Sleep Hygiene

Sleep is our body’s repair time, so compromised sleep is a significant health risk.  If you are having trouble sleeping, identifying the cause is the very first step.  The mechanical factors are easier to deal with, so let’s start there.

How old is your mattress?Family sleeping

  • If it’s more than 10 years old, you are overdue for a replacement. Firm is best.
  • A mattress is a big investment! Take your pillow, take a good book, take your sleeping partner, and spend at least an hour on the possible candidates.
  • Ideally, you want a mattress that won’t force you to sleep in an ever-deepening rut. I like a traditional mattress that can be both flipped over and rotated.

How old is your pillow?

  • Regardless of type, a pillow that you sleep on nightly has a life of about 12 – 18 months. Not more.  Donate it to the local pet shelter and get a new pillow.
  • Have your sleeping partner or your friendly local chiropractor assess your pillow. The centerline of your head should stay in line with your spine.  If it’s a) pushed up too high or b) not supported (so that it is too low), you’re trying to sleep on the wrong pillow.

Is it dark?

Your primal brain needs the dark to sleep deeply. Shut down computers, phones and the TV an hour before your bedtime; the blue light they emit is highly stimulating and will keep you in an adrenaline-charged state.

How’s the temperature?

“Just right” for most people is about 65 degrees. A light blanket is helpful.

Are you hungry, thirsty, or over-stimulated?
Here are some dietary guidelines for optimal sleep:

  • Avoid caffeine after 4 pm.
  • Avoid alcohol in the evening; it will help you get to sleep, but can disrupt your non-REM sleep.
  • Avoid sugary snacks in the evening. You need stable blood sugar during your sleep time.  A small amount of protein, fat and carbohydrate (vegetable or fruit) just before bedtime can help.
  • Get the bulk of your hydration done by 6 to 8 pm. Then have a cup of herbal tea 60 – 30 minutes before bedtime to help you relax.

Are you getting enough exercise?

It helps relieve stress and gives you the “good tired” feeling that promotes restorative sleep.

Woman suffering from exhaustion fallen asleep in her reading glasses on the document she was readingSpeaking of stress… stress, loss of sleep, poor nutrition and inactivity all promote chronic inflammation.  Inflammation disrupts sleep, and slowly depresses our ability to make pro-active lifestyle choices.  So you can see how this can become a vicious cycle, especially if we are time-pressured and over-stretched in our waking hours.

Your body’s adaptive mechanisms get de-regulated, and may need support.  There are a lot of herbal remedies that can be helpful here, but my first questions are:

“Are you having trouble going to sleep?”

This often points to a surge of cortisol at an inappropriate time of day. This is usually linked to a “slow-to-start” pattern in the morning, and a dysregulated appetite.  This is fundamentally a stress-driven problem with the hormonal or endocrine system, and has serious long-term consequences.

“Are you having trouble staying asleep?”

Our sleep cycles between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM phases. Our deepest, most restful sleep happens in the non-REM cycle, and that’s exactly when the body is able to do its repair work.  Long term disruption here degrades and distorts genetic expression, leading ultimately to health breakdown.

“What time of the night do you tend to wake up?”

These can give us some clues as to what system (liver, gall bladder, lungs, etc.) may be most affected.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for these problems to exist at the same time!  The body doesn’t isolate this kind of systemic problem particularly well, so a multi-dimensional approach is usually the most effective.  But work on the easy, mechanical aspects of sleep first!

Here are some guidelines for the optimal amount of sleep to get:
7 – 8 hours is enough for most adults, but it can be anywhere from 6 – 10

12 – 18 years
8 – 9.5 hours*
*Some experts believe more sleep is needed during hormonally active growth spurts in adolescence

8 – 12 years
11 hours

1 – 5 years
13 – 14 hours, tapering to 10 – 12 hours

Infants < 1 year
16 hours (total day & night)

posted in Healthy Sleep, Stress Strategies

10 Tips For A Better Day

10 Quick Tips for a Happier Day!

1. Drink more water: 10 to 12 glasses daily helps you digest food, detoxify & promotes healthy cell function.

2. Down-shift the caffeine: too much caffeine stresses your adrenal glands & disrupts healthy hormonal balance.

3. Eat breakfast! Your body needs protein in the morning: real oatmeal, eggs, or a fruit & yoghurt smoothie will give you some traction for the day.

