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Beauty Rescue: The Eyes Have It

dark-circles-under-eyesAre the bags under your eyes bigger than the purse you carry? Are your dark circles heading into Rocky Horror Picture Show territory?

The tissues around our eyes are a highly responsive area of our faces–all our woes, illnesses, and sins show up there.

On YMC I posted a two-part series recently, on a very pesky health/beauty problem: under-eye bags, and their nasty little bedfellow, under-eye shadows. In each article, I break down the common causes for each problem and–more importantly–what you can do.

I hope you find them useful!

For more skin & beauty posts, read these next:

Passport to Health: Greece

health secrets of GreeceThe people of Greece have figured a lot of things out when it comes to knowing how to live a happy, healthy life. It makes sense–Greece is the birthplace of Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine.

Have you ever been to Greece? My husband and I went many years ago, in the BC years (Before Children, of course). We started in Athens and then spent a week island-hopping. And if you’ve never been–go. It’s absolutely gorgeous: sun-washed, distinctive architecture, sparkling sea, incredibly laid-back culture, fabulous food. If it isn’t paradise…well, it comes pretty close.

That said, if a trip to Greece isn’t on the horizon for you anytime soon, the least you can do is steal their secrets for a life well-lived. (It’s not like we haven’t done it before…read this, and this, and this for previous Passport to Health posts.)

So what are the Greek secrets to a healthy life? Some fairly simple stuff, as it turns out. One of the most interesting is this: napping!

Napping for health

In Greece (like many Mediterranean and warm-weather countries, like Spain, Egypt, and Italy), it’s a common thing to take a mid-afternoon siesta. To their benefit.

Researchers have cottoned on to this health habit. In a study of over 23,000 Greek men & women between ages 20 and 86, over the course of 6 years, they found that people who took a 30-minute siesta at least 3 times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death. Other studies have corroborated this: countries where siestas are common tend to have lower levels of heart disease.

One theory why napping helps keep your heart healthy? A regular nap may help you relax more and have lower stress levels.  Or, perhaps nappers are generally getting more rest, more sleep…and there’s plenty of research to now show that getting sufficient sleep is associated with lowered blood pressure, lower rates of obesity, and improved brain health.

“Let your food be your medicine, and medicine be your food.”

Sounds like a mantra for the explosive trend toward organic food, food cures, and holisitic nutrition, right? But that quote belongs to Hippocrates. 4th century BC, baby. Western medicine, you guys.

The Greeks have long practiced this principle, and now the research in favor of the Mediterranean diet is huge. Much of it surrounds the impressive benefit to our hearts. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Medicine analyzed the results of several studies that pitted the Mediterranean diet and low-fat diets head-to-head. They found that the Mediterranean diet was more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet, and brought greater improvements to blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.

The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to protect against the “big C”: many studies have shown the Mediterranean diet to reduce cancer risk.

So what, exactly, do you eat if you’re trying to go Mediterranean? Read this.

Then there’s all that walking…

Like many European cultures, walking is a way of life. When my husband and I visited the island of Santorini, we rented a Vespa one day. (Sidebar–this was so fun, I can’t even tell you. Zipping around a sun-bleached island, making pit stops at little cafes and beaches…). But when we started on the steep hill up to a famous archaeological site, which involved some rather sharp switchbacks…well, people were walking at a faster pace than we were motoring up. They were passing us on the switchbacks. This might have been a little embarrassing. Just maybe.

Anyway, the walking thing is a big deal in Greece. And I think we all know this is a good idea. Here’s how to incorporate more walking in your life.

For more Passport to Health articles, read these next:

Passport to Health: French Paradox

Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around The World

Passport to Health Part Deux

Passport to Health: Norway

The Surprising Reason Why Your Kid May Have Trouble Sleeping

child-sleepingIt’s rare for me to meet a parent who is unfamiliar with bedtime battles. This age-old struggle is crazy making, to be sure.

I have known a lot of trying situations in my life, but very little compares to the relentless frustration of trying to wrestle my toddler into bed, night after night.

Can you relate?

So, what if I told you there was something that may actually be at the root of all that irritating sleep trouble for your little one? Something simple, and something that can be corrected. Would you think it sounded too good to be true?

Well, if you’re curious, click over to Yummy Mummy Club and read the post I recently wrote about this. Because this one is not just me, conveying medical information. This is me, describing what was happening in my own family, and how I fixed it. It may not be the answer for you…but on the other hand, it just may be.

The Three Spheres Of Stress Detox

Hammock on BeachI’m preparing a workshop called Stress Detox that I’m giving next week, so I’ve been thinking about stress a lot lately. It’s a topic I’ve written about many times in the past…but looking back on my old posts, I think I’ve neglected to give an overall view of my approach to stress management.

