Category Archives: News

Blood Pressure Matters: Keep Hypertension in Check

blood pressureAbout 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure, but many don’t realize it. High blood pressure is sometimes called a “silent killer,” because it usually has no warning signs, yet it can lead to life-threatening conditions like heart attack or stroke. The good news is that high blood pressure, or hypertension, can often be prevented or treated. Early diagnosis and simple, healthy changes can keep high blood pressure from seriously damaging your health.

Normal blood flow delivers nutrients and oxygen to all parts of your body, including important organs like your heart, brain, and kidneys. Your beating heart helps to push blood through your vast network of blood vessels, both large and small. Your blood vessels, in turn, constantly adjust. They become narrower or wider to maintain your blood pressure and keep blood flowing at a healthy rate.

It’s normal for your blood pressure to go up and down throughout each day. Blood pressure is affected by time of day, exercise, the foods you eat, stress, and other factors. Problems can arise, though, if your blood pressure stays too high for too long.

High blood pressure can make your heart work too hard and lose strength. The high force of blood flow can damage your blood vessels, making them weak, stiff, or narrower. Over time, hypertension can harm several important organs, including your heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes.

“Hypertension is a leading risk factor for death and disability worldwide,” says Dr. Paul Whelton, an expert in hypertension and kidney disease at Tulane University. “High blood pressure raises the risk of having a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, or kidney disease.”

Anyone, even children, can develop high blood pressure. But the risk for hypertension rises with age. “Once people are in their 60s, about two-thirds of the population is affected by hypertension,” Whelton says.

Excess weight or having a family history of high blood pressure also raises your risk for hypertension.

African Americans are especially likely to get hypertension. Compared to Caucasian or Hispanic American adults, African Americans tend to develop hypertension at a younger age and to have a higher blood pressure on average.

Because it usually has no symptoms, the only way to know for sure that you have hypertension is to have a blood pressure test. This easy, painless test involves placing an inflated cuff with a pressure gauge around your upper arm to squeeze the blood vessels. A health care provider may then use a stethoscope to listen to your pulse as air is released from the cuff, or an automatic device may measure the pressure.

Blood pressure is given as 2 numbers. The first number represents the pressure in your blood vessels as the heart beats (called systolic pressure). The second is the pressure as your heart relaxes and fills with blood (diastolic pressure). Experts generally agree that the safest blood pressure—or “normal” blood pressure—is 120/80 or lower, meaning systolic blood pressure is 120 or less and diastolic pressure is 80 or less.

“Hypertension is defined as having an average blood pressure of above 140/90,” says NIH’s Dr. Lawrence Fine, who oversees research on the treatment and prevention of hypertension. Since blood pressure can vary widely from day to day, a diagnosis of hypertension is usually based on an average of 2 or more readings taken on 2 or more occasions.

If your blood pressure falls between “normal” and “hypertension,” it’s sometimes called prehypertension. People with prehypertension are more likely to end up with high blood pressure if they don’t take steps to prevent it.

“We know we can prevent high blood pressure through diet, weight loss, and physical activity,” Whelton says. “We can also treat it, and we can treat it effectively.”

If you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor will prescribe a treatment plan. You’ll likely be advised to make healthy lifestyle changes (see the Wise Choices box). You may also need to take medications. The goal of treatment is to reduce your blood pressure enough to avoid more serious problems.

How low should you aim when reducing your blood pressure? The answer depends on many factors, which is why it’s important to work with your doctor on blood pressure goals. Most current guidelines recommend aiming for a systolic pressure below 140. These medical guidelines are sometimes adjusted as new research is reported.

A large NIH-funded study recently found there may be benefits to aiming for a much lower systolic pressure—120 or less, instead of 140—at least for some people. The study looked at adults ages 50 and up who had increased risk for cardiovascular disease but didn’t have diabetes. Half aimed for a systolic pressure of 120. The rest aimed for a pressure of 140.

The study was stopped early, after about 3 years, when clear benefits were seen in the lower blood pressure group. “When treating to the lower goal of 120, the risk of having a cardiovascular complication such as a heart attack or stroke was reduced by 25%, and the risk of death from all causes was reduced by 27%,” Fine says. This lower-goal group, though, tended to need 1 additional blood pressure medication; they also had more hospitalizations for side effects, including low blood pressure, fainting, and possible kidney damage.

