Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Which Supplements Help Prevent and Treat Infections?

I don't know anyone who wants to get sick, so most of us try our best to avoid illnesses. We do this by washing our hands and encouraging our kids to cover their coughs. We avoid sick people as much as possible (though we don't always stay home when we should). We should routinely get enough sleep (most Americans fail in this regard) and eat more fruits and vegetables (again, most of us fail to get the minimum recommended amounts of plants in our diets).

All of these measures can help, but can we get more help from nutritional supplements or other natural remedies? What will boost our immune system?

supplements, illness, prevention, natural, essential oil, herb, homeopathic, treatment


I'm often asked if vitamin C, zinc, or essential oils will help various ailments or boost our immune system. I know that many people try natural products that are promoted to boost or support the immune system. They're hopeful that stimulating immune system activity will help the body fight off a virus. But research doesn't show that our immune system works that way. A virus can cause illness even in healthy people. If you want to read an in-depth summary of how our immune system works, the Skeptical Raptor has done a nice job discussing the complexities and why it's not as easy as eating healthy and taking supplements. Not to mention the fact that we don't necessarily want an overactive immune system, which is associated with allergies and autoimmune diseases.

One thing we need to remember first and foremost in the discussion of supplements is that this is an under-regulated industry. The FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. For this reason I hesitate to recommend supplements at all. Even though I do recommend Vitamin D supplements because studies support the need for additional Vitamin D in most people, I cannot endorse one particular product. Over the years many supplements, homeopathic products and herbs have been reported to have significant variances in amounts of product and unnamed contaminants, including lead and other hazards.

Summaries of supplement and other "natural treatment" effectiveness:
  • Probiotics may actually help prevent the number of infections. There are many, many types of probiotics, so further studies are needed on how to choose the best strain.
  • Zinc has been shown to help prevent upper respiratory tract infections in children and teens and to decrease the duration of the common cold symptoms. It is best given as a lozenge to help with absorption. Intranasal zinc has been linked to a permanent loss of smell and should not be used. High doses can cause significant side effects, so talk to your doctor and pharmacist before supplementing.
  • Nasal saline rinses show benefit in treating symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. Learn how to do these correctly before trying it though. I often recommend Nasopure products as an unpaid endorsement. They're a local company with a very helpful website. Use their library to learn how to properly use nasal rinses in kids as young as 2 years of age.
  • Honey may reduce the frequency of cough and improve the quality of sleep for children with the common cold. Honey should never be used in children younger than 1 year of age because of the risk of botulism.
  • Echinacea has consistently been shown to be ineffective in many studies. I know that many people have heard of its benefits, so if you aren't convinced that you shouldn't waste money on it, see the NCCIH's Echinacea page.
  • Garlic shows overall low evidence of benefit.
  • Vitamin C can shorten the duration of illness mildly with daily supplementation. 
  • Chinese herbal medicines do not have high quality studies so effectiveness is unknown.
  • Geranium extract (Pelargonium sidoides) has insufficient evidence of benefit for cold and cough symptoms.
  • Turmeric's supposed anti-inflammatory properties have not been shown to be effective by research.
  • Essential oils have the potential for beneficial effects – but they also have the potential for adverse reactions. Although they are touted as a cure for many ailments, published studies regarding the uses of aromatherapy have generally focused on its psychological effects on stress and anxiety or its use as a topical treatment for skin conditions. Both Young Living and dōTERRA have received warning letters from the FDA about improper marketing and unsubstantiated claims for uses of their oils. While many people think essential oils are safe, they can lead to significant problems. Some people suffer from allergic reactions to oils. They can increase sensitivity to the sun when applied topically. Tea tree oil and lavender have estrogen-like effects and caution should be used with these. Some of these substances can even lead to seizures, liver damage, and death if used improperly. Ingestion of the oils is a growing concern - as more households have them, more children are ingesting them.

Alice Callahan's “Immune-Boosting” Supplements Won’t Protect You from Back-to-School Germs is a great review of many of the supplements touted to prevent or treat illnesses. Her background in nutrition provides a solid base for reviewing claims that many of us don't understand completely. 

