Sleep problems Archives

Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

A couple of weeks ago, I had arthroscopic knee surgery because of a fall more than a dozen years ago. It was partially exploratory to determine the next step as well as to “clean it up.” The next two weeks will determine my options, but total knee replacement is not necessary.

In order to go through this surgery, I had to get a second opinion and while the second doctor determined that surgery is necessary, it was his opinion that a total knee replacement should be considered “just in case” I might need one down the road. On the other hand, my world-renowned knee specialist said you never replace anything that’s in good condition and basically, other than my knee cap, my knee is in very good condition. But the most important lesson in this is to prevent falls in the first place and to prevent arthritis from creeping in.

Fitness expert Sonia Gow, in a previous post, shared her expertise about why people fall. She mentioned that falls are not a normal part of aging.

Did you know that falls are a leading cause of hospital admissions for people over 65? For those over 65, one in three will experience a fall each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 to 30 percent of the falls result in injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures, and head traumas with hospital bills averaging nearly $18,000 per patient.

According to Mary Tinetti, M.D., professor of internal medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, the more chronic health conditions you have, the more likely you are to suffer a fall.

  • Diabetes can worsen vision and desensitize nerves in the feet.
  • Depression can increase risk of falling.
  • Many medications cause dizziness and affect balance, especially sleep aids.

Other diseases causing a higher rate of falls include:

  • Circulatory disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Arthritis

Yoga and tai chi which has slow, rhythmic movements can help you with your balance. Don’t forget to strengthen your arms too since you can use them to steady yourself. Find a personal trainer or borrow/buy a DVD to help you.

Stress Relievers — Reducing Cortisol

Are you stressed? Here we are in the middle of the holiday season and even running regular errands like grocery shopping can be stressful. Traffic is heavier, parking lots are more crowded, and you have more to do with the holidays upon us. Occasional stress is not harmful; it’s the continuous, relentless one that is the problem.

Cortisol is a “stress hormone” that is produced by the adrenal glands. It is secreted in greater amounts during your body’s “fight or flight” response. Small amounts of cortisol are fine, but when it’s continuous, many problems start to develop such as a depressed immune system, sleep problems, blood sugar abnormalities, and abdominal weight gain so it’s important to get the body back to a relaxation state.

Elizabeth Svoboda of Prevention magazine recommends the following:

  • Say “om” — practicing meditation can cut cortisol by 20%
  • Make a great iPod mix — listening to background music can cut cortisol by 66%
  • Hit the sack early or take a nap — there was 50% more cortisol in the group that slept 6 hours or less vs. those that slept for 8 hours which gave the body enough time to recover from the day’s stresses.
  • Sip some black tea — cut cortisol by 47%
  • Hang out with a funny friend — even simply anticipating laughter can cut cortisol by 39%
  • Schedule a massage — this can cut cortisol by 31% and not only reduces stress, but promotes production of dopamine and serotonin, the “feel good” hormones released when we socialize with friends or do something fun.
  • Do something spiritual — cut cortisol by 25%; church-going subjects had lower level of the stress hormone, but you can also take walks in nature’s “cathedral” in the woods or along a beach or even doing volunteer work.
  • Chew a piece of gum — cut cortisol by 12 to 16% to instantly defuse tension. Gum chewing increases blood flow and neural activity in select brain regions.

I hope you’ll find at least a couple of suggestions useful to you and can be implemented immediately. Happy Holidays!

Brain Rules: Part II

In my last post I introduced a wonderful book by John Medina, Brain Rules. I talked about his first chapter, the importance of exercise because it boosts brain power. In this post, I explore his Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.

In 1965, a 17-year old made the Guinness Book of World Records by not sleeping for 11 straight days. He became irritable, forgetful, nauseous and after five days he was actively hallucinating, became severely disoriented, and paranoid. He looked as though he had Alzheimer’s disease. In the last four days of the experiment, he lost motor function, his fingers trembled, and his speech slurred. However, on the final day he was able to beat scientist William Dement, who was studying him, at pinball for 100 consecutive times. Dement is often called the father of sleep research.

I used to think that many seniors don’t sleep well at night and therefore always needed a nap during the day. However, it appears that the biological drive for an afternoon nap is universal. The “nap zone” is literally fatal: More traffic accidents occurring during it than at any other time of day.

We know that lack of sleep hurts learning and cognitive skills. But it also affects other bodily functions:

  • ability to utilize food consumed falls by about one-third
  • ability to make insulin to extract energy from glucose falls dramatically
  • body’s stress hormone levels rise in an increasingly deregulated fashion
  • accelerate the aging process

Medina points out, “The bottom line is that sleep loss means mind loss. Sleep loss cripples thinking in just about every way you can measure thinking.” The amount of sleep each person needs varies, but we know for sure that it’s needed and we can certainly function a lot better by getting our requisite amount of sleep plus a power nap. Perhaps we’ll even have fewer “senior moments” and slow down our aging.

For previous posts that mentioned “sleep,” type “sleep” in the search box in the upper right corner.

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Brain Rules: Part I

Brain Rules by John J. Medina, PhD, is an intriguing and interesting book published in 2008. Dr. Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant. He is the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University. He also teaches at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in it Department of Bioengineering. In Brain Rules he talks about 12 principles of surviving and thriving at work, home, and school.

  1. Exercise: Exercise boots brain power.
  2. Survival: The human brain evolved, too.
  3. Wiring: Every brain is wired differently.
  4. Attention: We don’t pay attention to boring things.
  5. Short-term Memory: Repeat to remember.
  6. Long-term memory: Remember to repeat.
  7. Sleep: Sleep well, think well.
  8. Stress: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
  9. Sensory Integration: Stimulate more of the senses.
  10. Vision: Vision trumps all other senses.
  11. Gender: Male and female brains are different.
  12. Exploration: We are powerful and natural explorers.