4. Ban the barcodes: the food with the most nutritional content is around the edges of the store; more processed foods tend to have barcodes.

5. Take the stairs: it promotes heart and bone health – & burns a few extra calories!

6. Read more, watch less: a good book keeps your brain active and allows you to unwind in a way the television can’t!

7. Take a moment to say thank you: 60 seconds to reflect on our blessings can turn a bad day into a good one.

8. Use acu-pressure to revitalize! Apply light pressure to the space between your eyes for 10 seconds.

9. Give your feet a break: roll a tennis ball under your bare foot for a few moments to ease kinks & promote healthy blood flow.

10. If all else fails, squeeze a stress ball: put your focus on a gentle, rhythmic breath while squeezing a soft ball for 60 seconds, then repeat with the other hand. It releases tension & allows you to re-focus.

It’s your day, after all – make it as pleasant as you can!

posted in Healthy Living, Stress Strategies

The gift nobody wants…


The plain fact is that no one welcomes a headache. Or pain anywhere, for that matter. And why would we? Pain gets in the way of whatever we’re doing, or thinking, or thinking about doing. At the very best, a headache is downright inconvenient.Stress

So why consider it a gift? Because, unsurprisingly, pain gets our attention. And a pain in the head gets our attention like nothing else. Of course, the very first idea we have is, “Get rid of it…”, followed by “as fast as possible.” This is perfectly normal, and there’s nothing wrong with it. I keep aspirin* in my bathroom cabinet, and so should you.

The obvious temptation is to dismiss the headache from our awareness as soon as it’s gone. Bad idea. Pain anywhere in your body is a friendly signal, alerting you that something is amiss. Sometimes it is more than a signal; sometimes it’s a screaming, last-ditch, about-to-go-over-the-cliff panic button that you ignore at your peril. So how do you tell when you getting a friendly “nudge” vs. an all-stations alarm?


What you need is a simple checklist that can help you determine why you developed that pesky headache. Then you have a reasonable basis for deciding whether it’s

a) a “one-off”, or

b) a trend you need to correct, or

c) potentially a serious situation you are going to need help with.


There are lots of variables and complexities to explore, but here’s a short form that’s practical and easy to use.

  1. Are you hungry?
  2. Are you thirsty?
  3. Are you sleepy?
  4. Are you unhappy or stressed?
  5. Are you over-working? or spending lots of time at a computer?
  6. Have you had your vision checked lately?
  7. Are you taking any medication?
  8. Have you been over-indulging with alcohol? or other mood-altering substance?
  9. Did you pull a muscle (especially in the neck) or over-strain during sports or other activity?
  10. Have you been in an accident, had any type of fall, or hit your head?
  11. Have you been exposed to any environmental irritants? or to any known allergen?
  12. Did you wake up with it? or did it come on during the day?
  13. Have you had this kind of headache before? Is there a pattern to it? Is it getting worse?
  14. Does it correspond to a change in barometric pressure? or to any hormonal fluctuation?
  15. Did you experience anything unusual before it started: ringing in your ears, or sensitivity to light?
  16. Does anyone in your family have a similar experience with a headache?

Some of the answers give you an immediate framework for thinking about the root cause of your headache. Dehydration is an almost pandemic problem, but easy to fix. Giving yourself the benefit of a regular and healthy diet is not as easy, but can certainly be done. Correcting ergonomics at your workstation is usually pretty simple; I ask patients to bring me pictures and we troubleshoot from there.