Generally supplements are not recommended, but if you choose to use them, use them cautiously.
  • Supplements contain a wide variety of ingredients - including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs. Research has confirmed health benefits of some dietary supplements but not others. The woo can be strong in this area, so be cautious where you get your information. 
  • Supplements have been known to include unlisted ingredients and to have inconsistent levels of product. When they are recalled, there is no mechanism in place to identify and notify people who have purchased affected products. 
  • Find a reliable source to evaluate effectiveness and risks. Some reports have shown that people who take supplements have higher risks of cancer, liver damage, birth defects, bleeding, and other health problems. When looking for information, use noncommercial sites (National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration, US Department of Agriculture, National Center for Complementary Health) rather than depending on information from sellers.
  • Natural does not mean safe. I've always said that I wouldn't give my picky eater marijuana to stimulate his appetite and encourage him to eat. Not even if it was organic. That usually gets the point across. You need to know the risks of a product, even if it's natural. 
  • If supplements will be taken, talk to your doctor and pharmacist about drug interactions. Sometimes it's difficult to know the risks because not all ingredients are included on the label and not all ingredients have been well studied, especially in combination with other supplements and medications. 
  • Most dietary supplements have not been tested in pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children. Remember just because something's natural doesn't mean it's safe. Arsenic is natural but I wouldn't advise taking it in high doses.
  • If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are no miracle cures. Avoid being manipulated by advertising. It's easy to fall prey because we all want to feel better quickly and parents want their kids to be healthy. But if it claims to be 100% effective or to have no side effects, it's probably false advertising. Personal accounts of something working are as likely to be based on bias or coincidence as to be from real benefit. Rely on large clinical studies that have been reproduced by other researchers. Dr. Chad Hayes has a very long, but wonderful post on how many of the integrative medicines are not simply not beneficial but potentially dangerous - Citations Needed: The curious “science” of integrative medicineMy experience at "Get Your Life Back NOW!"
This post isn't about antibiotics, but they don't work against viral illnesses any better than supplements. They don't prevent the development of ear infections or pneumonia, so even if your child seems to always develop these complications, your doctor should not prescribe them preventatively. Don't use antibiotics for routine upper respiratory infections, stomach bugs, and other viral illnesses. 

Do you know what really boosts your immune system?
Vaccines

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Working Parent's Guide to Being There

As a working mom myself, I have at times struggled with the guilt of not being around for every new milestone, class party, or other occasion.

working mother, busy, parenting


There are the stay-at-home vs working mom "Mommy Wars" that I don't want to get into because these options are unique to every family. I know that working is the right choice for me on many levels. I like that my kids have two hard-working parent role models that also spend quality time with the family.

Do things always flow smoothly?

Of course not. We have a crazy, hectic life. Every stage has had it's own problems to conquer, and once we get into a routine it settles for a bit. Then the life stage changes and we adapt. At this point I thought my life would be less crazy (my oldest is away at college and my youngest drives), but it's still crazy aligning schedules.

When my children were younger, it was really hard to get home, get dinner on the table, and get them to bed on time for a good night's sleep. Young children need 11-12 hours of sleep, and when we get home at 6:30 pm, it's really hard to do anything. I became the queen of 15 minute meals and love my crock pot. My quick cooking is probably even healthier than fancy casseroles because it's a basic heated frozen vegetable, stovetop cooked chicken or a quick fish, and noodles or rice. No fancy cream sauces or cheesy goodness weeknights. Sometimes my kids ate leftovers from the previous night so they could eat within minutes of getting home. Whatever worked at the time to get dinner served quickly so the bedtime routine could start was what happened.

We only have two kids, and are fortunate to have two parents, but sometimes we still needed help from friends to get kids to scheduled activities on time. I am a big believer in being there at games or shows, but it's impossible with more than one child and overlapping schedules to be at everything. We tried to alternate which child's activity we do, though my husband went to more hockey games and I went to more dance activities because, well, we're human and he can only watch so many dances and I had a hard time watching my son get thrown against the boards.

It is important that kids know parents are there for them, even if they aren't physically able to be there all the time. The best way to do that is to show kids. When you're together, really be together. Don't keep checking your phone. Make conversation. Make eye contact. Have fun.

Sneak in quality time any way you can, even if it's just a minute or two.