“Results to date suggest that for older people with hypertension and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, it may make sense to aim for a lower blood pressure. But there may be drawbacks as well, and each patient is different,” Whelton says. “Researchers generate the evidence, so health care providers can have informed discussions with their patients about blood pressure targets.”

NIH-funded studies have clearly shown that healthy lifestyle changes can improve your blood pressure. “Making even small changes over time can really add up,” says Kathryn McMurry, a nutrition science expert at NIH. “In terms of diet, our best advice is to follow the DASH eating plan.”

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. “It’s not a diet to go on for a short period of time, but one that’s meant to be part of a healthy lifestyle and enjoyed for life,” McMurry says.

The DASH eating plan requires no special foods. Instead, it provides daily and weekly nutritional goals. It’s high in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods but low in saturated fat and added sugar.

“DASH is beneficial even for people who have normal blood pressure or who have prehypertension. It can help keep blood pressure from progressing to higher levels,” McMurry says. Learn more about DASH atwww.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash.

NIH News in Health, January 2016

Stay Cool

10 Heat-Beating Tips
  • If possible, stay out of the sun. When in the sun, wear lightweight, light colored, loose fitting clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Consider a hat to protect your face and head.
  • Use an air conditioner if you have one.
  • If you do not have an air conditioner, keep rooms well-ventilated with open windows and fans. Consider spending the warmest part of the day in a public building such as a library, store, mall, movie theater or find a local pool.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids – particularly water – even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid beverages containing alcohol, caffeine, or high amounts of sugar.
  • Eat light well balanced meals and avoid hot or spicy foods.
  • Avoid strenuous activity, especially during the hottest hours of the day – usually 11 AM to 4 PM. If you must engage in outdoor activities, rest often and plan them for the early morning and evening. Work or rest in the shade when possible.
  • Cool showers or baths may be helpful, but avoid extreme temperature changes. Never take a shower immediately after becoming overheated – extreme temperature changes may make you ill, nauseated, or dizzy.
  • Never leave children, pets, or those who require special care in a parked car during periods of intense summer heat.
  • People taking medicines for high blood pressure, depression, poor circulation (water pills) may be more susceptible to heat related illnesses
  • Make a special effort to check on your neighbors during a heat wave, especially if they are seniors, young children, and people with special needs.

Having a blast?

With warm weather and family gatherings, the Fourth of July can be a great time to celebrate and make memories. Fireworks are also a great way to celebrate, but fireworks can cause severe burns and eye injuries If not handled properly. To help you celebrate this Fourth of July, we have compiled the following safety tips:

  • Some fireworks are illegal in Pennsylvania so be sure to buy from reputable sellers.
  • Always read and follow label directions.
  • Children should never play with fireworks. Even sparklers are dangerous. They can get hot enough to melt gold and will burn skin, clothing and hair.
  • Only use outdoors.
  • Always have water handy (a garden hose and a bucket).
  • Light only one firework at a time and do not alter or bundle fireworks together.
  • Never throw or point fireworks at people, animals, or flammable items.
  • Do not carry fireworks in your pocket.
  • Never shoot fireworks from your hand or in metal or glass containers.
  • Do not re-light a “dud” firework (wait 15 to 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water).
  • If necessary, store fireworks in a cool, dry place.
  • Dispose of fireworks properly by soaking them in water and then disposing of them in your trashcan.
  • The shooter should always wear eye protection and never have any part of the body over the firework.
  • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Even a small amount of alcohol can impair one’s judgment and ability to properly set up and set off fireworks.

Can bacteria be good for you?

The idea of using bacteria to improve your health may seem odd, but it has been around since the early 1900s. However, not until just recently did people really begin to embrace the concept. Today, probiotic and prebiotic products are safe, effective, and widely used to treat and prevent gastrointestinal conditions.

Good Bacteria

Your body contains billions of bacteria that help you stay healthy. The largest population of bacteria can be found in your intestines. These beneficial bacteria help you digest food, and absorb nutrients. If the bacteria in your intestines is disrupted you may experience digestive difficulties and gastrointestinal symptoms. In order to re-establish healthy intestinal bacteria you can take probiotic or prebiotic supplements. While they sound similar and work in the same body system they are different.

