Earthy, essential

Today’s lesson is all about minerals. I know that to some people learning about minerals is about as exciting as watching water boil. Not me, I think minerals are fascinating. These essential nutrients play a major role in the body ranging from bone structure to nerve transmission and everything in between. Unlike vitamins, which are organic compounds that contain carbon, minerals are inorganic substances that we get from the earth; basically they are rocks. Some minerals are needed in significant amounts in the diet (gram quantities) and are also present in the body in large amounts like the calcium in your bones. Other minerals are only needed in trace amounts but their effect is just as great. For example, we only need to consume a miniscule amount of iron in our daily diet but without it we can suffer a number of deleterious effects, such as debilitating exhaustion from iron-deficiency anemia.

Minerals are present in both natural foods and processed foods. Just like vitamins, it’s best to get your minerals from the diet, however in some cases, mineral supplements are necessary. It’s best to talk to your physician regarding your mineral needs.

If you would like to know where the minerals are in the foods you eat, take a virtual walk through my kitchen with me and I’ll identify important minerals and tell you some of their functions.

Let’s start with the bowl of bananas on the kitchen table; they are chock full of potassium. Potassium is involved in nerve transmission and muscle contraction. One peak inside my refrigerator will reveal a treasure trove of minerals such as iron, phosphorous, magnesium and calcium. Iron is an essential component of the protein hemoglobin whichtransports oxygen via red blood cells. It is also a key player in utilizing the energy from foods. The spinach and ground beef for tonight’s dinner are both good sources of iron, however the iron in the spinach is not as easily absorbed. Combining a source of Vitamin C, like sliced oranges with the spinach salad, will enhance absorption of the mineral. Phosphorus is responsible for maintaining acid-base balance in the blood and is found in a variety of foods such as processed American cheese, sirloin steak and peanut butter. Magnesium is another mineral that plays a role in muscle contraction and also works to strengthen bones.You shouldn’t have too much trouble getting it in your diet since it’s found in a variety of foods such as almonds, baked potato, chicken and a staple in my kitchen, milk chocolate!

When you think of calcium, you may look to dairy foods because milk and milk products like yogurt and cheese are good sources of calcium. However, some vegetables can supply significant calcium to your diet such as broccoli, Bok choy, collard greens and kale. In addition, fish with soft edible bones like sardines or canned salmon are good choices too. Calcium is the main component of bones and teeth and it is imperative that growing children get enough calcium to ensure peak bone mass into young adulthood. Some people may not realize that calcium does more than build strong bones. Blood levels of calcium must remain at the appropriate levels in order to achieve muscle contraction and relaxation, proper blood clotting and nerve function.

Some other minerals worth mentioning are iodine ( found in iodized salt) which is part of a thyroid hormonethat controls metabolism and fluoride, which works with calcium to form bones and teeth and is in fluoridated drinking water, seafood and tea.Zinc is noted for increasing our immunity and protein synthesis and it’s also involved in sexual development and sperm production. It’s interesting that oysters are exceptionally high in zinc and are associated with sexual endurance in men. Minerals aren’t so boring after all, are they?

Sodium is a mineral that our body needs but most Americans consume too much sodium in the form of sodium chloride or table salt. Here’s how you can reduce excessive intake of sodium:

Use spices, herbs, vinegars and lemon juice to season foods. Be adventurous and try a new spice in an old recipe.

Rinse canned foods to remove excess salt or buy low-sodium versions.

Avoid those instant seasoned soups and rice mixes. They are highly salted. If the flavoring packet is separate use half and season with non-salt flavorings.

Limit processed and packaged foods.

Eat in more often since restaurant foods tend to be salty.

Instead of salted popcorn, prepare air-popped popcorn and season with cinnamon, or black pepper depending on the taste you desire.


Cancer-fighting tips

When it comes to fighting cancer, the good news is that many kinds are subject to delay or avoidance by making smart life-style choices. Some of the behavioral tweaks recommended by a leading cancer doctor may surprise you.

Of course, the formula for preventing cancer isn’t iron-clad, nor is it one size fits all. That’s according to Dr. David Agus, an oncologist, professor of medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and author of the new book “The End of Illness,” which examines the scientific evidence behind his conclusions.

“As a cancer doctor on the front lines, one of the first things you realize is the best way to treat cancer is actually to prevent it,” he said in a recent interview.

Medicine has spent too much time looking at individual cells and fixating on individual tests instead of studying whole systems and how they interact over time, Agus said, noting that diseases like cancer reflect a breakdown of the body’s interconnected systems.

“To me diseases are verbs, not nouns. You’re cancering. You’re heart diseasing,” he said. “That’s a very different approach to health.”

Agus is cofounder of Navigenics, a personal genomics company that contracts with doctors and employers to try to motivate people to change their behavior based on findings about their genetic predispositions. He’s also cofounder of Applied Proteomics, which studies how proteins are expressed in the body. Agus holds a small financial stake in both firms.

Other personalized-medicine outfits with different business models, including 23andMe and DNA Direct, have sprung up in the past six years as concern about managing health-care costs has grown. But you don’t need to buy one of these companies’ services to take steps toward living a longer, healthier life.