  • Talk on car rides. Make routine trips no-screen rides. On longer trips consider an audiobook that you can all listen to and discuss along the way.
  • Make eye contact when your kids ask for your attention. Even if you're busy making dinner or doing the dishes, be considerate enough to look at them when you're speaking to them. So often we get upset by our children's manners, but we forget who they're modeling after. 
  • Bed time. Definitely at bedtime make the time to connect. Those night time stories, back rubs, and cuddles are the perfect time to bond. Even when your kids can read, take time to read to each other.
  • Find quick games to play after dinner. Many games list the time it takes to play right on the box. No one has time for Monopoly after dinner if they plan on getting the kids to bed on time, but family games are a great way to connect, and kids learn many skills from playing. 
  • It sounds silly, but kill two birds with one stone. Have a family "clean time"- and make it fun. The house needs to be cleaned or picked up regularly and if everyone pitches in with age-appropriate chores, it gets done more quickly. Brag on your children's effort and build their confidence. 
  • Try to be at activities as much as possible. If they're in a recital, they want you there. If they have a big game, they want you to see it. Even if they say, "it's okay" when you can't go, they want you there. I know it's not possible to be there for everything, especially if you have more than one child and you need to alternate between which activity you go to, but try to be at as many things as you can. Even when it's painful to watch the first season of kid-pitch baseball. And if you must take a pain reliever before going to the band concert for your 4th grader. Still go. 
  • Make the time with them with them. Turn off your cell phone. Don't check e-mail. Set a good example and talk with the people you're with. So many studies are being done that show parents ignoring their kids due to electronics. You have time to check email after your kids go to bed when they're young. When they're older and their bedtime rivals yours, you can find time when they're doing homework or when they're at an activity. No need to ruin family time with work, social media, or other things that can be done when you're alone. I cannot stress the importance of this. Don't miss your real life and your children's lives by wasting time on screens.
  • Family meals are important. Study after study shows benefits. Take the time to talk. Turn off the tv. Keep the phones away from the table. If your family gets stuck with conversation, try some conversation starters or the story game where someone starts with a sentence, then the next person takes it from there.
  • Slow down. So often we have a list of tasks we know we must accomplish, but our kids can sense the rush. Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment with your kids.
  • Take 10 minutes to do whatever your child wants. Read a book. Run outside. Color a picture together. Just 10 minutes a day can make a difference. Make it a tradition, something your child looks forward to every day.
  • And finally, remember that no one is perfect. Some days just won't work out as planned. That's okay. Just don't let every day become that over-rushed day.
I see far too much guilt in parenting. Guilt because you choose to give baby a bottle. Guilt because you want your baby to sleep through the night. Guilt because... it never ends. I think one big driver of guilt is social media. We see into other people's lives on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter and compare it to our own. The posts are usually the best parts of their life, but we forget that everyone has the parts they aren't showing. Everyone wants to be like someone else on some level. We all have dreams and aspirations to improve. Great. Keep bettering yourself. But don't suffer from guilt of choices you've made. If they are working, great! Keep them. If they aren't working, investigate other options and make a positive change. In 4 S's of Being a Confident Parent, Dr. Escalante discusses the trials parents face and errors parents make and why that's okay.

I came across this great post on the problems with Attachment Parenting. I think that when people have such strong opinions about anything, it is a set up for failure. Attachment Parenting can lead parents to feel guilty because they aren't always there for a child. You know what? It's healthy to have alone time. Parents need to do things with other adults and leave the kids with a trusted adult or mature teen babysitter. It's just healthy. If you don't take care of yourself, you won't take as good of care of your family as you can if you are healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

Enjoy time with your kids. They won't be little forever. Make the time to be present in their lives.

One last thought... Here's an old song that I always think of when I think of busy lives: Cats in the Cradle from Harry Chapin. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

New Allergy Guidelines for People Over 12 Years Old

If you or your kids suffer from allergies, I'm sure you want to know how to best manage them. In addition to limiting exposure, medications can be a big benefit. 

allergy, antihistamine, nasal steroid, nasal spray, corticosteroid, asthma


The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology and the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI and ACAAI) have published new guidelines in the Annals of Internal Medicine for the initial medical treatment of seasonal allergies in people 12 years and older.

The recommendations essentially state:
  • Use steroid nasal sprays first without an oral or nasal antihistamine. Many intranasal steroids are available over the counter without a prescription. A great list is included on the AAAAI website. (Be careful to not to confuse them with the nasal antihistamines, which are in the same chart but identified in the column titled "Class".) 
  • In those over 15 years, the nasal steroid is preferred over a leukotriene receptor antagonist (ie Singulair or montelukast). For those with asthma, the leukotriene receptor antagonist might offer an additional benefit for asthma, but it is not the preferred treatment in either allergies or asthma. (I think the age change is simply due to the ages studied but it was not specified.)
  • In moderate to severe allergic conditions, a combination of nasal steroid and nasal antihistamine can be considered. 
These recommendations are based on a review of many studies to show what treatments worked and what didn't. They also took into consideration the fact that oral antihistamines can cause sedation and the nasal antihistamines do not. In general the nasal steroids worked better than other treatments. They did note that for people who do not tolerate nasal sprays, alternates would be oral antihistamines or leukotriene receptor agonists.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What Doctors Want You To Know About Treating Colds (but are afraid to say)

This is a change from my usual blogging style because I want to share a Facebook post. I follow a few private Facebook Groups and in one for physicians the following post was shared. I tracked down the original author for permission to share publicly. He was not intending for this to reach a wide audience, but authorized me to share without his real name. He asked that I refer to him as Dr. Nate. 

