If You Don’t Snooze, You Lose

It’s spring! As the days get longer and warmer, our activities increase and you might find yourself staying up later and resting less. Establishing and maintaining good sleep habits — typically referred to as “sleep hygiene” —  is as important to your overall health and productivity as diet and exercise. A variety of different practices are necessary to increase your chances of having normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.

The importance of getting a good night’s sleep

Sleep hygiene is important for everyone, from childhood through adulthood. A good sleep hygiene routine promotes healthy sleep and daytime alertness. Good sleep hygiene practices can prevent the development of sleep problems and disorders.

Sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. If one is experiencing a sleep problem, he or she should evaluate their sleep routine. It may take some time for the changes to have a positive effect. If you’re taking too long to fall asleep, or awakening during the night, you should consider revising your bedtime habits and consider how much time you spend in bed, which could be too much or too little.

What are some examples of good sleep hygiene?

The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week. It is also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed, not too little, or too excessive. This may vary by individual; for example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed, if they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to seven hours in bed in order to keep the sleep pattern consolidated. In addition, good sleep hygiene practices include:

  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be practiced in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Also dietary changes can cause sleep problems – for example, it’s not a good time to start experimenting with spicy dishes. And, remember, chocolate contains caffeine, though it has many helpful properties, as well.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations, activities and TV shows before trying to go to sleep. Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or read.
  • Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Chocolate’s Natural Healing Compounds

Halloween and Valentine’s Day are long past, Easter is this month and every day is somebody’s birthday, anniversary or another cause for celebration. Of course, we learned long ago that we don’t need a special occasion to shower ourselves in chocolate, but many of us may never have realized that something so delicious and indulgent can actually be good for us!

An antioxidant powerhouse

Chocolate is packed with natural compounds called antioxidants that scientists have discovered can protect your body and promote good health. In fact, ounce for ounce, dark chocolate and cocoa have more antioxidants than do foods like blueberries, green tea and red wine. Surprised? Many people are. That’s because they forget that chocolate is a plant-based food.

“The main ingredient in chocolate is cocoa beans — the seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree,” says Debra Miller, Ph.D., Senior Nutrition Scientist with the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition, who has studied chocolate’s health benefits extensively. “Because of modern manufacturing and the common form of the ‘chocolate bar’, most people today don’t associate chocolate with its natural beginnings, but chocolate is essentially food of the earth.”

Scientists theorize that plants naturally produce antioxidants to help them survive harsh growing conditions and to protect them from environmental stress. These same compounds can aid the humans who eat the plants too. Recent studies suggest that the antioxidants in foods may reduce the risk of many kinds of illness, from heart disease to cancer. Antioxidants like those found in dark chocolate and cocoa have also been linked to some of the hallmarks of good cardiovascular health such as enhanced blood flow, healthy cholesterol levels and, in some cases, reduced blood pressure.

Dark chocolate and cocoa contain high levels of cell-protecting antioxidant compounds. Two tablespoons of natural cocoa have more antioxidant capacity than four cups of green tea, one cup of blueberries and one and one-half glasses of red wine.

Studies show that as soon as 30 minutes after eating one 40-gram serving of dark chocolate, blood levels of the two main antioxidants in chocolate, epicatechin and catechin, are heightened. They peak two hours after consumption and are cleared from the body after about six hours.

Antioxidants work by protecting your cells from damaging molecules called free radicals. These are basically unstable oxygen molecules that can trigger changes in the structure of normally healthy cells. This damage is thought to be an underlying cause of many chronic diseases. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals.

Free radicals are a natural by-product of life, but as we get older the natural antioxidants our body makes to fight them off begin to decline, experts say. The best way to recharge your antioxidant power is to get them through your diet. Now you know why your mom and your doctor always told you to eat your fruits and vegetables!

The kinds of antioxidants found in chocolate are called polyphenols, a large class of molecules found in fruits and vegetables like oranges, soybeans and berries. Dark chocolate and cocoa are particularly high in a sub-class of those compounds called flavanols, which are also found in red grapes and tea, hence the well-known benefits of red wine and green tea.

The reason dark chocolate and cocoa rank so high is that the antioxidants are very concentrated. Consider this: More than 10 percent of the weight of the dry raw cacoa beans consists of polyphenols alone. So the next time you’re feeling celebratory, or a little down, turn to chocolate – preferably dark – and you’ll be doing you and your body a favor!

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Alcohol’s Effects Go Far Beyond Hangovers

Alcohol is part of our culture — we use it to celebrate and socialize, and it is part of many of our religious ceremonies. Many people enjoy the experience of being lightly intoxicated, including reduced inhibitions and stimulation, and drinking is a normal part of many of our every-day rituals and customs here in the United States and around the world.

