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Primary Focus with Sarah Simmons, MD, MPH

Sarah Simmons, MD, MPH

Sarah Simmons, MD, MPH

HealthCh@t with Sarah Simmons, MD, MPH

Q: The busy holiday season has really thrown off my schedule—especially sleep. Any tips for getting back on-track?

A: Sleep is as important to your health as diet and regular exercise. Not getting enough of it is linked with health concerns such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity, as well as mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

Many lifestyle factors can contribute to sleep loss:

  • Stress that keeps your mind active at night
  • Travel or work schedules that disrupt your internal clock
  • Some medications like certain blood pressure or allergy treatments
  • Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, which change sleep patterns and interfere with deep sleep
  • Heavy meals late in the evening that can cause heartburn or upset stomach
  • Habits like naps or lots of screen time before bed

When you find yourself having trouble night after night, finding ways to reprogram your sleep regimen can be challenging. Start with one or two small changes and work your way toward lasting improvements.

  • Create a restful bedroom space by using a comfortable, quality mattress, pillow and bedding.
  • Keep the room dark, quiet and cool. You can try adding blackout curtains or a sleep mask, as well as ear plugs or a white noise machine to help.
  • Set a fixed bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends or days off, to keep your sleep cycle consistent.
  • Whenever possible, give yourself extra time before bed to wind down and get ready for sleep. Reading, relaxation exercises or soft music are good options.
  • Keep naps short (20 minutes is ideal) and not too late in the day (early afternoon is best).
  • Limit your late-night screen time from TVs, computers and phones. These devices can suppress your body’s melatonin release that aids sleep.
  • Daily exercise has benefits for your sleep health—just make sure not to exercise too close to bedtime.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol, which negatively impact the quality of sleep.
Are you having sleep problems? Talk with your doctor or start a visit.

Did you know?

  • One-third of U.S. adults report getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep nightly.
  • Kids need more sleep than adults: up to 10–12 hours nightly because their bodies are growing so quickly.
  • Sleep often becomes less restful as we age due to hormonal changes that affect the body’s internal clock.
  • “Drowsy driving” (operating a vehicle while sleep-deprived) has the same effect on cognitive ability, reaction time and accuracy as driving while intoxicated.

Still having problems? Talk with your doctor or start a visit. Sometimes underlying medical problems like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome can be the cause of sleep issues. A doctor can evaluate and make recommendations to get you sleeping better—but there isn’t a magic pill. The best forms of treatment for sleep issues are improved habits and coaching or therapy, if needed.

Demystifying coughs

Got a cough you can’t figure out? You’re not alone. Coughing is one of the most common reasons for doctor visits. And while it can be a sign of infection, the true cause can vary—and so can the recommended action. For this reason, don’t be surprised if your physician asks you questions about your diet or is reluctant to prescribe antibiotics. Here’s a quick look at what may be behind your cough:

Upper respiratory illness
These infections cause common colds and sinus infections, leading to mucus drainage that irritates the throat (hello, cough!). Typically, these infections are caused by viruses and will go away on their own. Use decongestants and sinus rinses to clear drainage and stay comfortable. If you’re still coughing after 10—14 days, speak to a doctor about the likelihood of a bacterial infection.

Allergies can cause an immune response to things like pollen or animal fur, causing the body to produce mucus. Similar to the infection cough, this drainage irritates the throat. Antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays are most effective at stopping that drainage.

While asthma often causes wheezing, sometimes a cough—especially at night—is the only symptom. The cough from asthma comes from inflammation of the airways in the lungs. After a doctor evaluates lung function, asthma can be treated with inhalers to reduce the inflammation and open up the airways.

Cough is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux or heartburn because the acid from the stomach irritates the throat. Lifestyle changes like eating smaller meals can help, as can over-the-counter and prescription medications.

Lower airway infections
Pneumonia and bronchitis are infections of the airways in lungs. Again, these can be caused by viruses and bacteria—and that annoying cough can linger. Throat lozenges, hot tea, honey, smoking cessation and over-the-counter cough medicine can alleviate symptoms.

Some medications like ACE inhibitors, used commonly to treat high blood pressure, can cause coughing as a side effect. It is important to share all of the medications you are taking with your doctor.

Other causes
Things like COPD, lung cancer or habit cough are also considerations in coughs that won’t go away. Start a visit to talk more with a doctor about what you’re experiencing.

Putting devices in time-out

How to navigate screen time for your childrens’ health

From remote work to virtual school, we’ve all spent a lot more time staring at screens since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly half of all children under age 8 have their own device and spend more than 2 hours daily on digital screens; teenagers are spending more than 7 hours on their devices outside of school work. But too much time on a device isn’t a walk in the park. Here are just a few ways excessive screen time can negatively impact childrens’ development, mental health and physical health.

Screen time and obesity are closely linked. When kids choose screens over other options, their physical activity is limited and serious weight gain becomes more likely.

Screen time also tends to keep kids up later at night and can make it more difficult to wind down and get to sleep.

Eye strain
Staring at a screen all day can cause the eye muscle to tire out and the eyes to dry, leading to headaches.

Muscle tension
Poor posture habits, like being slumped over in front of a screen for hours, can create muscle strain and tension in the back and neck.

What can you do?

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that screen time should be limited to 1 hour or less daily for children younger than 5. For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.
  • Prioritize unplugged time and create tech-free zones and hours in your home, especially near bedtime.
  • Set a good example for your children and be aware of your own screen time use.
  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Children should give their eyes a screen-time break every 20 minutes by looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Have a set work area that encourages good posture and positioning.
Tips for reducing screen time

Eczema Cheat Sheet

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