URI, cough, cold, fever, babies, health, illness, sinusitis, bronchitis, bronchiolitis


I did not write anything in the post or the comments I posted below, but I see value in it. It highlights the fears and desperation of many parents and the frustration that even doctors have in treating coughs and colds. 

It might offend some because of its snarkiness, but it might help parents who are frustrated that their child is sick... again. 

As you can see, Dr. Nate answers questions about treating a child's cold and cough rather bluntly, but from the many, many positive responses, rather accurately. It's a behind-the-scenes look at what doctors really want to say but can't.

I'll first post screenshots of the post and some of the replies (there were also GIFs and more comments of essentially the same "love it" responses) and then I copied the wording below for ease of reading.






Saw this posted over on ********* and figured this group would appreciate it the most given the snarkiness! 😏 #ParentingIsHard#TrueStory
"Shamelessly and unapologetically plagiarized from ***********:
And now, for a pediatric URI Q & A session with your friendly neighborhood doctor.
Q: My kid has had a cold for four days now, and he isn’t getting any better! What should I do?
A: most colds spent 4-5 days getting worse and 4-5 days getting better. Call me if it’s been consistently worsening for a week, and we’ll talk. Otherwise, regular supportive care is all we do for a cold.
Q: He’s coughing up green and yellow junk! My friend Becky says that mean he needs antibiotics.
A: normal viral colds involve a full rainbow of sputum colors. Green, yellow, and white junk tells you nothing about whether it’s viral or bacterial, especially in babies.
Q: My baby has had a cold for 3 weeks. What now?
A: probably not really. Your kid can have a cough that lingers for up to 4-6 WEEKS after recovering from a viral infection like RSV. If there’s no fever, and no other symptoms of infection, a cough alone is expected.
Q: But he’s been coughing for 3 weeks!!!
A: You will notice that 3 is less than 4-6. This does not surprise me.
Q: But that’s a long time!
A: tough. #ParentingIsHard
Q: But it’s really interfering with his sleep!
A: Oh, well in that case, let me go get the cure for the common cold and post viral cough that we doctors have been keeping secret. Lol, J/K - #PIH
Q: My friend Becky told me to come to the hospital because my baby had a fever of 99 degrees.
A: First off, in babies, a fever is 100.4 degrees. A temperature of 99 is not legally a fever. Second off, stop listening to Becky.
Q: does my child have a sinus infection?
A: since kids don’t really have sinuses, probably not. They may have small ethmoid sinuses that don’t often get infected, but they don’t have fully formed adult sinuses until they’re middle school aged. Those are the ones that get sinus infections.
Q: does my baby have bronchitis?
A: no. Just, no. Babies can get bronchIOLItis, but almost never get true bronchitis. And if they did, the treatment for bronchitis is not usually antibiotics.
Q: it’s been 30 days and he’s STILL coughing!
A: Wow, parenting really does suck. Nothing to do about it though.
Q: I want antibiotics
A: does your kid have strep, pneumonia, an ear infection, or a UTI? If not, tough.
Q: My kid has a runny nose, a sore throat, and a cough. Becky says it’s strep.
A: WTF did I say about listening to Becky?! Strep doesn’t cause runny nose and cough (except in babies under a year, which is a different entity than strep throat).
Q: My toddler has been sick for the last two months.
A: your kid, at this age, can get a dozen viral respiratory infections a year. Each one can last up to two weeks. You do the math - toddlers are sick almost just as often as they’re well.
Q: what about vitamin C and zinc?
A: MAYBE vitamin C prevents colds in certain subsets of the population, but not for everyone, and once you have a cold they won’t stop it. And don’t give your kid zinc.
Q: (something something essential oils or coconut)
A: the only natural treatment for a cough with good data is honey, and never give honey to a baby under 12 months.
Q: what over the counter medicine is best for a kid with a cold?
A: none of them. They all suck for kids. Tylenol and Motrin are good for fevers in general, but stay away from “cold and flu” medicines.
Q: Well, _I_ had a different experience than one of the above scenarios. I actually DID need antibiotics/ have a kid with a sinus infection/ found a worrisome reason for a lingering cough / got better with essential oils.
A: 1) that was likely a coincidence if it happened at all. 2) this is called an “outlier” and does not nullify the general rule 3) is this Becky? Go away Becky.
Q: All 6 of my kids are sick. What can I do?
A: Mirena, Nexplanon, and Depo-Provera are all good options for you.
Q: You’re a mean pediatrician
A: that’s not a question. But yes, yes I am."

Sunday, November 26, 2017

New 2017 Generics for Concerta

Deja vu. I feel like I've been through this before.

