The Chronicles of Insomnia

I’m awake. Maybe it’s the ringing in my ears or the wind outside or any of a dozen notions that are rolling around in my head. Whatever it is, instead of fighting it, I just got up. Fighting insomnia is a losing battle. I try not to look at the clock, but I can’t help myself. Then, I’m counting the hours until my alarm goes off, and the math keeps me awake. Damn you, math.

So, I was listening to a podcast about the placebo effect yesterday. Ironically – or maybe to the point – the topic was perceived quality of sleep. Test subjects were told they would be given an EMG that would be able to tell whether or not they had a good night’s sleep. It all looked technically accurate, but the EMG was really a sham. The researchers really just wanted to test whether or not the suggestion of a good or poor night’s sleep was enough to influence an individual’s performance on cognitive testing.

When the study participants arrived, they were asked whether or not they’d had a good night’s sleep the night before. What surprised the researchers was that it didn’t matter whether or not the individuals thought they had a good night’s sleep. What mattered was what the researcher reported to the participants about the outcome of their EMG. If the researcher said that the EMG indicated the participant was well-rested, the participant did better on the test even if they had reported a poor night’s sleep. Ultimately, the study showed that as long as an authority figure presented the suggestion, participants would believe it. In other words, self-perception didn’t have an effect. Plenty of subjects reported they’d had a great night’s sleep, but if they were in the group who were told by the researcher that their EMG indicated a poor night’s sleep, they didn’t do as well on the test.

So, this whole notion that we are so susceptible to the power of suggestion has my mind churning. And that’s perhaps why I’m not sleeping. Ironic. Yeah, I guess it is.

I have so many questions. Does awareness of the placebo effect cause a person to be so cynical that it can no longer help them? Can you still benefit from a placebo if you know you might have gotten a placebo? What about all the rubbish on the Internet? There are all sorts of claims made about all sorts of things, and while most of it is rubbish, what does that matter if the suggestion that something works actually helps someone, as long as it doesn’t kill them, that is?

So after hearing this podcast on the placebo effect, I had an idea. What if this susceptibility to the power of suggestion not only allows us to benefit from placebos, but what if it also causes ailments? According to the research, we have actual physiologic reactions to suggestions. For example, if an individual is given a low-calorie milkshake, but they’re told it’s a high-calorie milkshake, the physiologic changes in their body are the same as if they ate an actual high-calorie milkshake.

In Radiolab’s Placebo episode, one of the doctors was telling about how we have receptors in our brains for morphine and other opioids, and when we’re given a placebo, the opioid receptors in our brains are activated. Did you get that? You are given a sugar pill, told that it’s a pain killer, and your brain says, “Hey, morphine!!!” Put another way: We have within ourselves the power to fix ourselves.

Well, what if the opposite is true? What I mean is, what if we make ourselves sick by the same power of suggestion that allows us to benefit from the placebo effect? I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill hypochondriac. We all have that Aunt Marge in our lives who thinks that every sniffle is typhoid (and please, God, don’t let me be her). I’m talking about the suggestions we hear every day from whatever mode of media we’re allowing into our heads — news reports on the latest culprit in the obesity epidemic, web articles on chemicals in our food that are sure to kill us all, GMOs, corn, soybeans, wheat, fossil fuels, McDonald’s french fries. We are bombarded with tiny little snippets of information, and we don’t always have the time to get the whole story. We develop our own perception of what we’ve heard, and that perception develops into a suggestion to our brains. Well, what if those notions are enough to trigger changes in our brains and bodies because we believe, on some level, what we’ve heard?

Somebody who is smarter than me is going to have to take up the gauntlet and figure this stuff out, and when they do, I’m sure I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and read about it.

I hear my family waking up to get the day started. Time to go fill my coffee cup and join them. I predict a nap coming on later. I wish that researcher was here to tell me that I had a good night’s sleep.

Visions of Sugar Plums

I’m sure traditional sugarplums are quite delicious (thank you, Alton Brown), but these are prettier, much better for you, so tasty, and they inspired me to get the camera out again.