Here are 10 ways to help your body prevent the ravages of disease, according to Agus:

  1. Keep a predictable schedule. Try to eat, sleep and exercise at about the same time every day including weekends, and don’t forget to schedule downtime to unwind without technological intrusions. Getting enough shut-eye is important for memory consolidation, mood balance and long-term physical health, he says, but regularity of sleep patterns matters more than total hours slept. Having trouble adhering to a routine? Consider getting a dog, he suggests. Dog ownership involves walking and feeding it at regular intervals, forcing people to stick to the clock, get some physical activity and take breaks from working.
  2. Move frequently and avoid prolonged sitting. Fitness is paramount to your body’s overall functioning, and you won’t have to sweat the risks of pills or surgery. What’s more, sitting for long stretches of time has been linked to a higher risk of early death and many diseases including colon cancer. It’s easy to underestimate how long you stay seated during the day. Even Agus was surprised to learn how sedentary he was after wearing a device that measured his activity. Finding out that he had three hours of daily uninterrupted sitting motivated him to buy a wireless phone headset that allowed him to walk around during conference calls, resulting in a 35% greater number of steps taken per day. His prescription: aim for an hour of moderate exercise a day (short bouts count, too) and keep a set of free weights nearby so you can sneak in some bicep curls. “I’d suggest you keep a pair of 2.5-pound weights by your desk, under your couch and anywhere you spend time,” Agus writes in his book. “Stand on one foot and do 20 reps while on your next phone call with a headset; this is a great abdominal exercise that also helps you work on your balance.”
  3. Ditch the vitamins and supplements. Unless you’re addressing a confirmed vitamin deficiency, are considering pregnancy or are already pregnant, you can steer clear of multivitamins and save money without sacrificing your health, Agus says. Some people believe they need supplements to fight a battle with so-called free radicals, but the body already has defenses against such byproducts of metabolism, he says, and the effects of interfering with the body’s natural control system aren’t well understood. In the meantime, many studies point to no benefit and sometimes harm from vitamins and supplements. Vitamin E supplementation, for example, was found to raise the risk of prostate cancer 17% in healthy men, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
  4. Get an annual flu shot. Having the flu triggers inflammation, which can set the body up for serious problems when it’s most vulnerable, he says. The flu vaccine, whose contents change every year according to the dominant viral strains projected to circulate, helps the body tone down its harsh immune response. “I want [people] to think of a flu shot in terms of not just what it means today but a decade from now,” Agus says
  5. If you’re over 40, talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of taking a statin and low-dose daily aspirin if you’re not taking them already, he says. These low-cost medications have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and even some kinds of cancer, but they also have side effects you should weigh carefully.
  6. Wear comfortable shoes. Nix the high heels and other uncomfortable footwear in favor of shoes that don’t cause swelling or curtail your movement, Agus says. Picking shoes that won’t cause back or joint problems can help you cut your risk of chronic inflammation. “Over weeks, months, years, [wearing comfortable shoes] changes your overall health, and you’re also going to move more,” he says.
  7. Take inventory of your medicine cabinet once a year. Go over your list of drugs with your doctor to see if your needs have changed and if you can lose at least a few of them.  “Health is a constantly moving target,” Agus writes.
  8. Cash in on healthy-living incentives. Your employer may offer lower insurance premiums in exchange for taking a health-risk assessment or cut you a break on the cost of a gym membership. Your premium dollars might include the services of a health coach, who can help you set and stick to goals around making sustainable life-style changes. “How do we make health profitable instead of sickness?” Agus says. “Put in incentives for prevention.”
  9. Think of your doctor as a partner, not a friend. Ask your physician what he or she does to stay current on the latest scientific information, Agus suggests, and if you don’t feel you can tell your doctor anything, find a new one.
  10. Know yourself by keeping records of your medical data. Perhaps Agus’ most controversial tip is to store it online. But old-fashioned paper will do. If you jot down dates, symptoms and treatment trial and error, it may allow you to discover patterns that can help you and your doctor catch problems early and customize your care more effectively.

‘Fruit’ snacks can be deceptive treats

If your children won’t peel an orange, maybe a picture of one on the front of RealFruit Minis packaged snacks will appeal to them.

If rinsing real berries is too tedious, their image on a packet of Fruit By the Foot might get the kids eating.

And if depictions of fresh fruit don’t catch the youngsters’ eyes, perhaps Dora the Explorer, featured on the cover of Betty Crocker’s fruit-flavoured snacks, will do the trick.

The problem? There’s no orange purée in those RealFruit Minis. Sugar is the top ingredient in Fruit By the Foot, which contains no berries. Corn syrup and sugar are the lead ingredients in each mini Dora.

These products are part of a growing market of packaged fruit snacks, their manufacturers jockeying for the attention of on-the-go parents who want their children to get enough daily servings of fruits. Some snacks rely on images of fresh fruit to draw in shoppers; others use cartoon characters.

And in an increasingly crowded market, most feature the word “fruit” on the front of their packages, usually incorporated into the product name. All a company has to do is make sure fruit purée makes up more than two per cent of the total product, and that’s enough for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.


