Five Habits to Help You Sleep

Getting enough sleep can do more than lift our spirits. Research shows that skimping on shut-eye can wear down our immune systems, making us more susceptible to colds and even raising our risk for obesity and heart disease. And 2 in 3 women say they have trouble snoozing, reports a survey from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). That’s because we may be our own worst enemies: Many of our daily habits -- from when we shower to what we snack on -- can sabotage our slumber.

Make the following tweaks to your routine, and soon you’ll be having sweet dreams.

Clean Your Room
Mom was right: Not only does making your bed keep your bedroom tidy, but it can also help you rest easy. According to recent research from the NSF, people who made their bed daily were 19 percent more likely to get a good night’s sleep. A messy atmosphere can be distracting, causing you to toss and turn, explains Dr. Gila Hertz, director of the Huntington Medical Group Sleep Disorders Center in Huntington Station, N.Y. To create your own sanctuary, straighten your bedroom each morning and invest in comfortable linens.

Lay off the Caffeine
That grande latte can come back to haunt you -- even if you drank it in the afternoon. People metabolize caffeine at difference rates and, for some, the compound can linger in their systems for up to eight hours, says Dr. Judith Leech, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa and a member of the Canadian Sleep Society. “The brain needs to be completely relaxed to drift into sleep, so any stimulating substances can interfere with the process,” says Hertz. He advises steering clear of caffeine at least five hours before bedtime. For a buzz-free afternoon pick-me-up, brew a mug of herbal tea and lemon.

Snack Wisely
Want a nighttime nosh? Steer clear of spicy or greasy fare. “These foods can give you heartburn in the middle of the night,” says Leech. The best bedtime snack: a small amount of complex carbohydrates, such as a handful of whole-wheat crackers or whole-grain cereal. It regulates your blood sugar throughout the evening, explains Leech.

Dim the Lights
Your bedside lamp can keep you from nodding off. Harvard researchers found that exposure to bright lights a few hours before bedtime can interfere with your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. “Light signals that it’s dawn and it’s time to wake up,” says Leech. Swap your regular bulbs for those with softer wattage, and remove any light source, like the glow from your alarm clock or cell phone. “Turning the clock around so it’s not facing you can be beneficial,” says Leech.

Shower in the Morning
A steamy bath before bed seems relaxing, but it can actually have the opposite effect. As you nod off, your body heat dips, says Hertz. “But a hot shower can raise your core temperature, delaying sleep onset,” he says. Change up your routine so you bathe in the a.m., or wash up a few hours before bedtime -- so you can snooze peacefully.

7 Healthy Habits in 7 Weeks

Make over your health. Sounds daunting, right? It doesn’t have to be. “The key is to break it down into smaller goals that you can find success with, and build upon them,” says Beth Reardon, a registered dietitian and the director of integrative nutrition at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C. With our easy plan, you’ll incorporate one new healthy habit each week -- so you’ll look and feel healthier in just seven weeks.

WEEK 1

Healthy Habit: Get more z’s.
Here’s a wake-up call: A recent study of over 30,000 people published in the journal Sleep found that people who got less than five hours of sleep nightly had more than twice the risk of heart disease compared to those who slept seven hours every night.

Action Plan: Create a snooze zone -- you’ll sleep more soundly and find it easier to get the z’s you need. “Your bed should only be for sleep and sex. Don’t pay bills, work or do other things you associate with daytime or stress,” says sleep expert Dr. Colette Haward, a clinical psychiatrist in New York City.

WEEK 2

Healthy Habit: Step it up.

It's no secret that exercise keeps you slim: Ninety percent of people in the National Weight Control Registry, a database of those who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year, exercise regularly (on average, about an hour a day). But an active lifestyle isn't just about your waistline. In a recent study in the journal Circulation, each hour in front of the TV per day was associated with a 9 percent increased risk of death from cancer and an 18 percent increased risk of death from heart disease.

Action Plan: Put on a pedometer and challenge yourself to up your steps every day. Going shopping? Instead of parking as close as possible to the mall, park far away to squeeze in some extra steps.

WEEK 3

Healthy Habit: Start with breakfast.