Two of my most-read blogs were about generic forms of Concerta available in 2013-14. The FDA had allowed companies to manufacture and sell tablets that were not the same as Concerta. People across the country noticed the change immediately. I started seeing patients who had been well controlled on Concerta for a long time who suddenly were not able to focus, were more angry, and had other focus and behavior problems. Initially I had no idea there was a new generic, but one mother sent me a picture of the new pill and I knew instantly it could not be the same.

Now I've heard there will be new generics from Trigen Laboratories, Mylan and Impax Laboratories that do not use the special delivery system of Concerta once again. I'm worried because it took many many months of people filing reports with the FDA through MedWatch before the FDA finally stopped allowing the substitution. I hope the newly approved versions work better than the previous editions, but am worried not only because they don't use OROS technology, but there are several new versions coming to market and each could be different.

I have heard that the previously available OROS generic (made in the same factory as the name brand Concerta and the same exact pill but with a different label) will no longer be available. If this is true, options will be to pay for the name brand or go with a new version of the medicine.

methylphenidate ER, Concerta, ADHD, stimulant, ritalin
These are all OROS type methylphenidate HCl ER (Concerta)


What makes Concerta unique?


Concerta is the branded formulation of methylphenidate HCl Extended Release that has a unique time release system. This time release technology is called OROS (osmotic controlled release oral delivery system). Unlike many slow releasing medications that are released as the capsule parts dissolve, the OROS capsule doesn't dissolve. There is a little active medicine that is released immediately and then the medicine is slowly released through a small hole in one end of the capsule. The pill works like a pump, pulling in water from the intestines, pushing the medicine out of the tube slowly throughout the day. This allows for a consistent drug release. See this photo from Medscape:

Source: https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/547415_10

You can tell if you have the OROS tablets if they have a small dimple in one end:


The new generics


The same active ingredient (methylphenidate) is used in the new pills. I have heard that at least one version of the pills is round, so I know they don't use the OROS system. I cannot tell what type of delayed release they will have based on the information in their package inserts.

I find it very frustrating that each of the package inserts appear to be nearly identical to the one for Concerta (including the initial US approval date of 2000, which is not correct for this form). Older warnings, including a contraindication in those with tics, has been found in newer studies to not be a contraindication. The fact that they did not push to remove it makes me wonder if they did not want to have to change other parts of the document.

Figure 1 and Table 6 are identical with the exception of changing the word "CONCERTA" to "methylphenidate hydrochloride extended-release" and Trigen added an easy-to-read table format: 
Concerta
https://www.janssenmd.com/pdf/concerta/concerta_pi.pdf
Trigen's Methylphenidate HCl ER


Impax's Methylphenidate HCl ER


This makes me wonder if they were somehow able to get permission to make their new tablets based on Concerta's data, not their own. 

We'll see how it works in people who have previously taken OROS methylphenidate ER. Sadly, one version might work better than another, so you will have to keep track of which brand you are using.

What's good about the new generics?


If it's true that the currently available generic OROS form of methylphenidate ER is no longer going to be available, it's good that there will be other options to help keep costs down. Maybe. Sometimes insurance companies prefer branded products. It's all how they contract the cost. If you don't know how to use your insurance company's prescription formulary, you should learn. Also check out GoodRx for pricing information.

One might work as well (or better) than the OROS formulation in any individual. You won't know until you try it. 

One benefit I am excited about if these work: 
The Trigen version is available as a 72 mg tablet. The original Concerta is not able to be made at that strength. You can see from the photos above that the pills get bigger with increasing dosages, and the OROS system has limits to how much it can hold. For people who need 72 mg, they must take two of the 36 mg OROS tablets. Since patients pay by the pill and they need 60 pills/month instead of 30, this can be quite a bit more expensive.

What should you do if the pills change - especially if they don't work? 


Check each bottle when you pick up new medicine and ask if you can return unused tablets if they don't work for any reason. 

Keep track of what each pill looks like and the brand (which should be on the label) so you know which versions work and which don't. 

Talk to your kids about how they think and feel on and off their medicine - some will be more in tune with themselves than others.

Keep in touch with teachers as the pills change so you know if there are school-related issues you're not seeing at home.

If the pills don't work or have new or worsening side effects:
  • Talk to your HR representative who deals with the insurance company. 
  • Call your insurance company directly. Send them e-mails and snail mail. 
  • Ask your physician to write a letter on your behalf. 
In each of the above situations, include why your family member needs the OROS technology. Give examples of how it works better than the other extended release methylphenidates and why the amphetamine class of medication failed (if tried). 
If you need to change medications because the new generics don't work well, it helps to know what other medicines are in the same class so you can look up your formulary coverage. The ADHD Medication Guide has an easy-to-read format of ADHD medicines. Just look for other medicines in the same colored box as Concerta to find similar drugs. (To limit plagiarism of this wonderful chart, you must click on the user agreement in the center of the page. It is free and easy.) Medications have been arranged on the card for ease of display and comparison, but dosing equivalence cannot be assumed. Talk with your doctor about what medicines will be best for your child (or yourself). *The ADHD Medication Guide was created by Dr. Andrew Adesman of the North Shore-LIJ Health System.

