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10 Smoggiest U.S. Cities

4 in 10 Americans live with high amounts of smog, which can trigger asthma attacks and other problems. Is your town on the list?
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Thursday, May 14, 2015
10 Smoggiest U.S. Cities
10 Smoggiest U.S. Cities

4 in 10 Americans live with high amounts of smog, which can trigger asthma attacks and other problems. Is your town on the list?
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Better sleep, naturally

Also: Mediterranean diet may help memory and thinking skills; When your bladder keeps you up at night.
May 14, 2015
Harvard Medical School

Better sleep, naturally

The world looks very different at 3 a.m. when you're lying in bed staring at the ceiling or the clock. "How will I make it through tomorrow without any sleep?" you worry. If you regularly can't get to sleep — or stay asleep — and it's affecting you during the day, then you may have insomnia. 

Prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids can help you drift off, but these drugs also have side effects. These include morning drowsiness, which can make activities like driving or using machinery dangerous, and an increased risk for falling. There are other ways to get a good night's sleep than medications.

Product Page - Improving Sleep
When you wake up in the morning, are you refreshed and ready to go, or groggy and grumpy? For many people, the second scenario is all too common. This report describes the latest in sleep research, including information about the numerous health conditions and medications that can interfere with normal sleep, as well as prescription and over-the-counter medications used to treat sleep disorders. Most importantly, you’ll learn what you can do to get the sleep you need for optimal health, safety, and well-being.

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Try simple lifestyle changes, recommends Dr. Hadine Joffe, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Two good ones to start with include avoiding caffeine and sticking to a regular sleep schedule. If these steps don't help, it's worth a call to your doctor to see if a medical condition — such as thyroid problems, anemia, sleep apnea, menopausal hot flashes, heartburn, incontinence, or depression — is affecting the quality or the quantity of your sleep. Treating the health problem may take care of the sleep problem.

The guide below can help you establish a sleep routine to promote restful nights.

Your Daily Sleep Guide
This morning-to-evening, sleep-promoting schedule may help you get the rest you need.
7:00 a.m. Wake up at the same time each morning, even on weekends.
8:00 a.m. Limit yourself to just one cup of caffeinated coffee at breakfast, or drink decaf. Too much caffeine in the morning can stay with you until bedtime. (If you're used to drinking several cups of coffee a day, wean yourself off it gradually over a few weeks.)
9:00 a.m. Get outside for a 30-minute walk. Both exercise and morning sunlight can help you sleep better.
6:00 p.m. Eat a light dinner. A heavy meal can lead to heartburn, which can keep you awake. Avoid caffeinated tea, coffee, and soda, as well as alcohol and chocolate.
9:15 p.m. Turn off your TV, computer, cell phone, and tablet at least 30 minutes before bed. They stimulate the brain. Read a book (not on a tablet), take a warm bath, or listen to soft music to help your body and mind unwind before bed.
9:45 p.m. Get your bedroom ready for sleep. Dim the lights, close the curtains, make sure the temperature is cool and comfortable, and cover your alarm clock so you can't see the time if you do wake up in the middle of the night.
10:00 p.m. Use the bathroom.
10:15 p.m. Lights out. Try to go to bed at the same time every night. If you can't fall asleep in 15 minutes, leave the bedroom. Sit somewhere quiet, like the couch, and read a book for 15-20 minutes or until you get sleepy. Then go back to bed.

To read more about the importance of a good night's sleep, buy Improving Sleep: A guide to a good night's rest, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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News and Views from the Harvard Health Blog

Mediterranean diet may help counteract age-related declines in memory and thinking skills

Can a Mediterranean-type diet with extra servings of nuts and extra-virgin olive oil help protect memory and thinking skills with age? A study in this week’s JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that it might.

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When your bladder keeps you up at night

Having your sleep interrupted by the need to urinate (the medical term is nocturia) is a common cause of sleep loss, especially among older adults. Nearly two-thirds of adults ages 55 to 84 deal with this problem at least a few nights per week.

People with mild cases may wake two times a night; in severe cases, it may be as many as five or six times. The result can be significant sleep loss and daytime fatigue.

Nocturia becomes more common with age, partly due to normal changes. In addition, older folks are more likely to have medical problems that affect the bladder. Other possible causes include diabetes, urinary tract infection, and side effects of certain medications. Simply drinking a lot of liquid a few hours before bedtime can contribute to this problem, particularly if the drinks contain alcohol or caffeine.

There are really three ways to treat this problem: correcting any underlying health problems, trying behavioral approaches, prescribing medication. Almost always, the first step is to try to identify any medical cause for frequent nighttime urination and correct it. Behavioral approaches such as cutting down on how much you drink in the two hours before bedtime can also help. If the nocturia doesn't improve, your doctor may prescribe medication to treat an overactive bladder. There are several choices available and she or he can help find the one that works best for you.

If you want to learn research-based strategies to improve sleep and reap the many health benefits of a good night's rest, buy Improving Sleep: A guide to a good night's rest, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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