help insomnia

Weighted Blankets May Help with Insomnia

Our concierge doctors note the stress resulting from the coronavirus pandemic affects large portions of our population. This has manifested in many ways, including a sharp increase in insomnia.

Even without the pandemic, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of the population experiences insomnia regularly. A 2005 National Sleep Foundation (NSF) poll showed more than half of respondents reported experiencing insomnia at least a few nights a week in the past year. Thirty-three percent said they had insomnia every night or nearly every night for the past year.

And since the advent of the pandemic, prescriptions for sleep medications are up 15 percent, according to pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts. The UCLA Sleep Disorders Center reports insomnia complaints have soared 20-30 percent.

An occasional sleepless night is not technically categorized as insomnia. It’s when it becomes a longer-term occurrence that it is officially called insomnia. Ironically, though, the occasional sleepless night can quickly turn into insomnia when the sufferer begins worrying that it will happen again. The worry feeds the arousal state in the brain, thus leading to night after night of wakefulness.

How to beat insomnia

You’ve probably heard the typical suggestions for how to help your insomnia:

  • Maintain a regular bedtime
  • Increase exercise
  • Turn off blue light-producing electronic devices (smartphone, computer, TV) at least one hour before bedtime
  • Don’t eat or drink alcohol within three hours of bedtime
  • Stop drinking caffeine no later than 2 p.m.
  • Avoid naps
  • Restrict the bedroom to sleep and sexual activity
  • Try to stay awake, instead of trying to fall asleep (known as paradoxical intention, which takes the pressure off trying to sleep)
  • Get up and leave the room if you haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes

These tips may work for those with occasional insomnia. If your difficulty is chronic or worrisome, talk to us. We can perform a physical examination to ensure your insomnia isn’t caused by a correctable physical condition, such as sleep apnea or thyroid problems.

We can also suggest other measures that have proven useful. Cognitive behavioral therapy, various relaxation and breathing techniques, light therapy to reset the body’s circadian clock, and even short-term medication, if necessary, can all help.

Weighted blankets seem to help

In addition to these suggestions, consider trying is a weighted blanket. They have been around for several years, and many users have given them rave reviews. They help you to fall asleep more easily, sleep more soundly and sleep longer.

Until now, however, such testimonials had little science to back them up. That was until a new study was published last month in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. It found those who slept with weighted blankets experienced better sleep. They also reported fewer symptoms associated with depression and anxiety during the day.

The 120 adult participants had all been clinically diagnosed with insomnia for at least two months. Also, each had been diagnosed with either major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), or ADHD. Half were given weighted blankets and half were given blankets that appeared the same as the weighted type.

After four weeks, those in the weighted-blanket group were almost 26 times more likely to have seen at least a 50 percent reduction in the severity of their insomnia. And they were nearly 20 times more likely to achieve full remission of their insomnia.

Researchers suggested that the results were due to the pressure the blanket applies to different parts of the body. This stimulates the sensation of touch similar to acupressure and massage.

“I was surprised by the large effect size on insomnia by the weighted blanket and pleased by the reduction of levels of both anxiety and depression.”

Lead researcher Dr. Mats Alder, consultant psychiatrist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, said in a statement.

Some cautions

If you’d like to try using a weighted blanket to help insomnia, be sure to purchase it at a place that allows for returns. Weighted blankets come in different weights, and weight preferences are highly individual. You may find you prefer a heavier or a lighter weight. Also be sure it’s washable. Opt for one without plastic beads, which could end up in the ocean.

Finally, if you have a tendency toward claustrophobia, you might not like the sensation of feeling trapped under a heavy object, so proceed with caution. You can try to simulate the effect of a weighted blanket by folding a large quilt in half and sleeping under that for a few nights. If you have no problem with that, then you may want to purchase a commercial weighted blanket.

In addition, never put a weighted blanket on a child under the age of three or one weighing less than 50 pounds, because there’s a danger of suffocation.

overcome chronic conditions

Healthy Habits Can Conquer Chronic Medical Conditions

We’ve heard a great deal lately about how those with chronic conditions—diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity—are more likely to become sicker when exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Even leaving aside the coronavirus, many individuals have thought that having multiple chronic medical conditions such as those or others (cancer, asthma, coronary artery disease, and so forth) doomed them to a premature death.

But our concierge doctors have recently come across some good news for those people. It turns out that healthy lifestyle habits can overcome multiple types of chronic conditions and help extend your life.

Lifestyle impacts on chronic conditions

A new study reported last month in the journal PLOS One followed nearly 481,000 middle-aged adults in the U.K. for up to nine years. Of those, 93,746 had two or more chronic medical illnesses (known as multimorbidity) such as those mentioned above.

The researchers focused on four lifestyle factors: smoking, diet, physical activity, and alcohol consumption. They then weighted each of these factors (some healthy foods vs. a great deal, moderate physical activity vs. a great deal vs. none, and so forth) and broke them into four categories:

  • healthy
  • very healthy
  • unhealthy
  • very unhealthy

Then they assigned each study participant to a category.

Their results show that those who practiced the healthiest habits lived longer than those who did not, regardless of their current medical challenges.

In particular, men with a very healthy lifestyle were found on average to live 6.3 years longer than those with a very unhealthy lifestyle, while women in these same categories were found to live an average 7.6 years longer.

Even those in the third category, unhealthy, saw some benefit over those with a “very unhealthy” lifestyle.

Healthiest habits

Not smoking had the largest impact on life expectancy, according to the researchers. Smokers at age 45 were found to live five to six years less than non-smokers, regardless of other disease complications. Because the screening question asked only if participants were current smokers, it is fair to assume that the large study cohort included many former smokers. This proves quitting smoking at any age does confer health advantages.