Probiotics

Probiotics are generally live bacteria that live in your intestines. These microorganisms can positively impact your health. You can find probiotics in many food products, including yoghurt and sauerkraut. Probiotics can also be found in supplements. These supplements contain bacteria that are well-studied strains that have been specially prepared to survive the journey through the stomach into the intestines where they can grow.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are substances that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria—think of prebiotics as the food for probiotics. Prebiotics are non-living and mostly comprised of non-digestible carbohydrates from fruits and grains. Prebiotics can encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria already living in the body and also aid in the growth and maintenance of probiotics.

Breast cancer myths

The Myth

Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer.

The Truth

Only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer. But if you discover a persistent lump in your breast or notice any changes in breast tissue, it should never be ignored. It is very important that you see a physician for a clinical breast exam. He or she may possibly order breast imaging studies to determine if this lump is of concern or not.

Take charge of your health by performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, getting an annual clinical breast exam, and scheduling your routine screening mammograms.

The Myth

Men do not get breast cancer; it affects women only.

The Truth

Quite the contrary, each year it is estimated that approximately 2,190 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 410 will die. While this percentage is still small, men should also check themselves periodically by doing a breast self-exam while in the shower and reporting any changes to their physicians.

Breast cancer in men is usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola. Men carry a higher mortality than women do, primarily because awareness among men is less and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment.

The Myth

A mammogram can cause breast cancer to spread.

The Truth

A mammogram, or x-ray of the breast, currently remains the gold standard for the early detection of breast cancer. Breast compression while getting a mammogram cannot cause cancer to spread. According to the National Cancer Institute, “The benefits of mammography, however, nearly always outweigh the potential harm from the radiation exposure. Mammograms require very small doses of radiation. The risk of harm from this radiation exposure is extremely low.”

The standard recommendation is an annual mammographic screening for women beginning at age 40. Base your decision on your physician’s recommendation and be sure to discuss any remaining questions or concerns you may have with your physician.

The Myth

If you have a family history of breast cancer, you are likely to develop breast cancer, too.

The Truth

While women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. Statistically only about 10% of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of this disease.

  • If you have a first degree relative with breast cancer: If you have a mother, daughter, or sister who developed breast cancer below the age of 50, you should consider some form of regular diagnostic breast imaging starting 10 years before the age of your relative’s diagnosis.
  • If you have a second degree relative with breast cancer: If you have had a grandmother or aunt who was diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk increases slightly, but it is not in the same risk category as those who have a first degree relative with breast cancer.
  • If you have multiple generations diagnosed with breast cancer on the same side of the family, or if there are several individuals who are first degree relatives to one another, or several family members diagnosed under age 50, the probability increases that there is a breast cancer gene contributing to the cause of this familial history.
The Myth

Breast cancer is contagious.

The Truth

You cannot catch breast cancer or transfer it to someone else’s body. Breast cancer is the result of uncontrolled cell growth of mutated cells that begin to spread into other tissues within the breast. However, you can reduce your risk by practicing a healthy lifestyle, being aware of the risk factors, and following an early detection plan so that you will be diagnosed early if breast cancer were to occur.

The Myth

If the gene mutation BRCA1 or BRCA2 is detected in your DNA, you will definitely develop breast cancer.

The Truth

According to the National Cancer Institute, regarding families who are known to carry BRCA1 or BRCA2, “not every woman in such families carries a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, and not every cancer in such families is linked to a harmful mutation in one of these genes. Furthermore, not every woman who has a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will develop breast and/or ovarian cancer.But, a woman who has inherited a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 is about five times more likely to develop breast cancer than a woman who does not have such a mutation.” For people who discover they have the harmful mutation, there are various proactive measures that can be done to reduce risk. These include taking a hormonal therapy called Tamoxifen or deciding to take a surgical prevention approach which is to have bilateral prophylactic mastectomies, usually done with reconstruction. Most women will also have ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as well since there is no reliable screening test for the early stages of developing ovarian cancer.

The Myth

Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer.

The Truth

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) are not aware of any conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer.

Exercise for a better brain

More evidence has linked exercise with a positive effect on the brain. A new study finds that older adults who reported being the most physically active had less brain atrophy, higher volumes of gray matter, and less damage to white matter compared with their more sedentary counterparts.

Not only was the sample size, at almost 700 participants, much larger than those of other studies looking at the effect of physical activity on the brain, but this study is the first to look in detail at the effect of exercise on white matter, the brain’s “wiring,” .lead author Alan J. Gow, PhD, senior research fellow, Center for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, told Medscape Medical News.