Related Posts:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sleep Deprived Teens: Health, Safety, & Mental Well Being Are At Significant Risk

Teens do not get enough sleep. Most teens need 8.5-10 hours of sleep each night. Not 6 hours. Not even 8 hours. Most don't get even close to meeting their needs and that's a bigger deal than many realize. Sleep is very undervalued, but we need to prioritize it.

sleep, insomnia, screen time, teens, circadian rhythm, school start times


Why don't teens get enough sleep? 


One of the most common reasons is that their biological clock (AKA circadian rhythm) makes it hard to fall asleep before 11 pm and school starts too early to allow them to sleep until 8 am, which would allow for 9 hours.

In addition to their circadian rhythm, some of their habits and activities can interfere with a healthy bedtime.

  • Screens are a big problem. The light interferes with our natural melatonin rising. I regularly ask teens (and parents) to limit screen use for at least an hour before bedtime, but most teens say that's impossible because they have to finish their homework at that time and they need their computer or tablet to do homework. If you can't turn off the screen, at least use a program that limits the blue light that prevents the rise of melatonin. I personally use f.lux. (It's free and works on PC, Mac, ipad, android, and Linux). I find that it really helps. (This is not a paid endorsement, just a personal statement.)
  • Phones. On a similar note, phones distract kids from what they're doing, delaying falling asleep. It takes longer to finish homework when there are distractions from the phone. Kids often are tempted to check in one more time on all their social channels, which delays sleep time. And then friends who are still up will text to see who's up (or who they can wake up). 
  • Activities are too late. I'm not talking about kids just out and about on a school night. I'm talking about regularly scheduled activities that otherwise help build a well rounded person. It's not uncommon for activities to be scheduled to run until 9:30 or 10 on school nights for middle and high school aged kids. They get home and are hungry, need a shower, and are ramped up so not ready for sleep. 
  • Activities start too early. I know many kids who must be at school before school actually starts. Whether it's band practice, church study groups, sports, or taking a missed test before school, they all interfere with sleeping in, which is what teens need.
  • School starts too early. Most school districts around the country start school well before the recommended 8:30 earliest start time. School districts that have initiated later start times have shown improved test scores, fewer absences and tardies, less depression, improved athletic performance, and better graduation rates. Unfortunately, those schools are still in the minority. 
  • Medical causes of sleep deprivation and fatigue can also occur. If you suspect any of these, you should schedule a visit with your doctor.
  • Anxiety 
  • Restless leg syndrome 
  • Sleep apnea - pausing of breath, often associated with snoring 
  • Medications that affect sleep cycles
  • Heartburn or acid reflux  
  • Hormone imbalances, such as thyroid problems 
  • Anemia, or low red blood cell counts 
  • Depression  
  • Nutrition: not eating enough, or eating foods that are not nutritious. If you eat foods that cause spikes in your blood sugar, as those sugars drop you feel fatigued.
  • Infections 
  • Celiac disease   
  • Chronic pain conditions 
  • Chronic sleep deprivation - I know this is counter-intuitive, but being tired can make it harder to sleep.

What happens with too little sleep?


Sleep deprivation can lead to many problems that are often not attributed to poor sleep, such as irritability, poor academic performance, accidents, obesity and more.

  • Moodiness. We all associate the teen years with angst, so we can easily attribute a teen's moodiness to just being a teen. But being chronically tired can lead to emotional dysregulation. This will look like irritability, frustration and anger. 
  • School problems. It has been well established that getting proper amounts of sleep can help with focus and learning. When our teens fail to get enough sleep, they often report problems with attention, memory, decision making, reaction time, and creativity. It's no surprise that teens report problems paying attention to a lecture or trouble completing homework in a reasonable time with full accuracy. Grades can easily fall, which leads to anxiety and depression, which in turn leads to more moodiness and trouble sleeping. 
  • Sleep deprivation mimics ADHD. Whenever I see a teen who wants to be evaluated for ADHD because of new loss of focus, falling grades, problems with behavior, or similar issues, I always look at sleep. Most often they don't have ADHD if this is a new problem. They need more sleep, not a stimulant medication. You can't put a band aide on a broken bone. Fix the problem, not the symptoms! (The same goes for a teen with ADHD who thinks the medicine that's worked for years suddenly isn't sufficient. Unless the medicine recently changed, they need sleep.)
  • Injuries. Teens with chronic sleep deprivation are more likely to be accidentally injured. 
  • Drowsy driving is comparable to drunk driving. Teens are at the highest risk for falling asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving is the most likely to occur in the middle of the night (2-4 am), but also in mid-afternoon (3- 4pm) as teens drive home from school. 
  • Athletes are more likely to be injured while playing their sport, so it is in the best interest of the team to let players sleep. 
  • Risky behaviors. Teens with chronic sleep deprivation have been shown to participate in more risk taking behaviors, such as driving without a seatbelt, drinking alcohol, skipping the bike helmet and tobacco use. 