Mom was right that you should always eat an a.m. meal: Nearly 80 percent of the people in the National Weight Control Registry do. And the right breakfast goes a long way. In one study published in Diabetes Care, researchers discovered that cereal fiber improved insulin sensitivity and reduced type-2 diabetes risk in people who were overweight or obese.

Action Plan: Eat a bowl of oatmeal topped with walnuts and fresh fruit in the morning. The combination of protein, whole grains and healthy fat will keep blood sugar on an even keel and prevent hunger pangs. Bonus: You’ll do your immune system a favor. “Oatmeal contains compounds called beta glucans, which are a special kind of fiber that have immune-boosting properties,” says Reardon.

WEEK 4

Healthy Habit: Slather on sunscreen.
We know you've heard it before, but it's worth repeating. According to a recent study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, about one in five Americans will develop skin cancer.

Action Plan: Wear a broad-spectrum (that means it protects against UVA and UVB, both types of dangerous ultraviolet rays) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, suggests Dr. Sandra Read, a dermatologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. Even when it's cloudy, the sun still emits dangerous radiation. "There are so many choices in sunscreen," says Read. "It's important to choose what's right for you, because if it’s inconvenient you won’t use it." If you're an athlete, look for waterproof so you don't sweat it off. If you have eczema or sensitive skin, seek out a product that is hypoallergenic and fragrance-free.

WEEK 5

Healthy Habit: Floss regularly.

This daily task doesn't just give you a sparkling smile; it may also protect you from cancer and heart disease. According to one study in The Lancet Oncology, men with a history of gum disease were 14 percent more likely than those with healthy gums to develop cancer. In another study published in the Journal of Periodontology, researchers found that people who had suffered from a heart attack had more bacteria in their gums.

Action Plan: You know you should floss once in the morning and once at night, but how do you make yourself stick with it? Set up a reward system: Complete one month of diligent flossing, and you get that new pair of shoes you've been eying or the novel you've been dying to read.

WEEK 6

Healthy Habit: Eat your greens (and reds and purples … ).

A colorful diet is one of your best weapons against chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. But according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, only 9 percent of Americans eat enough fruits and veggies. Don’t rely on shortcuts, such as a glass of orange juice. “Juicing depletes phytochemicals by up to 40 percent,” says Reardon. “You’ll get more vitamin C from a cup of strawberries than from a glass of sugary OJ.”

Action Plan: Up your produce intake by going vegetarian one night a week; have a veggie stir-fry with tofu or grilled portabella burgers. Or sneak grated carrots or zucchini into the batter next time you make muffins or bread.

WEEK 7

Healthy Habit: Flex your muscles.
Whether you’re afraid of bulking up or think you’ll look silly in the weight room, it’s time get over your fear of strength training. Building muscle revs up your metabolism and keeps bone loss at bay. Brazilian researchers found that women who strength trained three times per week lost more weight and fat -- and less bone mineral­ -- than those who didn’t.

Action Plan: Save time by doing moves that work multiple muscles at once. Pushups and planks are two exercises that you can do anywhere -- no dumbbells required.

Keep It up
According to a recent study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it took 96 volunteers an average of 66 days to form a new habit. That’s two full months of daily practice. So stay committed to as many healthy habits as you can stand; healthy challenges will soon become daily routines.

8 Ways to Soothe a Sick Child

No mom wants her child to feel miserable -- and the common cold can really wipe a kid out! Fortunately, combining a few simple moves with time-tested remedies can help ease your little one’s symptoms. So the next time she starts coughing and sneezing, try these savvy tricks to soothe your sick kid in no time.

1. Push an ice pop. “This frozen treat can help soothe a sore throat, plus provide extra fluid to prevent dehydration,” says Dr. Susan Besser, a family physician in Memphis, Tenn., and a mother of six. Giving your child plenty of liquids will also help thin out mucus, making it easier to cough it up.

2. Choose the right remedy. An over-the-counter medication is one of the best ways to relieve cough and cold; just make sure to check the label for age restrictions. A multi-symptom drug is useful in many cases, but don’t assume that it’s a one-size-fits-all treatment. “If your child isn’t experiencing each of the ailments listed on the box, you’re giving her unnecessary meds,” says Besser. “That may cause uncomfortable side effects, like insomnia or nausea.” She advises matching up your child’s specific symptoms with the medicine you give her.

