Posts made in November, 2010

Is your sleep elusive?

Posted by on Nov 5, 2010 in sleep disturbance | 6 comments

Ever since I discovered Zeo, I’ve become pretty interested in sleep and in discovering the reasons why my sleep (and so many other women’s that I know) is lousy. What I’ve learned is that it’s while it’s easy to define the problem, it’s not so easy to assign an overriding factor. In fact, it appears that the more researchers delve into this elusive but necessary component of our lives, the less they truly understand.

Sleep issues tend to plague both men and women as they age. Indeed, deep sleep (or at least its electrical representation, also known as “electroencephalographic wave amplitudes”) has been shown to dwindle was we grow older, resulting in lighter and frequently interrupted sleep. Add factors such as hormones, health, life strain/midlife issues and psychological stress and you may end up exacerbating an already existing sleep deficiency or creating an entirely new problem. Moreover, researchers have shown that distinct sleep patterns might be associated with different influencing factors. For example:

  • Difficulty falling asleep may be associated with menopausal symptoms in general, stress, and lower stress hormone levels.
  • Awakening during the night might be associated with age, being late in the menopausal transition (before moving into full-blown menopause), having had early menopause, hot flashes, depressed mood, joint pain and stress.
  • Early morning awakening may be associated with age, hot flashes, depressed mood, anxiety, joint pain, stress, and lower estrogen/higher fallopian stimulating hormone (FSH)  levels.

Let’s add to the confusion, shall we?

In a study appearing in the upcoming November/December Menopause journal, researchers evaluated health, menopausal status and sleep difficulties in 962 women who were assessed annually from birth through the ages of 48 to 54. The findings?

  • The percentage of women experiencing moderate (trouble sleeping a little) or severe (trouble sleeping a lot) sleeping difficulties increased by more than 10% between the ages of 48 and 54.
  • Menopause status (i.e. perimenopausal, postmenopausal, perimenopausal, early menopause due to hysterectomy or initiation of hormone therapy) appeared to be related to the presence/severity of sleeping difficulties. In fact, women who had had a hysterectomy, were postmenopausal or had started hormone therapy in the previous year had 2 to 3.5 times greater odds of severe sleep difficulty compared to premenopausal women. Of note, some of these women had not experienced poorer physical or psychological stress than their peers.
  • However, with regard to moderate sleep difficulties it becomes more difficult to pin down: once the researchers accounted for certain factors that might skew the results, such as psychological stress, vasomotor symptoms/hot flashes and depression, only women who had had a hysterectomy remained at risk. Although the reasons for this are not entirely clear, the researchers say that sleep difficulties among these women in particular may be related to underlying health before they entered menopause.

The key take-away of this study is that for some women, menopause transitions (i.e. hormonal shifts as they go from pre to perimenopause, and then from peri to postmenopause) influence the severity of sleep disturbances regardless of age or other life or emotional factors. This finding is in line with findings from other studies, which have linked specific hormone-related symptoms such as night sweats to sleep disturbance/fragmented sleep.

However, having had a hysterectomy appears to lead to moderate interruptions in sleep, possibly as a result of prior health issues. So, severe sleep issues = menopause, and moderate sleep issues = ???

The downside of this research truly lies with semantics: how do you define moderate sleep disturbances and in turn, treat them? Do you look for  and address the cause or influencing factors? As noted in an accompanying editorial, multiple factors in various combinations in certain women may very well contribute to overall sleep quality.

In other words, when it comes to sleep, treat the individual, not the masses. Aging, life, hormones all come into play in certain individuals at certain times.

When it comes to sleep, one size does not fit all.

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Wednesday Bubble: Taking on self-doubt. One recipe at a time. Guest post by Wendy Scherer

Posted by on Nov 3, 2010 in Inspiration | 7 comments

It never ceases to amaze me. We are capable, empowered, smart, successful women. We’ve achieved things that our mothers could have only dreamed of achieving, have had kids, families, husbands, businesses, relationships….the list goes on. However, when self-doubt starts to creep in, it cripples, it blocks our pathways, it wreaks havoc on every cell of our being. However, sometimes, all it takes it a moment to step back, reassess and move on, hopefully, strengthened with the knowledge that we can take on the world. Yes. We. Can.  Here’s Wendy Scherer’s story.

It’s not that I didn’t start out believing I could cook…I grew up in a home where I was taught that I could do anything. I was encouraged to take on every new challenge. And, in many cases, I was successful. Thinking back, I wonder if this track record is what led to my eventual downfall.

I’m a terrible cook.

I know you’re thinking that I’m being dramatic. But really? I’m not. Allow me to back up a bit… (wooo eee wooo eeee…. you know like in the movies….)