Pros and Cons of later school start times for our economy


There are many temporary issues with changing school start times. Parents might have to find solutions to child care of younger kids if they rely on teens babysitting after school. New bus schedules need to be started. Sports programs will need to change practice times. After school job availabilities will change.

Despite these common arguments, economic analysis from the Brookings Institution shows that a one hour delay of school start times could lead to a $17,500 earnings gain for students, compared to a cost of $1,950 during the student's school days.

Another study that presumed all students start school at 8:30, with a year-by-year economic effect. The study did not take into account other potential benefits of later school start times, such as decreased depression and obesity rates. They found an average annual gain of about $9.3 billion due to fewer automotive accidents, improved graduation rates, and other factors. 


What can teens do to get more zzzz's?


  • Go to bed when tired at night. Fighting sleep initially will make it harder to go to sleep when you finally go to bed. 
  • Attempt to follow a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and getting up at about the same time every day helps. While sleeping in on weekends can help repair a sleep deficit, it can make it harder to get to sleep Sunday night and getting sufficient sleep every night is better than just getting more sleep a few days/week. Try to sleep in no more than 2 hours past your school day wake up time.
  • Follow the same routine each night at bedtime. Brush teeth, read a book or color, take a bath or shower -- do whatever helps you wind down and relax. Repeating this every night can help your brain get ready for bed. 
  • Nap to help make up missed sleep. A short 15-20 minute nap after school can help revitalize the brain to get homework done. Just don't sleep too long or it can interfere with bedtime.
  • Turn off the screens an hour before bedtime. This includes tv, computer games, computer/tablet use for homework, and smartphones for socializing. Use night mode screen lighting and apps that dim the screen (like the f.lux app I mentioned above). 
  • Avoid caffeine in the later afternoon. The time it takes half of the caffeine to be removed from your body is 5-6 hours. Ideally teens would sleep and never drink caffeine, but I know that isn't reality. Any caffeine in the later afternoon can make it harder to fall to sleep. Don't forget "hidden" sources of caffeine, such as chocolate, energy bars, and workout supplements.
  • One interesting concept that has scientific backing (but goes against the "no caffeine after 3 pm" rule) is the coffee nap. Basically, you drink coffee then quickly nap for 15-20 minutes. Sodas and teas don't work as well as coffee due to too much sugar and too little caffeine. The coffee nap has been shown to be more effective than either a nap or caffeine alone. Don't do this often -- use it at times you really need it. Don't do this too late in the day or the caffeine will inhibit your regular night's sleep.
  • Skip the snooze button. Set your alarm for the last possible moment you can, which allows your body to get those extra minutes of sleep. If you need to get out of bed by 6:45, but set your alarm for 6:15 and hit snooze several times, you aren't sleeping those 30 minutes. Set your alarm for 6:45!
  • Skip the late night studying. Studying too late is ineffective. When the brain's tired it won't learn as well and you will make mistakes more readily. It takes a lot longer to get anything done when you're tired. Go to bed and get up a little earlier to get the work finished if needed. Of course you should also look at your time management if this happens too often. Are you involved in too many activities? Do you work or volunteer too many hours? Did you waste too much time on tv, games, or socializing? Do you put off big projects until the last minute? Homework needs to take priority when you're more alert in the afternoon and evening. If you have problems with this, talk to parents and teachers about what you can do.
  • If you lay awake for hours or wake frequently, try these techniques to help fall asleep: 
  • a sound machine 
  • listen to Weightless - music that's been shown to help initiate sleep 
  • coloring 
  • journaling 
  • If these fail, talk to your parents and doctor to help find a solution.
  • Charge your phone in another room. Friends who decide to text in the middle of the night keep you from sleeping. Even phones on silent have blinking lights that can spark your curiosity. It's too tempting to look at your social media apps one more time. 
  • Don't use the excuse that you need your phone as an alarm. Alarm clocks are cheap. Get one and put your phone elsewhere!
  • Use your bed for sleep only. Stop doing homework in bed. Stop watching YouTube and Netflix in bed. Train your brain that your bed is where you sleep.
  • Exercise. Exercise helps our bodies sleep better, but it should ideally be earlier in the day. Too close to bedtime (which is common with athletes and dancers) wires us up.
  • Get natural sunlight in the morning. This helps to set your circadian rhythm. 
  • Keep the bedroom cool and dark. 
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom. Your animals might love you and you love them, but if they keep you up, it's just not worth having them around at night.
  • Nicotine and alcohol affect sleep. These should not be used by teens in an ideal world, but I know teens will not always follow the rules. Teens should know that if they are using nicotine or alcohol, their quality of sleep will be affected. 
  • Nicotine is a stimulant (like caffeine), which leads to more time sleeping lightly and less time in deep sleep. And yes, vaping and chewing lead to this problem too, since it's the nicotine that causes the problem. 
  • Alcohol reduces the time it takes to fall asleep but it increases sleep disturbances in the second half of the night, often leading to early wakening. Alcohol relaxes muscles, which can lead to sleep apnea (often noted as snoring). Sleep apnea does not allow the body to have restful sleep. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which might increase the need to wake to go to the bathroom during the night.


