Leave Your Stress at Work!

 

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that forthcoming research from the Academy of Management Journal will show that workers reported lower stress levels at the end of their work day/night after spending a few minutes jotting down positive events at the end of their shift, along with why those things made them feel good. Can that simple step really help?

The researchers conducting the study tracked workers over a 15 day period. They logged their blood pressure and stress symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. The researchers then noted the changes when, at the end of their shift, the workers wrote down their accomplishments from that day. Positive thinking eased the tension. Theresa Glomb, a co-author of the report, says that the most significant impact comes from writing down why those things made them feel good. She says that act highlights the resources and support a person has in their work life such as skills, a good sense of humor, an encouraging family or a compassionate boss. And the reflections do not have to be work-related as about 40% of the end of day reflections had nothing to do with work but still made the participants calmer once they went home.

A key point is to not make this activity a mandatory requirement; that could result in creating additional stress instead of reducing it! Why not give it a try?

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Fun in the Sun

Ahhh ……the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer….. blue skies, hot sun! As we spend more time outside playing, exercising and working we must keep in mind how dangerous the heat can be if precautions are not taken.

Dehydration and heat exhaustion are two conditions that can occur in hot weather, often without us even realizing it. When dehydrated, our body is not able to produce enough sweat which is needed to reduce our internal body temperature and move the heat out. If sweat is not being made, our body’s core temperature rises which could result in heat exhaustion or heat stroke-two very serious conditions. Symptoms of dehydration may be dizziness, dry mouth, decreased sweating and dark urine.

Once our body is overheated, heat exhaustion can happen. We could experience fatigue, nausea, headache, vomiting and cold clammy skin with excessive sweating. If left untreated, this could lead to heat stroke which is considered to be a life threatening condition.

The good news is that these conditions can be prevented and we can enjoy being outside! Here are some guidelines to follow to ensure healthy and safe outdoor living:

  • Stay hydrated; drink every 20-30 minutes. If working or exercising excessively, try sports drinks.
  • Use sunscreen.
  • If possible, avoid the middle part of the day when the sun is the strongest.
  • Dress appropriately in light weight and light colored clothes; also, wear a hat.

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Is the Restless Legs Mystery Solved?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a subject of concern to shift workers because it often disrupts their already limited hours of sleep. It is a disorder that causes a strong urge to move your legs, usually when you are sleeping or inactive, resulting in difficulty getting to sleep and maintaining sleep.

The good news is that researchers continue to study RLS in order to try to improve suffer’s sleep.  Studies have shown that RLS patients’ sleep is not significantly improved even when their involuntary leg movements are reduced by certain drugs; this has been a mystery to researchers. However, new findings by Johns Hopkins researchers, published in the May issue of the journal Neurology, show this mystery may have been solved. To learn more about these results, read the article in e! science news.

 

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The Health Benefits of Coffee

Concerned about having that second or third cup of coffee? Recent studies indicate that maybe you shouldn’t be! An article in the June 9th issue of the New York Times Magazine describes the notable health benefits of moderate (3-4 5 ounce cups) coffee drinking for both men and women.

Scientists have linked coffee drinking to a reduction in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer, oral cancer, the most common skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma) and breast cancer recurrence. In addition, studies conducted on both animals and humans indicate the caffeine in coffee may have a role in preventing dementia. This is an encouraging and welcome discovery as the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to triple by 2050 as our population ages. Read this article …

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Can lost sleep be recovered?

We all know that sleep deficit is a constant problem for many shift workers. And we also know that having a sleep debt impacts every faction of our lives. So the debate continues – what is the best way to make up that sleep? A May 20th article in the Wall Street Journal discusses this issue and offers some suggestions.

What is best for you, your schedule and your sleep type? Should you sleep binge, sleep bank or nap? Click here to learn more…. 

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A.D.H.D. or Sleep Deficit?

At this point, it appears we all know someone (if not yourself!) who has been diagnosed or has symptoms attributable to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or A.D.H.D. The classic symptoms of A.D.H.D. include procrastination, forgetfulness, the inability to pay attention consistently and the propensity to lose things. However, as a recent article published in the New York Times points out, there is an important diagnostic criterion: symptoms must date back to childhood.  Yet, in many patients, it has been shown they don’t.

Vatsal G. Thakkar, the article’s author, proposes that in a substantial number of cases, these symptoms may be a result of chronic sleep deficit! In today’s 24/7 society, we all get less sleep than we used to, especially shift workers. We at Working Nights often discuss the importance of sleep and what happens if we do not get enough. It has a tremendous negative impact on our health and wellbeing. Learn more about these sleep findings by reading the article in the New York Times.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Pick Up Your Brooms!

