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How You Put Yourself To Sleep

I think we all have nights where sleep won't come -- despite flipping the pillow and persistent rolling over, it just doesn't happen. What do you do when this happens?

Personally, I've developed only one good way to get to sleep: audiobooks. Now, I love audiobooks during the daytime, but sometimes I'll buy a book that's super-boring. For example, take the audiobook of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire -- immensely difficult to focus on during the day...but PERFECT for snooze inducement in the middle of the night! (If you don't believe me, check out the free preview of the 41-hour Volume 1, available on iTunes.)

The best part of the audiobook cure is that, even if you don't fall asleep, you might get some decent "reading" in. But aside from my own method, there are lots of great sleep aids suggested on the web. In fact, the Mental_Floss Blog has covered sleep medications, sleeping with pets, sleep disorders, why snooze buttons work for nine minutes, famous narcoleptics, and much more.

Blogger Mary Wheeler has suggested a series of cures for insomnia, including:

Sexing the alphabet: this involves going through the alphabet and assigning a gender to each letter. This was really interesting, yet sleep-inducing, to me the first 20 times I did it. [Note from Higgins: I think A is male and B is female. You?]

Sexing the numbers: Assigning a gender to each number. This is hard -- each number, for me, anyway, can easily be male or female.

Categorizing things by color: thinking of all the things I can that are one color or another. This is a lot like a kid's book, but is still harder than it sounds. I end up cheating and it will go like this: "trees, peas, pistacio ice cream, green tea, green book, green socks, green car ..."

Saying a fruit or vegetable for every letter of the alphabet. This has been my latest game and honestly, I don't think I've made it past "G" -- this is how well I've been sleeping lately!

So let's have it: what do you do to get to sleep?

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science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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