10 Easy Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

February 04, 2019

Trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. Thirty-five percent of American adults report getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep a night. A lack of sleep can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, and other serious health problems. Between the demands of a full-time job, raising a family, enjoying social activities, or pursuing hobbies, it’s important to give your body the rest it needs. 

At AltaMed, we know that nothing’s more frustrating than a night of tossing a turning, so we’ve created a list of 10 easy tips to help get a better, longer rest. Read on and sleep tight!


1.    Put the Phone Down


AltaMed person in bed at night on their smartphone
 
It may be tempting to check your phone one more time before going to sleep, but the blue light that our devices emit will trick your body into staying awake. Because this light is similar to the natural daylight we experience while being awake, our bodies stop producing sleeping hormones when we scroll through our phones late at night. Doctors recommend putting your gadgets away at least a half hour before bedtime. 


2.    Wash Your Sheets


AltaMed woman taking fresh sheets out of dryer and smelling them
 
    
Washing your sheets once per week has been proven to increase sleep quality, according the National Sleep Foundation. Over time, our beds collect dead skin, sweat, and other irritants, which can trigger our senses and keep us awake. Be sure to clean other bedding frequently as well. 


3.    Say No to Late Night Snacks


AltaMed two women on the couch eating popcorn watching TV

Eating shortly before going to bed will keep you up and may result in worse sleep quality. It’s best to stop eating at least two hours before you plan to go to hit the hay. If you are hungry, limit portion size and avoid snacks with added sugar. 


4.    Check the Thermostat


AltaMed man adjusting the thermostat

Ever notice that it can be more difficult to sleep during hot, summer months? This is because temperature has a profound impact in our ability to fall asleep, even more so than loud or distracting noises. Doctors recommend keeping your room at a comfortable 70 or so degrees for optimal sleeping conditions. 


5.    Stick to a Schedule


AltaMed woman laying in bed with clock on night stand

Our bodies have a natural circadian rhythm, meaning we tend to wake up around sunrise and get tired after sunset. Studies have shown that people who do not follow consistent bedtimes report poorer sleep quality. Creating and following a set 7 or 8 hour sleep pattern will help you fall asleep faster. 


6.    Relax Your Mind


Altamed woman having breakfast

It can be tougher to fall asleep when our bodies experience stress. Rather than lay awake and worrying, try writing down a “to do” list of everything you need to accomplish the next day. Organizing your thoughts will help your mind and body relax. 


7.    Try Exercising - Just Not at Night


AltaMed couple running outdoors

Exercise is one of the best ways to prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. This is because physical activity can tire the body out, leading to an increase of hormones such as melatonin that helps cause sleepiness. One study showed that older adults who exercised regularly fell asleep 55% faster and slept for about 40 minutes longer. However, exercising too close to bedtime can keep your brain stimulated and overly-alert, so aim for morning or midday activity. 


8.    Cut Back on Caffeine


AltaMed cup of coffee

If you drink coffee every morning for a boost of energy, be sure to limit yourself to one or two cups. Caffeine stimulates the body’s nervous system for up to 12 hours, meaning a 3:00pm coffee break can lead to a restless night. If you need a boost of energy in the afternoon, try a healthy snack such as nuts or fruit instead. 


9.    Stay Out of Bed


AltaMed dad and daughter reading together

That’s right. Sleep experts actually recommend staying out of bed unless the purpose is to go to sleep or have sex. If you spend hours laying down and watching TV, using your phone, or reading, the brain begins to associate the bed with being awake, rather than getting rest. This can make it harder to fall asleep. 


10.    Breathe


AltaMed woman meditating

Even in the ideal sleep setting, it can still take time to settle our brains and fall asleep. Try this exercise, created by the Arizona Center for Integrated Medicine, to help your body relax:

  • Close your eyes and inhale slowly through your nose for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds. 

    Continue to do this until you fall asleep. 


Sleep On It


AltaMed woman sleeping in cozy bed

By following these suggestions, you’ll be on the path to a better night’s sleep! Remember, sleep deprivation can sometimes be a symptom of more serious medical conditions. If you or a loved one experiences continued insomnia without relief, talk to a doctor. Visit AltaMed.org to find a location, make an appointment, and learn more.
 

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The Nine Things You Need to Know to Keep Your Heart Healthy

February 01, 2019

You probably already know Valentine’s Day is coming up, but did you know February is Heart Health Month? So, instead of candy, we’re giving you these bite-sized tips to help you show your heart some love.


1.    Heart Disease Runs in Families.


AltaMed Latino family in group shot smiling
 
To some degree, heart disease is thought to be ‘hereditary’ or ‘genetic:’ that is, it can be passed from one generation to another through the genes. However, having the genes for it doesn’t mean you are absolutely certain to develop heart disease: it just means you’re more at risk.

 

2.    But There’s a Lot You Can Do to Prevent It.


AltaMed middle age Hispanic man running on treadmill

 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that about 80% of all heart disease deaths could have been prevented by following steps like eating a healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking, and having regular health screenings.


3.    All Fats Aren’t Created Equal. 


AltaMed half avocado on wooden table
 
Most of us have been trained to believe that all fats are bad. However, some sources of fat are actually good for you and may reduce your risk for heart disease. 

  • Unsaturated fats are the good kind of fat, and they’re found in foods like avocados, nuts like almonds and walnuts, olive and canola oils, fish, and more. Enjoy in moderation. 
  • Then there are saturated fats (found in whole milk products, red meat, skin-on chicken, among others) which should be limited to occasional eating; and trans fats, which should be avoided when possible as they increase both your cholesterol level and heart disease risk. They’re found in processed foods like fries, cakes and cookies, microwave popcorn, and frozen pizza.


