“Your Health Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive.
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Getting a proper amount of sleep is important for maintaining good health. I sometimes have trouble sleeping, probably from that second glass of red wine at dinner and coffee afterwards. I usually fall asleep rapidly and then wake up three hours later and toss and turn, eventually falling back to sleep. My sleep pattern is not a healthy one, as recent evidence indicates.
In a study of 385,292 adult men and women initially free of cardiovascular disease in the United Kingdom, people whose sleep pattern was characterized by five factors below had about a third less risk of heart disease and stroke compared to those who reported none or only one of these healthy sleep patterns:
1) being a “morning person”
2) sleeping 7-8 hours per day
3) never or rarely experiencing insomnia
4) not snoring
5) not experiencing frequent excessive daytime sleepiness
Healthy sleep behavior even reduced the risk of a genetic predisposition to heart disease for participants in this study. The conclusions have limitations, being based on an observational study, but do emphasize the importance of a good night’s sleep.
To ensure better sleep, experts recommend sleeping in a quiet, cool, dark room; increasing bright light exposure during the day and reducing blue light exposure at night; preparing to wake and sleep at consistent times; avoiding caffeine and late-night dinners; and limiting duration of daytime naps and alcohol exposure. I may have to forgo that second glass of red and espresso.
But I may be able to reduce my risk of heart disease by eating chili peppers with my dinner.
Chili peppers are a usual part of the Mediterranean diet but may be more important than previously considered. In a study of almost 23,000 men and women, regular consumption of chili peppers was associated with a lower risk of total death and death from heart disease independent of cardiovascular risk factors or adherence to a Mediterranean diet. The benefits of eating chili peppers have been ascribed to an ingredient called capsaicin, its major pungent compound. Capsaicin can improve cardiovascular function and metabolic regulation and exert anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, but the exact beneficial action remains unknown, and none of the biological mechanisms tested could explain the health benefits in this study. However, it is not unusual in medicine for the benefits of a substance to precede understanding how it works. For example, the health benefits of penicillin were known long before we understood how it killed bacteria.
Speaking of heart disease, the holiday season increases the risk of heart attack, perhaps by overindulgence of food and drink. I was surprised to learn recently that half of the individuals in the U.S. were unaware of the constellation of common signs and symptoms caused by a heart attack, and nearly six percent were unaware of any one of the symptoms. That is unfortunate, because prompt recognition is critical to seeking emergency care that can be lifesaving. Delay in seeking medical help increases the risk of dying.
So, remember the big five:
1) chest pain or discomfort
2) shortness of breath
3) pain or discomfort in arms or shoulders
4) feeling weak, lightheaded, or faint
5) jaw, neck, or back pain.
If you experience any of them, call 911 and seek medical aid promptly.
As we enter the new year, don’t forget: moderation in all things, including moderation.
My best to all our readers for a great holiday season and 2020.
Featured image: Shutterstock
For as long as insomnia has plagued our great nation, entrepreneurs have been hawking cures from pills to pillows. Today’s weighted blankets and ASMR were yesterday’s snore balls and Ovaltine. In spite of our best efforts, a report from the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research estimates that overall sleep time in the U.S. has decreased by 20 percent in the last 100 years. Though our approaches to sleeplessness are ever-changing, the pages of the Post prove that, for more than a century, manufacturers have been thinking up new ways to woo people into slumber — or at least make a few bucks trying.
Before the mattress innovations of the 20th century, brands like Wilson & Co. and Ostermoor boasted their top-notch quality beds made from cotton and… “curled hair”? That’s right, the Restgood Sanitary Curled Hair Mattress — from the company that makes your tennis rackets — was stuffed with animal hair. The meatpacking man Thomas Wilson broadened his manufacturing focus in the early century to include sporting goods, luggage, violin strings, and mattresses. All of these products reduced waste from the slaughterhouses. Try not to let it keep you up at night.
Insomnia was “the great destroyer,” and the remedy could be steaming hot beverage. Malted beverages, hot cocoa, and even (decaffeinated) coffee were promoted to calm the mind and aid in digestion, affording drinkers a restful night and nerveless morning. Comic advertisements like Ovaltine’s appeared often in the early century, reflecting common anxieties around city-living and careerism. Without fail, the product in question would allay maladies, like sleeplessness, that affected the man of the home and, in turn, the whole family.
Though innerspring mattresses had been in existence for decades, they gained popularity in the 1930s. “They ‘breathe.’ They are always ‘alive,’” one Simmons ad claimed. Less lumps and a longer life meant the bed would remain a winner for consumers for years. Even now, a spring mattress is a top choice for all kinds of sleepers.
Originally created for work horses, the topical pain reliever Absorbine Jr. was easily branded as a sleep aid, since back pain could be blamed for many a sleepless night. It appealed to the desire for a “natural” remedy with “no doping” involved. And if a lack of z’s could be blamed on indigestion, perhaps Phillips’ milk of magnesia was the cure.
Even before the glory years of DDT, insecticides were peddled to keep bugs out of our way. The bedroom was a place where gnats and mosquitoes were most unwanted. What’s the use of buying that expensive curled hair mattress if flies are buzzing around it all night?
Oh, to attain that elusive slumber and to “sleep like a baby.” Nevermind that most babies wake up shrieking every three hours to be fed. Still, the peacefulness of a sleeping child evokes all we could ever want for our own shut-eye.
In 1942, the story “How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep” featured cutting-edge inventions and curiosities for sleep aid from the Lewis & Conger Sleep Shop in New York. “Snore balls” attached to a person’s head and whistled if they rolled onto their back. The “heartbreak pillow” absorbed a night’s worth of tears for the inconsolable. The shop even sold a “long-distance smoking tube” for customers who needed that last puff at bedtime.
The war fit nicely into a sales pitch for companies who could claim to be doing their part. Pullman was a giant of sleeper car manufacturing and operations, and — the year this particular ad ran in the Post — the company was hit by an anti-trust suit that forced it to divest interests. Still, Pullman was a major manufacturer of small ships for the war effort starting in 1943. The Department of Justice split up the company, but it was the advent of air travel that sealed Pullman’s fate. Seventy years later, stretching on a real bed while zooming to a destination doesn’t sound half-bad.
The “miracle science of electronics” was finally being put to use helping people sleep. But electric blankets had been around for decades. In the ’20s, they were a dangerous oddity used on tuberculosis patients in sanatoriums. After some development, “electronic blankets” hit the market that came with thermostats and safety features.
The first foam mattresses were made by the country’s trusted names in tires, Goodyear and Firestone. Before the popular “memory foam” was invented, these beds boasted “pure, sweet, cool air-and-latex whipped to creamy foam and molded to keep its firm shape without lumping, sagging, shifting, hollowing.” The familiar comforts of horse hair would lose out to new, futuristic luxuries like “foamex.” The Space Age was rapidly approaching, and a wealth of new products would dramatically reshape the way Americans lived — and slept.