My mom made dinner every night. Nothing fancy, but I liked it. I loved her brisket and stews. I dreamed of egg and noodle casserole (who eats like that anymore?), and her sweet and sour chicken was really tasty. But I never helped her cook. I don’t even remember why. Maybe I had homework. Maybe she cooked while I was in school. Maybe I thought I was too much a feminist to ‘have to’ cook. I have no idea. But I did bake with her. I loved making desserts. And I loved baking challah. It was all so scientific and logical. And relaxing. We would talk and bake. I remember it well. Baking is so low-key. So calming. There’s a different kind of pressure in cooking a meal. The meal is the core. If dessert isn’t so great, whatever. If the meal goes uneaten, that’s it.

Moving right along. I grew up.

My first year of college, I lived in a dorm. I ate most meals in the dining hall since I had a meal plan. (I also ate at the greasy spoon where I worked that year since I got a free meal with every shift I worked.) The following 2 years, I lived in a group house with 9 other students. We had 2 kitchens. I still had a restaurant job, so some meals were eaten out, but mostly, I ate canned vegetables, mac & cheese (blue box), tuna, and Ramen noodles. It’s a wonder I lived to tell the tale. My senior year, I got an apartment. Still, I barely did more than assemble a meal. But then….I met a guy. After a while, I invited him over for dinner. Truthfully, I never doubted I could whip up a great meal and impress the heck out of him.

Not the case.

I served him lasagna that was so liquid-y that I couldn’t even serve it with a spoon. And the garlic bread that I made? I smelled it burning as we finished our lasagna soup. (That guy is still a friend and he still reminds me of that meal now and again. Oy.) Still, I had the confidence of youth. This was a one-time disaster. Right?  Not really. And I don’t know if I never bothered to read the recipes through or didn’t understand the directions or simply did not have enough interest, but after a while, I resigned myself to very simple assembled meals. But boy did I bake. I made pies and cookies. I made bread. I loved the therapy of it all – the kneading. The beautiful results. The smiles when I gave it away. I baked and I baked and I baked.And then I got married. I had big plans. Big plans, I say. I got cookbooks for my shower and I was going to become a good cook. I was going to make something besides desserts and reservations.But he had ‘rules.’ He didn’t like cheese or sauces. He didn’t mix this with that or whatever – basically, this did not become a learning experience. We ate like crap. Even I didn’t like what I threw together. Top that off with (and you are not going to believe this), he expected me to cook every night. Hey wait! I had a full-time job, too!

Fast forward.

Single again. Lots of dating. And that means lots of meals out. Finally, I was eating good food. I was trying new things and really expanding my food horizons. But I worked long hours at an advertising agency and ended up grabbing dinner on the nights I wasn’t going out. Then, I met my current hub.

The first time he cooked for me, I was amazed. It was like a restaurant meal with accompaniments, garnishes and it tasted great. One meal led to another and then we got married. We tried cooking together. Sounds fun, right? Nah. Not fun.I cooked sometimes. I tried. Really. Really. Hard. And knowing that I wanted to become a better cook, he’d provide constructive criticism. You know, so I could learn. I’m a sensitive girl.  It wasn’t working for me. And since he made fabulous meals every night, why should I bother?

Some nights, he’s not here (the horror!). Early on, I’d make the kids some hotdogs or spaghetti or throw something in the crockpot. I mean, even I can make basic soups. Every time I tried something harder, it seemed no one was very hungry that night. It didn’t make it easier to try again, trust me. But. I am a capable person. I really can’t believe how awful this made me feel. So like Lucy and the football, I’ve decided to try again with a different tact. I’ve started subscribing to the Six O’Clock Scramble and I cautiously say that sometimes, I’ve been successful. The Mulligatawny Stew I made last week was delish!

The truth is, if I’d felt more support and had less self-doubt, I could have done this years ago. But I didn’t. Why now? Or should I ask, what have I been waiting for? Or maybe I should ask, why bother? Here’s the thing. It sucks to feel insecure. I’m confident in my work, in my ability to be a good friend, good wife, good mother, good daughter. I’m informed, interested, always learning. I feel good about myself. But this thing is hanging out there. I’m a bad cook. It feels like a hole that I can’t climb out of. And my reaction to ruining a dish by burning the onions or not cooking it through or even the kids not liking it are simply out of proportion to the severity of the problem. And I don’t seem to be able to lessen my reaction, my sadness, my anxiety.

I’m done. I am not going to allow myself to beat myself up over this any more. It’s cooking, people. It’s not brain surgery. There are no lives at stake here. And the kids – well the kids will live if they miss a meal.

There, I said it.

I’m going to be 50 years old next year, and I’ll be damned if I can’t make myself (or anyone else) a decent meal. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was afraid of failing here. I am. But I have a plan. (I always do better with a plan.)

