Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Guide to Better Sleep

beautiful girl sleeps in the bedroom

When people say they want to get healthier, they often focus on just two things: eating better and exercising more. But sleeping well is also a vital part of any health routine. Here’s your all-day guide to getting the best sleep you’ve ever had.

Wake up at the same time every day: around 8 A.M.

One of the most important factors in getting quality sleep is the consistency of your sleep schedule. Some research has shown that teens naturally wake up later than older adults, but the exact time you wake up is not as important as keeping it regular. Waking up at roughly the same time each day keeps your circadian rhythm—the body’s internal clock—in sync, says Kenneth Wright Jr., director of University of Colorado Boulder’s sleep and chronobiology laboratory. That’s key, because your circadian rhythm is the natural process that regulates feelings of sleepiness throughout the day.

Unfortunately, that means it’s not ideal to sleep in on the weekends or stay up too late. Changing your sleep schedule just one or two days a week throws off your body’s internal clock to a similar degree that jet lag does.

Go toward the light: 8:30 A.M.

“After you get up, one of the things that we recommend is getting some exposure to sunlight,” Wright says. Getting sunlight in the morning by going outside not only helps you wake up, but it also helps juice your internal clock, so you’ll feel ready to sleep again by the time you want to go to bed in the evening. “Even if it’s a cloudy day, going outside is a strong signal to your body to prepare for the day.”

Drink coffee in the morning: 10 A.M.

Drink your day’s worth of coffee—three to five cups at most—before lunchtime. That’s because caffeine can take four to six hours to work its way through your body, says Jeanne Duffy, a neuroscientist and sleep researcher at Harvard Medical School. “If you’re using caffeine too late in the afternoon or evening, that is definitely going to impact your sleep,” she says.

Eat a big lunch: 12:30 P.M.

Make lunch your biggest meal. It’s important to fuel up early in the day because your body needs calories to help you keep going. You’ll want to avoid eating heavy meals late at night, Duffy says, so try to stock up on hearty foods at lunch, even if you want to watch your calories.

Nap (but only if you must): 2 P.M.

Daytime naps are always tempting if you feel sleepy, but they’re not a good idea for everyone. While short naps help some people feel refreshed and alert, research has shown that longer naps can leave people feeling groggy and make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime. If you feel the need to rest your head during the day, the Mayo Clinic recommends limiting naps to 10-30 minutes and planning them for after lunch, when your body is naturally less alert.

Exercise: between 4 and 6 P.M.

Regular physical activity is good for sleep. Some people like to start their day with a workout, but for those who can’t make an early gym appointment, an afternoon workout has serious benefits. Your body is slightly warmer and has increased hormone levels in the afternoon, meaning you’ll be at your peak strength and your muscles can work more efficiently during this time.

But, like eating, you should be wary of exercising too late. Try to finish working out at least two or three hours before bed, Duffy advises. “One of the things that naturally happens when we fall asleep is our body temperature cools,” she says. “Exercise tends to raise your body temperature and you don’t cool down quickly, it takes some time, so that process can impact your ability to fall asleep.”

Eat a small dinner: 6:30 P.M.

Eating large meals too close to bedtime gives your body too little time to digest before you lie down, which can disrupt your sleep, Duffy says. But it can also cause longer-term consequences, like high blood sugar and a higher risk of metabolic disorders and diabetes. Your circadian rhythm typically gets your body ready to respond to food and use the nutrients as fuel, but if you eat too late at night, your body won’t react in the usual way.

Have your last glass of wine: 7 P.M.

Many people claim alcohol helps put them to sleep, but research shows the opposite: it’s actually one of the biggest sleep destroyers. Not only does booze dehydrate you, but as your body metabolizes the alcohol during the night, it also creates more fragmented sleep, says Jamie Zeitzer, a Stanford neurobiologist and sleep expert. A glass of wine at dinner is probably fine, but if you indulge in a nightcap or regularly drink right before going to sleep, you may want to quit earlier in the night.

Take a shower: 9 P.M.

