Monday, January 25, 2016


Helping children get a good night’s sleep

Picture this: You wake up with no alarm, the birds are singing, the sky is blue, and you feel well-rested and ready to take on the day.

Most of us will admit that this is far from our reality. With busier work schedules, extracurricular obligations, and the age of electronics, sleep deprivation has become a national epidemic. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one third of the adult population in the United States gets less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each day. What is even more concerning is the increase in sleep problems seen in children and teens who are most at need of a good night’s sleep.

While lack of sleep in adulthood can impact one’s health and mood, the effects are even more drastic in babies, older children, and teens, whose bodies and brains are still under development. Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, the Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Connecticut Children’s Hospital Sleep Center, notes that poor immune function, weight problems, and nightmares and night terrors are all associated with a lack of sleep. In addition, because growth hormone is released cyclically in the body and peaks at night, there can be significant consequences on child growth and development.

The problems do not end there. Lack of sleep can lead to challenges academically as well as impact classroom attentiveness. Sleep deprived children often present with irritability and tantrums, which can affect them academically as well as socially. The Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology also suggests that children and teens with sleep deprivation are at a higher risk for emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. If patients have been previously diagnosed with these disorders, a lack of sleep can worsen symptoms.

What is preventing adequate sleep in children? Dr. Schneeberg suggests that the answer is two-fold. She explains that sleep problems often stem from “problematic sleep onset associations” as well as “a bedtime routine without a clear final step.” Problems with sleep onset typically mean that a child will only go to sleep when the parent is present. Thus, when the child wakes up in the middle of the night, rather than turning over and going back to sleep, they get out of bed to find their parents. This leads to disruption in sleep for both the child and parent.

Poor bedtime routines can lead to children attempting to extend the time until they have to go to sleep. This may mean asking to read another book, watching another television show, or having a parent tell another bedtime story. The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that increased extracurricular activities, homework, and jobs as well as early school hours can contribute to lack of sleep in teenagers. In addition, increasing school pressure and anxiety can lead to trouble falling and staying asleep in teens.

Fortunately for the younger population there are ways to help. Parents can establish firmer bedtime routines with children. Dr. Schneeberg recommends encouraging your child to fall asleep on their own. In addition, removing all electronics from the bedroom for people of any age can lead to significant improvement in sleep. Research suggests that such devices are not only a distraction from sleep, but that the blue wavelengths emitted from their screens are associated with suppressing melatonin in the body. Melatonin is a hormone important for the regulation of sleep and altering its levels can result in sleep problems. Finally, helping teenagers learn how to manage stress and relax before bed through reading or yoga can help address anxiety that may be contributing to trouble falling asleep.

If a parent has established clear routines, removed electronics from the bedroom, and still finds that there is a problem they can turn to a sleep physician at a sleep center accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to eliminate other causes such as restless legs syndrome, sleep walking, or sleep apnea. The sleep physician may then refer to a behavioral sleep specialist who will work with the family to establish a nighttime routine and address other contributing problems to sleep deprivation like stress and anxiety.

So put down that third cup of coffee and consider how you can improve your family’s sleep habits. Healthy sleep habits for your children will help them avoid associated mental and physical health problems and even help you get better sleep as well. I can’t promise that you will automatically become a morning person, jumping out of bed with a smile on your face, but you may find you have a little more energy to tackle your day and enjoy with family.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, January 18, 2016


The importance of a positive self-image

Jeff is the hospital photographer, and a friend of mine. He was recently tasked with sending a photo of me to accompany a health column. He had taken several of me in the past and asked me which one I wanted to use. When I pointed to one that was taken recently that I felt was “not too bad” he asked me if I wanted to put it through a photo software program that erased facial imperfections and was a little more flattering. I thought that would be fun. I watched, fascinated, as my face transformed before my eyes; my cheeks and nose were slimmed down, blemishes and wrinkles around my eyes were erased, and my thick, unruly eyebrows were nicely shaped. I looked 20 years younger and many pounds slimmer.

As I stared at that new improved version of my face, I started thinking: As much as I would love to look like that photo, it really wasn’t me. It sure was difficult, but I had to tell Jeff to reverse the improvements and just submit the original photo, imperfections and all.

Perfection is overrated. A little imperfection is what makes us unique. Cosmetic surgery and weight loss programs are multi-billion dollar industries. They are catering to people who want to achieve perfection. I’m not talking about weight loss programs that improve our health or plastic surgery that corrects deformities. I have been involved in weight loss programs for many years. While I have certainly not achieved my perfect goal weight, I have improved my overall health. I refer here to the “Joan Rivers Syndrome” in which the relentless pursuit of perfection results in unnecessary and potential harm.

Kristen Houghton writes for the Huffington Post about this subject in an article entitled, “Happiness is Loving Your Body, Imperfections and All.” She reminds us that Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and da Vinci created masterpieces with flaws. They would paint women with a rounded stomach, or a slightly skewed nose to show character and real life. In that same vein, my wise daughter always said, “Mom, you just have to be happy in the skin you’re in.”

I asked my colleague Rosemarie Neilson, a therapist at the Backus Center for Mental Health to weigh in on the issue of positive self-image and provide some insight that we can all learn from.