3. Use an extra pillow. “Elevating a child’s head will keep those nasal secretions flowing forward and out of the nose,” says Dr. Peter I. Liber, a pediatrician in Wheaton, Ill., and a father of four. That can prevent postnasal drip from turning into a cough -- and help her sleep more soundly.

4. Have a cooldown. While waiting for that acetaminophen or ibuprofen to kick in, a cold washcloth or icy drink can provide relief for a feverish child. Skip the cool bath, though: Liber explains that may raise his core temperature -- and actually worsen fever.

5. Soothe with steam. “Adding moisture to the air can help loosen up congestion,” says Besser. Keep a vaporizer or humidifier in your child’s room, and remember to change the water daily to prevent bacteria growth. Or run a hot shower and let her sit in the fogged-up bathroom for up to 15 minutes.

6. Teach good hankie habits. “Clamping your nose with a tissue and blowing forcefully can lead to nosebleeds or even a ruptured eardrum,” cautions Besser. Instruct your child to clear her nose gently. While you’re at it, remind her to toss the tissue in the trash afterwards and wash her hands to avoid spreading germs.

7. Calm with creams. Turns out those mentholated topical ointments and creams your own mom gave you really do work. According to a recent study, sick kids whose parents applied a vapor rub to their chest 30 minutes before bedtime slept better, breathed easier and coughed less throughout the night than those who didn’t. Just make sure to follow the directions on the package, and avoid using in and around the nose.

8. Protect his nose. You can’t always help whether your little guy uses a tissue or his sleeve to wipe his nose. “But you can keep his nostrils from getting red,” says Liber. He suggests applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly beneath his nose and on the outside of his nostrils to keep the skin from becoming chapped.

How to Choose a Safe Day Care

Finding the right day care center requires a balance of many practical issues, including location, cost and hours of operation. And you, of course, also want a nurturing staff. “But bottom line: Your child’s health and safety are what matters the most,” says Patricia Skinner, executive director of the Capital District Child Care Council, a resource and referral agency that serves six counties in New York. “After all, it doesn’t matter how stellar the caregiver’s interactions are if there’s broken glass on the playground,” she says.

Narrow down your choices and find a safe day care for your child by considering these four questions:

1. Is the center licensed (or registered)?
Most states require day care centers to comply with minimum health and safety standards, so your first step is to find out if the facility you’re considering is state-approved. In the state of New York, for instance, freestanding child care centers must be licensed, but those that operate out of a home must be registered. If you opt for an in-home caregiver who looks after one or two kids, many states exempt these individuals from registration or licensing. However, some states do require in-home caregivers to complete a criminal history check or child abuse/neglect screening; others require basic health and safety training. For more information, visit ChildCareAware.org.

2. Is the environment safe, both indoors and out?
Always take a tour of the facility when children are there to look for potential hazards, like heavy objects that kids could pull down on top of themselves. “It’s great to get references, but there’s really no substitute for your own observations,” says Skinner. “You learn so much more when you spend time in a center and observe.” Pay particular attention to the playground and other outside areas, which is where most day care injuries occur. Make sure that kids are never left unattended, even if they’re sleeping. Also ask about the staff-to-child ratio. The younger your child is, the lower the ratio should be. For instance, one caregiver should take care of only two infants. But 4-year-olds do well with a ratio of 1-to-10 (one adult for 10 children).

3. Does the staff follow proper infection control procedures?
Do staffers wash their hands after each diaper change? Is the food preparation area clean and orderly? How often are the communal toys disinfected? (Toys should be disinfected on a daily basis or more often if they’re visibly soiled.) You should also ask if children wash their hands before eating and after using the bathroom, since kids are exposed to most germs by touching surfaces and then putting their fingers in their mouths. Ask caregivers all these questions, but also observe to see if the staff is really doing what they say they do.

4. What are the policies regarding sick children?
Child care providers should have specific criteria that outline when to send a sick child home, and it’s good to know the particulars so you can decide what requirements are important to you. Many centers follow national health and safety guidelines developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association (APHA), but some are more stringent.

