Cure Insomnia by Rescheduling Bedtime

You probably have trouble sleeping at least once in a while. Worry, stress, late-night eating or drinking, travel, and illness can all cause transient sleep problems. And as we discussed last week, the seasonal return to Standard Time can throw your sleeping schedule off until your body adjusts. If you occasionally have sleep problems, there are many sleep-promoting strategies that can help you when you’re tossing and turning.


However, if you frequently have difficulty sleeping, or if you rely on medication, you need a more in-depth approach to improving your sleep. Sleeping pills can act as a temporary insomnia remedy for acute sleep problems. If you are in severe pain, or going through a brief period of extreme stress, for example, the right medication can help you get much-needed sleep. However, over time these medications do lose their effectiveness. If you continually rely on sleeping pills, you lose the ability to get yourself to sleep and instead rely on artificially induced drowsiness. You’re better off in the long run strengthening your natural ability to sleep, even if it’s a bit of a challenge to tackle insomnia without medication. Fortunately, there’s a powerful insomnia remedy that’s available to anyone willing to put in a little time, effort, and planning.


7 Surprising Ways that Sleep Affects Your Health (and How to Get More of It)

The most well-documented method for overcoming long-standing insomnia is cognitive-behavioral therapy, a systematic approach to changing your thoughts and behavior around sleep. The cognitive aspect involves learning to stop worrying about sleep. Letting go of worry and anxiety about sleep allows you to relax and fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly.


The behavioral aspect involves the various “sleep skills” you need to practice to support healthy sleep, such as engaging in a relaxing bedtime routine and reserving your bedroom only for sleep and sex. The most important behavioral part of this approach is sleep scheduling. Strategic sleep scheduling strengthens your body’s sleep system, and creates a positive association between your bed and sleep. You do it by carefully planning when you go to bed, get out of bed, and how much time you spend in bed. The goal is to spend a high percentage of your time in bed actually sleeping. Over time, your mind and body will associate your bed with sleep, and you’ll become increasingly confident of your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.


Surprisingly, good sleepers don’t necessarily sleep more than poor sleepers, they just spend a higher percentage of their time in bed actually sleeping! The ratio of time spent sleeping to time in bed is called sleep efficiency. Good sleepers spend 90 to 95 percent of their time in bed actually sleeping. People with insomnia, on the other hand, may sleep less than 65 percent of the time they are in bed.




Georgia McDonald’s Toxic Fumes a Deadly Mystery

The mysterious fumes that killed one person and sickened nine others inside a McDonald’s restroom this week may have brought the most unwanted publicity to the city of Pooler, Ga., since Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman set up Union headquarters there before negotiating the peaceful surrender of Savannah in December 1864.


Local fire officials remained stumped Friday about what toxic chemical or chemical mixture knocked two women unconscious Wednesday at the fast-food restaurant in their east Georgia city of about 19,000. One of the women, Anne Felton, 80, of Ponte Vedra, Fla., died after going into cardiac arrest. Firefighters administered oxygen to Carol Barry, 56, of Jacksonville, Fla., before she was admitted to a Savannah hospital, Pooler Fire Chief G. Wade Simmons said.


“Every one of the 10 people that had some sort of symptoms … had been or were in that restroom,” Simmons said.


No one anywhere else in the restaurant was affected.


He was hoping that results of an autopsy conducted at Georgia’s state crime lab in Savannah “will lead us in some direction.”


Among other confounding aspects of the case, he said, was how quickly the gas disappeared. “It was there, and then it was gone in the next hour to hour and a half we were doing things at the scene,” he said.


By the time a Savannah hazardous materials analyzed air samples from the restroom, they found nothing detectable.

That left law enforcement officials and toxicologists to speculate about what the victims might have inhaled, and how it ended up in the women’s room. “We’ve heard everything from terrorist attacks to carbon monoxide to sewer gas to God knows else,” Simmons said.

Much of the speculation centered on the possibility that the women were sickened by a noxious combination of cleaning chemicals. Labels on toilet bowl cleaners, drain openers, window and glass sprays and scouring powders usually caution against using more than one product at a time.