It was just about this time last year that I started getting more serious about photography.  I haven’t been spending much time with the camera for the past few months, but the lights and colors of the season are getting me fired up again.  That holiday bokeh always sucks me in.  So, I’m going to ride this wave of inspiration and get the rest of the Christmas decorating done today.

Unstuck

I was just loading some clothes into the washing machine — yes, laundry.  See?  I think I said before, when all else fails, there’s always laundry.  I wasn’t kidding.

As I was turning on the washer, it occurred to me:  I’m not stuck anymore!  Hallelujah!

I’m pretty sure I underestimated the negative effect my stress fracture had on me.  I was essentially being held down by the big, clumsy boot on my foot.  It’s been gone for a couple of weeks now, and I’m cleared to resume regular activities.  So, that’s what I’ve done.  I’ve been working hard for the past several days, and I’ve gotten back to my daily walks with the puppy and my regular exercise routine.  I am completely amazed at how much better I feel.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not surprised by this. I am, however, amazed at the degree to which this all impacted me.  I think it’s pretty cool that I’ve been given this opportunity to measure how important activity is for me.  I’m just going to chalk this up as one of life’s little lessons, one of God’s little blessings, and I’ll store it in the back of my mind and pull it out the next time I feel like being a slug.  Anyone reading this can feel free to remind me.  Just be nice about it, ok?

So, what I have to say is this: If you’re having trouble sleeping, or if you’re feeling blue, or maybe you just don’t feel like doing anything, get yourself OUT OF THE HOUSE and just take a walk.  If you have a dog, you will now be your dog’s hero.  If you have kids, they’ll think you’ve lost your mind, and maybe they’ll just go with you to see what happens, and then THEY will also be out of the house, and how awesome is that?!

Enjoy your walk!  I’ll see you when you get back.

Friday Night Light … of the photographic kind

Looked out the front window earlier this evening and saw this …

Thunderhead… and that should give you some idea of how far away Lake Michigan is from my house because I’m guessing that cloud formed right out over the lake.

I went out to take the above picture and became distracted by these, which are growing by our front porch.

Rudbeckia

Those  made me so happy that I had to take this …

Rudbeckia

… and this …

Rudbeckia

And then this came running across the yard:

So fast, as a matter of fact, that she’s a bit blurry.

Finally, I wandered around the corner of the house only to find one last little bit of light shining right here …

Hydrangea

The End.

Stuck

I’m stuck.

Several months ago while I was apparently pretending to be someone else, I resolved to exercise my creative side more this year.   Clearly that other more-motivated me has left the building, because lately I’ve been everything BUT creative.  I’ve been bored, distracted, overwhelmed and disorganized with  little bursts of productivity stuck in there for good measure.

I did manage to work my way through volumes of paperwork, more laundry than you can shake a stick at, and some pesky, weedy flower beds only to find that the rest of the house was falling apart while I wasn’t looking.

Perhaps it was the distraction of the new puppy we adopted in March, her broken leg in June, or my broken foot in July.  Maybe it was the change in schedule when the kids got out of school.  Maybe my husband’s return to work?

Whatever it is, I’ve been off balance for a while now, and I’m searching for that little something that will help me to right myself.

I’ve been trying to shoot some photos over the past few weeks, but I’ve made no progress on the photography class I was taking.

I have two “craft” projects that have been largely ignored for months now — a window treatment for our dining room and a window-seat cushion for the lovely window seat/bookshelves my husband built for our daughter’s room. Completing those seems like a pipe dream.

I have a number of the supplies I need to re-do the kids’/guest bathroom.  It needs a new floor, too, and some paint.  The living room also needs to be painted and the office.

All of the carpets need to be cleaned.

To top it all, I decided back in November it was time to shed these 30 or so pounds I’ve been lugging around for a few years now. I’m a little more than 1/2-way there now. I was 2/3 of the way there, but I slid backwards.  I don’t think it’s any secret that I eat when I’m stressed.

I have no idea which one of these to tackle next.  I’m just stuck.

I think I’ll go do some more laundry. When all else fails, there’s always laundry.

“Energy” Bars by the Numbers

Lisa over at Snack Girl got me thinking today when she posted an article comparing Snickers to Clif Bars.

