Healthwise: Healthy Sleep Habits

October 31, 2012 10:33 am

The crucial role of sleep in everyday functioning becomes ever more apparent when you are not getting enough rest. As a result of too many sleepless nights, you may battle headaches and chronic fatigue, feel greater irritability, struggle to concentrate and discover you have more difficulty problem-solving throughout the day.
Notably, sleep-deprivation impacts our metabolism’s proper functioning, and leads us to make unhealthy choices, such as depending on sugary foods and excessive caffeine to keep functioning, which over time results in weight gain and other associated health issues. Even more seriously, sleep disorders can put you at risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.[1]

By adhering to a few healthy sleep habits, you are contributing to your health:

1. Strive for a minimum of 7-9 hours of sleep per night: While everyone requires a different period of sleep, those who only need four or five hours to function optimally are rare. Keep track of the hours slept each night and make a point to notice the days that you are at your best. Identify your magic sleep number.
2. Get your exercise: Exercise plays an important role in helping to release stress after a long day. Not only will exercise ease the tension in your muscles, but it will also help to clear your mind, which will then allow for more restful sleep.
3. Turn off the television: Watching television late into the evening can lure you into staying up way past your bedtime as you ignore your natural rhythms in favour of the exciting distraction. Not only does watching TV keep you up past your natural bedtime, it also stimulates your mind and can keep you from falling asleep long after the TV has been switched off.
4. Meditate: Instead of watching television, sit quietly at the end of the day. Find a comfortable and quiet area in your home and take the time to notice what you are feeling. Process your thoughts and slow your breath in preparation for sleep. This simple activity helps relieve worry and cues your body for relaxation.
5. Sleep on your side: Sleeping on your side with knees bent promotes the natural curvature of your spine as opposed to sleeping on your stomach, for example, which forces the neck into a hyper-flexed position and can cause tension and discomfort during the day, and may even lead to long-term problems with your spine.

No matter what steps you decide to implement into your routine, recognizing the importance of sleep is vital to your overall health.


Healthwise: Are you treating the symptoms or the cause?

October 24, 2012 12:35 pm
cold season

I once knew a man who complained of chronic headaches. He managed his ailment with multiple daily doses of acetaminophen or ibuprofen.  After months of suffering, he lamented the state of his health over lunch.  We questioned the fellow and came to identify the fact that he never drank water. His beverage consumption was limited to caffeinated soft drinks and coffee. Within 24 hours of committing to drinking a minimum of eight glasses of water per day, his headaches disappeared!

Turns out all his grief had been caused by dehydration. The medication he had been ingesting was simply masking the pain temporarily, whereas the water treated the direct source of the problem.

Our tendency to treat the symptoms rather than the cause is quite rampant in Western culture. We focus on masking the aches and pains, seeking temporary relief over long-term betterment. That is not to say you should never rely on short-term remedies, only that it is important to recognize them as such and seek long-term solutions to your health problems instead.

An ounce of prevention

Cold season is nearly upon us.  Instead of waiting to treat your symptoms, try to focus on preventing them altogether. Simple ways of doing so include: washing your hands frequently; getting plenty of rest and sleep; clearing your nasal passages with a saline solution; committing to a regular exercise routine; and boosting your immune system by consuming certain superfoods and vitamins.

You are what you eat

Proper nutrition plays a huge role in a person’s overall health and well-being. On the one hand, a diet based on vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and good fats can optimize health and increase energy levels. On the other hand, poor diet can induce high-cholesterol, insulin resistance and heavy metal toxicity, which are all factors in the development of heart disease. Certainly not every health concern can be solved by diet alone; however, you may be surprised how much diet can impact the way you feel. Food is what fuels our bodies and allows our organs to function properly.

So next time you reach for medication, ask yourself whether you are treating the symptoms or the cause.


Healthwise: Living with anxiety and depression

October 12, 2012 10:19 am

I am honoured to be welcomed as the new Accredited Health Blogger for Ottawa Life Magazine. For my first post as such, I have decided to explore an illness that affects a significant number of adults: anxiety and depression.

Because of this particular time of year, and given the recent economic climate in Ottawa, some of us are sure to experience symptoms of one or both conditions. Depression can occur after major life events, such as job loss, retirement, divorce, death of a loved one, or following a serious medical diagnosis. Anxiety, on the other hand, is often triggered by life changes, such as starting a new job, returning to school, and the birth of a new baby or the departure of older children.

Unfortunately, there is a certain stigma associated with mental illnesses but, as the CBC reported, the impact of mental illness is greater than that of cancer and therefore must be given our proper attention. While these findings may not come as a surprise to those familiar with mental illness, such studies are necessary in helping to lift the shame often associated with such conditions.
According to the Royal Ottawa Hospital Mood Disorders Clinic, anxiety and depression are two of Canada’s fastest growing disabilities. And unfortunately the effects of these illnesses are not confined to the diagnosed individual but rather permeate the realms of work, relationships and home life.

Signs and Symptoms

When experiencing depression, one can display a variety of physical, mental and emotional symptoms, such as reduced or increased appetite and sleep, lack of focus, social withdrawal and decreased motivation, among others, whereas anxiety presents itself as fear of the future and can be manifested in different ways, whether as generalized anxiety, phobias or obsessive behaviours. Of course, we all experience bouts of one or more of these feelings once in a while, but one should seek treatment if any of them persist for more than a few weeks.

How to Cope

In order to minimize the symptoms of anxiety and depression, it is necessary to recognize the illness but also to take positive corrective action by ensuring adequate exercise and sleep, a healthy diet, work/life balance, perhaps taking up yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques, as well as establishing a support network of friends and consulting a medical professional if needed. Meanwhile, various local resources exist, namely the Canadian Mental Health Association and Mood Disorders Ottawa.
Remember, you are not alone.

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