GateHouse News Service's weekly Health Watch with tips on healthy sleeping environments, fitness goals, and RSV prevention.

Whether snuggling in for the night or just trying to catch a quick few winks, your environment plays an important role in determining if you're counting sheep or counting Zzzs. From noise reduction to lighting, there are a few easy ways you can turn your bedroom into a tranquil oasis.

"A third of the adult population suffers from insomnia from time to time, but only about 6 percent meet the criteria for an actual sleep disorder," says Dr. Christina Brown from the Florida School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University, Tampa. "In a good number of cases, getting to sleep and staying asleep is a matter of your surroundings."   Kristina Held, assistant professor of Interior Design at The Art Institute of Charlotte, a campus of South University, focuses on areas of the bedroom that you may want to re-evaluate in order to create the sleep haven you've been craving.   "Creating a bedroom that is conducive to your most restful sleep might require a bit of homework, but I think you'll find it won't take you long," Held says. "As an interior designer, I like to focus on lighting, bedding, furniture and decor."   Lighting: Humans were created to be in-synch with the sun cycle. For this reason, Held recommends positioning your bed to the east so that you will be able to wake up seeing the sun rays peeking in around your curtains.   "Try several layers of curtains to block out light at night," Held says. "Sheers and heavy protective curtains can help soften the room visually, help with sound absorption, help insulate the window, and are a great opportunity to bring in some color and pattern." You can leave the sheers drawn during the day to diffuse daylight while protecting against views from the outside.   Both Brown and Held warn about electronics that provide artificial light in the bedroom. "Get rid of your phones, TVs and iPads while in bed. The artificial light will interrupt your sleep cycle and keep your brain activated, making it harder to get to sleep and keep you off the more natural sleep patterns," Brown says.   Bedding: "A comfortable mattress enclosed in a hypoallergenic cover protects from dust mites and allergens such as animal dandruff and pollen," recommends Held. Try to use only natural fiber content for your bedding such as cotton, organic cotton, silk, or linen blend. Also try using hypoallergenic pillows to prevent allergies. Held also recommends placing a humidifier in your room during the winter months, and changing your air filters at least once in three months.   Furniture and decor: "Don't use reds, it makes you awake and some say aggressive. Neutral colors, along with blues and greens, evoke calming feelings that we get when we are surrounded by nature," Held says.   Place a neutral area rug for noise reduction and decoration. If you live in a busy area, Brown recommends a white noise machine or ceiling fan to drown out the background noise. Don't forget to include some inspiring artwork that is meaningful and brings you feelings of calm.   Horizontal lines inspire calmness and are well-suited for a bedroom. Natural materials bring in a relaxing factor as well. Lastly, unclutter your bedroom as much as possible - it will clear your mind. Some horizontal book shelves may just be the trick to de-cluttering and adding the horizontal line accents.   Both Held and Brown agree that keeping your home cooler during the night will help you sleep better. Keep your thermostat at the most comfortable cool setting, as changes in your body's thermal regulation will wake you.   "In the short-term, just one sleep-deprived night can interfere with your ability to concentrate, affect your mood and even make you drowsy during the day," explains Brown. If getting healthier is part of your new year's resolution this year, make getting adequate sleep part of your goal.

-- Brandpoint

New Research

A study by Oxford University's Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain have found that cannabis, or marijuana, use does not reduce pain, it just makes the pain more bearable. MRI scans were used to examine the brain's reactions to pain after subjects were given a pill form of THC, the main chemical in marijuana. The scans showed that the part of the brain that interprets pain was not affected by THC. The parts of the brain that are affected deal with emotions, leading scientists to conclude that cannabis "affects people's emotional state in a way that makes pain less awful."


Health Tip

Establish fitness goals and write them down. Setting manageable goals and writing down an exercise plan that is realistic and works for your lifestyle will have a positive impact on your overall quality of life and motivate you to keep going. As you check back on your plan each day, it will hold you accountable and make sure that you're continuing to follow the road that you've mapped out for yourself.

-- Brandpoint

Number to Know

67.2: Percentage of Americans older than 2 who have seen a dentist in the past year.