For example, AAP/APHA guidelines state that a child with a fever (defined as an oral temperature above 101 F, a rectal temperature above 102 F or an armpit temperature above 100 F) who is otherwise acting normally shouldn’t be excluded from child care. However, many centers use fever alone as a reason to send a child home. “The providers can set their own exclusion criteria, and some of them are more restrictive than the guidelines,” says Jean Wiseman, a registered nurse and child care health consultant at the Capital District Child Care Council. “That’s partly because they’ve seen what can happen when an illness that’s not treated properly runs through every child in the program and all the staff too.” So if you worry that a day care center’s stringent rules may one day exclude your child from care when you need it most, it’s likely in everyone’s best interest that sick kids don’t mix with healthy ones.

What to Do if Your Child Is Sick

It’s the scenario every working mother dreads: Your 3-year-old wakes up coughing, sneezing and clearly feeling out of sorts; your husband is out of town on business; you’re due at the office in three hours for an important meeting. When your little one is too sick to go to his regular day care, but not sick enough to for you to justify rescheduling your meeting and using up yet another dwindling vacation day, you may have more options than you realize. Some hospital child-care facilities operate day care programs that welcome mildly ill children and are open to everyone in the community. In addition, some freestanding child care centers offer separate infirmaries for sick kids.

5 Foods to Reduce Allergy and Asthma Symptoms in Kids

By Laura Roe Stevens

 

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Parents of children with asthma and allergies are all too familiar with doctor’s offices, doses of steroids, antibiotics, allergy medications and sometimes even the dreaded emergency room visit. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were inexpensive, easy-to-access foods that could help reduce the severity of your children’s allergy symptoms?

While experts warn that there really are no magic foods that ward off asthma and allergies for all children, new research shows that diets that are rich in some foods can make a difference. For instance, a 2007 Spanish study found that children who regularly ate fish and certain vegetables (green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant) had 40 percent fewer allergy and asthma symptoms than kids who rarely ate them. Researchers suggest that the high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nature of the vegetables and fish had a healing effect on the bronchial passageways.

Antioxidant-rich superfoods won’t make a difference in a child’s health if the rest of his diet is poor. So be sure your kids avoid foods filled with excess sugar, preservatives, food coloring and additives, as well as fried foods and too much red meat (which increases inflammation). Encourage your kids to eat the following foods on a regular basis to reduce allergy and asthma symptoms:

1. Salmon
This fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to reduce children’s risk of suffering atopy, or inherited childhood allergies. Your goal is to incorporate 200 grams (about 7 ounces, or two decks of cards) of fish that is rich in omega-3 a week. If your child thinks he doesn’t like salmon, try making it with yummy sauces he likes, such as teriyaki, and serve it over rice. Or mix blueberry all-fruit spread with brown mustard, spread on top of the fish and cover with crushed crackers for a crunch. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes.

2. Broccoli
This antioxidant-rich veggie is a great option because many kids will actually eat it (especially given the right toppings). Cover it with something tasty, like cream of cheddar soup, to make it more appealing. Broccoli, also known for its cancer-fighting qualities, is a rich source of calcium, magnesium, iron, and vitamins A and C.

3. Berries
Strawberries, blueberries and blackberries contain quercetin, a compound believed to have antiallergy and anti-inflammatory properties. Other sources of quercetin include onions, apples, black tea, and some nuts and seeds. Berries and apples are the perfect snack on the go; you can also top a healthy portion of berries with a small scoop of natural sorbet or frozen yogurt for a perfectly sweet sundae.

4. Oranges
The vitamin C in oranges is best known for its cold-fighting powers, but experts say it can also stabilize the cell membrane of mast cells, reducing the histamine release that can cause allergy symptoms. Other sources of vitamin C include kale, bell peppers, cauliflower, papaya and most citrus fruits.

5. Coconut Water or Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is high in medium-chain triglycerides, which are thought to help calm the gastrointestinal tract and ease allergies. Sneak this oil into your child’s diet by cooking with it, or try coconut water juice boxes, which can be found in the health food aisles of most grocery stores.