Insomnia – Symptoms, Causes, Myths

Sleep Depredation Adversely Affects Your Body, Brain, Mood, Cognitive Function

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith
Sleep deprivation -- asleep at the wheel
Sleep deprivation — asleep at the wheel
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What is insomnia? Insomnia is a very common sleep disorder. It makes it hard to drift off to sleep, difficult to stay asleep, or lead you to waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep. It is not uncommon to still feel tired after you wake up. Insomnia can diminish not only your energy level and your mood but also your health, work performance, and your quality of life.

How many people suffer and what is the probable cause? The Mayo Clinic says, “At some point, many adults experience short-term (acute) insomnia, which lasts for days or weeks. It’s usually the result of stress or a traumatic event. But some people have long-term (chronic) insomnia that lasts for a month or more. Insomnia may be the primary problem, or it may be associated with other medical conditions or medications.”1 Some cases may be associated with the COVID-19 pandemic isolation.

What causes insomnia?

Symptoms of Insomnia

  • Waking up too early
  • Increased errors or accidents at work and at home
  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up in the night
  • Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
  • Difficulty paying attention consistently, focusing on tasks, or remembering things
  • Ongoing worries and concerns about your sleep
  • Daytime tiredness or sleepiness (nodding off at your desk, or worse, in your car)
  • Irritability, depression, confusion, or anxiety


Causes of Insomnia

This is not a one-size-fits-all ailment. It may just be happening on its own, other conditions can contribute to it, or be the primary cause. Medical treatment can be elusive as well. Melatonin can help. Treating the underlying cause may resolve your insomnia, but on the other hand, it can last for years. Possible causes include:

  • Travel or work schedule. Circadian rhythms function as an internal clock, managing such things as your sleep-wake cycle, metabolism, and your core body temperature. Disrupting these circadian rhythms can well result in a case of insomnia. Causes include jet lag from traveling across multiple time zones, exposure to too much blue light, working a late or early shift, or often changing shifts.
  • Eating too much too late. Having a light snack before bedtime is just fine, but compulsive overeating may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down. You might also experience heartburn, a nauseating backflow of acid and food from your stomach into your esophagus following eating, which can leave you wide awake.
  • And of course, Stress. Concerns about your work, grades at school, health, financial situation, or family circumstances can keep your mind alert during the night, making it difficult to sleep. Stressful life events or trauma like the death or illness of someone close to you, a pending divorce, or a job issues are recognized causes of insomnia.


Myths Regarding Insomnia

Like other medical conditions, there are pervasive myths about this one. WebMD2 has put together a list of the more common ones.

  • A drink will help you sleep. This myth probably persists because drinking alcohol can help you fall asleep. But as it moves through your body it may lead to disturbed, restless sleep, or it may make you wake earlier.
  • Insomnia Is strictly mental. It’s true that psychological issues can cause insomnia. As a matter of fact, stress is the No. 1 reason people report a lack of sleep. But it’s not the only insomnia trigger. Many things can cause insomnia, including poor sleep hygiene, illness, drug side effects, chronic pain, restless legs syndrome, or sleep apnea.
  • Screen time winds you down. You might want to try to wind down by reading on the computer or perusing TV before retiring, but that can actually stimulate you. The blue light and noise of TVs and computers can be overwhelming at a low level and can reduce brain melatonin levels. You want your melatonin levels to increase around bedtime to help you fall asleep. Need just a little noise to help you drift off? Try listening to relaxing music or download a relaxing, sleep app.
  • Sleep aids = risk-free. Yes, today’s sleeping pills are safer and much more effective than the older variety. But all meds have potential downsides, including dependency. Always talk to your primary care doctor before you reach for sleeping pills. Some help relieve insomnia symptoms temporarily but by themselves they can’t banish insomnia permanently. Fixing underlying health problems and fixing your sleep environment is usually the surest approach to insomnia.
  • I’ll just make up for lost sleep. Nope, it’s unlikely that you can really catch up on sleep you’ve mislaid. In fact, sleeping in one or two days per week or during the weekend may upset your natural body clock. The disruption may make it harder to get to sleep the next time. The only sure method to make up on your lost sleep is to get right back into a consistent sleeping schedule.
  • A nap will help offset insomnia. Naps are lovely, aren’t they? They affect everyone differently. For some, a short 10- to 20-minute cat nap siesta can be refreshing and put fuel in the old metaphorical tank. For people with insomnia, however, an afternoon snooze will decrease the brain’s sleep drive.
  • You can teach yourself to need less sleep. Believing this hocus-pocus can end you up with some serious consequences. We are all born with a fixed sleep need. Most adults fall into the 7-8 hour category. While you can learn to get by on less, you can’t teach your body to need less sleep. If you find yourself sleep deprived, it’s much more difficult to pay attention and remember things both important and trivial. Being consistently tired has some serious consequences. These include lowered work performance, a higher risk of mishaps, and of course, poor health.