I started playing around with the numbers to see how they compared as a percentage of the whole.  The results weren’t too terribly surprising to me, but I was wondering if anyone else has obsessed thought about this like me.

I don’t eat snack/candy/energy bars very often.  If I do, it’s usually in a BIG pinch when I find myself starving while in a grocery store and wishing I hadn’t put lunch off for so long.  Usually, I can talk myself out of it because I’d much rather have a real meal.  I just don’t find a snack bar to be very  psychologically satisfying — probably because I’m usually not paying a great deal of attention to it while I’m eating.  Mindless snacking always gets me in trouble.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my comparisons.  I highlighted the “best” and “worst” numbers.  Tell me what you think!

Clif vs Snickers vs Newton’s Fruit Thins vs Larabars

Head-to-Head comparison of Clif Bars vs Larabars (since they’re the most similar)

The Cost of Convenience

I was walking through the grocery store with my husband the other day.  We were walking down the aisle with all the pretty drinks, and I said, “I can’t believe people buy those big jugs of iced tea.  How hard is it to make a jug of tea?!”  Then I started thinking about how much people pay for something they could make at home with a minimum amount of effort and no special equipment.

Let’s just use, for example, a jug of Arizona Iced Tea with Lemon.  Peapod sells them for $3.79 per gallon.

If you splurge and buy “expensive” Lipton Cold-Brew tea bags, you will use 4 bags to make a gallon of tea.  The cost?  $.20.  That’s right: Twenty Cents.

Let’s say a family of four drinks 2 gallons of iced tea every week.  That would be almost $400 for the year if they bought the prepared tea in a jug.  If they slave over a pot of boiling water, they will spend just under $19 for the year.

The hard-working family who boils water gets to keep $381 more than the family who drives to the store to get their tea.  That’s about $30/month.  Cut out your ready-made tea consumption, and you can afford that data plan you wish you had on your phone.

This same principle applies to a multitude of other convenience items.  When I’m in a hurry, I am just as guilty of grabbing things on a whim without giving it much thought.  The Number One convenience item I’m most likely to buy?  Bagged salads.  I’m not especially proud of this, and I don’t buy them as much as I used to.  When I’m feeling rushed, though, I don’t even hesitate.  I wonder what I’ve sacrificed for what seemed like a big convenience at the time (prices are again from Peapod) …

Dole Hearts of Romaine All Natural (10-oz bag) = $3.79

A Head of Romaine Lettuce = $1.99

The bag of lettuce says it contains 3.5 2-cup servings.  For every full head of romaine that you buy, you get almost twice that at 6.5 2-cup servings!  So, a family of four who is willing to buckle down and chop some lettuce will save a whopping $562.35 per year if they eat salad three times every week.

Seriously?!  That’s a car payment!

Think about it:  Spending 15 minutes per week cutting up lettuce instead of buying the processed equivalent is kind of like making $43/hour.  I bet you feel pretty important now, don’t you?!

I don’t mean to sound all self-righteous about this.  I buy convenience foods, too, but when I look at it like this, it really makes me take pause.  Everybody has those days when it’s almost impossible to find the time to put together a meal, and certainly, convenience foods are going to be cheaper than eating take-out.  I just wonder if it’s really worth it.  Generally, convenience foods are going to involve a lot more packaging, and usually there will be more preservatives involved.  If you want to think globally, you have to consider the additional energy costs, too.  Somewhere there’s a machine that chops up the lettuce and washes it.

On top of all that, if we’re not preparing our meals together, then we’re missing another valuable opportunity:  Time with our families.  I love it when my kids come and help me in the kitchen.  We always end up having fun, and they feel pretty good about contributing even if they do start out complaining.

Most importantly, let’s not forget about the benefit this will have in the long run.  If you teach your kids how to handle themselves in the kitchen, they won’t be as likely to perpetuate the purchase of convenience foods when they’re off on their own.  Chopping lettuce or  making a tasty sauce to go on the chicken won’t seem like such a big deal.  They’ll be eating healthier foods, and they won’t be wasting their hard-earned money!

What sorts of convenience foods do you indulge in?  Have you ever taken the time to figure out whether or not it’s really worth it?  What would you rather spend that money on?  What do you do to avoid buying convenience foods?

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