Rob Brown, MD

A Physician's Unique Perspective on Wellness

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The 5 Second Rule and Fallen Food

“Oops!”

The woman knelt down to pick up the chocolate covered strawberry from the floor and called out gleefully, “Three second rule!”

Then, she ate it.

I watched the scene from across the room and chuckled, remembering the rule from childhood. The candy covered fruit was delicious. I understood why she didn’t want to waste even one piece.

On one other recent occasion, I witnessed someone claim a “two second rule” before ceremoniously brushing off and eating a fallen morsel. I imagine that this person thought two seconds was a safer window than three for retrieval.

The rule, more commonly called the “Five second rule”, is based on the notion that bugs on the floor, seen and unseen, will not have enough time to crawl onto a piece of dropped food if the edible is picked up within 5 seconds.

I suppose this rule would be somewhat true for tiny insects like ants. But, bacteria don’t scurry, bacteria stick like grains of sand adherent to food dropped at the beach.

Researchers at Rutgers University recently proved that bacteria can stick to food the instant it hits a floor or dirty counter top. Furthermore, they clarified that the wetter the food and the longer the surface contact, the larger the number of bacteria that will become attached to the food’s surface.

Whereas I agree that eating food off the floor in a public place is risky, bacteria living in one’s home could be considered an extension of one’s microbiome and should usually not cause disease. All bets are off though if family members and guests wear outdoor footwear into the kitchen. Consider that unknown bacteria and viruses can be transported to the kitchen floor along with outdoor chemicals including pesticides, petroleum residues etc. by footwear.

In addition, be on alert if cooking with ingredients such as poultry possibly tainted with disease causing bacteria such as salmonella or E. coli. If contaminated chicken, for example, is placed on a countertop before it is cooked, bacteria on the chicken can contaminate the countertop. If bread is then placed on the countertop where the raw chicken had been, the bread can pick up the bacteria left by the chicken. This is called cross contamination. Unlike the chicken, the bread will not be cooked to a proper temperature to kill off the bacteria and may cause disease if eaten. Similarly, one sneeze can deposit a film of bacteria or virus onto a countertop surface and cause food contamination if someone in the home is ill.

If you consider your floors and countertops to be sanitary and clean enough to eat from, evaluate the ingredients within your cleaning agents. Many floor cleansers and countertop sprays not only remove dirt and accumulated grime, but contain harsh chemicals that will kill off nearly all types of bacteria, mold and viruses, creating a nearly sterile surface. Toxic residues from these products may stick to a dropped piece of food and be could damaging to one’s health.

In our home, we do eat an occasional piece of food from the floor. We frequently clean the kitchen floor and counters with edible household ingredients such as vinegar, water, salt, lemon juice and baking soda. In addition, we take our shoes and sneakers off at the front door and ask guests to do the same.

Finally, if you are seated at a festive dining table covered by a freshly dry-cleaned table linen this holiday season, it is best if you don’t eat food that has been placed or dropped onto the cloth. Dry cleaning chemicals are known to be very toxic and can also quickly leach into a piece of food.

A bit of friendly advice to help you stay healthy and enjoy the season that much more.

Happy holidays to all!

Do you Consider Government Propaganda “Fake News?”

Call it misinformation, disinformation, statistical fudging, or lies. Fake news is more common than most realize. The news story dubbed “Pizza-gate” created a media blitz, yet more insidious forms of misinformation put out in news stories by credible sources goes largely unquestioned by the masses. In contrast to a bizarre, but isolated shooting, fake news produced by governmental agencies has adversely affected the health and well being of millions. Attempts to expose misinformation is often met with anger or dismissive labeling as conspiracy theory.

I recently experienced this phenomenon during a recent luncheon.

Having arrived to the restaurant late, I sat at the one empty seat. Although I didn’t know it, I was seated between two professionals would perfectly illustrate the societal effect of misinformation in real time.

I had recently viewed the documentary “Vaxxed” in which the whistle blower, Dr. William Thompson, discloses that he and his colleagues at the CDC fudged their data in their landmark research study performed to assess the link between autism spectrum disorder and the MMR vaccine. I found the video deeply disturbing and worthy of conversation.