Purées are highly processed, allowing for a long shelf life but can be stripped of fibre, many vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients.

Are these snacks providing the nutrition they seem to suggest? Are parents getting what they think they’re paying for?

There’s no comparing fresh fruit with these snacks, says Rena Mendelson, a professor of nutrition at Ryerson University.

“You can replace the vitamins but you can’t replace other attributes, like vital chemicals. So there’s a big trade-off parents are making for convenience, both for attributes and also the habit-forming nature of eating fruits and vegetables,” she said.

What it boils down to in this ever-expanding market, driven by entrenched brands increasing their number of offerings, is the “convenience factor,” says Shannon Brown, an analyst at the consumer market research firm Packaged Facts.

“It’s an easy little single size of fruit snacks. It’s much easier to toss that into your kid’s lunch box than cut up an apple, wrap it up, make sure there’s a way to keep it cold,” said Brown, who authored a recent report on snack products for her firm.

Brown adds, “There’s the fruit snacks made of actual pieces of fruit and there are these so-called fruit-flavoured snacks that are typically for children that are more candy than actual fruit. From the front of pack-age, it’s hard to distinguish.”

Sugar is the lead ingredient in General Mills’ Fruit Gushers, which contain more than 20 ingredients. Rounding off the top five are concentrated pear purée, corn syrup, modified corn starch and fructose.

Dare’s RealFruit Minis, shaped like “wild kingdom” animals, contain “30 per cent fruit juices from concentrate and fruit purée,” according to the front of the package. “Fruit juices from concentrate” is the top ingredient, and there is more glucose, sugar, and glucose-fructose than fruit purées in the mini animals resembling gummy bears.


Dare spokeswoman Kathy Khamis said there is a greater proportion of fruit juices from concentrate than purées, as shown in the claim and the ingredient list, but the company won’t provide the breakdown. Calling the information proprietary, Khamis said the company follows the CFIA rule requiring an ingredient make up greater than two per cent of product for it to be highlighted.

Some companies competing for a share of the fruit snack market are hitting back, calling their competitors’ products “fruit impostors.”

Sun-Rype Products Ltd., based in Kelowna, doesn’t have any trouble meeting the two-per-cent benchmark for its Fruit To Go strips. The ingredient list for its “100 per cent fruit snack” is simple: various fruit purée concentrates, various fruit juice concentrates, citrus pectin and natural flavour.

To fight against being lumped into the same category as fruit-flavoured snacks with sugar as a primary ingredient, the company promotes a website called on its packages.

The site asks, “If your fruit snack isn’t 100 per cent fruit, what is it?” It includes pictures of ingredients in petri dishes and beakers, each containing a pop-up about how it is “found in some ‘fruit’ snacks” and is an “ingredient Sun-Rype doesn’t use.”

Gelatin, hydrogenated and modified oils, sodium benzoate, tartrazine, sodium citrate, sulphites, methyl paraben and dextrose, also known as glucose or corn sugar, are among the ingredients listed that Sun-Rype notes it isn’t using.

“There are a lot of ‘fruit impostors’ out there that pre-tend to be wholesome but instead of being 100 per cent fruit, most have sugar as the main ingredients plus artificial colours, artificial flavours, artificial or chemical preservatives and fillers,” said Barb Broder, Sun-Rype’s group marketing manager of food.


Welch’s is also trying to distinguish its fruit snacks with a message on its website that says: “We put the fruit in fruit snacks: Welch’s fruit snacks are made with REAL fruit and fruit juices.”

The lead ingredients in Welch’s “berries ‘n cherries fruit snacks” – white grape purée, strawberry purée, apple purée and raspberry purée – are followed by corn syrup, sugar, modified corn starch, gelatin, citric acid, natural and artificial flavours, coconut oil, carnauba wax and colours.

Meanwhile, General Mills is facing a class action suited filed recently in California by a consumer advocacy group.

The Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has an office in Ottawa, is accusing the company of presenting its Fruit Gushers, Fruit-O-Long, Fruit By the Foot and Fruit Roll-Ups as “healthful and nutritious” when they are “little better than giving candy to children,” according to the complaint filed in court.

Toronto mother Dawn Wood-ward, for one, won’t be buying Fruit Gushers or any other pre-packaged fruit snacks for her six-year-old daughter any time soon.

“You might as well be eating sugar. To me, there’s no nutritional value. It’s so easy just to give her an apple or make her a smoothie with yogurt and frozen blueberries. It’s become just second nature. We just don’t buy them,” said Woodward.


An entire area of the grocery store is reserved for “fruit snacks” and “fruit-flavoured snacks,” with most incorporating the word “fruit” in their product name. Here is how some of them stack up to actual fruit. The percentages represent the daily recommended intake of a nutrient in a single serving.



Top ingredients: Sugar and/ or golden sugar, maltodextrin, concentrated pear purée

Calories: 80 (1 roll) Fat: 2 g

Carbs: 6 per cent

Sugars: 9 g

Fibre: 0 per cent

Vitamin C: 20 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent


Top ingredients: Corn syrup, sugar, concentrated apple and pear juice

Calories: 80 (1 pouch)

Fat: 0 g

Carbs: 6 per cent

Sugars: 12 g

Fibre: 0 per cent Vitamin C: 25 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent

Dare RealFruit Minis: “30 per cent fruit juices from concentrate and fruit purée”

Top ingredients: Fruit juices from concentrate, glucose, sugar.