If you have insomnia (as I occasionally do, by the way), don’t worry; you are not alone. Just knowing and understanding these insomnia symptoms, causes, and myths will go a long way towards understanding your condition and finding a solution that works for you. Me? I do just fine with late night melatonin and using blue light blocking glasses as I labor at my computer screen all day.

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References

  1. The Mayo Clinic, Insomnia, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167
  2. WebMD, Insomnia Myths and Facts, https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/ss/slideshow-insomnia


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Increase Energy with These 10 Habits

In a Slump? Missing That Get-up-and Go? Turn It around with These Behavior Changes

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith
Sponge Bob rarin' to go
Sponge Bob rarin’ to go
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We all have times when we feel that our batteries are less than fully-charged. In the dumps. Only firing on four pistons. The mayor of blahville. Whatever you call it, it can be an occasional or chronic disorder. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of people reporting both an elevated feeling of loneliness1 and the lack of energy.

The INDEPENDENT says, “The way in which our lives have transformed in such a short space of time has heavily impacted our daily routines, as many individuals no longer have to wake up at a certain time in order to be punctual for school or work. This has seemingly resulted in an increasing number of people experiencing “grogginess” amid the coronavirus pandemic2.

In a large part, your habits define your energy levels. If you have good habits, you’ll feel energized and be more resistant to burn out, both physically and mentally. On the other hand, if your habits are not lined up properly, you easily fall into a repetitive cycle where you feel worse and worse, until it’s a struggle just to keep up. Let’s look at 10 habits designed to increase your floundering energy levels.

  • Go to Bed Early. Ben Franklin famously said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” It was true then and it’s true now. Regardless of what some night-owls might tell you, seven to eight hours of snooze-time are the gold standard if you’re going to stay cognitively sharp in the long-run. Sleep deprivation is cumulative. WebMD says, “The amount of sleep a person needs goes up if they’ve missed sleep in previous days. If you don’t have enough, you’ll have a “sleep debt,” which is much like being overdrawn at a bank. Eventually, your body will demand that you start to repay the debt.”3 All sleep is not created equal though. You should aim to get as “deep” sleep as possible. How do you know? I use my Garmin 235 GPS sports watch. See the screenshot from the Garmin Connect site below.
Garmin 235 GPS sports watch sleep analysis screenshot
Garmin 235 GPS sports watch sleep analysis screenshot
  • Work Out at Least Six Days a Week. Working out, like weight loss/maintenance, is is a long-term investment in your energy levels. There is no finish line. It’s easy to slack off in the short-term, but over the long haul you’ll not only be less productive daily but you’ll reduce your overall fitness level, making it harder to think straight and stay alert throughout the day. Furthermore, recent research shows that aerobic exercise improves memory and grows brain cells.4 The reason for six days of activity rather than seven is to give your body a time for rest.
  • Nap Daily. Afternoon naps are not just for kids. Why do we forget that when we turn into “big people?” A twenty-minute nap in the afternoon after lunch is just the thing to top off your energy fuel tank for the afternoon to come. A siesta, if you will. As a special treat, come back with a good cup of strong coffee.
  • Plan Tomorrow’s Schedule of Accomplishments. Don’t make your first morning’s activity planning. It’s counter-productive. If you write down a schedule on the prior afternoon, in the morning you can hit the road running. Start with energy, work on your checklist, and keep up the momentum. Will you get it all done? No; not if you’ve given yourself enough work. Prioritize and do what you can. When it’s time to pull down the shutters and you’ve made the next day’s schedule, put it behind you and relax.
  • Set Long-Term Goals. Why long-term goals? Because they are made up of the sum of a line-up of short-term goals. If you focus on the the energy needed for the short-term goals, the long term ones will take care of themselves.
  • Pay Close Attention to Your Diet. Our primary source of physical energy is the food we eat. So, if you are aiming to keep your energy levels up, you should eat healthfully and organically and try to integrate the most nutritious foods into your diet. The energy that you derive from food is measured in calories. MedicalNewsToday says, “If we don’t consume enough calories our bodies may feel tired, as they don’t have enough ‘fuel’ to run on. At the same time, however, if we get too many calories, there’s a system overload, and we may end up feeling sluggish.”5
  • Indulge Yourself in Some Put Yoga, Meditation. Practicing yoga and meditation will also boost your energy levels. Why? Because these practices focus on techniques like mindful breathing that promote a state of calm which in itself is regenerative. It follows that if if your fatigue is due, at least partially, to elevated stress levels, making time for yoga or meditation as a routine self-care approach will make you more resistant to stressors.


