Monday, July 30, 2012


Sleep is key to better health

Given the hectic pace of our everyday lives, it is especially important to get a good night’s sleep.  Unfortunately for many of us, this is easier said than done; it is estimated that insomnia affects 64 million Americans annually. 

There are many potential causes of insomnia, including stress, certain over-the- counter and prescription medications, and some pre-existing health conditions.  There are medications available to treat insomnia, but it is best to focus first on having good sleep hygiene.

There are many factors that you can control that affect your ability to get restful sleep:

•  One of the most important is the consistency of your sleep schedule.  Going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time every morning allows your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle to stay regulated.  Try to keep a similar sleep schedule whether it is a weekend or a weekday.  This will help you sleep better all week, because over time your body will start to prepare for sleep as your bedtime approaches.  It is also advisable to limit naps during the day, as they will also disrupt the sleep/wake cycle.  If a nap is necessary, limit it to no more than 20 minutes duration, and avoid napping late in the afternoon to hopefully reduce any impact on that night’s sleep.

•  Avoid any stimulating substances that could prevent you from falling or staying asleep.  Two of the most common culprits are caffeine and nicotine.  Do not drink caffeinated beverages after lunch, and do not smoke in the evening, if at all.  It is also important to note that alcohol, although initially sedating, actually has a negative overall effect on sleep.  The process of metabolizing alcohol, and the byproducts formed by the breakdown of alcohol in the body, prevents restful sleep.  As a result, alcohol should not be used in attempt to induce sleep.  Additionally, keep in mind that excessive fluid intake, whether alcoholic or not, will cause waking for bathroom use.

•  To help unwind as bedtime approaches, engage in quiet, relaxing activities, such as reading a book or listening to soothing music. 

•  Avoid watching TV before bed, as the brightness of the screen can keep your mind alert and awake. 

•  And although daily exercise of 20 minutes or more has been shown to be beneficial for sleep, it should not be done within four hours of bedtime due to its temporary stimulating effect.

•  Try to remove any stressful or worrying thoughts from the forefront of your mind before going to bed.  If the next day’s tasks have you stressed, make a list of them before bed.  This simple act helps clear the mind of stressful thoughts for the night. 

•  If nothing seems to be working, and you cannot sleep after trying for 15 minutes or so, get out of bed for a short while. Staying in bed and tossing and turning will only make it progressively more difficult to sleep.

Ultimately, insomnia is a difficult condition to treat.  Focusing on healthy sleep habits is an essential first step.  When healthy habits alone are not enough, there are medicinal options available that can provide relief, though they are often safest and most effective when taken for short periods of time and in moderation.  If you are considering trying one, talk with your physician or pharmacist to determine which one is the best choice for you.

Ryan Jones, PharmD, RPh, is a member of the Backus Hospital Department of Pharmacy Services. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Mr. Jones or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, July 23, 2012


Be able to talk to your children about the Colorado movie shooting

The horrific news of the Aurora, Colo., movie shooting is everywhere. It’s the worst shooting this country has seen since the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and has stirred up memories of Columbine, which occurred not far away.

These high-profile crimes are always hard on children. Add in the fact that the Aurora shooting that left 12 dead and approximately 40 injured occurred at the much-anticipated blockbuster movie the “The Dark Knight Rises,” and you’ve got the potential for some very stressful times for children.

While some parents might consider shielding their children from news of this heinous crime, it is unlikely they will be successful.

And if you don’t talk about it — and children hear about it or see it somewhere else — they make up their own explanations for what they have seen and become scared and traumatized.

As hard as it may seem, you should use these situations as an opportunity to talk to your children, especially those 6 years old and up, because they no longer worry about monsters under the bed — they are more concerned with the real-life scenarios like the storms, terrorism and car crashes that they see on the TV news.

Here are some tips to help you talk to your children:

•  Encourage them to talk about how they feel, and ask questions.
•  Answer questions straightforwardly. If you don’t have the answer, admit it and try to get it for them later.
•  Acknowledge their fears, but reassure them that these incidents are not common, and they are safe.
•  Point out the positive. The police officers who responded to the Aurora shooting and brought injured people to the hospital were heroes. So were the 9/11 firefighters.
•  Watch the news with your children, and talk to them about what they see. If you don’t, they could become confused and frightened.

We live in a great country, but unfortunately there will always be incidents like what happened in Aurora, Columbine and Virginia Tech.

Having open dialogue with your children about these tragedies is important, and in the end will help them understand the world around them.

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


No bones about it: osteoporosis screenings are important

Our bones are alive and constantly growing and changing. Throughout our life, some bone cells are dissolving and being replaced by new ones.

With this continuous turnover of new bone cells, most of our skeleton gets replaced every 10 years or so. But for some people, the bone loss outpaces the new growth and thinning of the bones occurs. This is called osteoporosis.  The bones become porous, brittle and prone to fracture.

A bone density scan can test for thinning of the bones at an early stage. Diagnostic Imaging Technologists are able to bring a portable machine to community sites and measure bone density in the heel, reporting the result in about 3 minutes.

These clinicians willingly spend hours leaning over the portable machine during one of these screenings because they are performing such an important service. For example, at a recent employee health fair at Electric Boat, 116 people were screened; 31 were found to have osteopenia, an early stage of osteoporosis, including four men under age 32, and three women under 42. This is vital information to initiate more extensive testing, follow up care, treatment.

What causes osteoporosis, especially in young people?   Most commonly, genetics, poor diet, stress, sedentary lifestyle, and tobacco use. 

The following steps can help protect your bones, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation:
Get calcium and Vitamin D.   The building block of bones is calcium, but our bodies can't absorb it without Vitamin D.  Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy like yogurt, and foods fortified with calcium. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are good sources of Vitamin D.
Stop smoking and drink less alcohol.  The chemicals in cigarettes are harmful to bone cells. More than one alcoholic drink a day may decrease bone formation.  
Exercise at least 30 minutes daily, perhaps with a brisk walk.

We can’t change our genetic make-up, but we can make some lifestyle changes to ensure our bone health. 

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, July 02, 2012


Summer safety rules for kids and cars

Summer has finally arrived and it is a wonderful time to enjoy being outdoors with your friends and family. The kids are out of school and many of us will be taking time off from work, but we can never take a vacation from safety. 

Sadly, each year in the United States an average of 38 children die as a result of being unattended in a hot vehicle. This is a preventable tragedy that is most commonly due to a change in routine where the parent or caregiver forgets they have a child in the backseat. It can also occur when a curious or adventurous child climbs into an unlocked car or trunk. 
A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics looked at how fast the temperature in the interior of a vehicle would rise when the outside temperature was a moderate 72-96 degrees. The researchers found that the interior of parked vehicles raised an average of 19 degrees in the first 10 minutes regardless of the outside temperature. After one hour the temperature had increased by up to 50 degrees. Cracking the windows had little to no effect.
Please don’t let your child become a statistic. Follow these simple rules to avoid the unimaginable:

•  Never leave infants, children or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked open.
•  If you see a child unattended in hot car call 911 immediately.
•  To remind yourself that a child is in the car, keep a stuffed animal in the car seat. When the child is buckled in, place the stuffed animal in the front with the driver.
•  Place your purse or brief case in the backseat near the child as a reminder.
•  When leaving your car, check to be sure everyone is out of the car. Do not overlook any children who have fallen asleep in the car.
•  Lock your parked car so small children cannot climb inside. 

Protect your child from harm and yourself from heartbreak. By spending a few extra minutes for safety, this can be a summer a memorable one.

Cynthia Arpin, RN, is a Public Health Nurse  with the  Uncas Health District. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Arpin or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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