Looking for a way to increase your physical activity and fit the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week into your already full day? Start cleaning! As health experts look at the continued weight gain of people in North America, they have blamed fast food and sugary drinks. However, a recent study reports that one reason for the gain could be that we are doing half the housework than we did in the past.

The researchers report that currently 13 hours per week are spent doing housework, about half of what was done in 1965. They have calculated that 360 fewer calories are burned each day because of the decline in housework. This is the equivalent of 30 minutes of running or an hour long aerobics class seven days a week. Wow!

So pick up your broom, scrub that floor, wash your dishes, pick up the clutter, clean out that closet – get up and move! You will feel better, live longer, get in shape and have the cleanest house on the block!

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Breaking News from the National Sleep Foundation!

In the past, sleep experts had warned us about exercising too close to bed time. They said excitement hormones such as adrenaline, which rise during exercise to give us energy and take about three hours to fall back to normal levels, would interfere with a good night’s sleep.

However, recent studies show this is not the case! These studies indicate that the timing of your exercise has no impact on your quality or quantity of sleep. This research is backed by a survey released by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) which makes the case for exercising to improve sleep, regardless of the time of day or night. The survey polled vigorous exercisers who, whether exercising first thing in the morning or right before bed, were twice as likely as sedentary people to report they had a good night’s sleep every night or almost every night the week before. Therefore, the NSF has amended its recommendation for normal sleepers to encourage exercise at any time of day or night.

This is wonderful news for shift workers who often find it difficult to get to sleep and to fit exercise into their schedule. To learn more about this new information, go to the National Sleep Foundation’s website.

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What is the Perfect Sleep Position?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that according to experts, there is no perfect position and there is no one right way to sleep! Because sleep is such an important part of a healthy lifestyle, it is vital to find the position that is most comfortable for you and allows you to have the best night’s sleep possible. People with certain medical conditions and pain should determine what position works best for them that can help to aid or eliminate their problem.

Here are some interesting sleep position facts:

1. The three basic sleeping positions (in order of their popularity) are side, back and stomach with variables to each of these; each position has its own advantages and disadvantages.

2. Sleep specialists recommend side sleeping for the most restful, uninterrupted sleep.

3. They do not recommend stomach sleeping as it could cause lower back and neck pain.

4. Sleeping in the same position can consistently compress one part of the body.

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The Importance of Sleep

It seems as if each day there is new information on sleep, its importance in our daily lives and the severe implications to our health if we don’t get enough. Sleep deprivation is now considered a widespread public health issue as one in five American adults show signs of it. While this news certainly impacts all people, it is of even greater significance to shift workers, who on average get less sleep.

A recent article in e! Science News talks about the October meeting of Neuroscience 2012 during which a number of new findings on sleep were revealed. One of the findings describes how sleep enables the remodeling of memories — including the weakening of irrelevant memories — and the coherent integration of old and new information.  Another shows that loss of less than half a night’s sleep can impair memory and alter the normal behavior of brain cells.

Dr. Clifford Saper, an expert on sleep and sleep deprivation who served as the press conference moderator, said “As these research findings show, we cannot underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep”. To learn more and read the article in its entirety, please click here..

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Pick Up Your Feet and Walk!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported good news with regard to walking-more Americans are doing it! The percentage of adults who went on a 10 minute walk once a week increased from 56% in 2005 to 62% in 2010. Even better is the fact that this increase was seen across all regions, races and ages.

We are certainly heading in the right direction, but we do have room for improvement. Federal guidelines recommend that adults get 2½ hours of moderate (brisk walking) to vigorous (running) exercise each week. It is not always easy to find the time to fit exercise into our routine; it is even more difficult for shift workers.

Walking is one of the most popular and accessible of physical activities since it requires no equipment, can be done anywhere and by people of different athletic abilities. How to start? Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away, walk inside or outside your building when taking a break at work. Small steps can literally translate into lifesaving benefits.

Regular walking can improve your mood, lower blood pressure, help to manage diabetes and cholesterol and keep you trim and fit. Taking short breaks at work will keep you awake and at the top of your game. Give it a try!

 

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Connecting Sleep Deprivation and Obesity

We very often write about the impact that sleep (or lack of it) has on every aspect of our lives, especially the lives of shift workers. The results of a new study have been released which might further explain the link between sleep loss and obesity which had been discovered earlier.