  • Learn to Delegate Tasks. You probably feel stifled by your day-to-day responsibilities — from the small daily chores like as doing the dishes, to the less mundane like an important work project that comes with many ramifications. But if you fail to find a comprehensive strategy to redistribute some of your overwhelming responsibilities, at least from time to time, it will likely result in creeping burnout and a constant sense of fatigue in your day-to-day life. This is not at all conducive to your productivity, happiness, and energy level.
  • Do Your Hardest, Most taxing Work in the Morning. The benefits to your energy here are primarily psychological. Your energy level tends to depend a lot on your mood. If you’ve got some important work to do, your mood is likely to be good which fosters productivity. If your are forced to tolerate wasted time on playing email tag, drawn-out meetings, calls, or fail to produce something of substance, you will be frustrated and exhausted as you enter the second half of your work day.
  • Read Better Books! One of the greatest benefits of reading books isn’t just to impart to you new ideas and information. Consider that it’s to reinforce a state of mind that often occurs at your subconscious level. The best books to indulge in aren’t necessarily those that teach you facts, but those that subtly change your entire thinking patterns.

Adopting these 10 habits will increase your energy level right away and raise it to its full potential as time goes on. It will take constant reinforcement, but what worthwhile endeavour doesn’t?

References

  1. Kelly R. Smith, Loneliness as an Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic, http://www.icanfixupmyhome.com/WPBlog1/2020/07/12/loneliness-as-an-effect-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/
  2. Sabrina Barr, THE INDEPENDENT, Coronavirus: Why do people seem to feel groggy and tired during lockdown?, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/coronavirus-lockdown-tired-sleepy-fatigue-daylight-routine-a9450196.html
  3. WebMD, How Much Sleep Do I Need?, https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-requirements
  4. Kelly R. Smith, I Can Fix Up My Home Blog, Running Improves Memory, Grows Brain Cells, http://www.icanfixupmyhome.com/WPBlog1/2020/11/14/running-improves-memory-grows-brain-cells/
  5. Medical News Today, How can you boost your energy levels?, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321938

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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

The Effect of Blue Light Exposure on Eyes and Sleep

by Kelly R. Smith

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Anti-blue-light glasses protect eye health
Anti-blue-light glasses protect eye health

You might have heard about the effects of blue light on your eyes and sleep patterns. As we live longer, the more chance there is of our health being affected. Blue Light is the visible light located at the blue end of the light spectrum. Although not as energetic as ultraviolet (UV) light, there is some concern that high levels of blue light might cause more damage at the cellular level than longer wavelengths of visible light, which you perceive as the colors red through green. Exposure to blue light may have an impact on your sleep-wake cycle, compounding the problem with Coronavirus pandemic dreams.

Sources of Blue Light

Blue light occurs naturally. This is not really a concern. Where it gets troubling is adding in the light emitted from LED lights, cell phones, television sets, tablets, and laptop computers. Studies suggest that 60% of people spend more than 6 hours a day in front of a digital device (or near certain lights) so what did not used to be an issue is suddenly the elephant in the room.

Outside, light from the sun travels through the atmosphere. As it does, the shorter, high energy blue wavelengths collide with air molecules causing blue light to scatter everywhere. This is why the sky is blue. Interesting, yes?

Blue Light and Your Sleep

In its natural form, your body takes advantage of blue light from the sun to regulate your natural sleep and wake cycles.  This is called your circadian rhythm.  This light also helps boost alertness, heighten reaction times, elevate moods, and increase the feeling of well being. In the wintertime, when the period of sunshine is reduced, some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, symptoms begin in the fall and continue through the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody and glum.

Chronic exposure to blue light at night (binging on Netflix, gaming, social media) can lower the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, and disrupt your circadian rhythm. You can’t be expected to withdraw from activities, but over-the-counter melatonin supplements are quite inexpensive.