We all need to prioritize sleep: for our kids and for ourselves. Our bodies and minds will thank us.


Resources:

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Active Shooters: Reflections and Talking to Kids

Area flags are at half mast today as we are mourning the loss of innocent lives from another mass shooting at a Texas church over the weekend. We are sad for grieving families once again. What we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from random violence and acts of hate?


My generally safe town has had two incidents of violence that have made national news in recent years. A man opened fire at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish Retirement Home and killed three innocent people. Another man shot two men eating at a local restaurant after yelling racial slurs and telling them to leave his country. One of the men died.

My kids have been on lockdowns at their schools on several occasions over the years. Our kids are getting used to lockdown drills and even real events. Thankfully none of the local school lockdowns turned tragic. Being a parent who cannot do anything while a school is in lockdown is stressful. Not knowing what is happening during a lockdown when my children are most likely sitting on a floor of a crowded dark room is terrifying. My kids have never felt that scared, even when it's a real lockdown, probably because they've practiced and feel prepared. For many kids this seems to be the case, but I'm sure there are some who start having separation anxiety or other manifestations of trauma-related stress. 

Today my front office staff saw policemen with weapons in hand enter our building and run down the hall. They did not come into our office. 


We locked our front door, closed the blinds, and kept patients in exam rooms. We saw several police cars in the parking lot for our building and those near ours. 


Our office manager called the police department to find out what was happening and not a lot was learned, but there was a potential active shooter in the area, so they recommended lockdown


Because I was only in the office for meetings on my "day off" I was able to help tell staff and patients what we knew. I helped bring some of the families into the office. I checked Facebook and Twitter repeatedly to find out what was going on. (But I didn't grab these screenshots until hours later.)



 I had planned on updating our social media, but couldn't find any real information to post.




At one point we were told they apprehended someone in a creek area behind our building and got the all clear to open back up and let people leave. 
41ActionNews

A few minutes later we were told to put our building back on lockdown. No one knew what was going on.

Our receptionists covertly monitored the parking lot for patients so they could get the door for them - we didn't want families stuck in a potentially dangerous parking lot. Several patients called that they would be late to their appointments because police had blocked one of the roads into our parking area. 

I am very proud of my staff and the families that were in the building. Everyone remained calm. No one complained that they were told to not leave the building. I didn't hear anyone complain when the rooms started to fill, which affected the flow of seeing patients. I must admit that I didn't really feel scared during all of this, since it seemed like police were all over and our office felt secure. It was frustrating not knowing what was going on, but the anxiety was much worse when the potential shooter was near my children's school and they were on lockdown.

It is sad that a false alarm like this must be taken seriously. I've heard that it was just a man with a stick. Or maybe it was just a prank. No one really knows at this time.



But what I do know is that there are many good people in this world. We can help each other in times of need. We can support one another. Mr. Rogers says: 
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
When you have to explain these things to your children, remember to keep it simple. Answer their questions, but don't go deeper than they're ready to go. Find out what they already know and help them to understand it in ways that mean something to them. Try to keep the news off when kids are in earshot and monitor their screen time online. It's okay to share your feelings, but try to reassure their safety and list some positives, like Mr. Rodger's mother did.

Resources for parents to talk to kids about tragic news: 


Common Sense Media: Explaining the News to Our Kids
PBS: Talking with Kids About News - sorted by ages
HealthyChildren: Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events
American Psychological Association: How to talk to children about difficult news