In the past few years, after much reading and real-life experience helping patients, I’ve come to feel that there are three major spheres when it comes to dealing with your stress. Three types of approaches–and, ideally, you want to work on all three.

1. Cultivate The Skills Of Short-Term Stress Busting.

No matter how you’ve structured your life, you’re always going to encounter stress. Life is unpredictable. And, some situations can’t be changed (see #2). But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer when stressful stuff happens. Short term stress-busters are skills that you can learn. These are things that you can do, in the immediate moment, to help cope with your stress reaction. Here are some of those coping strategies. And here. And here.

2. Change Stressful Situations.

If your stress is out of control, there’s a good chance something’s gotta change. Maybe you’re overcommitted. Or trapped in a bad relationship. Struggling in a toxic workplace. These sorts of external stressors need to be changed, because no matter how many yoga classes and breathing exercises you do, you’re not going to be able to fully manage your stress until you make some changes. Of course, easier said than done. If you’re feeling stuck, you may need to talk it out with a counsellor. Sometimes, of course, things can’t be changed. Your situation is what it is, and you simply have to deal with it. That’s when you really need to work on #1 and #3.

3. Create A Stress-Resilient Lifestyle.

Here, I’m talking about your long-term strategy. Because, let’s face it, shit is always going to happen. And it’s not good enough to just cope with stress when it hits you in the face. Better, is to give yourself some resilience, some stress hardiness. How do you protect yourself from having a meltdown with every little blip? You shore up your reserves. With sufficient sleep, regular exercise, a healthy diet. Here are some other ways to build a stress-resilient lifestyle. And here.

So, how about you? What do you find helps the most with your stress? What are your coping strategies?

10 Common Causes of Fatigue

Feeling “tired all the time” is a modern-day plague. It’s rare that I meet someone who doesn’t describe this feeling. Seriously.

So what’s up with that? Well, I have some thoughts. And on my Yummy Mummy Club blog I’ve broken down 10 über-common reasons for that feeling of fatigue.

You can read all about them, here, and see if one (or more) is the culprit for you. (If you can stay awake long enough, that is…)

Poor Sleep May Worsen Your Blood Pressure

Now I hope this doesn’t cause anyone to lose sleep…but a recent study has shown that people with high blood pressure who also suffer insomnia are much more likely to have resistant high blood pressure (meaning, the kind we just can’t control with medication).

Which, to me, adds to the growing body of research that demonstrates the dangers of getting insufficient or crappy sleep. For example we know, now, that poor sleep is linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and brain and memory issues like Alzheimer’s (er, not to mention the short-term issues of crabby mood, fatigue, and poor concentration).

And I must say, I’m not bowled over with surprise at these recent findings. Recognizing, as I do, the major importance of a healthy lifestyle, I think this kind of research sends an important message to the public. Yes, we have medication to treat certain conditions, like hypertension. Yes, I prescribe said medications on a regular basis. But there’s so much more that you can do. There are so many ways you can be empowered and help yourself through achieving a healthy lifestyle.

You have to start with a healthy foundation. And keep working at it. A big part of that is making sure you’re getting enough sleep.

But, let’s say you get this, and you want to get more sleep…but sleep doesn’t come easily for you? Here’s help:

Already have high blood pressure? Here’s some other stuff (beyond medication) that you can do to improve your readings.

Sweet dreams…

The Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle

An anti-inflammatory lifestyle has become something of an obsession for me. It was thrust upon me, really, after a health incident that caused me to take a very hard look at my own lifestyle. Chronic inflammation is at the root of many of our disease processes, as we’re only just beginning to understand.

I blogged about an anti-inflammatory diet a while ago, but besides modifying your eating habits…are there other things you should be doing?

You bet.

1. Deal With Stress

I’ll admit, I can get a little evangelical about stress management (and the next topic, below) but relentless stress can be a big source of chronic inflammation. Trouble is, stress is a hugely overwhelming topic. How do you even begin to deal? Here’s some help.

2. Get More/Better Sleep

We need sleep to restore, rejuvenate, and recover from all the various insults our systems face all day long. And, yes, that includes inflammatory insults. We’re all busy, for sure, and sleep often comes far down on the priority list. Here’s how to get more sleep. (If you’re facing the special challenges of getting enough sleep because you’re a mom, read this.)

3. Consider Supplements

I do, generally speaking, promote healthy nutrition first and foremost. But I also think there’s a role for certain supplements. Of course there are always new, fancy supplements being touted as part of a preventive, anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Here are the ones I think, currently, have the most evidence in favor of them: omega-3, vitamin D, multivitamins, calcium, magnesium, and possibly selenium (the subject of a future post). But this is all subject to change, as research rolls out.