Blue Light and Your Eyesight

Blue light waves are some of the shortest, highest energy wavelengths in the visible light spectrum.  Since they are shorter, these blue, or High Energy Visible (HEV) wavelengths, flicker more than the longer, weaker wavelengths. This kind of flickering creates a glare that can reduce visual contrast and affect sharpness and clarity.

Your eyes’ natural filters don’t provide much protection against  blue light rays from the sun. The same is true of your devices or from blue light emitted from fluorescent-light tubes. Prolonged exposure to blue light is likely to result in damage to your retinas and contribute to age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to loss of vision.

How You Can Protect Your Eyes

Do what I do — wear anti blue light glasses. I wear them at the computer. They are inexpensive and give the screen a pleasant tint. My regular glasses have a coating that helps when I walk, run, or drive.

That’s the effect of blue light exposure on eyes and sleep. Welcome to the modern world. Please participate in the poll on the right-hand side of this page. I want to get a better feel about how others feel about blue light.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Melatonin Uses, Side Effects, Dosage, Benefits

by Kelly R. Smith

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Waking after a restful melatonin sleep
Waking after a restful melatonin sleep

Melatonin (5-Methoxy-N-Acetyltryptamine, MEL, Melatonina, Mélatonine, MLT, N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, etc.) is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and with sleep. Being exposed to light at night can block melatonin production. It’s hard to experience lucid dreaming if you’re busy counting sheep.

It is most commonly bandied about a cure for insomnia although other benefits are also being investigated. Although we would all like to think that melatonin is a panacea for all number of things, it is a bit more complicated, like using UV light to kill COVID-19 virus is.

Common Uses for Melatonin

  • Promoting regular, satisfying sleep. As mentioned above, some people take melatonin in pill form by mouth seeking to adjust their body’s internal clock. It is most commonly used for insomnia and improving sleep in different situations. For example, it is used for jet lag, for adjusting sleep-wake cycles in people whose daily work schedule changes (shift-work disorder), and for helping people establish a day and night cycle.
  • Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): At this time there is no research-based evidence to support using melatonin for COVID-19. That being said, people will latch onto rumors of efficacy.
  • Non-24-hour sleep wake disorder. Taking melatonin just at bedtime is reputed through anecdotal evidence to improve sleep in persons who are blind. We’ve all seen that commercial on TV.
  • Combating medications that lower melatonin levels. Some prescriptive drugs such as beta-blocker drugs for high-blood pressure, such as atenolol and propranolol, are a class of drugs that seem to lower melatonin levels. Supplementing is thought to replace them.
  • Relief for painful uterine disorder (endometriosis). There is anecdotal evidence that taking melatonin daily over an 8 week period seems to reduce the pain and associated painkiller use in women experiencing endometriosis. It also reduces pain during menstruation, intercourse, and while going to the bathroom.
  • Jet lag. Some research reveals that melatonin can significantly improve certain symptoms of jet lag including alertness and movement coordination. It also seems to slightly improve other jet lag symptoms like daytime sleepiness and tiredness. However, melatonin might not be as effective for lowering the time it takes for people with jet lag to fall asleep.

Side Effects

  • Interfering with pregnancy. A melatonin supplement may be unsafe for women when taken by mouth or injected into her body frequently and/or in high doses when she is trying to become pregnant. Melatonin might have effects similar to birth control. This might make it more difficult to become pregnant.
  • Breast-feeding. The jury is still out. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
  • Interactions with prescription medication. Always consult with your doctor if you are taking medications such as blood pressure medication.
  • Daytime sleepiness. There’s a reason it’s for sleep. Some might take it during the day as a “calm-down” measure but this is not recommended. But even when taking it at bedtime, Healthline.com says, “sleepiness is a possible problem in people who have reduced melatonin clearance rates, which is the rate at which a drug is removed from the body.”
  • Decreased body temperature. Melatonin causes a slight drop in body temperature. While this is generally not a problem, it could make a difference in people who have difficulty keeping warm.
  • Blood thinning. It may also cause a reduction in blood coagulation. Because of that, you should speak with your doctor prior to taking high doses of it with warfarin or other blood thinners.

Dosage

With regards to adults, the standard dosage used in studies ranges between 1 and 10 mg, but there isn’t currently a definitive “best-case” dosage. It’s widely believed that doses in the 30-mg range may be harmful. As an example, I take just 10 mg and sleep like a baby.

