Preventing insomnia

If you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. Almost everyone experiences insomnia at some point, especially as you age. insomniaAccording to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), short-term insomnia can result from stress, depression, diet, or jet lag.  Here are 10 lifestyle changes to help prevent insomnia:

  1. Implement a schedule.  The        National Sleep Foundation recommends that you stick to a regular bedtime routine. That means going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day , including weekends.
  2. Eat well to sleep well.  Eat balanced meals throughout the day, with breakfast the most important. Digesting food requires energy, so if you eat a heavy meal late at night, your body will be hard at work digesting when it should be sleeping. Avoid greasy or fatty foods before bed, as they can cause reflux which may wake you up during the night.
  3. Cut back on caffeine.  Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 7 hours, so if you have trouble sleeping, don’t drink it past noon.  Also, excess alcohol tends to fragment sleep and cause you to wake every few hours, so limit yourself to one or two drinks with dinner.
  4. Try yoga.  Gentle yoga before sleep will put your mind and body to rest. These are a few poses to try.Meditation on yoga class   Short meditation: Sit cross-legged on your bed and lean back slightly onto your pillows. Rest your hands on your thighs, close your eyes and just breathe for a few minutes.
    Cross-legged bend: Still in this position, bend forward from your hips and stretch your arms out in front of you on the bed. Stay here for a few minutes.
    Reclining twist: Lie flat on your bed. Hug your right knee into your chest, then twist your leg across your body to the left while turning your head to the right. Lower your leg, and then do the same with your left leg.
  5. Take natural supplements.  Sleeping pills come with a lot of side effects, and they’ve been linked to negative side effects like headaches, nausea, fatigue, and addiction. Try natural alternatives instead, like melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced in your body that controls your sleep cycle. As we age, melatonin levels drop, so you may want to try a supplement.
  6. Eat cherries.cherries  Cherries are a great alternative for naturally boosting your melatonin levels, if consumed regularly.  According to research, drinking cherry juice was shown to help people sleep 90 more minutes a night.
  7. Put away the cell phone and computer.  Cell phones, laptops, iPads, TVs—they all need to be switched off.  All the way off. Light emitting devices stimulate and engage the mind, which is the opposite of what you want to be doing right before bed.
  8. Exercise.  Some say that exercising in the evening makes falling asleep harder, but it really depends on the person. Find the time of day that exercise makes your body feel the best, and stick with it. One study showed that having a regular exercise schedule helped insomniacs feel less depressed and more energized throughout the day.
  9. Stay cool. cold river When your body temperature drops, you start to produce more melatonin, so keep your bedroom temperature between 65° and 75°F. Taking a hot shower or bath right before bed helps too, since the quick drop of temperature after you get out makes you feel sleepy.
  10. Stop smoking.  Nicotine is a natural stimulant, so it keeps you from falling asleep. Even worse, withdrawal pangs may keep you awake at night. Studies show that smokers are four times more likely to feel less rested after a night’s sleep than nonsmokers.

10 tips for healthy meals

A healthy meal starts with more vegetables and fruits and smaller portions of protein and grains.  Think about how you can adjust the portions on your plate to get more of what you need without too many calories.  Make dairy the beverage with your meal or add fat-free or low-fat dairy products to your plate.
  1. Make half your plate veggies and fruits. Vegetables and fruits are full of nutrients and may help to promote good health. Choose red, orange, and dark-green vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
  2. Add lean protein.lean meat Choose protein foods, such as lean beef and pork, or chicken, turkey, beans, or tofu. Twice a week, make seafood the protein on your plate.
  3. Include whole grains.  Aim to make at least half your grains whole grains.
    Look for the words “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the food label. Whole grains provide more nutrients, like fiber, than refined grains.
  4. Don’t forget the dairy.  Pair your meal with a cup of fat-free or low-fat milk.
    They provide the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and calories. Don’t drink milk? Try soymilksoymilk (soy beverage) as your beverage or include fat-free or low-fat yogurt in your meal.
  5. Avoid extra fat.  Using heavy gravies or sauces will add fat and calories to otherwise healthy choices. For example, steamed broccoli is great, but avoid topping it with cheese sauce. Try other options, like a sprinkling of low-fat parmesan cheese or a squeeze of lemon.
  6. Take your time.  Savor your food. Eat slowly, enjoy the taste and textures, and pay attention to how you feel. Be mindful. Eating very quickly may cause you to eat too much.
  7. Use a smaller plate. Use a smaller plate at meals to help with portion control.  That way you can finish your entire plate and feel satisfied without overeating.
  8. Take control of your food.  Eat at home more often so you know exactly what you are eating. If you eat out, check and compare the nutrition information. Choose healthier options such as baked instead of fried.baked potato
  9. Try new foods.  Keep it interesting by picking out new foods you’ve never tried before, like mango, lentils, or kale. You may find a new favorite! Trade fun and tasty recipes with friends or find them online.
  10. Satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthy way.  Indulge in a naturally sweet dessert dish—fruit!  Serve a fresh fruit cocktail or a fruit parfait made with yogurt.  For a hot dessert, bake apples and top with cinnamon.