4. Exercise

Every time I turn around I see more studies published demonstrated more health benefits to exercise. And sometimes I think: Do we really need more research to prove what we already know? That notwithstanding, you really are making a big mistake by not figuring out a way to get more exercise into your life. It’s an important part of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. But–easier said than done, right? Rest assured, every little bit helps. A little exercise, in any form, is better than none. (But if you’re going to choose just one, with anti-inflammation as your goal…I’d choose yoga.)

9 Natural Ways to Treat Headaches

I get a lot of headaches. Everyone manifests their stress in different ways (crappy sleep, for example, or an irritable gut…) but I carry mine squarely in my neck and shoulder muscles. Which, consequently, translates to frequent tension headaches.

I’ve also had the distinct displeasure, in recent years, of experiencing migraines. Now that’s some nasty pain. I have newfound sympathy for my sister, who has suffered migraines her entire life. During the first migraine I ever had, the pain was so bad I wanted to cut off my own head to make it stop. And that actually seemed like a rational thought at the time. Those of you who have ever had a migraine know exactly what I’m talking about, I’m sure.

At any rate, yes, there are meds for headaches. But is that the only way to go? Nope.

Here are some non-medication/natural ways to treat (and prevent) headaches:

1.Water. Insufficient fluid intake is a very common cause for headaches. How much to drink? Read this. 

2.Massages. Regular massage therapy helps with muscle tension, with stress…and so much more (here’s what I’m talking about).

3.A Headache Diary. To keep track of everything you eat, for potential food triggers. A detailed journal is the only way to sort out your own individual factors, but classic triggers include: red wine, chocolate, and cheese (I know, I know. All the good stuff, right?)

4.Caffeine. This can be both a plus and a minus. Caffeine does, indeed, treat headaches (it’s an ingredient in many headache pain relievers, like Excedrin), but caffeine withdrawal will also give you a headache. My advice: keep your intake moderate, and try not to vary the amount of coffee you drink, day to day.

5.Meditation. An excellent stress reliever, meditation has also been shown to reduce pain. (More about meditation, here.)

6.Sleep. Sleep deprivation is another classic, but under-recognized cause for headaches. Make sure you’re getting the amount your system needs (typically, for most adults, 7-8 hours). Trouble sleeping? Read this.

7.Magnesium. A few small studies have shown that frequent headache sufferers are more likely to be magnesium deficient, and that magnesium can help treat that pain. I’ve written about magnesium before, primarily as it relates to sleep and stress, but it’s worth considering for headaches.   

8.Stress Management. Speaking of stress, this is a biggie when it comes to headache factors. From an anecdotal point of view, I’d say it’s the biggest cause. But, though it might be easy to identify, it’s not so easy to deal with. Many people struggle with how to cope with stress. Start here.

9.Omega-3. This makes intuitive sense to me, as omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory, and now some early studies are showing benefit for headache sufferers. But, even if the evidence doesn’t pan out in terms of therapeutic benefit for headaches, there are so many other reasons to increase your omega-3 intake, I think it’s a good idea anyway.

Busy? 5 Health Mistakes You’re Making Because You Think You Don’t Have Time

We’re all “busy”. But sometimes things get particularly frantic. And when that happens, what’s the first thing to suffer? Yep, your health. Are you guilty of the following health mistakes when the going gets tough? Let me flip things around for you, and show you a different way of thinking about each of these faux pas. 

1.Skipping sleep.

Too many things to do, not enough time? I’m in touch with that emotion. And many times, I’ve sacrificed sleep to get more done. But I should know better. Tasks done while sleep-deprived rarely end up being my best work. Do you fall into this pattern? Thing is, making time for sleep is an investment. A well-rested you will be more productive and efficient. Plus, skipping sleep means you’re flirting with a lot of long-term health consequences. And if you get truly sick…well, just think about how unproductive you’ll be then.

2. Not drinking enough water.

It seems like an easy thing to do–drink water–but many people neglect this one when they’re dashing to and fro between appointments. Trouble is, mild dehydration is a very common energy sapper–and one you wouldn’t necessarily recognize. When you’re busy, you need all the energy you can get. That mid-afternoon slump could be perked up quite nicely, thank you very much, with a tall, cool glass of water. How much water do you really need to drink? Read this

3. Blowing off exercise.

“I’m so busy, there’s no WAY I have time for a workout”. Sound familiar? We’re all guilty of this one, I’m sure. Exercise is usually the first thing to go when your schedule crunches down. But…I think you know what I’m going to say here. Saving time by skipping workouts is a false economy. If you don’t make some time for exercise your energy lags, grumpiness grows, stress level goes up, productivity goes down. But I get it–how can you possibly carve out a full hour for a proper workout? Good news, people: you don’t have to! You can get your exercise in bite-size chunks of 10 minutes at a time, that you accumulate through the day. Read more about this approach here.