In fact, taking too much supplementary melatonin can actually disrupt your circadian rhythm (also called your sleep-wake cycle), and further disrupt what you are trying to deal with.

Bottom line? Melatonin uses, side effects, dosage recommendations, and benefits are important to know about before you go tinkering with your sleep patterns. Its use can be a Godsend in the right situation.


References:


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

10 Habits Result in a Slow Metabolism

Small Changes to Your Diet and Lifestyle Will Put Your Weight Loss in High Gear

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith
Where is your metabolism meter pinned?
Where is your metabolism meter pinned?
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This article was updated on 02/07/21.

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It’s no secret that our metabolisms slow down as we age. For most of us that means packing on the pounds. If you want to reverse that course of action, it’s not too late to begin. There’s no need to wait to make a New Years resolution. Just work on this list of bad habits that slow metabolism.

  • Do you skip breakfast? Unless you are practicing intermittent fasting, you shouldn’t. When you sleep, your metabolism slows. A hearty breakfast will kick it back into gear. While you are at it, try to include foods that contain probiotics, like yogurt with active cultures, to keep your gut in balance. Regularity is a good thing!
  • Or, are you eating the wrong things for breakfast? Donuts may be your convenient comfort food, but they aren’t doing you any nutritional favors. What you really need is fiber and protein. I usually go for my homemade bread; it has whole wheat and quinoa for protein and plenty of fiber, what with the steel-cut oats and wheat bran.
  • Are you sitting too much? An excess of butt-time triggers your energy-conservation mode. Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic only makes things worse. I work from home but I’m made aware when I’ve been at the keyboard too long by my Garmin 235 watch. It has a move bar that activates after sitting too long. A stroll around the block is enough to make it go away… until the next time. The National Health Service from the UK says, “Sitting for long periods is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, and break down body fat.”
  • Are you doing enough strength training? Resistance-based exercise keeps your heart rate, and thereby your metabolism, higher after you finish. The American Council on Exercise says, “Whether you lift weights, use resistance bands or use your own body weight for resistance, resistance creates microtears in the muscle tissue. As your body repairs these tears, muscle tissue grows and requires more calories to stay alive.” Cardio activities like running do this as well, just not for as long. Ideally, you should do both cardio and weights.
  • Are you eating enough protein? If not, you aren’t going to be able to build or even maintain muscle mass. As noted above, muscle mass is essential in keeping the motor that is your metabolism humming along. If you are a vegan you will need to be more creative to satisfy your protein needs. My oatmeal flax seed bread recipe is a good source as are beans and quinoa.
  • Are you drinking enough water? Most of us don’t. A study by The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that, “Drinking 500 ml of water increased metabolic rate by 30%. The increase occurred within 10 min and reached a maximum after 30–40 min. The total thermogenic response was about 100 kJ.” So drink up.
  • Are you stressed out? If you are then you’re producing the hormone cortisol. The effects? An increased appetite, less desire to exercise, an attraction to comfort foods, and reduced quality of sleep.
  • Are you getting enough dairy products in your diet? Milk, cheese, yogurt, and supplements are critical; research links dietary calcium intake to improved regulation of energy metabolism. The National Institute of Health, citing a Spanish study, concluded that, “Our results show that consuming dairy products is associated with a better metabolic profile in the Spanish population.”
  • Are you sleeping cool? As it turns out, snoozing in a room that’s about a cool 66ºF increases the level of brown fat. This fat is responsible for burning calories to generate heat. So chill out already.
  • Are you eating too much fast food? If you are, you are consuming a lot of high-fat content which takes more time to digest than leaner content. This, in turn, can slow down metabolism and stress compounds the problem.

So there you have it. These 10 bad habits result in a slow metabolism. The good news is that it’s easy to form new habits. So get on with it already.

References

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

People Experiencing Coronavirus Pandemic Dreams Should Learn Lucid Dreaming

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Lucid dreaming
Lucid dreaming

What are Coronavirus pandemic dreams? In a nutshell, they are dreams that are more intense, strange, and different from the dreams we experienced before society began grinding to a halt and required us to hunker down at home. Dreams are our way of coping with the day’s intense emotions. They happen when in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. The abrupt withdrawal from our usual environments and daily stimuli has moved many of us to new frontiers of dreaming. This makes it a perfect time to learn lucid dreaming. You can think of it as a late New Years resolution.

What is Lucid Dreaming?

