Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Significance of a Sleeping Brain

As a mother of a newborn, "sleep" is an increasingly interesting and important topic in our household.  Not only for my baby, but for my husband and myself - which brings me to the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Weissbluth.  Since I'm a psychiatry resident as well as a mom, I'm especially drawn to Dr. Weissbluth's discussion on studies showing sleep linked to temperament and attention in children.

Children need sleep in order to develop.  A sleeping brain is more than just a resting brain; it is a brain that's able to restore, process, and complete essential tasks that an active awake brain is unable to do.  Dr. Weissbluth explains that for young infants, daytime sleeping or naps can help to enhance the brain’s capacity to think.  When we become adults, our busy schedules cause us to forget the importance of these daytime respites and restorations.  Our hectic grown-up days may not always allow naptime, but naps are essential to raising healthy infants and kids.  

The significance of sleep doesn't only apply to young children.  Did you know that teenagers need more sleep than pre-teens?  So, to all parents who are noticing behavior problems, irritability, decreased concentration, or other changes in your children's moods, focus on their sleeping habits.  HealthyMinds.org blogger Dr. Gariane Gunter shares how many hours of sleep a child needs according to his or her age in this postI've included some of her tips below:
  • Birth-6 Months: Children need 16-20 hours
  • 6-12 Months: Children need 14-15 hours
  • Ages 1-3: Children need 10-13 hours
  • Ages 3-10: Children need 10-12 hours
  • Ages 11-12: Children need 9-12 hours
  • Teenagers need 10-12 hours of sleep per night

Monday, September 19, 2011

Live Longer by Making Mental Wellness Your Mission

By Felicia Wong, M.D.

September is National Recovery Month and SAMHSA's National Wellness Week (Sept. 17-23), a time to remind us why "wellness" is so important to our overall health. Did you know, people with mental and substance use disorders die decades earlier than the general population, mostly due to preventable medical conditions?
Each day, we face all sorts of demands and drama which can lead to insomnia, lack of concentration, problems in our relationships, and other mental health issues. In a past blog post, I identified coping tools for dealing with stress and boosting your overall well-being. Here are "Top 8 Tips for Mental Wellness." I hope you will take another look and share with your loved ones this week. 

1) Help Others. People who consistently help others experience less depression, greater calm, and fewer pains.
2) Take Care of Your Spirit. People who have strong spiritual lives may be healthier and live longer. Spirituality seems to cut the stress that can contribute to disease.
3) Stay Positive. Positive emotions can boost your ability to bounce back from stress.

4) Get Physically Active. Exercise can help relieve insomnia and reduce depression.
5) Get Enough Sleep. Not getting enough rest increases risks of weight gain, accidents, reduced memory, and heart problems.
6) Eat Well. Eating healthy food and regular meals can increase your energy, lower the risk of developing certain diseases, and influence your mood.
7) Deal Better with Hard Times. People who can tackle problems or get support in a tough situation tend to feel less depressed.
8) Get Professional Help if You Need It. More than 80 percent of people who are treated for depression improve.
Which tips on this list are missing in your life? Today is the perfect time to take action! Your wellness matters. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Helping Others Helps Your Mental Health: Why Volunteering Makes Us Happier

By Roberto Blanco, M.D.

I had just sat down for Dr. Norden’s Neuroanatomy class when one of my classmates, who had just walked into lecture late, announced he heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers.  As was her way, Dr. Norden showed immediate concern, and before I knew it, we were watching another plane fly into the second tower live on CNN in the front of the lecture hall.  It was a surreal scene in Light Hall on Vanderbilt’s Medical campus; one that I did not expect to experience.  The rest of the day was a blur of events and emotions – people in a state of shock, tears shed, classmates comforting each other, and Dr. Norden attempting to put things in perspective.  Class was dismissed for the day, and the rush to call loved ones in New York City and Washington, D.C. began.  My thoughts immediately turned to family members who lived in New York and worry when I was unable to reach them.

10 years ago, the world of every American changed.  In response, the country and the world came together in support of the victims of the terrible tragedy.  People from far and wide drove, some for thousands of miles, to reach New York City and care for complete strangers.  People sacrificed their time, sweat, and a good portion of their lives and livelihoods to help those in need.  Donations flooded in to support the victims’ families.  A rush of prayers, love, and aid from across the globe also streamed in for those affected.  It seemed that the world was one in giving to those who had lost.

I recently wrote a blog post here on happiness, human fulfillment, and flourishing.  In that posting, I discuss human fulfillment and flourishing as the real definition of happiness and the final aim of all of what we do.  A great way to help yourself and your own mental health is to help others.  Feeling useful and needed is a wonderful way to work towards human fulfillment and recognize all you have for which to be grateful.  Serving others is a sign of individual and community emotional health.  Volunteering your time and talents also leads you to finding the love within yourself that you didn’t know you had.  When faced with those who have lost and are truly in need, just like on September 11th, the true beauty of mankind comes out.  

For Sunday's 10th Anniversary of September 11th, President Obama is calling for a national day of giving in memory of those who passed during the attacks.  His goal is to have over 1 million Americans engaged in volunteer work on September 11th.  The American Psychiatric Association has joined "Give an Hour" in aid of military members, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families as part of the “I will” campaign to encourage that same spirit of service that was felt in the days following the attacks.  So, think about joining us in giving by helping build a house for a needy family through an organization like Habitat for Humanity.  Volunteer to distribute food or give to your local food bank.  Help a friend move.  Donate time or resources to a homeless shelter, spend time with the elderly, or serve at a local hospital.  This September 11th, let’s honor those who died by helping a member of your community in need.
In photo: Dr. Blanco and another volunteer work together to build a home through Habitat for Humanity