Calories: 80 (1 pouch)

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 7 per cent

Fibre: 0 per cent

Sugar: 13 g Vitamin C: 0 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent


Top ingredients: White grape purée, strawberry purée, apple purée

Calories: 80 (1 pouch)

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 6 per cent

Fibre: 0 per cent

Sugars: 9 g

Vitamin C: 0 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent

Sun-Rype FunBites “100 per cent fruit snack”

Top ingredients: Apple and/or pear raspberry purée concentrates, citrus pectin

Calories: 45 (1 pouch)

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 4 per cent

Fibre: 4 per cent

Sugars: 11 g

Vitamin C: 2 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent



Calories: 130 Fat: 0 per cent Carbs: 11 per cent Fibre: 20 per cent Sugars: 25 g Vitamin C: 8 per cent Iron: 2 per cent Bonus: Apples contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which may help lower the chance of developing diabetes and asthma. They also help clean your teeth.


Calories: 110

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 10 per cent Fibre: 12 per cent

Sugars: 19 per cent

Vitamin C: 15 per cent

Iron: 2 per cent

Bonus: Bananas are also source of vitamin B6 and folate, and contain more potassium than most fruit and may help lower blood pressure levels.


Calories: 84

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 7 per cent

Fibre: 14 per cent

Vitamin C: 24 per cent

Iron: 2 per cent

Bonus: Blueberries are some-times called “superfruits” for their antioxidant properties.

Blueberries are an excellent source of manganese.


Calories: 80

Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 6 per cent

Fibre: 12 per cent

Sugar: 14 g

Vitamin C: 130 per cent

Iron: 0 per cent

Bonus: Oranges are a good source of folate. They also contain a phytochemical called hesperidin, which may lower cholesterol levels.


Calories: 25 Fat: 0 per cent

Carbs: 2 per cent

Fibre: 4 per cent

Sugar: 4 per cent

Vitamin C: 80 per cent

Iron: 1 per cent

Bonus: Strawberries are rich in several antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties, including helping to prevent hardened arteries.

Food is Good, Superfoods are Even Better!

Foods like kale, avocados, apples, almonds and quinoa are now being grouped into a category of foods called “superfoods.”  There is no true, legal definition of “superfood,” but most natural health experts agree that superfoods are foods that are unprocessed, nutrient dense and packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes.  They are eaten not only to satisfy hunger but to nourish and strengthen the body.  The new superfood category is also popularizing lesser-known foods like spirulina, maca and chia.


Spirulina is a blue – green algae that grows in hot, sunny climates around the world.   According to Kimberly Snyder, C.N, in The Beauty Detox Solution, Spirulina can be helpful in warding off energy slumps and, thanks to its high protein content, it is useful for active athletes.  Also according to Snyder, Spirulina is packed with vitamins, minerals, gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), B vitamins, enzymes, and contains all essential amino acids.  Spirulina is about 60 percent protein, rich in iron and rich in vitamin B12, making it an excellent addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet.


Maca is native to the Peruvian highlands and resembles a turnip or radish.  The climate of the Peruvian highlands is exceptionally harsh and is considered some of the most inhospitable farmland in the world.  Maca is able to thrive in these extreme conditions. In the United States, maca is sold in powdered or capsule form and is commonly marketed for libido hormonal support and to endurance athletes.  According to Carmen Mattes, MH in The Wonders of Maca, Maca has traditionally been used for increased endurance, fertility support, immune support, hormonal support and anti-stress support.  According to Mattes, maca strengthens, nourishes and balances the endocrine system for both males and females.  Brendan Brazier, a professional Ironman triathlete and author of The Thrive Diet, uses maca as an energy-booster and for post-workout recovery.

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are native to southern Mexico and were a main component in the Mayan and Aztec diets.  According to Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D, chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, and zinc. Chia seeds can be stored for long periods of time without turning rancid due to their high antioxidant content.  When added to water and allowed to sit for 15 minutes, the chia seeds and water form a gel.  According to Dr. Weil, researchers suggest that this reaction also takes place in the stomach, slowing the process by which digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates and convert them into sugar.  Chia seeds can be added to soft foods like oatmeal or yogurt, added to smoothies, added to baked goods or eaten as a gel.

Other foods in the “superfood” category include coconut oil, coconut water, raw cacao, hemp seeds, acai berries, goji berries, flax seeds, wheat grass, barley grass and all fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  Some animal-based products like wild salmon and free-range, organic eggs are also in this category.  Since individual dietary needs vary, a “superfood” to one person may not be a “superfood” to another person.  It is always best to consult with a doctor or nutritionist before adding new foods to the diet.


What’s Keeping You Awake?