At its basic level, during lucid dreaming, you are simply aware that you are dreaming as opposed to just “remembering” it for a short time after waking. As you get better at the technique you can gain control over the actions in the dream, specifically your actions. Obviously, this can make strange or scary dreams more palatable, but also more fun. Moreover, the practice of learning to lucid dream in order to stop nightmares from occurring or reoccurring is called lucid dreaming therapy.

I learned lucid dreaming years ago when I became fascinated with the concept. I had always been interested not only in the content of my dreams but I wondered why, when as a child, I had the same exact dream every Christmas Eve and another different one on Easter Eve. Both had been filled with symbolism but I was merely an observer. The ability to be a participant was impossible to resist!

Techniques for Learning to Lucid Dream

When practicing these techniques, keep in mind that success is more easily attained for some than others. The key is practice, practice, practice. Be patient; the payoff is well worth it. Make these techniques a daily ritual for the best results. Your abilities will only improve over time.

  • Reality testing: also referred to as reality checking, is a method of mental training. It increases metacognition by training your mind to notice your own awareness. To do this, first ask yourself several times a day, “Am I dreaming?” Next, examine your environment to confirm whether or not you are dreaming. There are several ways to do this. For example, check a clock or your watch several times. If the time only changes slightly this indicates wakefulness. If it changes more than that, you’re likely asleep. Or look in a mirror. Do you look right? Finally, examine your own consciousness and in what ways you’re engaging with your current surroundings.
  • WBTB (Waking Back To Bed): First, set your alarm clock for five hours after your bedtime. Next, go to sleep as usual. When your alarm wakes you, remain awake for 30 minutes indulging in a quiet activity such as reading a book. Obviously, don’t drink coffee. Finally, go back to sleep. This process will make your brain more receptive to lucid dreaming.
  • MILD (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams): MILD is conceptualized on prospective memory. This means a focus on an intention to do something later, in this case, to remember that you are dreaming. First, as you fall asleep, think of a recent dream you’ve experienced. Recall something that struck you as irregular or strange in the dream such as the ability to fly in the sky. Focus on returning to that specific dream while telling yourself that the thing you found strange only occurs when as you dream. As you do this, tell yourself, “When next I dream, I will remember that I’m dreaming.” Note here that MILD is more effective when you combine it with WBTB (if you’ve been dreaming when your alarm goes off).

Not only is lucid dreaming a helpful tool as we work through the new lifestyle of lockdown and experience Coronavirus pandemic dreams, but it will also be useful (and entertaining) when we finally get back to normal. Learn it now; you will look forward to bedtime.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

10 Habits of Highly-Successful Runners

by Kelly R. Smith

A healthy runner is a happy runner.
A healthy runner is a happy runner.
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Article edited on 10/28/18

By definition, we runners are creatures of habit. We simply don’t feel right if we miss a workout and sometimes push harder on the next one to make amends. This makes it a healthy habit in our eyes and occasionally just a bit on the kooky side in the eyes of our sedentary counterparts.

We are also goal-setters. This is easy for beginning runners when the opportunities are as open and unlimited as the blue west Texas sky. The first 5K, the first 10K and so it goes until we have marked off our bucket list so many pounds lost, that first marathon or ultramarathon.

But what happens after that? Do we crater? Hopefully not. Although I must admit that I don’t see as many of the old crew at the races as I used to. I don’t do as many as I used to anymore either; I just focus on the Texas Bridge Series.



But I do keep running. My goal now is just to keep running until I eventually lay down for that long, long dirt sleep, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t claim me. Now that is a worthy goal. With that in mind, lets look at some the 10 habits of successful runners. As I define success, it’s keepin’ on keepin’ on; with 5 ultras under my belt more distance isn’t the answer it once was. For you it might be still climbing that ladder of goals.

Do Your Strength Training. Many runners neglect the weight training and this is a mistake. Building and maintaining lean muscle mass balances us out and reduces the prospect of injury. There is a good reason that those in the know continually stress the importance of maintaining a strong core. Choose exercises that work the upper body, core and lower body. Shoot for 3 times a week. There is really no reason for a gym membership unless you need the swimming pool. Resistance bands are very economical and versatile and will even fit in your suitcase if you spend time on the road.