But drinking too much — on a single occasion or over time — can have serious consequences for our health. These consequences go far beyond having a headache and a hangover that make us uncomfortable but go away relatively quickly.

Most people recognize that excessive drinking can lead to accidents and dependence, and can cause liver disease. But that’s only part of the story. Unlike other drugs, alcohol disperses in all body tissues and therefore has the potential to harm many organ systems. Alcohol abuse can damage organs, weaken the immune system, and contribute to cancers.

Plus, much like smoking, alcohol affects different people differently. Genes, environment, and even diet can play a role in whether you develop an alcohol-related disease.  

On the flip side, some people may actually benefit from drinking alcohol in small quantities. Alcohol’s effect on your heart is the best example of alcohol’s dual effects. Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can cause heart problems including high blood pressure, strokes, arrhythmia, and cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes your heart muscle to weaken and droop. But research also shows that healthy people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (such as red wine) may have a lower risk of developing coronary artery disease than people who never drink at all.

While drinking in moderation may not affect the health of your liver, heavy drinking can definitely take its toll. Your liver helps rid your body of substances that can be dangerous, including alcohol. By breaking down alcohol, your liver produces toxic byproducts that damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body’s natural defenses. This can make conditions ripe for disorders like steatosis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis, and dangerous inflammations like hepatitis, to develop.

Pancreatic inflammations can also develop in response to drinking too much. Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually cause inflammation and swelling in tissues in blood vessels. This inflammation, called pancreatitis, prevents the pancreas from digesting food and converting it into fuel to power your body.

Aside from damaging your organs, drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including those of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast.

Alcohol also can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections, even up to 24 hours after getting drunk. Chronic drinkers are more likely to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.

So while some light to moderate drinking may not hurt you, it’s important to understand the toxic, longer-term effects of alcohol and use common sense when drinking any alcoholic beverage. To learn more about the health effects of alcohol, please download NIAAA’s newest publication, Beyond Hangovers: Understanding Alcohol’s Impact on Your Health.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Save Your Company Money by Assuring Access to Substance Abuse Treatment

Did you know that about 19.2 million U.S. workers (15%) reported using or being impaired by alcohol at work at least once in the past year? And that doesn’t even begin to address the effects alcohol and other substances have on employee performance, health, service, quality and safety.

A substance-use disorder refers to misuse of, dependence on or addiction to alcohol or other drugs. Alcohol is by far the most widely used drug in the United States: 11% of workers have a problem with alcohol. About 20.4 million people use illegal drugs and 7 million use prescription drugs non-medically. Most drug users are employed: Of the 17.9 million illicit drug users aged 18 or older (based on a 2006 study), 13.4 million (74.9%) were employed either full or part time.

The costs of care – and of not caring               

If you were to lose an employee to health issues or repercussions from drinking, replacing them costs from 25 percent to almost 200 percent of annual compensation — not including the loss of institutional knowledge, service continuity, coworker productivity and morale that can accompany employee turnover.               

By investing in substance abuse treatment, employers can reduce their overall costs. Substance-use disorders cost the nation an estimated $276 billion a year, with much of the cost resulting from lost work productivity and increased healthcare spending. Given that three quarters of the people with drug or alcohol problems are employed, employers have a major stake in ensuring that employees have access to substance abuse treatment.

Substance abuse imposes a variety of costs on employers:

Increased healthcare and insurance costs

  • Healthcare costs for employees with alcohol problems are twice those for other employees.
  • People who abuse drugs or alcohol are three and one-half times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident than other workers.

Reduced productivity

  • Employees who use drugs, consume alcohol at work, or drink heavily away from work are more likely than other employees to exhibit job withdrawal behaviors, such as spending work time on non-work-related activities, taking long lunch breaks, leaving early, or sleeping on the job.
  • Employees who drink heavily off the job are more likely to experience hangovers that cause them to be absent from work; show up late or leave early; feel sick at work; perform poorly; or argue with their coworkers.

More turnover  

  • People with drug or alcohol problems were more likely than others to report having worked for three or more employers in the previous year.

Investing in Treatment Can Save Employers Money

When workers with substance use disorders get treatment both employers and employees benefit through:

  • Better employee health and lower total healthcare costs over time
  • Less absenteeism
  • Improved job performance
  • Reduced costs associated with short- and long-term disability and workers’ compensation
  • Fewer accidents and less corporate liability

Two types of employer sponsored programs can help employers reduce costs

There are generally two comprehensive workplace programs that incorporate wellness and substance abuse education components. They are Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that provide substance abuse screening and treatment referral; and comprehensive workplace programs that incorporate wellness and substance abuse education components. Since the savings from investing in substance abuse treatment can exceed costs by a ratio of 12 to 1.6, the “healthy” return on your investment is like money in your pocket.

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!