Our health system focuses far more on treating disease than on preventing it. Clearly routine screening, from blood pressure to colonoscopy to mammogram to PSA are important in-office prevention tools, but it is important to start prevention long before a patient ever gets to the doctor’s office.
The goal of prevention is to improve mental and physical function, to decrease inflammation that can lead to disease. There are four major areas to consider, diet, exercise, stress and sleep.
Proper exercise and improving sleep patterns go a long way toward reducing stress. When it comes to exercise, I am a big believer in walking, cycling and, if you are otherwise in good physical condition, jogging.
One tip I have for many of my patients which I follow myself is to gear my reading or watching of a show or movie to the time I spend on the bike or elliptical. In other words, I condition myself to exercise by coupling it with some entertainment that is too often done sedentary. I won’t allow myself to watch the show unless I am exercising at the same time.
Sleep is very important to your health, and it is too frequently overlooked. It decreases inflammation and involves the important positive hormone oxytocin. It is not enough to say that a healthy adult requires seven or eight hours of sleep per night; we must look at the quality of sleep and how to best obtain it.
Here are five tips to help you improve your sleep.
Repetition. Have a consistent and recurrent approach to sleep each night as much as possible, meaning the same time, same place, and with a feeling of security and safety.
No caffeine or alcohol close to sleep. Caffeine directly interferes with and disturbs sleep and alcohol can help you fall asleep initially but then you may wake up a few hours later as its effects on suppressing brain function wear off.
Speak to your physician about whether your sleep cycle is disrupted. Do you need to get up frequently to urinate – problems with bladder, prostate, etc.? Are you snoring or sometimes gasping for air – sleep apnea? Are you sleepy the next day no matter how much sleep you get? Do you have the urge to move your legs – restless legs syndrome? All of these conditions are treatable.
Sleep in a dark room with your TV off and your electronic devices on silent or sleep mode. Alarm clocks may be essential to your job, but otherwise I would try to limit their use as much as possible. Too often we anticipate the alarm and it keeps us awake.
Exercise and hydration before sleep may make for a sounder more restful night. I am not a big believer in sleep aids though they are essential for some people. Prescribing sedative hypnotic drugs such as Ambien or Sonata may help to break a cycle of insomnia, but they are also habituating and can involve sleep disruptions, including partial arousal. Melatonin or Valerian tea are more natural supplements that may be useful.
We are not flesh and blood computers, though sometimes we may feel that way. We need daily periods of shutdown and rejuvenation as the brain and body rests. The brain even deep cleans during sleep and clears out toxins. Dreams help the mind to heal from traumatic events and strong emotional experiences.
Sleep is restorative, and too many of us refuse to consider that.