4. Depending on a glass of wine to relax.

Okay, I’m all for wine. But depending on it is a bad idea. I consider wine to be a healthy indulgence, it’s a very pleasurable ritual, and it’s a key part of the Mediterranean diet. There is plenty of research to show it’s a boon for heart health. But, clearly, you can overdo it. Liver disease springs to mind. Alcoholism is a pretty ugly thing. Plus, alcohol can mess with your sleep (see above). Bottom line? Enjoy your wine, but don’t medicate with it. There are many other ways to relax at the end of a busy, stressful day: yoga, a hot bath, a good book, a walk…

5. Eating too many meals that come from restaurants/takeout containers/frozen trays in the microwave.

Don’t get me wrong–I love restaurants; I’m a fan of take-out. Perhaps has something to do with the fact that washing dishes is the 6th layer of hell for me. But–there are good reasons to keep this sort of thing as an occasional treat only. If your weekly diet is heavy on the convenience food or takeout, you’ve relinquished control over what you’re eating. Restaurant and otherwise prepared food tends to be much higher in the unhealthies: fat, sodium, sugar. The portions are probably way bigger than you really need. And chances are, the choices will be a heavy in the meat-cheese-carb department and light in the fresh fruit & veggie department. It takes a little planning but simple, fresh food can be super-easy to prepare. It makes you feel better & look better. And if I can’t convince you on the health front, think of it this way: if you’re spending all your money in restaurants, how are you going to afford all the new pants you’re going to need to accommodate that muffin top you’ve grown, courtesy of all those meals out?

Ya know?

Natural Ways to Boost Metabolism: Part 2

Summer is on its way. And with those blossoming trees and wafts of warm air, thoughts turn to the inevitable: swimsuit season.

I don’t know if this induces shudders in you, but it certainly does me. I’ve long believed they use funhouse mirrors in swimsuit changerooms, you know the kind that make certain bits look too big, certain bits too short, certain bits too wobbly…

Anyway, whether it’s truly due to sadistic shop owners or, um, it’s just me, the time is ripe to spring into action and trim down a little.

I first wrote about natural ways to boost metabolism a few months ago. Here are 4 more tips:

1. Eat Breakfast.

I know, this isn’t exactly a new idea–but it really does help weight loss efforts. You need to literally break your overnight fast to get your engine revving–otherwise your body senses starvation and slows metabolism to conserve energy. So breakfast is a no-brainer. But what are your best choices? If you can include protein, you’re ahead of the game. Studies show that people who have a protein-rich breakfast have increased satiety and fewer cravings through the day. When I had gestational diabetes, one of my key strategies for steady blood sugar through the day was having protein in my breakfast. Yogurt, eggs, lean ham are all good choices. Other ideas: peanut butter on whole grain toast, or a fruit/yogurt smoothie, perhaps with whey protein powder. Or sprinkle nuts in your oatmeal, or munch on a high protein granola.

2. Sleep.

Research has repeatedly shown the dangers of insufficient sleep to your health…and to your waistline. In studies, people who get insufficient sleep are more likely to be obese. One of the culprits? Ghrelin, your hunger hormone. Seems this little demon goes a bit postal if you don’t get enough sleep. Triggering those bleary-eyed pantry ransackings in search of stray oreos. Sleep doesn’t come easily for you? Read this.

3. Deal with stress.

Unremitting stress causes increases in cortisol–a hormone that specifically favors fat accumulation in your tummy and midsection. Not to mention the whole stress eating thing, and comfort food-seeking tendencies when stressed (that tend to lean more towards Haagen Daazs and less towards broccoli). Do your metabolism a favor and get your stress under control. There are lots of effective ways. Start here.

4. Nibble on chocolate.

I saved the best for last, here. A new study from the University of California found that adults who were frequent chocolate eaters had a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who ate chocolate infrequently. And it wasn’t because the chocolate fans ate fewer calories overall or exercised more. So what’s up with chocolate? The study authors believe that because chocolate is rich in certain antioxidants, it may have a beneficial effect on our metabolism. Also, chocolate contains epicatechins, a flavonoid that has been shown in animal studies to increase lean muscle mass and reduce weight. (If this makes you happy, read more good news about chocolate.)

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Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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