The study was presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies’ Annual Meeting, SLEEP 2012, in Boston in June.  According to its lead author, Stephanie Greer, its goal was to see if specific regions of the brain associated with food processing were disrupted by sleep deprivation. Twenty three healthy adults participated in two sessions using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), one after a normal night’s sleep and the other after a night of sleep deprivation. During both sessions, the participants rated how much they wanted different food items shown to them while they were in the scanner.

The results show that loss of sleep significantly impaired brain activity in the frontal lobe, the region critical for controlling behavior and making complex choices, such as which food to eat. Greer said the study suggests that sleep deprivation prevents higher brain functions, rather than those deeper in the brain structures that react to basic desires. With loss of sleep, the brain fails to integrate all the different signals that help us normally make wise choices about what we should eat.

Therefore when we are sleep deprived, our brain does not gather the information needed to decide the best types of food to eat, healthy relative to how tasty, so we may not be eating right or choosing the right foods. This may help explain the connection between sleep deprivation and obesity.

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An Apple A Day May…

keep the fat away (as well as the doctor)! A study in Plos One suggests that eating unpeeled apples may keep extra pounds and obesity related diseases at bay.

The study, conducted at the University of Iowa, found that a compound in apple skins, ursolic acid, helped mice increase their muscle mass and develop more calorie burning brown fat, even while eating a high fat diet. These two tissues are recognized for their calorie-burning properties. Besides helping the mice shed weight, ursolic acid also helped keep pre-diabetes and fatty liver disease from forming.

Mice eating the same diet without the compound did not show these results.

The researchers used a low concentration of ursolic acid, equivalent to eating one or two apples each day, to conduct their study. This is very good news for shift workers whose eating habits are altered when working shifts, causing them to gain more weight and eat less healthy than the general population. An apple is a simple, easy and powerhouse snack to bring to work each day. Who would think that something so small could help us so much?

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One More Reason to Eat a Balanced Healthy Diet!

As though there aren’t enough reasons to eat a healthy balanced diet, researchers have come up with one more-Vitamin B6.  A study just published in the Journal of Nutrition shows a strong association between chronic inflammation and Vitamin B6; those people with the highest levels of B6 in their blood had the lowest levels of chronic inflammation and those with the lowest levels of B6 had the highest levels of chronic inflammation.

Normally, temporary inflammation,  such as redness or swelling after an injury, is part of a healthy immune system. However, chronic inflammation is a much different and serious story. It occurs when the immune system does not shut off, which causes immune cells to interfere with the body’s healthy tissues. This can cause heart disease, diabetes and stroke, among other chronic diseases. Some of these are conditions that shift workers already have at a higher rate than day workers.  Even scarier, most people don’t know they have chronic inflammation since there is not a reliable blood test to screen for it.

The findings from this study give researchers a better idea of what is going on in the body regarding this inflammation. Other studies are now being conducted to determine the exact role of Vitamin B6; at this time experts are not recommending supplements. However, they do recommend including foods in your diet that contain B6 as there are numerous other benefits of this vitamin. B6 is present in chicken breasts, fish, hamburger, legumes, pinto beans and vegetables like red peppers and potatoes. Shift workers should try to include these foods in their daily diet. They are all foods which provide numerous health benefits. Enjoy!

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Wellness Programs and Social Media

Social media is proving to be an important tool for employers trying to encourage their employees to participate in Wellness Programs or to achieve weight/health goals. With much of the population looking at text messages, Facebook and Twitter each day, it appears to be the wave of the future.

The question at this point is how it should be used; many companies are coming up with ways it can be the most effective for their employees.  Chilton Hospital in New Jersey had tried for years to engage its employees in programs and initiatives aimed at promoting well-being and reducing health care costs. The resulting behavior changes were minor and covered only a small number of employees.  Then in 2011, Chilton tried a new approach; they entered a county-wide 100 day fitness challenge where employees from local companies formed teams of 6 and vied to see who could walk the most, lose the most weight and eat the healthiest. Participants logged onto a Facebook-like social network where they reported results and cheered each other on. As an incentive to participate, Chilton did offer a cash reward of $150 each to members of the winning team and $500 to the person who lost the most weight. Ultimately though, money was not the driving force; it was the challenge and online camaraderie that pulled people in.

Another company, incentalHEALTH, surveyed the participants in its own Wellness Program about their use of social media. It found that 90% of them were on Facebook and 81% texted daily. With this information, the company created a model which delivers wellness information via daily coaching texts and a Brag to Facebook feature. Other features being considered are online wellness journals, discussion groups and progress reports that can be shared with others.

There is an ever growing list of services and apps now available (with more and more coming out each day) for those companies interested in promoting wellness through social media. What better way to get people involved and to change unhealthy behaviors than by employing a media that is an integral part of so many their lives?

 

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