Go to ChooseMyPlate for more information.


Health risks of tanning

A tan, whether you get it on the beach, in a bed, or through incidental exposure, is unhealthy.tanningbed Tans are caused by harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning lamps, and if you have one, you’ve sustained skin cell damage.  The cumulative damage caused by UV radiation can lead to premature skin aging (wrinkles, lax skin, brown spots), as well as skin cancer. In fact, people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.

JAMA Dermatology has released a study, “International Prevalence of Indoor Tanning — A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”  In the US, 35% of adults and 55% of college students have tanned, and the study found there are more than 419,000 new skin cancer cases attributable to indoor tanning each year. Worldwide, there are more skin cancer cases due to indoor tanning than there are lung cancer cases due to smoking.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that people of all ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds avoid indoor tanning and take precautions in the sun by limiting outdoor time between 10 am and 4 pm, seeking the shade when outdoors, using a broad spectrum SPF 15+ sunscreen (SPF 30+ sunscreen for extended stays outdoors), and wearing protective clothing, including wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses.


Sunburn, also called erythema, is one of the most obvious signs of UV exposure and skin damage.sunburn Often marked by redness and peeling (usually after a few days), sunburn is a form of short-term skin damage.  When UV rays reach your skin, they damage cells in the epidermis. In response, your immune system increases blood flow to the affected areas. The increased blood flow is what gives sunburn its characteristic redness and makes the skin feel warm to the touch. At the same time, the damaged skin cells release chemicals that send messages through the body until they are translated as a painful burning sensation by the brain.  White blood cells, which help protect you from infection and disease, attack and remove the damaged skin cells. It is this process of removing damaged cells that can cause sunburned skin to itch and peel.  The earliest signs of sunburn are skin that looks flushed, is tender or painful, or gives off more heat than normal. Unfortunately, if your skin tone is medium to dark you may not notice any obvious physical signs until several hours later. It can take 6 – 48 hours for the full effects of sunburn to appear.  The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends treating mild sunburn with cool baths, over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams, and aspirin to ease pain and swelling.  Severe sunburn should be treated as a medical emergency and examined by a doctor right away. Severe sunburn is often characterized by a large area of red, blistered skin with a headache, fever, or chills.  Sunburn can be a very painful effect of UV exposure. Studies have shown a link between severe sunburn and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Pay careful attention to protecting yourself from UV rays.

 Sun Tan

There is no such thing as a safe tan. The increase in skin pigment, called melanin, which causes the tan color change in your skin is a sign of damage.  Once skin is exposed to UV radiation, it increases the production of melanin in an attempt to protect the skin from further damage. Melanin is the same pigment that colors your hair, eyes, and skin. The increase in melanin may cause your skin tone to darken over the next 48 hours.  Skin tones that are capable of developing a tan, typically skin types II through V, will probably darken in tone within two days.  Evidence suggests that tanning greatly increases your risk of developing skin cancer. And, contrary to popular belief, getting a tan will not protect your skin from sunburn or other skin damage. The extra melanin in tanned skin provides a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of about 2 to 4; far below the minimum recommended SPF of 15.

 Premature Aging

Sometimes referred to as “photoaging,” premature aging is the result of unprotected UV exposure. It takes the form of leathery, wrinkled skin, and dark spots.  Although the causes of premature aging are not always clear, unprotected exposure to harmful UV rays break down the collagen and elastin fibers in healthy young skin, and cause wrinkles and loosened folds. Frequent sunburns or hours spent tanning can result in a permanent darkening of the skin, dark spots, and a leathery texture.  A dermatologist or plastic surgeon can develop a treatment plan based on your needs. Treatments can include chemical peels, dermabrasion, and skin fillers.  Premature aging is a long-term side effect of UV exposure, meaning it may not show on your skin until many years after you have had a sunburn or suntan. Avoiding UV exposure is essential to maintaining healthy skin.