Other causes and linkages can be a little harder to tease out. A hormonal pattern is easier to chart than one that’s linked to barometric pressure. Migraine-type headaches don’t always have the classic presentation with a prodrome and light sensitivity. If you suspect a prescription may be the problem, talk to your medical practitioner about alternatives or interactions.

Awareness of head injuries has definitely increased, but still not enough people know that headaches can be caused by increasing intracranial pressure. This can be from a blood vessel leakage, a growing mass within the skull, or a disruption in cerebrospinal fluid flow. These are worse case scenarios, but I hope to convince you to take a headache seriously. Early warning is a gift worth having.

On a more positive note, I have seen many patients who now, I am happy to say, no longer have headaches. And that’s a wonderful thing – much better than a gift from even the best store.


*Preferably not acetaminophin, by the way; see Harvard Medical School’s 12 Things you Should Know about Paint Relievers.


Click here for a print-friendly version of the checklist.

posted in Healthy Living, Stress Strategies

Walking is Wonderful: Here’s Why

Happy Family with two girls running or jogging for sport and bet

In case you need a reason to go for a walk, consider these benefits for your health and happiness:

  1. A 10 to 20 minute walk at a brisk pace boosts your energy level for the day, and it has a very positive effect on your mood.
  2. It’s a low impact exercise that is suitable for almost all ages – which makes it a great family activity.
  3. It’s good for your heart and can lower your blood pressure, making you less likely to have a stroke.
  4. It lowers your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, as well as asthma and certain types of cancers.
  5. It helps you boost your metabolism and increase your muscle mass safely – so it’s ideal if you want to lose weight or simply maintain where you are.
  6. Getting outside for a walk during the day also increases your body’s stores of Vitamin D.  And being outside is wonderful.
  7. It can help prevent dementia.
  8. It provides healthy stress on your bones and joints, so it’s ideal for osteoporosis prevention.
  9. It tones your legs!
  10. It tones your butt!
  11. It tones your abs!
  12. It tones your arms!  Letting your arms swing freely as you walk also increases the amount of calories you burn and the boost to your metabolism.
A few tips for a better walk:
    1. Make sure you wear supportive shoes.  If you haven’t had your feet checked for pronation, see your friendly local chiropractor!
    2. Consciously lengthen your spine, and keep your chin slightly tucked in towards your neck.  This will help keep the weight of your head balanced over your shoulders, pelvis and feet.  Forward head carriage is a terribly destructive postural distortion, and it is distressingly common.Hikers with backpacks walking through a meadow with lush grass
    3. Walk with a buddy at least some of the time.  It’s more motivating, you’ll walk faster, and it’s more fun!


posted in Healthy Aging, Stress Strategies

Ripple effect: a metric for 2014


Ever skipped stones in water?  Then you’ve seen how the impact spreads out far, far beyond the point where the stone first hit the water.  It’s a  fascinating and beautiful thing to watch.


Economists tend to talk about the ripple effect demonstrating how a single change in consumer behavior or corporate policy can have effects across the entire economy – both locally and globally.

On a smaller and more manageable scale, the actions we take every day affect our families, our co-workers, and our neighbors.  Of course we make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions every day!  But the ones that affect our health are actually much more far-reaching than we know.

What impact can your well-being have on the people around you?  It’s more profound than it seems at first glance.

Take some obvious examples: Healthy mothers have healthier babies.  A non-smoker will have fewer sick days out of the office.  A family that prepares and eats dinner together develops deeper bonds.

And some less-obvious examples: A body that is 20 pounds over-weight or significantly dehydrated is much more prone to the failure of a disk that can require surgery.  Chronic sleep deprivation makes it easier to lose one’s temper; can you imagine what your commute might be like if everyone was well-rested?