Many people like to shower in the morning, and that’s just fine, Zeitzer says. But if you shower at night, pay attention to the timing. A warm shower or a hot bath may seem relaxing right before bed, but it may raise your body temperature and disrupt sleep, Zeitzer explains. Instead, take it at least an hour and a half before you drift off to give your body time to cool down.

Power down electronics: 10 P.M.

Recent studies have shown that the blue light your phone emits suppresses melatonin, a hormone the body needs to maintain its circadian rhythm. This can keep you up at night if you’re looking at a screen right before bed, but fortunately Zeitzer says those effects can be mitigated by getting a normal amount of light exposure during the day.

The other problem with your phone or laptop is harder to fix. “If the content on your screen is causing you to be anxious or stressed, that’s not ideal,” Zeitzer says. The content doesn’t even have to be negative—only stimulating—to work against slumber. Reading an exciting book on a tablet, answering emails from your boss or scrolling through Facebook can all make it harder to sleep.

“It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all thing,” Zeitzer says. “But if you’re having trouble sleeping, put a moratorium on it an hour before bed, and don’t do it when you’re in bed.”

Go to bed: 11 P.M.

Your genetic makeup likely dictates when you’ll feel most comfortable going to bed. Some people are night owls and naturally stay alert until late night hours, while “morning larks” have an earlier rhythm. But experts say that going to bed between 8 p.m. and midnight gives your body the best chance of getting all the different types of sleep it needs.

Should Know About Cell Phones Affect Brain Activity

Holding a cell phone to your ear for a long period of time increases activity in parts of the brain close to the antenna, researchers have found.

Glucose metabolism — that’s a measurement of how the brain uses energy — in these areas increased significantly when the phone was turned on and muted, compared with when it was off, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Although we cannot determine the clinical significance, our results give evidence that the human brain is sensitive to the effects of radiofrequency-electromagnetic fields from acute cell phone exposures,” co-author Dr. Gene-Jack Wang of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, where the study was conducted, told MedPage Today.

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Although the study can’t draw conclusions about long-term implications, other researchers are calling the findings significant.

“Clearly there is an acute effect, and the important question is whether this acute effect is associated with events that may be damaging to the brain or predispose to the development of future problems such as cancer as suggested by recent epidemiological studies,” Dr. Santosh Kesari, director of neuro-oncology at the University of California San Diego, said in an e-mail to MedPage Today and ABC News.

There have been many population-based studies evaluating the potential links between brain cancer and cellphone use, and the results have often been inconsistent or inconclusive.

Most recently, the anticipated Interphone study was interpreted as “implausible” because some of its statistics revealed a significant protective effect for cell phone use. On the other hand, the most intense users had an increased risk of glioma — but the researchers called their level of use “unrealistic.”

But few researchers have looked at the actual physiological effects that radiofrequency and electromagnetic fields from the devices can have on brain tissue. Some have shown that blood flow can be increased in specific brain regions during cell phone use, but there’s been little work on effects at the level of the brain’s neurons.

So Dr. Volkow and colleagues conducted a crossover study at Brookhaven National Laboratory, enrolling 47 patients who had one cell phone placed on each ear while they lay in a PET scanner for 50 minutes.

The researchers scanned patients’ brain glucose metabolism twice — once with the right cell phone turned on but muted, and once with both phones turned off.

There was no difference in whole-brain metabolism whether the phone was on or off.

Are Cell Phones Dangerous for Kids?

But glucose metabolism in the regions closest to the antenna — the orbitofrontal cortex and the temporal pole — was significantly higher when the phone was turned on.

Further analyses confirmed that the regions expected to have the greatest absorption of radiofrequency and electromagnetic fields from cell phone use were indeed the ones that showed the larger increases in glucose metabolism.

“Even though the radio frequencies that are emitted from current cell phone technologies are very weak, they are able to activate the human brain to have an effect,” Dr. Volkow said in a JAMA video report.

The effects on neuronal activity could be due to changes in neurotransmitter release, cell membrane permeability, cell excitability, or calcium efflux.