Being complex creatures living in a complex world, many factors can have an impact on our sleep. Here you will find some short tips to help you make some important lifestyle changes that will lead to better sleep:


Because it is a depressant, alcohol will make you feel drowsy, and you may fall asleep faster, but after the effects of the alcohol wear off 4-5 hours later you will be awake and alert. A sleep influenced by alcohol is not a full or restful one. Alcohol has also been identified as a contributing factor in sleep apnea and snoring.

What you can do:

  • Enjoy your glass of wine, beer or cocktail with dinner or earlier in the evening, well before bedtime.
  • If you regularly have difficulty staying asleep, take a look at your alcohol consumption overall. Persistent use of alcohol can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle, creating regular sleep problems.
  • Reduce your alcohol use and evaluate changes in the duration and quality of your sleep.


Sleep disturbance is a core symptom of both depression and anxiety, both of which are treatable and common mental illnesses. In addition, too much concern about not sleeping well actually produces insomnia. The concern produces a physiological reaction that elevates blood pressure, heart rate and brain waves, resulting in a state of hyperarousal.

What you can do:

  • Find ways to settle your mind and relax before bed.
  • If you think you may have depression or anxiety, seek professional help.

Business Travel

Business travel is sure to disrupt sleep in more ways than one. Travel schedules may require you to rise earlier than usual or be up later than your typical bedtime. Travel across time zones may disrupt your circadian rhythm, making staying awake and falling asleep more difficult.

What you can do:

Onboard aircraft                

  • Drink plenty of water – not tea, soda, coffee or alcohol. Your body will need the hydration of water.
  • Fall asleep as soon as you can.
  • Set your watch to the time of your destination.

To minimize jet lag:

  • When traveling east for longer than 6 hours, take a nap upon arrival, then sty up for the rest of the day until early evening.
  • When travelling west for longer than 6 hours, keep to your same sleep and wake routine. You might wake early, but adjustment will come soon.

At your hotel:

  • Ask the hotel staff whether they have designated quiet floors. If not, request a quiet room away from the elevator, vending machines and stairwells.
  • Ear plugs and eye covers; relaxing music; and bath amenities such as lavender aromatherapy, potpourri, soaps and oils can make a difference. Pack these items or request them form the front desk.
  • Set a number of wake-up alarms – beside clock, a wake-up call placed by hotel staff and maybe a cell phone alarm. Having multiple backups will cut down on any anxiety that the wake-up alarm will be missed.

Stick to your healthy eating and exercise plan throughout your trip!

Busy Schedules

Many people say they don’t get enough sleep because there is too much to do in a single day. Because there are only 24 hours in a day, seriously consider how you can use them to your greatest benefit. Too few hours available for sleep might mean you are overcommitting yourself, making poor time-management decisions or needing to rethink some priorities.

Take a cold and critical look at where all of the hours in your day are going. For example, your schedule might look something like this:

What you can do:

  • Modify your schedule.

To modify your schedule, first identify what you have to do every day:

  1. Sleep 7-9 hours
  2. Work
  3. Perform moderate aerobic activity for 30 minutes
  4. Take 1 hour of pre-bed low-stimulation relaxation time.

Now, make some adjustments to include what you absolutely have to do first. How many hours do you have left in the day? How can you use those hours to your greatest benefit?

  • What can you do to make the best use of your time? Can you use your time more efficiently?
  • Is your work schedule flexible? It might b worth talking with your manager about modifying start and end times to ease a commute or give you more time where you need it.
  • How can you delegate and share responsibility for housework and transporting family members to extracurricular events?
  • Is it really necessary to stay up to watch the newest episode of a certain TV show?


If by mid-afternoon you cannot go on without another cup of energy, it might be time to look at how much caffeine you are consuming. Having too much caffeine can leave you feeling tired all day and awake all night. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults consume no more than 240 mg of caffeine a day. Calculate how much caffeine you are consuming.

What you can do:

  • Identify where you can begin to cut back on caffeinated beverages or reduce the types of caffeinated beverages you choose.


Fatigue is the No. 1 complaint among new parent. They long for that magical age – 3 months? 5 months? 12 months? – when their baby will sleep through the night (or at least 5 or 6 hours!). And while most get their wish by the time 6 months of sleep deprivation have passed, many are surprised to learn that their children’s sleep issues continue to change and evolve as their children develop. But with the right information and strategies – and some perseverance – parents of children at every age and developmental level should be able to understand and cope with sleep challenges.


Caffeine: Consuming caffeine can cause you to stay awake. Avoid it 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. Fifty percent of caffeine consumed at 7 p.m. remains in the body at 11 p.m. Coffee, tea, many soft drinks and chocolate are common sources of caffeine.

Heavy/spicy foods: These foods can cause heartburn for indigestion and interfere with sleep patterns.

Liquids: Consuming liquids within the 90-minute-period before sleep can cause frequent awaking to urinate.