“That’s probably one of the unique aspects of the study, the focus on the wiring, as well as on the volumes and shrinkage of actual gray matter.”

However, the researchers found no association between social and mentally stimulating leisure activities and these brain changes.

The study is published in the October 23 issue of Neurology.

Activity Range

The current analysis included data on 691 participants in the Lothian Birth 1936 (LBC1936), a longitudinal study of aging in participants born in 1936. Participants were recruited at a mean age of 69.5 years and had a second assessment 3 years later at a mean age of 72.5 years (the assessments are referred to as wave 1 and wave 2).

All the participants had had an IQ test at age 11, as part of a nation-wide educational survey. At wave 1, they completed a questionnaire that rated their participation in activities on a 6-point scale, ranging from no exercise or only doing necessary household activities to keeping fit or heavy exercise several times a week. Participants also rated their frequency of participation in 15 social and intellectual leisure activities.

At wave 2, researchers obtained structural brain measures through magnetic resonance imaging.

The study showed that a higher level of physical activity was associated with a higher fractional anisotropy, larger gray and normal-appearing white matter (NAWM) volumes, less atrophy, and lower white matter lesion load, the authors note.The association of physical activity with atrophy, gray matter, and white matter lesion remained significant after adjustment for covariates that included age, social class and health status, they added.

Leisure activity was associated with NAWM volume but was nonsignificant after inclusion of covariates.

White Matter Damage

Although the study linked physical activity with less brain atrophy overall, male participants had higher levels of atrophy than women. “This might purely be the result of the fact that men in general don’t live as long as women” and any structural brain changes might be more visible in men than in women at that age, said Dr. Gow.

The current study doesn’t provide insight into how exactly being physically active might influence brain structures, but researchers speculate that blood pressure effects on exercise capacity might help explain the relationship. “If indeed it is physical activity that protects the brain, we need to know much more about how that happens, the pathway, whether it’s something to do with the reduction in the cardiovascular risk profile overall or a natural direct effect on the brain,” said Dr. Gow.

The study only investigated the effect of current physical activity, at age 70 years, not past activity. “I would agree that we need to know much more about the life course of physical activity and at what point it might have the most beneficial effect,” said Dr. Gow.<

Leisure Activity

There was no association between leisure activity and any of the assessed structural parameters in the fully adjusted models, a finding that Dr. Gow didn’t find surprising. “People who are most likely to do challenging intellectual activities are able to do them, so it might be that the activities themselves aren’t protective but the association is driven by the fact that the people who do them are the least likely to be showing declines,” he said.

That’s not to say that people should stop participating in such activities, as they might benefit the brain in some way and they affect quality of life, provide pleasure, and influence well-being. But getting more physical exercise might be more important when it comes to maintaining structural brain health, said Dr. Gow.

It’s possible that the study results could be explained by participants whose white matter integrity was declining or who had significant atrophy becoming physical inactive. Dr. Gow is keen to complete the next 3-year assessment of the cohort (at age 76 years), which should provide more information about the cause-and-effect relationship.

“We’re interested in aging and how the brain and general health change over time, and we need to follow the same people for a long period of time so we can tease out all these questions.”

Host of Studies

Asked to comment, John Hart, Jr, MD, medical science director, Center for BrainHealth, professor, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University of Texas, Dallas, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said this is another in a “whole host of studies coming along” investigating the impact of physical activity on the brain.

What the study has going for it is its relatively large sample size and its inclusion of multiple types of brain measures in terms of metrics, said Dr. Hart. “And it did show that physical exercise to a reasonable degree can actually change brain physiology and or structures.”

But a drawback of the study is that it couldn’t explain causation. “It doesn’t explain anything in great detail in terms of what, how, where, when, and why, said Dr. Hart.

He didn’t place much weight on the lack of association found between leisure activities and structural brain changes because of the retrospective nature of the analysis. “There’s a fair amount of error when you ask subjects retrospective questions,” without anything being documented or in the absence of a closely watched time period, he said. “People’s self estimates don’t always have the greatest accuracy.”

He said he’s curious about whether the structural brain changes remain when physical activity stops. He’s convinced that exercise is probably not like an antibiotic that, taken once, gets rid of an infection. “I think this is a chronic kind of thing; if you want to maintain these changes, you have to keep doing it,” he said. Dr. Hart would also like to learn more about the importance of timing of exercise. “I’m betting that there’s a ‘never too late,’ but it’s a law of diminishing returns,” he said.

