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Archive for March, 2012

Many Plagued by Insomnia

It is estimated that about one-third of adults have difficulty sleeping and are thus sleep deprived.

Twenty percent of people get less than six hours of sleep. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Any less than this can cause increased stress and a depressed immune system and can make one cranky and irritable. It also puts one at increased risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Insomnia becomes more prominent as we age, which is unfortunate, because older people still need as much sleep as younger people do. Aging causes a change of sleep patterns, leading to a lighter, less restful sleep. Decreasing physical and social activity and an increase in chronic health problems also contribute to less sleep.

These are some causes of insomnia:

– Stress

– Anxiety and depression

– Medications, such as heart and blood pressure drugs, steroids, decongestants and weight-loss products

– Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol

– Medical conditions, such as chronic pain, frequent urination and sleep apnea

– Changes in environment or work schedule

– Eating and drinking too much late in the evening

Nonprescription-medication remedies should be tried first.

Lifestyle changes

Be consistent with the time you go to bed and when you wake up. Don’t nap more than 30 minutes a day, and preferably do it before 3 p.m.

Make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping it dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature. Don’t linger in bed if you can’t sleep.

Limit or avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Avoid large late meals.

A recent study found that most adults who did aerobic exercise four times a week dramatically improved their sleep.

Behavioral therapies

Learn relaxation techniques.

Limit the time you spend in bed, and associate your bed and bedroom only with sleep.

See a therapist who specializes in insomnia, who may provide a cure for insomnia and not just treat the symptoms with medication.

Alternative medicine

Melatonin and valerian are over-the-counter supplements that are marketed as sleep aids. They may be worth a try; however, some studies have shown them to be no more effective than a placebo and their long-term safety record isn’t known.

Prescription medication

Prescription sleep aids can be very effective in many cases, but they should be used for as short a time as possible, because longer-term use is thought to contribute to other health problems.

Sleeping pills also have side effects, such as drowsiness, impaired judgment, depression, agitation and balance problems.

If you are not getting the good night’s rest you deserve, see a doctor who can help to treat and guide you to having a more restful and satisfying sleep.

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Childhood Nutrition

March is National Nutrition Month. I would like to discuss the important topic of childhood nutrition. Whether you have a newborn or a teenager, what he or she eats is important to both physical and mental development.

The following are my recommendations supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Infants

From birth to 12 months, it’s all about milk, whether it’s breast milk, iron-fortified formula or a combination of the two. Whole milk is not to be given during this time. At four to six months babies can begin solid foods such as iron fortified baby cereal, strained fruits, vegetables and pureed meats. Fat restriction at this age is usually not necessary since fat helps to develop the brain and nerves.

Preschoolers, toddlers

At 12 months, children who have been weaned off breastfeeding may begin drinking whole milk. Low-fat milk would be better if there is a strong family history of obesity or heart disease. Calcium is necessary during this time to help build strong healthy bones and teeth. Milk is still one of the best calcium sources along with fortified cereals and juices. Fiber is also important to help fight obesity and promote digestion and prevent constipation.

Elementary school

Protein is important in this group. If a child won’t eat meat, plenty of protein can be found in beans, eggs and peanut butter. At this age, kids will start eating more not-so-healthy snacks and fast foods. It is important to monitor their intake of fats and salt and the ever-increasing consumption of sugar in all its many forms.

Teenagers

This is the time when junk food can become a bigger part of the diet. It’s also when some kids become very conscious of their weight and may develop eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia. Calorie requirements increase, as does the need for calcium. Low-fat milk and calcium-rich and -fortified foods are still very important. Girls who begin menstruating will need more iron-rich foods, such as meat and poultry, vegetables and beans, and fortified cereals and grains.

It is also now recommended that all children, beginning in the first two months of life, receive at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily. Discuss this with your doctor.

Getting our children to eat a healthy diet may not be an easy task. There’s too much childhood obesity (one in three children in America), diabetes and even heart disease. We need to monitor our children’s eating preferences and habits and be diligent about encouraging and explaining to them the benefits of a healthy, well-balanced diet.

For us parents, this may be a constant battle, but one well worth fighting to help ensure that our children will grow up to be healthy adults.

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Stress, Anxiety

We live in anxious times. Media reports bring us news of a poor economy, joblessness, people losing homes, international problems, high crime rates and more.

In addition, there are our own personal issues to deal with, such as poor health, relationship difficulties, financial problems and high-pressure jobs.

Even everyday annoyances stress us out, such as being stuck in traffic, computer problems and too many appointments and obligations.

More than 40 million people suffer from anxiety. Anxiety can begin in childhood, but it most commonly affects the middle-aged and even the elderly. Twice as many women as men have anxiety. Other similar disorders include social phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Some of the more common manifestations of anxiety are:

– Constant worrying and obsessing over big or small problems.

– Feelings of impending doom or worthlessness.

– Fatigue or trouble sleeping.

– Restlessness and feeling uptight.

– Difficulty concentrating and irritability.

– Sweating, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and rapid heart rate.

When a patient is evaluated by a doctor for anxiety, physical causes — thyroid problems, heart or lung disease, even dietary problems — need to be ruled out. Once that is done, there are several options for treatment.

Psychotherapy

By working with a trained therapist, patients can focus on working out underlying life stresses and concerns and making behavior changes.

This may be done through cognitive behavioral therapy, which is one of the more common types of psychotherapy. It involves learning to identify unhealthy negative beliefs and behaviors that contribute to anxiety and then teaches how to replace them with positive, healthy beliefs.

These treatments can give a person the tools necessary to deal with responses to life’s many problems and can help one gain control, especially by changing the way one responds to situations.

Medications

For the short term, anxiety can be treated with benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and Ativan. These can work quickly and effectively, but they can be habit forming. For the longer term, antidepressants, such as Zoloft or Celexa, can be used.

Close medical supervision is important for drug therapy.

Lifestyle remedies

People who feel anxious can also treat themselves with exercise; healthy diet; avoidance of alcohol; relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation; and adequate sleep.

If you think you suffer from anxiety, see your doctor. With evaluation and a personalized treatment plan, your anxiety can be brought under control.

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