What you can do:

For your last meal of the day, select foods rich in sleep-producing amino acid tryptophan, including:

  • Dairy products: cottage cheese, cheese, milk
  • Soy products: soy milk, tofu, soybean nuts
  • Pasta
  • Seafood
  • Meats
  • Poultry
  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Hummus
  • Lentils
  • Hazelnuts, peanuts
  • Eggs
  • Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds

Eating a moderate snack – made up of complex carbohydrates with a small amount of protein – an hour prior to bed can help bring on sleep. Some suggestions include:

  • Cereal with milk
  • Yogurt
  • Toast with jam
  • Peanut butter or nuts
  • Oatmeal and raisin cookies
  • Slice of apple pie
  • Scoop of ice cram


We all experience grief and loss at various in our lives. The shock and pain resulting from the death of a family member or a pet, loss of a job, and other losses can affect our sleep.

Sleep disturbance is a physical reaction to grief and loss. Although each person’s grief symptoms are totally unique – like a fingerprint – difficulty sleeping is considered a normal grief reaction as long as it does not last too long. Sleep problems related to grief should not be ignored.

What you can do:

  • If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping after a major loss, don’t be alarmed, but get help by going to grief support groups or grief counseling before it affects your health.
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much can be a sign of depression. Contain your EAP or behavioral health care provider if you are concerned about sleep too much or too little.


A workday confined to an office doesn’t offer much opportunity for physical activity. Just like children, we also need to run around until we tire ourselves out. Moderate aerobic activity of 30 minutes a day improves sleep. There are additional benefits to your heart and waistline as well!

What you can do:

  • Run, walk or ride your bike for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week. This doesn’t mean you have to join a gym or make radical lifestyle changes – just do things a bit differently. Ride your bike in your neighborhood to get to the pharmacy or to pick up a loaf of bread. Make new friends or reconnect with old friends while walking at lunch or after dinner.
  • Look for opportunities to multitask – get active and check something off your “to do” list. For example, go up and down the stair with every load of laundry you do. The more times you are up and down the stairs, the greater the benefit!


Certain medications may be keeping you awake. Many over-the-counter products could be the culprit. Insomnia can be a side effect of some decongestants or cold medicines, diet pills, No-Doz or herbal medications. Some prescription medications can also cause or contribute to insomnia, especially some blood pressure medications, stimulants (often used to treat attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as Ritalin and Concerta), and some asthma medications. Other drugs that may cause insomnia in some patients include medications used to treat heart disease, opioids for chronic pain, and certain antidepressants. Provigil, which may be sued to treat conditions such as ADHD and multiple sclerosis, can cause insomnia.

What you can do:

  • Avoid taking cold medicines with ingredients such as pseudophedrine (Sudafed) and phenylephrine (cold tablets and nasal sprays) close to bedtime, or even taking them at all.
  • Talk to your doctor about your medications. Could these be causing your insomnia? She may lower the dose or advise you to take them earlier in the day.

Men’s Health Issues

Prostate health

As men grow older, frequent urges to urinate during the night can be an irritating sleep-wrecker. Mayo Clinic researchers confirm bladder function in men worsens with age, and then prostate gland may be responsible.

What you can do:

  • Limit the amount you drink in the hour before bedtime.
  • If you are urinating multiple times at night, see your doctor to improve your sleep and ward off more serious bladder and prostate problems.


Nicotine affects the brain in the same way that sunlight encourages wakefulness. Smoking an hour or less before bedtime makes it more difficult for your body to relax and enter into sleep.

What you can do:

  • If you are ready to quit smoking, contact your health provider for information, tools and resources that are available to support you.
  • If you are not ready to quit, avid nicotine in the hour before your bedtime.


What about the barking dog or cat that jumps onto your bed – have they ever disrupted your zzzs? A study conducted by Mayo Clinic surveyed 300 patients. Fifty-three percent of the pet owners considered their sleep to be disrupted in some way due to their pets! Most of us recognize that the sleep environment can greatly affect how (and whether) we sleep, but are you doing everything you can to make your bedroom a sleep haven? Well-rested pet owners will have more energy and love to give to their pets!

What you can do:

  • Provide your dog with a bed in your bedroom, instead of sharing your bed.
  • Limit your pet’s water intake in the few hours before bedtime (so your pet doesn’t wake you up to go outside).
  • Special considerations for cat lovers: Because cats are nocturnal, they prefer to be up at night. Keep your cat up during the day, play with your cat in the evening before bedtime, and don’t feed your cat first thing in the morning.

Shift Work

If you work nights or shift work, making sleep a priority is the key to getting healthy sleep. Try to minimize exposure to the sun on the way home from the night shift by wearing wrap-around sunglasses. This avoids activation of your internal daytime clock. Stay on a consistent sleep schedule and go to bed as soon as you can after work.

To stay happy and safe in your shift work, be aware of changes in your energy level. Work carefully and take breaks when feeling tired or less alert. Be patient with yourself and your family, especially when staring a new shift. Keep the lines of communication open, put plans in place to help everyone adjust, and maintain healthy habits so that working non-traditional hours can work for you.

What you can do:

  • Keep a consistent routine on a particular shift. When you change shifts, adjust your routine to accommodate new work hours.
  • Balance shift work and family time. Be sure to eat at least 1 meal per day with your family and make special plans for alone time with your significant other.

Sleep disorders

While there are more than 100 types of sleep disorder, the most common are:

Insomnia: Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, awakening frequently during the night, lying awake in the middle of the night or awakening too early in the morning despite not feeling refreshed.