As an expert in the brain and cognition, Dr. Hart is often asked how to prevent cognitive decline. He believes he has a recipe for warding off dementia, something that anyone can do as long as it’s not contraindicated. “As a general rule of thumb, it’s getting to an aerobic state, so raising your pulse 20 beats above your baseline for 20 minutes continuously, at least 3 times a week.”

5 New Resolutions for 2013

Happy New Year! This time of year, so many of us make healthy resolutions such as eating healthier, getting more exercise and of course, lose weight. And while those goals are as admirable as they are popular, the reality is that fewer than half of people who make those resolutions actually stick to them for even six months.

So instead of those tired old promises, here are 5 new (and different) healthy resolutions to try for 2013.

Prioritize Sleep

Americans are increasingly sleep deprived. According to the CDC we should be getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night, but one survey found that nearly 30 percent of adults sleep six or fewer hours each night. And while we often glorify sleep deprivation in our society, it has been linked to health problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, and memory impairment. Make 2013 the year you put sleep back on the priority list.

Improve Your Posture

How often do you catch yourself slouched over your desk after a long day of work?

Proper posture can, among other things, reduce the abnormal wearing of joints that causes arthritis, prevent back and muscle aches, and decrease stress on the ligaments that hold the spine together. Plus, standing up straight has a way of making you look pounds thinner and simply feel better.

Kick The Diet Soda Habit

Everyone knows that sugar-packed sodas are a recipe for health disaster — but in 2011, some disturbing news came out about its calorie-free counterpart. Two studies suggest that diet soda may be associated with a wider waist in humans, and that aspartame (the artificial flavor that makes the drink sweet) raises blood sugar in mice prone to diabetes. So why not skip sodas completely in 2013? To kick the habit, first identify what it is that draws you to a diet soda. If it’s the caffeine, consider replacing it with unsweetened iced tea, coffee or green tea. If the fizz is what you crave, find a replacement like Pellegrino, mixed with just a splash of juice.

Stop Snacking Just To Snack

Are the snacks in the break room your downfall, or are the leftover holiday cookies hard to resist while watching TV at night — even if you’re not hungry.
Eating when you’re not hungry is hard to recognize and harder to admit. Mindless eating can really add up. One study found that Americans add nearly 600 calories to their daily intake from snacking alone. The next time you’re tempted by a treat when you’re not actually hungry, try a replacement activity like drinking a cup of tea or taking a walking.

Schedule One Thing A Week – Just Because You Want To

We give you permission to put yourself first. Get a manicure, work on a hobby, take a walk, whatever you chose, do it just because you want to. And don’t feel guilty — in fact, give it the same priority as you would to an important project at work or a commitment to a family member. Taking care of yourself is incredibly important but often get neglected.

Dinner with the Doctor

On Thursday February 28, Join Dr. Burick and Cardiologists Jeff Mandak and Andreas Wali for a delicious meal and heart healthy conversation.

See the menu below and then call the office to reserve your spot!

Dinner Menu

Soup
Green tea broth with poached chicken, edamame and carrots
Salad
Wild mushroom salad over savory greens (spinach, kale, swiss chard, and Brussles Sprouts)
Entrée
Braised fresh caught fish with asparagus, mushrooms and roasted tomato confit served over mashed white beans, roasted garlic and sweet potato
Dessert
Nut oil cake with brandied red grapes

6 Realistic steps for better sleep

You have to live in dreamland if you want a good night’s sleep, according to the usual expert advice: Make your bedroom into a spalike sanctuary. Don’t drink a drop of caffeine after 2 p.m. No laptops in the bedroom. So we were shocked when sleep doctor Michael Breus, PhD, admitted that he drifts off with the TV on and his Chihuahua, Sparky, and cat, Monte, in the bed — two major no-nos. His refreshing philosophy: “Steer clear of all the hard-and-fast rules and do what makes sense for your lifestyle.” That we can handle. Read on for more surprising sleep tips that mere mortals like us can actually follow.

Sleep in on weekends.

