Author Archives: Harvard Health Publications

Six Reasons To Not Scrimp On Sleep

Sleep deprived.jpgchoiceA recent survey found that more people are sleeping less than six hours a night, and sleep difficulties visit 75% of us at least a few nights per week. A short-lived bout of insomnia is generally nothing to worry about. The bigger concern is chronic sleep loss, which can contribute to health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and a decrease in the immune system’s power, reports the Harvard Women’s Health Watch.While more research is needed to explore the links between chronic sleep loss and health, it’s safe to say that sleep is too important to shortchange.

The Harvard Women’s Health Watch suggests six reasons to get enough sleep:

1. Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
2. Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
3. Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
4. Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.

5. Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.

6. Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.

fro more information on this and other articles see : http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance_of_sleep_and_health

Sharpen thinking skills with a better night’s sleep

Getting seven to eight hours a night can help you restore clarity
and improve memory.

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Are you tired of struggling with fuzzy thinking and a faltering memory? Tired may be the key word. “Poor sleep has an adverse impact on thinking,” says sleep expert Dr. Lawrence Epstein, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. “This is true whether it’s due to a lack of sleep or a sleep disorder.”

 

The problem

When people don’t get enough sleep, their attention and concentration abilities decline. Their reaction time lengthens, they’re inattentive, and they don’t respond as well to environmental signals. That means they can’t take in new information or react to dangerous situations. This is particularly worrisome if you’re behind the wheel of a car. “For example, going without sleep for 48 hours impairs cognitive abilities to the same degree as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1%, above the legal limit for driving in every state,” says Dr. Epstein, who’s also the editor of the Harvard Special Health Report Improving Sleep: A Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Rest (available at www.health.harvard.edu).

A lack of sleep can also contribute to a long list of health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and even early death.

Causes

There are many reasons why people don’t get enough sleep, chief among them not setting aside enough time. Other common causes include insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep); side effects from medication; sleep apnea (a type of breathing disorder during sleep); restless leg syndrome; and chronic conditions such as heartburn, heart disease, thyroid disease, depression, and narcolepsy (a disorder of sleep/wake regulation). Late-night exposure to the light from television and computer screens, as well as smart phones, can also keep us awake, stimulating our brains and making it harder to fall asleep.

Age is another culprit that affects your sleep. You’ll find that the older you get, the longer it takes to fall asleep. Sleep quality also becomes poorer, resulting in dozens of awakenings during the night.

What you can do

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get more sleep. “You really can make up for lost sleep and restore focus and clarity. You can lose the brain fog within a week. But start now; the longer you have bad sleep, the longer it will take to catch up,” says Dr. Epstein. He suggests that you aim for seven to eight hours a night. (The idea that older adults can function well on fewer hours is a myth.) Try the following strategies to get started.

  • Check for underlying causes. Some conditions or medications may be interfering with your sleep patterns. Treating a condition or adjusting a medication may be all it takes to restore better sleep.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Use your bed for sleep and sex only, block as much noise and light as possible, go to bed and wake at the same times each day, and get out of bed if you haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes.
  • Exercise earlier, not later. Exercise stimulates the brain, so make sure you finish at least three hours before turning in.
  • Watch your diet. Avoid foods that promote heartburn, and don’t eat late at night; lying down after eating promotes sleep-disturbing heartburn. Ban caffeine-packed food and drinks (chocolate, tea, coffee, soda) at least six hours before bedtime. Avoid alcohol for at least two hours before bed. It may make you feel sleepy at first, but several hours later it acts like a stimulant—and interrupts sleep. And don’t drink too much water before bedtime, to cut down on trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • See a sleep specialist. If your own efforts aren’t working, you’ll want the help of a sleep professional to both diagnose your problem and propose behavioral therapy and possibly drug treatments.

For more information on this topic and more see: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2014/March/sharpen-thinking-skills-with-a-better-nights-sleep?utm_source=health&utm_medium=pressrelease&utm_campaign=health0314

Nutrition 101: Good eating for good health

Turn on yournutrition TV, open a newspaper, or boot up your computer and you’re bound to get some confusing news about diet and health. Don’t let it drive you to distraction — or to the donut shop. 

 

 

Remember 4 key facts:

1. What you eat affects your appearance, your energy and comfort, and — above all — your health.

2. America is on the wrong track. Two out of every three of us are overweight or obese. Diabetes and high blood pressure are on the rise. Heart attacks, strokes, and cancer are distressingly common. Many factors contribute to these complex problems, but the basic reasons are simple: we eat too much, we choose the wrong foods, and we don’t get enough exercise.

3. Scientists know what diet is best for health (see below). The fine print has changed and is likely to change some more, but the key facts are in.

4. Good eating is not a punishment, but an opportunity. If you know why it’s important and what to do, you’ll find it enjoyable and satisfying. And if you establish an overall pattern of healthful nutrition, you’ll have plenty of wiggle room to savor the treats that matter most to you.
Making changes

5 tips to create a healthful diet that you can enjoy.

1. Learn to think about food in a new way. Years ago, meat and potatoes were the American ideal. Now we know that vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and fish are best.

2. Experiment with new recipes and meal plans. Be creative and take chances. Instead of dreading your new diet, have fun with it.

3. Change slowly. By the time you are 40, you’ll have eaten some 40,000 meals — and lots of snacks besides. Give yourself time to change, targeting one item a week.

Start with breakfast, switching from eggs, bacon, donuts, white toast, or bagels to oatmeal or bran cereal and fruit. If you just can’t spare 10 minutes for a sit-down breakfast, grab high-fiber cereal bars instead of donuts or muffins.

Next, try out salads, low-fat yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese, tuna or peanut butter sandwiches, and fruit for lunch.

Snack on unsalted nuts, trail mix, fruit, raw veggies, Rye Krisp, or graham crackers. Try eating a few handfuls of a crunchy fiber cereal such as Kashi, or nibble on a cereal bar.

For dinner, experiment with fish, skinless poultry, beans, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and, of course, salads and veggies.

Fruit and low-fat frozen desserts are examples of desirable after-dinner treats. And there’s nothing wrong with the occasional cake, pie, or chocolates as long as the portions are moderate.

4. Be relaxed about your diet. You will never find a perfect food. Not everything on your plate needs to have a higher purpose. Take your tastes and preferences into account. If roast beef is your favorite food, it is okay to eat it — but try to make it a Sunday treat instead of a daily staple. The choices are your — and the better your overall diet, the more “wiggle room” you’ll have to indulge your passions.

5. Take a long-range view. Don’t get down on yourself if you slip up or “cheat” from time to time. Don’t worry about every meal, much less every mouthful. Your nutritional peaks and valleys will balance out if your overall dietary pattern is sound.

For more tips and advice on ways to eat healthier:  www.health.harvard.edu