Chapter 1 immediately caught my attention with exercise boosts brain power. So all of my writing about “moving” and all of the hours I spend in various forms of exercise should pay off. He answers the question: Is there one factor that predicts how well you will age? Before answering the question, he profiles two people he met on television — Jim and Frank.

Jim is in a nursing home — picture him in a nursing home, in a wheelchair, his eyes vacant, lonely, friendless staring into space. Most people would not want to spend their last years of life in this way. On another channel, the author meets Frank … Frank Lloyd Wright, that is. He was amazed at his use of language and the clarity of his mind. Wright completed the designs for the Guggenheim Museum (his last work) when he was 90 years old in 1957.

Jim or Frank — which lifestyle are you headed for? Medina says:

Put simply, if  you are a couch potato, you are more likely to age like Jim, if you make it to your 80s at all. If you have an active lifestyle, you are more likely to age like Frank Lloyd Wright and much more likely to make it to your 90s.The chief reason for the difference seemed to be that exercise imporved cardiovascular fitness, which in turn reduced the risk for diseases such as heart attacks and stroke.

He goes on to say that a lifetime of exercises can also do amazing things for cognitive performance in areas like long-term memory, reasoning, and problem-solving, but the area that’s not improved by exercise is short-term memory and certain types of reaction times. Also, over-exertion and exhaustion can also hurt cognition. So, folks, we continue with our “senior moments.”

Medina says, “Your lifetime risk for general dementia is literally cut in half if you participate in leisure-time physical activity. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: Such exercise lowers your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent.” Now this is amazing — “… a 20-minute walk each day, and you can cut your risk of having a stroke — one of the leading causes of mental disability in the elderly — by 57 percent.”

Exercise opens up your blood vessels so it can feed your brain. In addition as the blood flows more freely, the body makes new blood vessels, which penetrate deeper into the tissues of the body.

He concludes the chapter by saying, “Our brains were built for walking — 12 miles a day! To improve your thinking skills, move.”

In order to have enough energy to exercise, we must get enough sleep. In Brain Rules: Part II, I talk about sleep.

Yoga: A Cure for Insomnia

In previous posts, I’ve talked about insomnia and have recommended cherries and walking to solve sleep problems. I was recently at a meeting where someone mentioned yoga as a panacea to sleep problems. So I visited Gus, who owns and teaches at Cosmos Yoga and Healing in Alexandria, Virginia.

Cosmos Yoga and Healing

Cosmos Yoga and Healing is especially designed for his students to walk into a calming environment. The color, music, and smell of the room will leave a person relaxed by the end of the session. Gus teaches the Iyengar school of yoga which stresses body alignment and aims to unite the body, mind and spirit for health and well-being.

How can yoga be a cure for insomnia? Gus tells me that it’s through correct breathing, stretches, and alignment of the body. Additionally, about 10 to 15 minutes is spent in meditation where one “centers” oneself as well as removes toxins from the mind. He says we have too many things in our mind and the correct environment will bring a different mood. Stresses such as driving in traffic, a bad day at work, kids to care for — yoga removes the stresses, balances the body, and helps you to see clearly. With your body balanced and your mind cleared — it will help you fall asleep.


Gus’s definition of yoga … “Forever Young.” He says that the most positive energy we can get is from the sun’s rays so he encourages his students to get fresh air. If you live or work in the Alexandria, Virginia area, plan to check out this studio and try a class. Click here for a schedule.


In a previous post, I wrote about insomnia and how cherries might be able to help the problem. Not being able to fall asleep at night or getting up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall asleep again can be very frustrating and a common problem for the elderly. I came across a Web site, that you might want to check out, if sleep is a problem. Michael B. Steinberg, MD, MPH educates you on what insomnia is in short video or text segments. Additionally, if you join (no charge for membership), you can download sleep music and get his newsletter.IMG_6584

In my very first blog post, I talked about committing to walking every day. If insomnia is a problem, try the recommended 10K steps every day. Personally, I think one of the nicest places to walk is on the sand along the ocean. As I write this post, I’m in southern California and I had the opportunity to visit the Santa Monica State Beach.

After getting up from a good night’s sleep, wake up happy. According to Whitney in her feng shui tips, she suggests that you place a picture of your loved one(s) by your bed because feng shui believes that the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see before you fall asleep will have a profound impact on your life. By looking at loved ones, it triggers your brain to release oxytocin, which is the “love” hormone, which makes you feel happy and secure. What a great way to start and end your day, especially if you are fortunate to have grandchildren!

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Insomnia and Cherries

CherriesWe’ve all experienced it — insomnia. Cherries may be the answer to insomnia. It seems that  age  plays a role in the change of sleep habits. It is generally thought that:
• Increasing age predisposes to sleep disorders (5% in persons aged 30-50 and 30% in those aged 50 or older).
• People who are elderly experience a decrease in total sleep time, with more frequent awakening during the night.
• People who are elderly have a higher incidence of general medical conditions and are more likely to be taking medications that cause sleep disruption.

According to, “As people age they tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger. It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age.”

One of the simple solutions to the problem is to eat a handful of cherries before bedtime. Eating cherries is a natural way to boost the melatonin in your body. Melatonin is the same hormone created by your body to regulate sleep patterns. When there is insufficient melatonin produced, insomnia may be the result.

Unlike medication, there are no side effects to eating cherries. Although there are several different varieties, tart Montmorency cherries are purported to be the best. Cherry juice is also an alternative. Several sources also recommend that you take a hot bath to relax your muscles and your mind and use a pillow with lavender which induces sleepiness. Happy zzzzzzzzs!

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