Sleep apnea can be a more serious disorder, even life-threatening. In sleep apnea, breathing stops or gets very shallow while sleeping, causing frequent awakenings, often with symptoms of choking or gasping for air. There is some evidence linking sleep apnea with obesity.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a sensory disorder that causes an almost irresistible urge to move the legs. Symptoms most often occur when relaxed or lying down and are not necessarily confined to sleep time.

Narcolepsy is a disorder that causes a person to have difficulty staying awake. Narcolepsy can cuase a person to fall asleep suddenly during the day. These “sleep attacks” occur even after getting enough sleep at night.

What you can do:

  • To help determine whether you have a sleep disorder, first pay attention to your sleep habits and daily routine. Whether you are planning to try self-help techniques or to visit a doctor, a record of your sleep habits will prove valuable. Keep a sleep diary. A daily sleep diary should record all sleep-related information including:
  • Time you went to bed and work up (total sleep hours)
  • Quality of your sleep – times that you were awake during the night and what you did (for example, stayed in bed with eyes closed or got up, had a glass of milk, and meditated)
  • Types and amount of food, liquids, caffeine or alcohol you consumed before bed, and times of consumption
  • Feelings and moods before bed – happiness, sadness, stress or anxiety
  • Drugs or medications taken, amounts taken, and times of consumption
  • You can address most common sleep problems through lifestyle changes and improve sleep habits, but it is important to see your doctor or a sleep specialist for a diagnosis if your sleep does not improve.

Sleep environment


Temperature plays an important role in sleep. Our bodies need to be warm enough to fall asleep, and the room temperature needs to be cool enough to keep us asleep.

What you can do:

  • Take a warm bath and put on a pair of the softest socks you own before climbing into bed.
  • Set your bedroom temperature around 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), which is the ideal room temperature for sleep.

Turn out the lights

The flashing glow of those neon signs in films has been replaced by the LCD glow of the computer screen, the white scramble of network sign-off or the red haze of the alarm clock punctuated by flashing dots. All of this stimulation keeps our minds active and eyes open.

What you can do:

  • Power down the computer, turn off the television and turn your alarm clock around. There is nothing there to see until morning.
  • Turn out all the lights and block all light coming into your bedroom – even if that means hanging black-out shades.

Nurture your relationship – with your bed

If you have difficulty sleeping, you may begin to view your bed as anything but a place of rest. Commit to giving your bed 7 to 9 hours of your time each night.

What you can do:

  • Set a bedtime and stick to it. Read a book, meditate or count sheep s you become sleepy. If you spend more than 30 minutes in bed without falling asleep, get up and try again in 30 minutes. Keep to your bedtime ritual, though. Ultimately your body will expect to sleep when it hits the bed.
  • Set a wake-up time and stick to it. If you wake in the middle of the night, don’t look at the clock (it’s turned around anyway). Remind yourself it is still time to sleep. Keep to your wake-up ritual. Ultimately your body will anticipate when it is time to wake up.

Turn down the noise

Barking dogs, sirens, noisy neighbors or a snoring partner are just a few of the sounds that can inhibit a good night’s sleep. The intensity, regularity, intrusiveness and familiarity of noises all have an effect on sleep.

What you can do:

  • Insert earplugs
  • Listen to soft, soothing music
  • Run a fan or air conditioner
  • Turn on a white noise machine
  • Decorate your room with rugs, carpet or heavy curtains to absorb sounds
  • Install double-pane windows in your bedroom


There is no way to avoid stress. Life is – and will always be – stressful. What you can do is manage sress by minimizing its unhealthy effects.

In order to set the stage for your best sleep, you need to be able to minimize the stressful events or increase what restores you.

What you can do:

  • Look at the totals. If your restoring total is higher than your stress total, congratulations! You are managing your stress and working well to maintain balance!
  • If your stress total is higher than your restoring total, it’s time to take action. Take a closer look at the stressors you identified. Is there a pattern or a theme? Take a look at what you are not doing to restore yourself. Begin to pull from the list of what you are not doing and try some of these strategies.

Women’s Health

Women have unique biological conditions that can affect the quality and quantity of their sleep over their life span.

Premenstrual syndrome. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a group of symptoms linked to changing hormones during the menstrual cycle. Some women may be affected more than others. If you have PMS symptoms, they typically occur in the week or 2 weeks before your period (menstruation or monthly bleeding). The symptoms usually go away after your period starts. Stress and emotional problems do not seem to cause PMS, but they may make it worse. Trouble sleeping is one common symptom.

What you can do:

  • Take a multivitamin every day that includes 400 micrograms so folic acid. A calcium supplement with vitamin D can help keep bones strong and may help ease some PMS symptoms.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Avoid salt, sugary foods, caffeine and alcohol, especially when you are having PMS symptom
  • Find healthy ways to cope with stress. Talk to your friends, exercise or write in a journal
  • Don’t smoke

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen may help ease cramps, headaches, backaches and breast tenderness. In more severe cases of PMS, prescription medicines may be used to ease symptoms.