Forget all the blah-blah about maintaining a consistent wakeup time every day. Snoozing late on the weekend can have real benefits. Adults who were sleep deprived for five days (sound like your workweek?) made up for it somewhat — bouncing back closer to their baseline brain function and alertness — when they clocked 10 hours the next night, a study in the journal Sleep found. Still, it’s best to snooze only an extra hour or two come Saturday and Sunday. “Any more than that will reset your body clock, and then you won’t be able to fall asleep on Sunday night,” says Carol E. Ash, a sleep specialist in Monmouth County, New Jersey. If the additional winks aren’t enough to make you feel rested, take a 20-minute nap at 3 or 4 p.m. on the weekend, which won’t mess with your internal timetable, Ash says.

Exercise before bed — it’s OK, really!

Working out after dinner has long been considered a don’t by sleep docs. But — surprise! — it may actually help you snooze better. Young adults who rode a stationary bike for about 35 minutes, finishing two hours before bedtime, conked out faster and slept more deeply than when they didn’t exercise, a recent study in the Journal of Sleep Research found. If you discover you’re too revved up to go to bed after a nighttime sweat session, keep a weekly log of your exercise time and how you sleep afterward, advises Lisa Shives, MD, the founder of Northshore Sleep and Weight Management Medicine in Evanston, Illinois, and a medical expert for SleepBetter.org. You may learn that a treadmill jog within an hour of hitting the hay is disastrous for dozing, but that doing it two to three hours beforehand makes you sleep like a baby. Exercise, whenever you can get it, is one of the best sleep medicines, period, Dr. Shives says.

Snuggle with Fluffy.

Feel lonely? If you do, you’re likely to wake up more often during the night, a University of Chicago study found. Consider picking up a new bedmate…at your local animal rescue society. “I tell my patients who don’t like sleeping alone to consider getting a dog,” Dr. Shives says. A pet helps many women feel less isolated, which can restore sound sleep. It’s fine to break the no-pets-in-bed rule even when you’re not lonely, especially if keeping your furry friend out creates more disruption than letting him in. “If I banned my cat from the bedroom, he would paw at the door all night long, and I would get even less sleep,” says Breus, the author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep.

3 Tips to Fall Asleep Faster

Play a bedtime story.

The next time you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep, ignore the prevailing wisdom about getting out of bed to read by dim light. Dr. Shives recommends a new strategy: Quiet your churning mind with an audiobook, preloaded on your phone or music player and at the ready, bedside. Plug in your earbuds, press “Play,” and cover the display to block the glow. The story shouldn’t be too stimulating, so choose a biography or your favorite book from childhood instead of, say, Fifty Shades of Grey. In 15 to 20 minutes the narrative should soothe you to sleep, Dr. Shives says. If TV has always been a snoozing aid for you, follow Breus’s trick: Use a TV with a sleep timer and set it to switch off after 30 minutes.

Think before you drink.

It’s generally a good idea to cut out coffee, soda, and energy drinks seven to eight hours before bedtime. But the half-life of caffeine affects everyone differently. Download Caffeine Zone 2 Lite (free at the iTunes App Store), developed by Penn State researchers, to help you predict the hour at which caffeine will still deliver a kick without stealing sleep. Also be aware that a nightcap can be as disastrous for your slumber as an after-dinner cappuccino. Under the influence, you snooze in seconds. Problem is, you’ll wake up four or five hours later. And healthy women are much more susceptible to the “sleepus interruptus” effects of overimbibing, according to a recent University of Michigan study. “The best rule: Have your last drink three hours before you turn in,” Breus says.

Score better sleep.

You log your workouts, so why not your zzz’s? A spate of new sleeptracking devices with mobile apps, including Zeo Sleep Manager and Lark, allow you to monitor such habits as the time at which you fall asleep and get up, how much light versus deep sleep you’re getting, and the number of times you awaken during the night. We like the Renew SleepClock ($200, us.gear4.com; Renew SleepClock app, free, iTunes App Store) because you don’t have to wear anything on your body to use it; your movements and breathing rates are detected and monitored through your iPhone, which rests on the SleepClock’s docking station on your nightstand. “None of these devices are diagnostic, so they’re not going to tell you if you have sleep apnea or insomnia,” Breus says. “But they give you information about your sleep and make you think about how you can improve it.” For instance, an app can help you notice a pattern, like how your slumber improves on days you exercise. Or you may be surprised to learn, as one FITNESS editor did, that you’re getting a lot less sleep than you think.

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Burick Center for Health and Wellness

Burick Center for Health and Wellness