Rosemarie explained through Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development just how we acquire our positive or negative self-image. This theory identifies eight stages which a healthy developing child should pass through from infancy through late adulthood. In each stage, the person confronts and hopefully masters new challenges. Erikson details as each stage of development is successfully completed the child emerges into early adulthood with a positive self-image built on “trust, autonomy, initiative and a feeling of competency.”

Rosemarie emphasizes the important role that parents, grandparents, teachers, siblings and all care takers have in the healthy development of the growing child. If these people expose the child to “warmth, regularity, and dependable affection” the child’s view of the world will be one of trust. Mistrust develops when feelings of frustration, suspicion and withdrawal lead to a lack of confidence, thus low self-image.

After talking to Rosemarie about this, I guess I have been fairly successful in negotiating through those stages, and am confident enough to be able to show my physical flaws even when faced with a technological way to hide them.

When I thought about it, erasing those laugh lines around my eyes would be an injustice. Those wrinkles were a testament to the 60-plus years of laughing I have done in my lifetime, so far.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. 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, January 12, 2016


The joy of food

For just a moment, imagine that you’re sitting before a plate of your favorite food. What does it look like? Is it colorful? What is its shape? Lean over the plate and draw in a deep breath. How does it smell? Does it have a sweet, savory or spicy aroma? Does the scent evoke a memory?

Now imagine taking a single, slow, scrumptious bite. What is the texture? Is it soft and chewy or hard and crunchy? How does it feel in your mouth? Is it smooth? Creamy? Rich? Think about how you would describe the flavor to someone who has never tasted this food before. What words would you use? How does this food make you feel? Why do you think it stirs this emotion within you?

As we ate lunch together recently, a good friend of mine reminded me of the old adage that some people eat to live while others live to eat. I had heard this before, but as we sat munching our crisp salads and satisfying soups, I began to feel truly sorry for anyone who eats only because it is a prerequisite for survival. For me, food is one of the great pleasures of living. Anyone who has ever shared a meal with me has heard me sigh with delight at the simplest of foods. I have been known to marvel at ripe raspberries, wonder at a warm loaf of crusty bread and be awed by tuna sandwiches, much to the amusement of my table-mates.

Sadly however, with the ever-quickening pace of life, even I have found myself eating on auto-pilot more and more lately; multi-tasking on lunch breaks, shoveling food down my throat while returning emails or between phone calls. Food needs and deserves our full attention. It nourishes us in so many ways, and it is so much more than a mere conglomeration of molecules that we call nutrients. It has an energy all its own and is an entire sensory experience to be treasured. It makes life both possible and more enjoyable. After all, we are not just simple machines needing fuel to fill our tanks so that we can continue to operate for a few more hours.

While I know that many of us resolve to eat less or make healthier choices in the New Year, I hope that these resolutions do not rob you of the pleasure of eating; especially since studies have shown time and again that fully mindful munching can help you reach those goals. To reap the benefits, all you have to do is be present in the moment, chew slowly and imagine that whatever you are eating is your favorite food. However you choose to be healthier this year, I hope it brings you happiness. Personally, my resolution is to rediscover the joy of food, bite by luscious bite.

Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Fetterley or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, January 04, 2016


Learning about the many benefits of yoga

Yoga has been around for thousands of years, but lately there seems to be a huge surge in popularity. Perhaps this is a result of our increasingly stressful times. For those few who are not familiar with it, yoga is a total mind-body workout that combines strengthening and stretching poses with deep breathing and meditation or relaxation.

There are many types of yoga, from the peaceful hatha to the high-intensity power yoga. All types take your workout to a level of mind-body connection. It can help you to relax and focus while gaining flexibility and strength. Yoga can also boost your mood, which may account for why so many people are trying it these days. Another benefit of practicing yoga is that it is low-impact and doesn’t put stress on the joints.

I have to admit I was curious about yoga, and have practiced it at intervals over the past years. It was amazing to me how focused and present I needed to be to keep the balanced poses, but it certainly gets easier with each successive session, especially if done consistently.

Yoga can also be gentle and restorative to help recover flexibility and motion, stamina and a sense of well being.

My friend and nurse colleague Amy Dunion of the Backus Center for Healthcare Integration is helping to coordinate a gentle yoga series for people recovering from the effects of cancer and cancer treatment, which will be led by Carol Klammer. I asked Amy to tell me a little about why it is particularly beneficial for those challenged with cancer.

“Yoga can have a huge impact on every part of a person’s life who has suffered the effects of cancer," she said. "Many cancer centers offer yoga because it can help ease anxiety, insomnia, pain, problems with mobility and movement, and regain a sense of feeling whole again. Many people have said they felt relaxed for the first time or present in their life in a new way. It’s a chance to reclaim life; to recover and discover a feeling of vitality and peace that may have been lost. One woman in a yoga class said she had forgotten that she was beautiful and a man added that he didn’t know what it felt like to let go of stress and truly relax before yoga. Yoga is good medicine."

If you or a loved one is fighting cancer, call (855) HHC-HERE to find a yoga program being offered near you, and join those already enjoying these many benefits.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. 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

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