Pregnancy. Aches, pains, anxiety, baby’s movements, and increase in the body’s metabolism and bathroom runs keep many pregnant women awake at night.

What you can do:

  • Avoid eating large meals 3 hours before going to bed
  • Do mild exercise, such as walking
  • Avoid taking long naps during the day
  • Sleep on your left side, and use pillow between your legs and under your belly to help you get comfortable
  • Talk with your partner, friends, doctor or midwife to relieve stress.

Menopause. Menopause is a normal change in a woman’s life when her period stops. During menopause, a woman’s body slowly makes less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. If you are near menopause, you may have symptoms form the hormone changes in your body. You might start having trouble getting a good night’s sleep. Maybe you can’t fall asleep easily, or you wake too early. Night sweats might wake you up. You might have trouble falling back to sleep if you wake during the night.

What you can do:

  • Avoid alcohol or caffeine and spicy or acidic foods, which can trigger hot flashes in some women
  • If night sweats wake you, try sleeping in a cool room or with a fan on
  • Dress in layers that you can take off if you get too warm
  • Use sheets and clothing that let your skin “breathe”
  • Talk to your doctor about treatment for symptoms that are keeping you awake


Are you working smarter – or longer? Advances in technology and the rise of the global market have been both a help and a hindrance. Are you working 24/7 in the office and at home? When you short-change yourself on sleep, you will short-change your employer, too. Accidents, cognitive impairments and poor decision making are all linked to insufficient sleep. Is that how you want your work to be judged?

What you can do:

  • Accept the idea that you can’t do it all. It is your responsibility to make your best effort to manage your time well and work smart. When you have too much to do it is your responsibility to talk with your manager. Are co-workers, associates or interns available to share the workload? Create a plan and suggest it to your manger.
  • If you need to work outside of your scheduled work time, do so with limits. Step back to assess how you spend your time and consider how you can set parameters. Unwind, relax and be involved with your family, friends and leisure activities.


We all worry at times. But some people are worry experts, locked into daily, uncontrollable worry. While the themes may vary with age and from person to person, the common thread is the same: chronic and exaggerated worry over situations and topics that can’t be turned off at will. These thoughts can interfere with daily life functions such as sleep.

What you can do:

  • If you are chronically worried or fearful, you may have an anxiety disorder. Ask yourself some questions: Which situations cause anxious feelings? How long have you had these feelings? Is the worry reasonable?
  • Contact your behavioral health provider once diagnosed, anxiety disorder is highly treatable. Treatment methods include medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Ways to Avoid an Asthma Attack

  1. Take vitamin C – Lack of vitamin C can cause asthma, high-dose vitamin C relieves it. Researchers have found that asthma is linked to both a decreased preference for foods containing vitamin C and lower concentrations of vitamin C in the blood. Once, my neighbor’s four-year-old boy got into his mom’s vitamin C and ate about twenty tablets. He had no diarrhea or side effects at all, except that his asthma symptoms went away. The less here is Linus Pauling’s: “Keep medicine out of the reach of every body. Use vitamin C instead.”
  2. Stop smoking – Smoking around asthmatics should be considered assault, and smoking around children should be seen as child abuse. Smoking, or simply breathing second-hand tobacco smoke, destroys vitamin C. Do not allow asthmatics near smokers, and this goes double for children. It will not surprise anyone to learn that many scientific studies confirm he link between children’s exposure to tobacco smoke and increased incidence of asthma. Cigarette smoke causes asthma even before the child is born. Total avoidance of second-hand smoke is a given for asthma management.
  3. Reduce stress – Stress reduction greatly helps asthmatics, reducing airway resistance and decreasing the severity of symptoms. Some research has reported profound improvement and a decreasing need for anti-asthmatic drugs.
  4. Straighten your spine, and keep your back in line – This may mean regular visits to a good chiropractor or it may mean yoga, regular exercise, and stretches every day. Although still controversial in medical circles, these simple measures may provide noticeable relief for asthma. The chiropractic profession has published a considerable number of preliminary studies and case reports suggesting that spinal manipulation benefits asthmatics. Great stress is put on the abdominal and lower back muscles when trying to squeeze out the air during an attack. Strengthening them is good.
  5. Eat horseradish and cayenne pepper, and drink plenty of water.
  6. Take homeopathic medicines – Take a look into homeopathic remedies for asthma is worth your time. There are a number of nonprescription, combination homeopathic remedies on the market. One might look into Aconitum napthallus (aconite), a microdilution of the monkshood herb. It is good first aid for an asthma attack. However, your taking lots of vitamin C may eliminate your need for even this natural remedy.
  7. Try deep breathing – When a child is old enough to understand the basics of asthma, he or she should be reminded that the inhaler works best when used at the first sign of a “tight” chest or “dry” cough. When not wheezing, deep breathing should be done several times a day. This increases lung capacity and raises the threshold for bronchospasm. “Deep” breathing is abdominal breathing. Pull that diaphragm down as far as it will go while watching the abdomen swell. (Expanding the chest is not effective). On the exhale phase, squeeze every last bit of air out of the lungs. Do six “in-and-outs” a session. At the beginning of an attack, deep breathing may abort it. Still, reach for the vitamin C.