 Skin Cancer

There are two main types of skin cancer:  melanoma and non-melanoma.  Melanoma is the less common, but more dangerous form of skin cancer, and accounts for most of the deaths due to skin cancer each year.melanoma Melanoma is cancer that begins in the epidermal cells that produce melanin (melanocytes). According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) melanoma is almost always curable when detected in its early stages.  Non-melanomas (basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas) occur in the basal or squamous cells located at the base of the epidermis, both inside and outside the body. Non-melanomas often develop in sun-exposed areas of the body, including the face, ears, neck, lips, and the backs of the hands.  Predisposition to skin cancer can be hereditary, meaning it is passed through the generations of a family through genes. There is also strong evidence suggesting that exposure to UV rays, both UVA and UVB, can cause skin cancer.  UV radiation may promote skin cancer in two different ways:

  • By damaging the DNA in skin cells, causing the skin to grow abnormally and develop benign or malignant growths.
  • By weakening the immune system and compromising the body’s natural defenses against aggressive cancer cells.

Performing regular self skin cancer exams is a good way to protect yourself against skin cancer. The following are possible signs of skin cancer, and should be checked by a doctor.

  • Any changes on the skin, especially in the size or color of a mole, birthmark, or other dark pigmentation
  • Unexplained scaliness, oozing, or bleeding on the skin’s surface
  • A spot on the skin that suddenly feels itchy, tender, or painful

Skin cancer treatment varies depending on the type and severity of the cancer. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on your needs.  According to the American Cancer Society, most of the more than one million skin cancers diagnosed each year in the U.S. are considered sun-related. Skin cancer occurs in people of all skin tones, though it is less common in those with darker skin tones. Assessing your risk with the help of your doctor, protecting your skin, and performing regular skin cancer checks are the best methods of prevention.

 Actinic or Solar Keratoses

A fourth type of growth, actinic or solar keratoses, is a concern because it can progress into cancer. Actinic keratoses are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer, and are caused by long-term exposure to sunlight. They are the most common pre-malignant skin condition, occurring in more than 5 million Americans each year.  Actinic or solar keratoses share some of the symptoms of skin cancer. Look for raised, rough-textured, or scaly bumps that occur in areas that have been sunburned or tanned.  Most cases of actinic keratoses are easily treated in a dermatologist’s office by removing them with liquid nitrogen or chemical peels.  Actinic or solar keratoses are the most common pre-malignant skin condition. Check with your doctor if you find any suspicious-looking bumps.

 Eye Damage – Photokeratitis

Photokeratitis can be thought of as a sunburn of the cornea. It is caused by intense UVC/UVB exposure of the eye. Photokeratitis is also called “snow blindness” because many people develop this condition at high altitudes in a snowy environment where the reflections of UVB are high. This condition can also be produced by exposure to intense artificial sources of UVC/UVB, like broken mercury vapor lamps, or certain types of tanning lamps.  Symptoms include tearing, pain, swollen eyelids, a feeling of sand in the eye, and hazy or decreased vision.  Consult your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Your doctor can prescribe a topical solution which will aid your cornea in healing. Since the cornea usually heals in 24 to 48 hours, the symptoms are not long-lasting.

 Eye Damage – Cataracts

Cataracts are one form of eye damage that research has shown may increase with UV exposure. Clouding of the natural lens of the eye causing decreased vision and possible blindness are all effects of cataracts.cataract  Other types of eye damage include cancer around the eyes, macular degeneration, and irregular tissue growth that can block vision (pterygium).  Consult your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms.

  • Clouded or spotty vision
  • Pain or soreness in and around the eyes

Cataracts can be surgically removed.  Wearing sun protection gear such as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with 100% UV protection can help decrease the risks of eye damage.

 Immune System Suppression

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), all people, regardless of skin color, are vulnerable to the effects of immune suppression. Overexposure to UV radiation may suppress proper functioning of the body’s immune system and the skin’s natural defenses, increasing sensitivity to sunlight, diminishing the effects of immunizations or causing reactions to certain medications.  In people who have been treated for an infection of the Herpes simplex virus, sun exposure can weaken the immune system so that it can no longer keep the virus under control. This results in reactivation of the infection and recurring cold sores.