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Short-Sheeting Sleep

sleep

Scientists have confirmed what insomniacs, on-call health care workers, and parents of newborn babies have suspected for years: Night after night of interrupted sleep makes people really grumpy.

In a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, 62 healthy men and women were randomly assigned to three consecutive nights of either forced awakenings, delayed bedtimes, or uninterrupted sleep. After the second night, those forced to awaken experienced a 31 percent drop in energy levels, sympathy, and friendliness; the delayed bedtime group showed a 12 percent decline.

Patrick Finan, a Johns Hopkins psychologist, says the study shows that interrupted sleep can be cumulative.

The problem is that disrupted dreamers don’t get enough “slow-wave sleep” to feel refreshed. “Many individuals with insomnia achieve sleep in fits and starts throughout the night, and they don’t have the experience of restorative sleep,” Finan says.

To wake up happy, aim for quality over quantity, assuming you have a choice in the matter.

Jun Cen
Jun Cen

Beating Blood Clots

patient safety

The most common and preventable cause of hospital-related death is blood clots. Clotting kills more than 100,000 people each year. But preventing deep vein thrombosis (a clot that forms in a deep vein) and pulmonary embolism (a clot that travels to the lungs) is tricky, according to experts at the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins. The common belief has been that ambulation, or movement, is key to preventing deadly blood clots when an individual is hospitalized. But that assertion is not supported by strong evidence. Johns Hopkins researchers have found that each patient, depending on his or her particular health realities, should have an individualized treatment plan, which could include a host of important lifesaving measures such as anti-clotting drugs or compression devices.

Picking a Cooking Oil

nutrition

Avocado and flaxseed. Sunflower and pumpkin seed. A dizzying array of oils have flooded the market recently, each rumored to carry health benefits. Coconut oil is billed as a treatment for everything from eczema to Alzheimer’s. Sunflower oil may strengthen the immune system. What’s a health-conscious eater to do?

Take such claims with a grain of salt, says Linda Bunyard, a registered dietitian at the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center. Data on the benefits of particular oils are still sparse, and “overall health is never just about one nutrient,” she says. Consumers should focus instead on what to avoid: saturated fats like butter and animal fat. (Bunyard includes coconut oil in this category, though some claim its health benefits outweigh the risks. “We don’t have enough data to say either way yet,” she says.)  

For any oil, it’s important to know its “smoke point,” the temperature at which it begins to break down and produce potentially toxic byproducts. Smoke points are often listed on the label. Above all, be moderate. “Just adding olive oil to the typical American intake will not make us healthier.”

Image by Sarah Ferone
Sarah Ferone

Safety First

supplements

Herbal supplements are a $36.7 billion a year industry in the United States, yet federal law and oversight remain weak. The debate over these dietary supplements often centers on efficacy: Does that echinacea pill really shorten a common cold? Will glucosamine relieve your creaky knees?

The primary concern, argues Joshua M. Sharfstein, associate dean for public health practice and training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and former principal deputy commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, should be whether you’re getting safe ingredients in the first place. The FDA recalls dietary supplements hundreds of times a year for hazardous ingredients, yet many facilities—and the products made inside—are never tested. Sharfstein argues that we should focus first on regulating what is a largely unregulated industry. “Can we ensure that dietary supplements are safe for consumers to take?” Sharfstein says.

Improving vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts through better standards for identifying substances in products and a pre-market registration system is a good first step to a safer market for supplements, he says.

Go With the Vinyasa Flow

exercise

Joint pain and stiffness can make it hard to get moving for the one in five adults living with arthritis. But a little namaste can go a long way to manage arthritis. A randomized trial led by Johns Hopkins researchers found that a program of gentle yoga modified for people with arthritis reduced pain while boosting energy and mood.

Image by Annette Elizabeth Allen
Annette Elizabeth Allen

Neti Pot Primer

allergies

April showers bring May flowers, and for many of us, seasonal allergies. The Neti pot, a device for flushing the nasal cavity with saltwater, can provide relief. Douglas Reh, a sinus specialist in the Johns Hopkins Department of Otolaryngology, regularly prescribes nasal irrigation to patients suffering from hay fever. “There’s very good evidence that patients feel better when they do this,” he says.

But the Neti pot has become notorious in recent years following the deaths of several users who contracted brain-eating amoebas from contaminated water. Not to worry, Reh says. “Any water that’s distilled, boiled, or filtered is safe.”

Reh prefers a plastic irrigation bottle to the Neti pot. “It’s a little more high flow, you can direct it more, and it’s a little less messy,” he says. He advises users to wash out the device with dish soap a couple of times a week and keep it out of the dishwasher. And don’t wait for that first pollen-induced sneezing fit to fire up the nose-rinser. “You need to use it through the whole season,” Reh says. “It can be preventive.”

Music to Your Ears

audiology

Always plugged into an MP3 player? Inexpensive custom-molded earphones could protect your hearing.  “One reason people turn the volume up to inappropriate levels is they are trying to hear over background noise,” says Hopkins audiologist Steve Bowditch. Basic earphones leave a space between the bud and your ear, causing noise to seep in.  A shape tailor-made for you will block outside noise, cause less soreness, and improve the listening experience.

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