Chow Down on More Vegetables. You don’t have to adopt Michelle Obama’s school menu, but try to fit more organic veggies into your lunch and dinner meals. The point is that high-quality carbohydrates lend power to your workouts, and their antioxidants help keep the potentially damaging free radicals at bay.  Myself, I’m nuts about salad. Try to select vegetables of different colors since that virtually guarantees that you will get a broad range of nutrients and avoid nutrient deficiency. And don’t forget to add some cheese; calcium and protein are good things. That being said, don’t skimp on high-quality protein; it boosts metabolism and repairs muscle.

Make Running Your First Activity of the Day. After your coffee of course. You afternoon runners know the drill; the later it is in the day, the more things arise to threaten your workout. Plus the fact that it gives you altogether too much time to talk yourself out of it. And isn’t it worth the early wake-up call to already be endorphin-saturated when you are faced with the prospect of a boring meeting at the office? Enjoying another cup o’ joe? When you set your alarm before bed, be sure to allow enough time for your warm-up routine. Be sure to set out all your essentials the night before so you can plug ‘n play. That means shorts, shoes, socks, water bottle, etc.

Get in Some Cross-Training. As good as running is for us, it is very stressful on the body. Some swimming, spinning and time on the rowing machine will maintain your level of fitness while at the same time giving your joints a break. With that in mind, a couple of good times to work cross-training into your schedule is on the day before or the day after a hard run. I’ve found that some slow yet long lap swimming is just the thing to elevate my heart rate while also getting a great all-over stretch in.

Dump the Gadgets Once in a While. We have become obsessed with cell phones, GPS, earbuds blocking out the world and God knows what else. It will do your soul good to leave all that junk behind every now and again when you hit the road or trails; get out of your box. Enjoy the sights. Listen to your breathing. Smell stuff. Do something nice and redeeming that doesn’t reek of “me.” I run early in the morning and stop to pick up earthworms that have slithered up onto the sidewalk and lost their bearings. I toss them back into the deep grass before the ants can attack them like so many Lilliputians on Gulliver. Weird? Hell yeah, but you wouldn’t believe my karma bank account. Besides, all this will remind you of why you run in the first place.



Make Your Weekly Long Run a High-Quality One. If you are not already doing a weekly long run now is the time to start. They are not just to be used as part of a marathon program. The physical benefits are many including beneficial enzyme changes in you legs, new capillary growth, and musculoskeletal strengthening. Remember to follow the 10% rule to avoid injury—don’t bump up the distance more than 10% from one week to the next. If Saturday morning is your long run, Friday is a good candidate for a rest day. You might want to take your music with you; it can be lonely out there.

Be Your Own Cook. Try to say goodbye to restaurants, fast food places, and greasy spoons, at least for dinner and breakfast. Problem is, you can’t control the ingredients or portions when someone else is doing the culinary duty. Case in point: I tend to have high blood pressure and don’t need all the salt that they seem to administer with a front end loader. Can’t cook? Take a cooking class or just practice, practice, practice. Controlling quality an portions is especially important if you are on an intermittent fasting regimen.

Warm-up before Your Run and Stretch Afterwards. Many runners neglect these two steps and that’s just wrong. Warming up will loosen the muscles that you need limber in order to hit your stride. You might not feel like you need to stretch afterwards (you are already loose as a goose) but during cooling down your muscles will begin to contract rapidly. Static stretching, not ballistic, can prolong that action and reduce soreness. A foam roller can work wonders. Focus on your calves, hip flexors and hamstrings.

Slather on that Sunscreen. Running for hours and hours is a blessing and a curse as far as the sun is concerned. On the one hand, you don’t have to worry about a vitamin D deficiency. On the other hand, your chances of developing skin cancer go way, way up. As a general population, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer. Ouch. And that estimate also takes those milky-white goth folks into account. Try to use a sports sunscreen; it will not sweat off as easily.

Finally, Get Plenty of Sleep. Sleep is essential for all of us but it is especially critical for runners because the body undergoes some major repair action when we check into nod-land. In fact people that are taking statin medications to control cholesterol are advised to take it only at bedtime because that is when the blood really gets cleaned up.  Cutting back on sleep can cut the amount of glycogen that your body will store for fuel and may result in weight gain. And besides all those interesting facts, the dreams are just fun, right? If you want to boost the enjoyment level, work on developing your lucid dreaming abilities.

Hopefully, this article provided a bit of inspiration. If you need to work on one or more of these 10 habits of highly-successful runners, now is the time. Start working them in one at a time and chart your results. And have fun.


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I offer article and blog-writing services. Interested? Contact me for a quote!


Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.