Regular physical exercise also showed a significant benefit. Those who engaged in some type of regular physical activity lived longer than those who did not. Even if the exercisers had serious medical conditions. Researchers defined regular physical activity as that which met the global health recommendations: 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of weekly vigorous activity.

Men who engaged in regular physical exercise gained an additional 2.5 years of life on average. The benefit for women was slightly lower; they gained 1.9 additional years of life.

Surprisingly, a healthy diet– defined as consuming at least five different fruits and vegetables daily– and moderate or no alcohol intake demonstrated little benefit in increasing life expectancy.

Never too late

We hope our patients find these results encouraging. They show that—even with multiple chronic illnesses—you can not only influence your life expectancy with healthier habits. And they show you can improve your quality of life by following standard guidance for a healthy lifestyle.

These include:

1. Diet

Avoid processed foods, and consume a diet high in seafood and fresh produce. Include fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and beans. and low in red meat, dairy, sugar, salt, and saturated fat.

2. Exercise

A daily minimum of a half-hour of any kind of mild-to-moderate exercise is crucial to overall health. If necessary, it can be broken into 10-minute increments throughout the day. Even a daily brisk walk will help.

But for optimal health, we recommend any kind of regular, vigorous movement. Try to add up to 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) per week.

3. Stress relief

When your body thinks it is constantly under attack, studies have shown such chronic stress puts you at greater risk for serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, digestive disorders, impaired memory and concentration, anxiety, and depression.Reducing stress is crucial to maintaining good health, so:

  • take time for hobbies
  • practice relaxation techniques
  • exercise regularly
  • eat a healthy diet
  • stay in touch with friends

At the same time, avoid unhealthy stress relievers like smoking, excess alcohol consumption, and illicit drug intake. These practices merely mask stress triggers temporarily. They can cause damage to the body, as well as to your mental health, in the long run.

cholesterol

What You Should Know About Cholesterol

Since September is National Cholesterol Education Month, our concierge doctors want to review the often-confusing facts about this vital blood component.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of waxy, fat-like substance found in every cell in your body. Made by your liver and also present in some foods, it allows your cells to function properly. It helps synthesize Vitamin D in the body as well as some necessary hormones. These include cortisol and cortisone, and the sex hormones estrogen, testosterone and progesterone, among others. It also helps create the bile you need for digestion.

Cholesterol gets transported through the body on proteins called “lipoproteins.” There are two types of lipoproteins: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). The LDL type makes up most of the cholesterol in the body (between two-thirds to three-quarters). The HDL type absorbs excess LDL cholesterol and returns it to the liver, where it gets flushed from the body.

Why is high cholesterol bad for you?

Despite the role cholesterol plays in keeping the body healthy, only a small amount is needed to maintain critical functions. When your body has too much of the LDL-type of cholesterol, it can build up on the walls of your blood vessels. This causes them to become narrow. This in turn begins to block the free flow of blood to and from your heart and other organs in the body. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause chest pain (angina), a heart attack or a stroke, among other cardiovascular problems. Therefore, too much LDL is “bad” for your body when it isn’t balanced by higher HDL levels.

The confusion surrounding “high” and “low” cholesterol no doubt arises from their names. If we say your cholesterol levels are too high, you might think, “But isn’t ‘high’ cholesterol the good kind?” High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are good, and the higher that number, the better. But when we say you have “high” cholesterol, we’re talking about the “bad” type, meaning the low-density lipoproteins.

To confuse matters even more, triglycerides that are too high further contribute to fatty buildup in the arteries. Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. High levels of triglycerides combine with high levels of LDLs to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease even further.

How to lower bad cholesterol

The optimal mix is low triglycerides, low LDL levels and high HDL levels in the blood.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the leading cause of high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides are unhealthy lifestyle choices. Certain medical conditions and medications, as well as genetics, also play a role.

There are a number of LDL lowering drugs available, including the very successful statins. But, as always, it is preferable to try to lower LDL levels naturally first. There are a number of ways to go about this:

  • lose weight
  • avoid trans fats (most commonly found in fried foods and pastries as well as margarine)
  • avoid red meat and dairy products
  • cut sugar consumption
  • keep alcohol consumption no greater than one drink daily
  • keep stress levels low

These steps, combined with increasing HDL levels in the blood, are often sufficient for many people to remain healthy.

How to raise good cholesterol

Medications to raise HDL cholesterol have not proved effective in lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The best way to increase your supply is through lifestyle changes:

  • quit smoking
  • increase aerobic exercise to a total of at least one hour a week
  • consume more monounsaturated fats, e.g., nuts, seeds, avocados
  • increase intake of polyunsaturated fats, e.g., salmon, tuna, trout, and walnuts
  • consume more soluble fiber, e.g., fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes

In addition, avoid drugs that contain testosterone or other anabolic steroids, which have been shown to lower HDL levels.

Because there are no symptoms of high cholesterol, the only way to know for sure if your levels are within acceptable levels is through a simple blood test. This is especially important if you have a family history of heart disease, are a smoker, are regularly exposed to cigarette smoke or have high blood pressure or diabetes. The National Institutes of Health recommends that all adults have their cholesterol levels checked beginning at age 20.

It’s not difficult to keep “bad” cholesterol levels in check, unless you have a genetic predisposition toward high LDLs. Let us help you sort out the confusion surrounding cholesterol and heart health.

Is a Clean Home Dangerous to Your Health?

You try to keep your family healthy in every way you can, including ensuring that the environment in your home is as clean as possible. But our concierge family practice doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter want to caution you that the cleaning products you may be using come with a host of possible dangers to your health and that of your family.

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