  1. Read Cooks Illustrated every month. I realize the recipes are challenging, but I’ll be reading for the explanations of food preparation.
  2. Stop blogging while Andrew and the boys watch The Food Network. I’m certain I can learn something about flavors and technique if I’d just pay attention.
  3. Take responsibility for one meal a week. One. That’s not much, right? I can plan ahead and not feel the pressure of ‘what’s for dinner?’
  4. YouTube. I’m going to watch and learn the basics. Knife skills. Sweating onions. Dice, mince… you get the point.
  5. Start small. Easy stuff.
  6. Lighten up. Try to laugh at the burned rice.

And more than anything, I’m going to cut myself some slack. I can learn how to cook. I can do this, right? I don’t want my kids to see me fail. But even more, I want them to see that it’s okay if I’m not the perfect cook but I am trying to learn and improve. That would be a better life lesson for them. And a better life lesson for me, too.

So, I’m bucking up. It’s time. And while I’m at it, there are a few other things I’ve been putting off. That blank canvas, for one thing….

So this is my public, official kick in the butt. If not now, when?

About the author...Wendy blogs at Finding Blanche http://findingblanche and photoblogs at and is on Twitter @wendyscherer.

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Health Rx: The Buddy System. A guest post by Sheryl Kraft

Posted by on Nov 1, 2010 in women's health | 4 comments

Last year, I was asked to sit on an Advisory Board for the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s Life…Supplemented Campaign. What I found (or should I say “who”) were several like-minded souls who not only embraced their health and wellness, but also recognized that relationships and support are an integral part of both. If we lose our ‘sistahs,’ we lose a huge part of our hearts and our souls, not to mention our health. Research supports this contention, which is why I’ve written about relationships and support networks several times on Flashfree.

Sheryl Kraft is not only a fellow Board member but also writes about all matters of midlife. In the blogger world, she is the cheese to my macaroni, so to speak. I am grateful for her voice and her wisdom, and mostly for sharing this post on Flashfree. Thanks Sheryl!

Sporadically throughout my life, I’ve been without lots of things: sleep, money, the right dress, electricity, the perfect pair of shoes, an inspired idea. You get the picture.

But there’s one thing that’s been a consistent comfort; one thing I’ve never been without. And I am always so very grateful for that one thing.

That one thing? It’s FRIENDS.

Friends are essential for a happy life. For me, they keep me afloat when I feel myself going under; they’re my first line of defense when I’m down or troubled. There is something about the solidity of friendship that feels thrilling and comforting all at once. Some people might say: if you have a husband, a boyfriend, a partner that you enjoy a good relationship with, why do you still need friends?

To that, I say: it’s different. Friendships, at their best, are uncomplicated and sustaining; reasonable and free of emotional hurdles. They’re an invisible force that holds your hand securely and keeps you in a safe place.

The importance of friends and social networks is finally being acknowledged. Indeed, friendship has a profound effect on your physical and psychological health. Friends can be a powerful weapon in keeping your immune system functioning at its peak; study after study bears this out.

Need proof?

Strong social networks go a long way: During a 10-year study period, older people with a large network of friends were 22 percent less likely to die than those with fewer friends.

Friends are important for your head:  Harvard researchers found that having strong friendships is a champion of brain health as we age.

Close friends and cancer: A 2006 study of 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times more likely to die of the disease than women with 10 or more friends.

Low social interaction was compared with other well-known health risk factors by scientists at Bringham Young University . Here’s what they found:

–       Equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day

–       Equivalent to being an alcoholic

–       More harmful than not exercising

–       Twice as harmful as obesity

Losing a friend can have a powerful impact on health, too. Whether it is through death or disagreement, the pain and mourning packs a punch on immunity. Stress, sadness, loneliness, grief – they all follow loss. And what follows such intense emotions is a downward dive in your overall health. Stress hormones are released, causing a spike in blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels. And if stress hangs on for the long-term, other health problems crop up: depression, anxiety, obesity, and more.

Over the years, I’ve lost friends. I’m sure you have, too. It’s inevitable they will come and go. Lucky is the woman who is able to keep their childhood friends well into adulthood.

My two best friends both died within a year of one another; both of breast cancer. With each loss, a piece of myself was torn from me. With each loss, sadness and a huge empty space followed me wherever I went. I felt exposed and raw, yet strangely alone in my grief.

As with everything else, resiliency eventually surfaces and I moved on. I nurtured my other friendships, cherishing them even more than before.  But I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if those two friends were still here.

Keep your friends close. Take pleasure in the benefits you gain from one another.

Your health depends on it.

About the author… Sheryl Kraft is a health writer and essayist. Her work has appeared in JAMA, AARP the Magazine, Prevention Magazine,, and more. Her blog, MidlifeMatters appears on the website, which was named the top women’s health website by Good Housekeeping magazine. In addition, Sheryl is the health & wellness editor at

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