Simmons said that based on employees’ routines at the Pooler McDonald’s, workers would have cleaned the women’s room early in the day, before serving up Egg McMuffins to the morning breakfast crowd. But the initial report of someone choking didn’t get called in until just before noon Wednesday, further deepening the mystery of why people suddenly became ill so much later. None of the products on the cleaning cart had spilled, he said, and the cart wasn’t even near the bathroom when patrons began developing symptoms.

“Cleaning chemicals are common culprits in bathrooms,” said Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicology specialist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. “Perhaps the people in the bathroom mixed together bleach and ammonia,” which would produce chloramine gas, an irritant. “It doesn’t usually cause people to die, but if it’s in a high enough concentration and/or the person had underlying cardiopulmonary disease (such as asthma), it could certainly be potentially fatal.”

Dr. Marcel J. Casavant, chief of pharmacology/toxicology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, said he thought the most likely culprit was hydrogen sulfide, or “sewer gas,” which blocks the body’s ability to use oxygen. It’s called a “rapid-knockdown” gas, he said.

“If the concentration is high enough, just a few breaths could be lethal,” he said. “If the restroom has a floor drain connecting to the sewer, and the floor drain has a U-shaped pipe which generally stays full of water, thus keeping the sewer gas out of the restroom, but the water in the U dried up, then gas could freely enter the restroom. ”


Weight Watchers Members Lose Twice as Much Weight as Other Dieters

Weight Watchers’ approach to dieting seems to tighten the belt more than other approaches to weight loss, according to a new study published in the Lancet.


The new research, which was funded by Weight Watchers International but conducted by the U.K. Medical Research Council, compared 772 overweight and obese adults in Australia, Germany and the U.K. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 12 months of standard health care or a 12-month free membership to Weight Watchers.


“Our studies didn’t compare different commercial weight-loss programs, but did test the general concept of whether the various schemes available might work better than the current standard care,” Dr. Susan Jebb, lead author of the study, said during a presentation at the International Congress on Obesity. “Regardless of which commercial program people opt for, it’s having a weekly weigh-in and support that seems to work. People are more likely to stick at it.”


The study is not the first time the Weight Watchers regimen — which is perhaps most famous for its points system — has outperformed other strategies. In June, Weight Watchers topped the list of commercial diet plans ranked by U.S. News and World Reports.


In a May ranking by Consumer Reports, however, the weight-loss plan came in third. And those pounds have a price tag; charges can range up to $40 per month, depending on the plan customers choose.

Still, the system, which typically includes weekly group meetings, weigh-ins, group discussion and behavioral counseling among its components, garners at least some degree of praise from many diet and nutrition experts.

“Everyone is going to lose some weight here because there is a calorie deficit,” said Keith Ayoob, director of the nutrition clinic at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “But it’s how you create it so people can comply to it that really makes a difference. People on Weight Watchers are probably more motivated to focus on long-term positive changes, and there’s lots of peer encouragement.”

“Blending sensible advice about diet and lifestyle with strong behavioral support, Weight Watchers, quite simply, works,” said Dr. David Katz, founder of the Yale Prevention Center. “More attention to weight management in primary care is warranted. This study suggests that more attention can mean better outcomes.”

In the most recent study, participants adhering to the Weight Watchers plan received the full range of services provided by the program, including access to Internet-based discussion boards and systems to monitor food intake and weight change, as well recipes and meal ideas. Those in the standard care group received weight loss advice and guidelines for treatment from their family physicians.

After 12 months, Weight Watchers participants lost an average of 11 pounds. Those who received standard care lost an average of 5 pounds.

Karen Miller-Kovach, Weight Watchers International’s chief scientific officer, said that the study highlightsWeight Watchers benefits when complemented with usual primary care.

“Weight Watchers [patients] were able to be much more engaged and benefited from the intense support the weekly meetings provided and made them feel more accountable for their weight loss efforts,” said Miller-Kovach. “This reinforces the importance of group support for long-term behavioral change and sustainable weight loss.”

Weight Watchers is a nutrition points-driven plan within a group support system that is meant to create healthy eating habits while encouraging exercise.

Katz noted that the better success rate in a group-based program highlights an issue that is often overlooked.