It’s a very simple idea:  Health starts with you.  So as you move into this year, day by day, consider how you affect others.  Take care of how you are, in body, mind and spirit, so that you can enliven the world around – and beyond – you.  Have a wonderful year!  (And get your spine checked!)


posted in Stress Strategies

Immune Boosters


‘Tis the season of sniffles and sneezes… but maybe not!  Here are some great immune boosters that are fast, easy and effective – and a few may surprise you!

Salt Spill


A daily salt water gargle is a terrific way to keep germs at bay – and a neti pot nasal rinse 2-3 times a week is an excellent addition to the throat gargle.


Chiles are also a great immune boosters – so if you like spicy food, experiment with different fresh chile peppers.  Indian and Mexican cooking use them in a variety of ways, and the internet is a great resource for learning new recipes and techniques.



Adding sliced fresh ginger to hot water makes a great digestive tea after a meal.  Fresh ginger has the added benefit of boosting your immune system, so add it to anything you can think of: smoothies, vegetables, broths…  You can keep fresh sliced or grated ginger in the freezer for convenience, although that does reduce its effectiveness.


Local honey (raw if you can get it) is an ancient health resource, and adds sweetness to dreary days; try a hot tea of fresh ginger, orange or lemon slices, and a bit of honey: delicious, and hydrating, too.



Eating a rich variety of foods, especially lots of different colored vegetables, is key to good health, whatever the season.


Don’t rely on orange juice for your Vitamin C; eating a whole orange instead gives you natural fiber along with the sweetness we love.



Remember that parsley garnish your mother insisted on putting on the plate?  It is FULL of Vitamin C (and B vitamins as well), so look for ways to incorporate it in your cooking.


A glass of water can be unappealing when it’s cold outside, but do your very best to stay hydrated: it’s your best way of ensuring that your whole body works well, including your immune system.


If all else fails and you end up with a cold or other virus, make some easy, warming broth that will definitely help you feel better and get better:

Chicken-Brothsaute finely chopped onions (celery too, if you like) and garlic in olive oil, adding a few pinches of turmeric if you have it.  Then add whatever broth you have on hand (chicken is ideal, but vegetable is fine too) and some grated ginger. Thinly sliced carrots and some minced parsley are nice options, but the broth is what you really need.   Let simmer 5 – 10 minutes.  Drink at least two cups, more if you can.


Keep some Congaplex on hand to help you burn through the acute phase faster.  I take two every hour until I can get to bed, and I’ve found it improves my “bounce back” considerably.


posted in Seasonal Tips, Stress Strategies

Winter Defenses

Simple strategies to boost your immune system in the winter!

Salt Spill
Gargle – A warm salt water gargle 2 – 3 times a week can ward off a nasty sore throat before it starts. Use organic sea salt to make a mildly salty solution.

Green Herbs on a Window Sill


Humidify your air – Cold viruses like dry air. So leave the bathroom door open when you shower, keep houseplants in your bedroom, and put a pan of water near your heat source.


red tetsubin with a cup of tea

Hydrate your body – We forget to drink water when it’s chilly outside! Drink warm water, have a cup of herbal tea – whatever works for you!

Wash your hands – It’s the simplest, most effective way to keep from picking up or spreading viruses.

Winter Kid


Get enough rest – Sleep “knits up the ravelled sleeve of care”: while you sleep, your body can repair and restore. So

snuggle up, and don’t shortchange yourself!

Bundle up – Wearing multiple thin layers lets you adjust to different temperatures. Keeping your head and throat warm is especially helpful!


Pumpkin cream soup with pumpkin seeds

Nourish yourself – Eat for the season: hearty soups, deep greens, rich complex tastes, and easy on the sweets. A wide-mouthed thermos gives you more choices for the lunch box.


Burn the germs – Hot liquids make our throats happy, and create an unwelcoming environment for viruses. One reason why chicken soup is a classic for the winter…



Exfoliate & moisturize – Your skin is one of your first lines of defense, so keep it happy! Skin brushing also helps your lymphatic system work.

posted in Seasonal Tips, Stress Strategies