Children's Health: RSV - Three letters every new parent should know

Like many parents, Heidi Staats had never heard of respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV, until she almost lost her son to the common, yet potentially severe disease it can cause.   Heidi's son, Brett, was born only a month preterm. Despite his early arrival, Brett weighed a hearty seven pounds and was deemed ready for discharge after a few short days. Because of his healthy appearance, doctors didn't think of Brett as a typical "preemie" and didn't inform Heidi of the increased risks that impact all preterm infants -- even those born just a few weeks early. In fact, even though he was a preemie, Brett wasn't considered to be at high risk for developing severe RSV disease and Heidi wasn't aware of the dangers of RSV.   RSV usually causes mild to moderate cold-like symptoms but in some infants it can cause a serious lung infection. While the virus affects nearly 100 percent of babies before the age of two, premature babies are most at risk for developing severe RSV disease. Preemies are not as well-equipped to fight RSV as full-term babies, because they are born with underdeveloped lungs and a lesser amount of vital antibodies. These antibodies are necessary to stave off infections.   Since Heidi wasn't aware of the need to take extra precautions, she was not alarmed about Brett being around other children and enrolled him in daycare when he was six weeks old. During his second week, one of the teachers mentioned that another child had RSV, a virus Heidi had never heard of. Heidi noticed that Brett had a little cough, but no fever or sniffles. Erring on the side of caution, Heidi took him to the doctor. At that visit, it was noted that Brett's lungs sounded clear and strong.   "The next day, Jan. 13, is a day I will always remember," says Heidi. "I called daycare to check in on Brett and the teachers said he seemed fine, but a bit more lethargic than usual. Within a few hours, however, the teacher noticed that Brett was unresponsive and gray in color and they immediately called 911."   "I was incredibly confused about what was happening," says Heidi. "When we arrived at the hospital, I overheard one of the doctors saying the baby just brought in from the daycare had coded. Then, I noticed one of the paramedics had tears in his eyes. I knew this wasn't a good sign but was in complete denial -- how could this be my baby boy, who just yesterday had been deemed healthy?"   Later that night, it was confirmed that severe RSV disease was what had caused Brett to stop breathing. He spent six days on the ventilator in the NICU and two more days at the hospital slowly regaining his strength.   Severe RSV disease is the leading cause of infant hospitalization in the U.S., and is responsible for 1 of every 13 pediatrician visits and 1 of every 38 trips to the E.R. In addition to premature infants, other populations at high risk for developing severe RSV disease include children with congenital heart disease and/or chronic lung disease. Risk factors for severe RSV disease include low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds), young chronological age (less than 12 weeks of age at the onset of RSV season), and situational risk factors such as attending daycare, crowded living conditions, having pre-school or school-aged siblings, or exposure to tobacco smoke.   Because there is no treatment specific for RSV disease, Heidi wants all parents to know there are simple steps they can take to help protect their baby from the virus. "I want all parents to know about Brett's story and learn about the dangers of RSV," says Heidi. "I'm so thankful that Brett is alive and thriving today. All parents should know how they can protect their little ones this winter."   To help protect your baby from RSV, you should:   - Understand the risk factors and ask your child's pediatrician if your child may be at increased risk.   - Help prevent the spread of the virus by frequently washing your baby's hands, toys and bedding, and by keeping your baby away from large crowds, young children and people with colds. Additionally, anyone who touches the baby should wash their hands.   - Carefully monitor your baby's behavior for signs and symptoms like a severe cough or wheezing; difficulty breathing or rapid, gasping breaths; blue color of the lips, mouth, and/or fingernails; difficulty feeding; fatigue and fever.   "I've seen how quickly severe RSV disease can develop, and how devastating it can be to families," says pediatric critical care physician, Kari Kassir, M.D., of Children's Hospital of Orange County. "While frequent hand washing is essential in preventing the spread of RSV, it's also important to talk with your child's pediatrician to determine if he or she is at high risk during the RSV season."   Visit for more information.

-- Brandpoint

GateHouse News Service