead zones for all non-human species, and as cities continue to grow and take up more land, it’s creating the next great mass extinction period. Also, seeing the night sky is spiritually and mentally beneficial to people, it helps us connect with the earth, it helps us to connect with life and the universe when we’re able to see the night sky.

Next week I’ll continue with my remaining tips for falling asleep; for now, I’ll conclude with a fun, memorable quotation from sleep researcher Dr. William C. Dement: “Sleep is delicious!”

News blast: Assassination of Haitian president

The color image is a screengrab from Al Jazeera. It shows the Haitian president boasting, with the translated caption: "I don't see how there is anyone, after God, who has more power than me in the country."
He finally saw

Today’s news blast continues the news blast from last week, which discusses the 7 July ’21 assassination of tyrannical Haitian president Jovenel Moïse. Unless you’re really familiar with this situation, you might consider reading or re-reading last week’s news blast before continuing to my next paragraph. Also, the 4-minute “Start Here: Murder in Haiti” segment from Al Jazeera, embedded below, is useful for catching up on the basics of what happened, though the video is from July 8 and thus quite old, in relative terms.

The day Moïse died (with twelve gunshot wounds and an eyeball gouged out), the United Nations Security Council condemned the assassination and then the next day privately met at their in-NYC-but-not-in-NYC (extraterritorial) headquarters to hear from the representative of Haiti. Don’t you wish we all had a transcript and footage of that opaque meeting?

I wonder how little or how much the United Nations Security Council (which includes such unlovely permanent members as the Chinese government) understands about the assassination — on August 2 (just a few days ago), the Security Council president said:

“the issue of a possible peacekeeping mission in Haiti has formally been raised and discussions are ongoing.  The main concern right now is the safety and security of the United Nations mission currently operating in Haiti.”

On July 8, UN special envoy Helen La Lime told reporters that Haiti made a request for security assistance from the United Nations. That same day YAC.news commented bluntly: “A UN-styled military intervention may be considered, however, the [capital city’s] ongoing gang war that’s displaced 14,700 people make[s] the prospect challeng[ing].”

Seemingly no one among the worldwide public fully understands this assassination for sure, but without knowledge of the setting, nobody can get very far in figuring it out. Agence France-Presse news correspondent Amélie Baron, located in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, describes the context of the country in her passionate 24 July article “Asking the right questions in Haiti.” I’ll excerpt parts of her lengthy, amazing article:

“These days, my phone rings off the hook. “Why was Jovenel Moise assassinated?” […] The country is effectively missing from French history books. Despite listening to hours of lectures about the Napoleonic wars during my time at university in the French city of Nantes, I never heard the names Toussaint Louverture or Jean-Jacques Dessalines — heroes of Haiti’s independence movement against France, the colonial power […] the idyllic beaches of Haiti that were swamped with high-class tourists in the 1970s were no longer featured in tourist guidebooks – while tourism is all the rage in the Dominican Republic […] Because contemporary history cannot be learned in books, I decided to head to Port-au-Prince in February 2005 — my first trip on my own, and my first time out of Europe […] The country is seen as one of the most corrupt in the world […] Today, prisons [in Haiti] are massively overcrowded, full of men who are too poor to pay for a lawyer that could or would even want to take their case. Housed in dire conditions, they wait months, sometimes years to see a judge […] Funnily enough, only in rare cases do people with money end up in prison. They never even get arrested […] Why do some media outlets choose to call Haiti the “poorest country in the northern hemisphere” (debatable) rather than “the first black republic in history,” which is a more lasting and positive truth?

Regarding Haiti and its independence movement which concluded in 1804 and yet is missing from French history books — and history books here in the United States — an intriguing fact is that Bug-Jargal, first published in 1826 and one of the early novels of the late writer Victor Hugo, better known today for his novels The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables, is set during the Haitian revolution. There are translations into English, but I’ve never read them (nor the French original).

So who were Moïse’s assassins, and who were the masterminds? Interpol, the United States including the FBI and Homeland Security, Colombia, and the Haitian police have all been investigating. On July 9, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Haiti requested security and investigative assistance from the United States and claimed “the investigation is being led by Haitian police forces on the ground.” With the reputation the FBI has for overpowering investigations by local and state cops in the US, I find that hard to believe. Haitian police did engage in a firefight with some of the suspected killers on July 8, so I imagine the Haitian cops have been mighty pissed off about the assassination.

Haiti elections minister Mathias Pierre, in a July 10 interview with the Associated Press, said the Haitian police force is weak and under-resourced, and “small troops” are needed from neighboring countries to prevent chaos. In that article the AP journalists write:

“The stunning request for U.S. military support recalled the tumult following Haiti’s last presidential assassination, in 1915, when an angry mob dragged President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam out of the French Embassy and beat him to death. In response, President Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines into Haiti, justifying the American military occupation — which lasted nearly two decades — as a way to avert anarchy.”

The Haitian police identified the suspected gunmen as either 26 or 24 Colombians and two South Floridians originally from Haiti but US citizens: 35-year-old James Solages and 55-year-old Joseph Vincent. Haitian police also said three of the assailants were killed in a shoot-out, but that might have been seven of the assailants; I don’t have the original source material and apparently there’s information discrepancies from the Haitian police anyway. The supplied details of the situation have been unclear and shifting.

That’s enough for today — I need to take my own advice and go to sleep — but next week, I’ll resume news-blasting about the Moïse assassination, including some discussion of Colombian paramilitary groups, the environment from which some of the suspects came. If you want to continue reading about the assassination yourself, I suggest these links: here, here, here, here, here.

James Solages, viewer’s left, Joseph Vincent, second left, paraded before the media by Haitian police on July 8. Photo by Joseph Odelyn for the Associated Press. Does anyone have the names of the four other men?

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This blog post, Skills for falling asleep, 1 of 2; Haiti news blast, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/08/06/fall-asleep-skills1-news-haiti/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net