Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How Many ZZZs Do You Really Need?

sleeping cat
What's the purrrrfect amount of sleep?
Image: Shutterstock
How many hours of sleep do you get each night? How much would you get if you didn’t have to set your alarm clock each morning? As a society, we’ve come to believe the ideal amount of sleep per night is 8 hours for adults. I’ll be the first to say that if I sleep without interruption, I tend to go for nine hours, meaning my sleep cycles are likely each 3 hours long or 4.5 hours long.

“Everyone is different,” is the phrase I generally go to when talking about how much sleep people “need” to get on average each night. But there’s some interesting new research being done that is suggesting the “eight hours” rule might not actually be the ideal amount of sleep.

In general, Americans these days are getting fewer hours of shuteye than in the past, and several studies over the past few decades have suggested that seven hours is the optimal amount of sleep for cognitive and physical health.

For example, the University of California San Diego conducted a six-year-long study involving over a million people and concluded that the optimal amount of sleep per night is between 6.5 and 7.4 hours. The researchers say that those who tended to sleep between those amounts had a lower mortality rate than those who got either more or less sleep on average. The study controlled for 32 different health factors and was published in 2002.

Of course, many experts have pointed out potential flaws in the research, such as whether it factored in illnesses, human error in self-monitoring for sleep times, and genetic differences and predispositions. One study found that skipping out on even a little extra sleep (20 minutes) could impair memory and overall performance. Too much sleep, however, has been associated with a wide variety of health problems—like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and higher mortality rates.

“The problem with these studies is that they give you good information about association but not causation,” says Timothy Morgenthaler, who is president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He recommends seven to eight hours of sleep per night, with an evaluation of how you feel individually—because optimal sleep times can vary largely.

One thing is for sure: there’s certainly more research to be done. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has agreed to fund a panel to review and report on all existing sleep research. The panel will be made up of researchers and medical specialists, who are to deliver new recommendations on sleep by 2015.

What do you think about this new research? Are you a tried-and-true 8-hours believer, or do you have a different optimal sleep time? 

Friday, July 18, 2014

22 CEOs Join Up With American Heart Association Initiative

healthy tomato healthy living
Make healthier choices!
Image: via Flickr
I’ve talked before about how close to home heart disease is for me. With a history of it in my family, and with a (for now) harmless heart murmer myself, heart problems are a very real, and very scary thing. It’s the biggest killer in America, and quite frankly, we often don’t do nearly enough to prevent it—often waiting until our lives are in grave danger to realize we should have made smarter, healthier choices.

I think that we are living in rapidly changing times, however. It feels like we’re finally moving past the era where we buy all our meals pre-packaged and processed, and more into an era where we’re getting back to the basics and trying to be healthier. I know this isn’t true for many people, but I’ve noticed a general shift in attitude in recent years—especially since obesity has become such a prevalent problem in our society. I hope I’m right and that we’re collectively making this change for the better.

I wanted to share with you a story I read in the news that really cheered me – an announcement that 22 CEOs of major companies are partnering up with the American Heart Association to help employees lead healthier lives. The initiative is called the American Heart Association CEO Roundtable, and addresses a common problem—our tendency to over-estimate how healthy we really are, which can lead to problems like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and a myriad other problems.

CEOs like Henry R. Kravis (KKR), Nancy Brown (AHA), and Terry Lundgren (Macy’s) have stepped up to the plate in regards to employee health. The most exciting part? The initiative aims to “make healthy choices the default choices,” which I whole-heartedly believe is integral to leading a healthy life. Enough with the extreme diets, the constant battle—we need a complete shift in mindset, where we’re leading a healthy lifestyle, not just picking and choosing.

"The AHA CEO Roundtable is uniquely positioned to create real changes in health and wellness by engaging more than 2 million people where they spend most of their day—at work," said Henry R. Kravis, co-CEO of KKR. "We are taking what we know—from the CEO Roundtable companies, leading doctors and scientists, and this new data—and combining it with the expertise of the AHA to make a meaningful impact on our employees' health."

It’s estimated that about 200,000 lives could be saved every year from heart disease—simply by making healthier lifestyle choices. Now that’s something worth fighting for.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

14 Natural Mosquito Repellents

herbs for mosquito repellent
Did you know that some herbs and oils act as natural mosquito repellents?
Image: / Flickr CC
Did everyone have an enjoyable holiday weekend? I spent mine taking a few well-deserved days off and heading up to a secluded cabin to reunite with friends and family. As much as I love the city, there’s just something about isolation that is so refreshing from time to time. I grew up in a smaller city but spent much of my time outdoors listening to the birds, crickets, the wind rattling the sagebrush. Sometimes in the city, it’s hard to notice those things because there’s so much else going on.

One thing that I’m not fond of, however, is mosquitoes. How is it that these tiny annoying insects manage to reside en masse at all my vacation locations? Luckily, I don’t generally get eaten alive like some others do, but I did get a few bites over the weekend.

Did you know that there are a number of essential oils that act as natural mosquito repellent? They may not be quite as effective as rubbing 100% DEET on your skin, but they certainly eliminate many of the risks associated with DEET (and can safely be used on children – unlike anything more than 30% DEET). Next time you’re out in the woods, try using these oils as a way to naturally repel mosquitoes:
  1. Peppermint
  2. Citronella
  3. Clove
  4. Lemongrass
  5. Rosemary
  6. Tea Tree
  7. Cajeput
  8. Eucaliptus
  9. Cedar
  10. Catnip
  11. Lavender
  12. Mint
  13. Cinnamon
  14. Thyme
The above oils can be combined to your preference with ingredients like water and witch hazel to create mosquito repellent – try some of these recipes! Sometimes something as simple as burning a citronella candle or growing certain plants can help discourage mosquitos from hanging around.

How do you keep the mosquitos away?