As an emergency room physician, I am trained to provide acute and critical care. But it is equally important to help my patients and readers manage their daily health. That’s why I’ve put together some simple swaps you can start making today, from starting your wellness at night to avoiding that dreaded afternoon meltdown.
I regularly switch between the day and night shifts, so I am always looking for tricks to reduce stress on my natural circadian rhythm. Nearly 15 million Americans work a permanent night shift or regularly rotate in and out of the night shift, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
There is certainly no shortage of over-the-counter medications that promise more efficient and restful sleep. But there are also some non-drug swaps that I love.
Replace your melatonin pills with a handful of tart cherries. Sour cherries, especially Montmorency cherries, contain high amounts of natural melatonin and tryptophan. An additional benefit is that tart cherries contain high levels of anthocyanins, which provide significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity at a level similar to that provided by common NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. So next time, have a handful of tart cherries or a glass of tart cherry juice an hour before bed.
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Replace the overnight cabin with two tablespoons of Epsom salt in a warm bath. I wrote at length about the benefits of Epsom salt in a previous column. The added benefit of a nightly Epsom salt bath ritual comes from leaving your phone and electronic devices in the other room and doing literally nothing while absorbing the muscle relaxation caused by magnesium before bed. Pro tip: Light two candles and focus on watching the flames flicker while taking slow, deep breaths and then rinsing out with cool water.
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Replace Netflix with a book. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching movies. It is easy to collapse on the sofa and pick up the remote control. But I have noticed that absorbing a lot of blue light from the TV screen after dark increases my nighttime anxiety and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. Instead, try charging your phone, putting it on silent in the other room, and going to bed with a new book.
If you must work at night or really want to watch a movie, get some blue light-blocking glasses. These glasses have come a long way. Now you can have stylish frames without the distracting orange.
Replace supermarket eggs with farmers market eggs. There is little difference between white and brown eggs. But you should pay attention to the color of the yolk. Darker or darker orange yolks come from pasture-raised hens that were fed a diet rich in carotenoids from leafy greens, grass, flowers, and seeds. These yolks are also tastier and higher in omega-3 fatty acids. So, especially for those looking to lower their triglycerides, talk to farmers at your local market.
Replace your vitamin D supplement with some early morning sunlight. Vitamin D at 1000-2000 IU per day is necessary for most adults, even those who live in an area that gets regular sun exposure. But nothing sets the circadian rhythm each morning better than early exposure to the sun. Additionally, the early morning sun contains less dangerous UVA and UVB rays than the midday sun.
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Replace your morning coffee with water containing salt (or fresh lemon). While I love coffee and can’t start my day without it, I think it’s important that water is the first thing that hits my stomach in the morning. We actually wake up dehydrated from losing water overnight. Electrolytes are important gatekeepers that facilitate the transport of water across membranes into our cells.
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Replace a candy bar with protein. This accident at 3 in the evening hits hard. It’s easy to reach for a sugar-filled candy or just about any snack that’s nutritious and devoid of calories. Next time, try a handful of almonds or a protein shake. It will satisfy your hunger and give you a boost of energy without crashing after getting drunk. Protein powder supplements, including vegetarian options, have become really tasty in recent years. It can be enjoyed on the fly or at your desk with just a glass of fresh water.
Replace your shot of espresso with a shot of nature. Instead of coffee in the afternoon, go for a walk for an energy boost. Even better, if you have access to the beach, park or lake, take 10 minutes and spend some time in nature. The mental benefits are tried and true and don’t cost a cent.
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Michael Daignault, MD, a board-certified emergency physician in Los Angeles. He studied global health at Georgetown University and received his medical degree from Ben-Gurion University. He completed his residency training in emergency medicine at Lincoln Medical Center in the South Bronx. He is also a former US Peace Corps volunteer. You can find him on Instagram @ dr.daignault