It’s also been theorized that heat from cell phones can contribute to functional brain changes, but that is probably less likely to be the case, the researchers said.

Dr. Wang noted that the implications remain unclear — “further studies are needed to assess if the effects we observed could have potential long-term consequences,” he said — but the researchers have not yet devised a follow-up study.

“The take-home message,” Dr. Kesair said, “is that we still don’t know, more studies are needed, and in the meantime users should try to use headsets and reduce cell phone use if at all possible. Restricting cell phone use in young children certainly is not unreasonable.”

Know More The Basics of Bell’s Palsy

Imagine waking up in the morning, looking in the mirror and realizing that one side of your face is sagging, your eyelid is drooping, and you are drooling out the side of your mouth. If you have ever had this experience, you were probably experiencing Bell’s palsy.

Bell’s palsy is the most common cause of facial paralysis. Although Bell’s palsy duration is usually limited to a few months, the symptoms can certainly be disturbing.

What Causes Bell’s Palsy?

Bell’s palsy can occur at any age but is most common at around age 40. Men and women are affected equally. Every year about 15 to 30 people out of 100,000 get Bell’s palsy. The cause of Bell’s palsy is not completely understood but is believed to be caused by a viral infection that causes swelling of the facial nerve.

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The two facial nerves are large nerves that branch out across the face and carry electrical impulses to the facial muscles. Each nerve contains 7,000 nerve fibers. When the nerve swells in response to an infection, the electrical impulses get weak and the facial muscles lose their movement. Branches of the facial nerve are also important for tear and saliva production, and they transmit some taste sensations from the tongue.

Although the exact cause of Bell’s palsy is not always clear, certain risk factors are known to increase the chances of getting Bell’s palsy. Risk factors include:

Being exposed to herpes simplex virus type 1
Having diabetes
Being pregnant
Having had a previous episode of Bell’s palsy
Bell’s Palsy Symptoms

Bell’s palsy usually only affects one side of the face. Bell’s palsy symptoms usually start suddenly and reach their peak in 48 hours. Symptoms can range from partial to total paralysis. Common symptoms include:

Weakness of the facial muscles causing loss of facial expression
Twitching of the facial muscles
Drooping of the eyelid with inability to close the eye
Dryness of the eye and mouth
Loss of taste
Drooling from the corner of the mouth
Difficulty speaking clearly
Diagnosis and Treatment of Bell’s Palsy

The typical symptoms and sudden onset of one-sided facial weakness are sufficient to make a diagnosis of Bell’s palsy. Other types of diagnostic tests are not usually needed. If Bell’s palsy does not seem to be getting better over time, a referral to a neurologist or an ear, nose, and throat doctor may be needed to rule out other causes of facial paralysis such as tumors, Lyme disease, or multiple sclerosis.

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Even without treatment, more than 80 percent of people with Bell’s palsy start to get better within three weeks. An early sign of improvement is often the return of taste. Bell’s palsy duration is rarely longer than six months. Some studies show that treatment can shorten Bell’s palsy duration and improve symptoms. Bell’s palsy treatment includes:

Steroids. The anti-inflammatory drug prednisone may be used to reduce swelling of the facial nerve. Prednisone may be started as soon as the diagnosis is made and tapered off over 10 days.
Antiviral drugs. Oral acyclovir (Zovirax) or valacyclovir (Valtrex) may be started within three days of Bell’s palsy symptoms and continued for seven days.
Eye care. Taping the eye closed, using an eye patch, and using artificial tears are helpful treatments to prevent eye irritation from excessive dryness.
Physical therapy. Messaging the face, exercising facial muscles, and applying gentle heat may help recovery.
Bell’s palsy can be a frightening experience. The good news is that even without treatment, most Bell’s palsy symptoms go away completely in time. Your primary care doctor can help you manage Bell’s palsy. In cases where symptoms are not improving, an ear, nose, and throat or neurological specialist should be consulted to rule out other causes of facial paralysis.