4.    Your Belly Could Tell You Your Risk. 


AltaMed chubby man sitting on couch with burger fries and beer
 
If you have a lot of fat around your middle or belly, compared to your hips, you may be more likely to have heart disease (think being apple-shaped rather than pear-shaped.) One recent study found that women who carried their fat around their middles were twice as likely to have heart problems, including heart attacks. Fortunately, losing even a little weight can make a difference for your heart.


5.    Petting Puppies is Good for You. 


AltaMed golden retriever dog smiling and getting pet by owner
 
Science can’t say for sure that stress causes heart disease, but stress leads to the factors that can put you at risk for heart disease or make your health worse (such as high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcers, to name a few). Whatever you can do to manage your stress is good, and doctors agree that having a pet, and even just stroking an animal, can help. In fact, one study showed that dog owners who’d had heart attacks or heart problems had better health outcomes than those who didn’t have pets.


6.    There’s a Connection Between Your Teeth and Your Heart Health.


AltaMed woman smiling putting toothpaste on yellow toothbrush
 
A good oral hygiene routine is important for your overall health and well-being, not to mention your confidence. Not brushing and flossing can lead to bacteria, inflammation, and plaque, which has been linked to heart attacks.
  


7.    The Warning Signs of a Heart Attack. 


AltaMed man grabbing heart like he is having chest pains
 
Heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person, but the signs usually include:

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms 
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden lightheadedness or dizziness


8.    One Heart Attack Leads to Another. 


AltaMed person in hospital bed
 
Those who’ve had heart attacks are four times more likely to suffer a fatal cardiac event, compared to those who haven’t. 


9.    You Can Get Your Numbers Checked at No Cost. 


AltaMed two female doctors and one male doctor
 
Getting your blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol numbers checked are all considered essential health benefits and therefore, your medical plan will cover a trip to the doctor at no charge to you. 
 

 

The Health Benefits (and Risks) of Drinking Caffeine

January 04, 2019

There’s something so comforting about that first sip of coffee: you feel warm from the inside out and energized to take on the day. Caffeine can’t be bad for you, right?

The short answer is: maybe? And it depends on who you are. 

Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound that gives coffee and colas that energy-boosting zing – and it seems like doctors have mixed emotions about it. There have been reports showing that caffeine can deliver health benefits such as fighting inflammation, boosting metabolism, and possibly cutting risk for stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and heart failure. And it’s a good thing, since as many as 80 – 90% of Americans consume caffeine on a regular basis. 

On the downside, too much caffeine can give you the jitters, make you lose sleep, raise your blood pressure, and can even cause a headache. It can also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb and use calcium, the mineral that is important for strong, healthy bones and teeth. Some people have medical conditions that can be made worse by caffeine. In rare cases, people can overdose on caffeine (but it’s usually when taken in pill form).

And caffeine addiction is a real thing. Over time, your body can develop a dependence on it, and when you don’t get it, you develop flu-like symptoms that include fatigue, headache, muscle soreness, lack of mental focus, and dehydration. 
 

Who Should Limit Caffeine

  • Those prone to migraines
  • Anyone with high blood pressure
  • Children and teens
  • Ulcer suffers
  • Those with irregular heart rhythms


Who Should Avoid Caffeine

  • Pregnant women
  • Breastfeeding women
  • Require certain medications


Choose a Healthy Caffeine Source

Even if you tolerate caffeine well, some caffeinated drinks are better for you than others. If you need a little pick-me-up to get going, try some of the healthier alternatives and then avoid the rest.
 

Coffee

coffee
This rich beverage has been savored around the world for hundreds of years. Still, many drinkers find it somewhat bitter, and add sugar or creamer to ease the taste. Instead, try more healthful alternatives such as cinnamon, almond milk, coconut cream, stevia, or honey.

 

Espresso


espresso
These hot shots are actually just super-concentrated doses of coffee. Because of their tiny size, espresso shots don’t have as much caffeine as a cup of black coffee, but because it’s so potent, espresso has more caffeine per ounce. Usually consumed straight, espresso is a no-go for those with heart conditions.


Coffee-house Style Blended Coffee Drinks


coffee drinks
Enjoy these sweet treats in moderation. Even if they provide the right dose of caffeine, they’re filled with sugar – many of them pack as many calories as a milkshake. All that sugar + a dose of caffeine = plummeting energy levels after the buzz wears off. 


Energy Drinks


energy drinks
Drink these only occasionally – or better yet, not at all. Some energy drinks contain as much caffeine as three cups of coffee. In addition, most are loaded with sugar and herbal stimulants for extra kick. It’s too much for many people – in 2011, energy drinks sent more than 20,000 people to the emergency room.


Tea


teaSome teas will get your motor running, and also provide additional health benefits. Even though it doesn’t have quite as much caffeine, both green tea and oolong tea are good sources of antioxidants, which are thought to protect your cells from aging and disease. These teas taste very different from the herbal teas you might have tried; spoon in some honey or stevia to healthfully sweeten your cup. 


Soda


sodaA 12-oz can of soda has about half the caffeine of a cup of coffee, so you’re not going to get a lot of bang for your buck. Like blended coffee drinks, these should only be consumed as an occasional treat, since sodas are very high in sugar. Diet sodas aren’t much better: there have been (inconclusive) studies linking them to serious health conditions and weight gain. 


If You’re After Long-Lasting Energy…
Coffee will give you a boost, but for energy that lasts throughout the day, there’s no substitute for good nutrition, exercise, and getting a good night’s sleep!