In the film, Dr. Thompson details how the CDC manipulated their data to get an industry favorable result. I described the film’s content in detail to my brunch neighbors.

The guest on my right was a medical research who, in an extraordinary twist of fate, had worked at the CDC during the time of the Autism/MMR study. I was awestruck by the synchronicity. The scientist made a statement that sent shivers up my spine.

”Everything in that movie is true.”

I believed it was true. Actually… I knew it was true.

The person to my left, an educator, seemed to become agitated and made the quick proclamation:

“There is no link between autism and vaccines. That was proven years ago.”

I had heard this phrase many times in the past. The words didn’t strike me as powerful, but the certitude and finality with which the statement was delivered caused me to recoil. What I didn’t know at the time was that this person unfortunately had a dear relative who was suffering from a severe form of autism.

Fudged data = phony results = fake news.

This ‘definitive study’ provided our doctors with fake news, i.e. the erroneous conclusion that there is no association between autism and the MMR vaccine. We parents and health care consumers had been taught by our misinformed health care professionals that the MMR vaccine is completely safe.

As most people have no fundamental understanding of how a vaccine actually works, opinions are usually generated to be in agreement with the media and doctors. It is easier to be a member of this team of social consciousness if your children have gone through the vaccination process unscathed. Others however have based their views on horrific personal experience.

Misinformation spread by our governmental agencies is nothing new. In recent months, it was uncovered that the EPA fudged their report regarding the risk to our freshwater supplies from fracking operations. At the nth hour, the report changed from:

“EPA Study Shows Potential Vulnerabilities to Drinking Water from Hydraulic Fracturing Process” to “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

Subtle difference? Not for those who have researched fracking and listened to numerous accounts of tainted ground water. The fracking industry held up this misleading, “fake” EPA conclusion to sell fracking as a safe extraction technique.

But, the EPA was caught. As a result, they reworked their assessment and yesterday came to the public announcing that hydraulic fracturing can and has contaminated drinking water.

Is this all really surprising? Our governmental agencies are filled with scientists and other professionals with ties to industry. It is truly a “revolving door”. It is not a stretch to think that researchers might manipulate study results to help further progress their eventual career in industry. As funding is often dependent on industry favored results, it is probably more common than any of us would like to believe, even if those results might be at the expense of the general population’s health.

How do you decide who and what to believe?

Clots and Stones – How to Avoid Painful Consequences of Winter Stagnation

Approaching the pond, I noticed the feeding stream had dried up and the pond’s level had dipped below the drainage pipe. The water had become stagnant, a serious concern for the fish inside. It struck me as a useful analogy to remind me of the need for proper hydration this winter.

The living body is similar to a landscape with flowing rivers of blood and ponds that periodically fill and drain. As with any ecosystem, flow and movement is critical for a healthy system. Dehydration in the human body can cause fluids to become stagnant, a condition known as stasis.

Stagnant Rivers of Blood are Dangerous

Stagnant blood may clot with potentially fatal consequences. Blood clots, known medically as thrombosis, is unfortunately common. Although numerous conditions can lead to blood clots, maintaining bodily movement and drinking hydrating fluids, especially water, can help prevent their formation. Movement compresses veins within contracting muscles, helping to propel blood back to the heart. It is beneficial to walk or move around at least once every hour if you are sedentary. Increasing your heart rate through exercise each day will help flush blood through the circulatory system more thoroughly and effectively.

Much like a pond, the urinary bladder accumulates urine produced by the kidneys. If a person becomes dehydrated, the urine becomes concentrated, darker in color and with a stronger odor. Stasis of urine in the kidneys or bladder can, over time, lead to the crystallization of salts within the urine, forming a stone. A kidney stone isn’t a gift that you may be aware you’ve received for quite some time. It is only when the stone starts to move or cause a blockage that the pain begins. Stagnant urine, particularly in the bladder can also become a breeding ground for bacteria.

A second bladder, the gallbladder, is a part of the digestive tract. This reservoir is filled with a liquid called bile. Although mostly water, bile also contains a collection of salts, proteins and cholesterol produced by the liver. This solution helps the body emulsify fats for proper digestion. Upon eating fat, the gallbladder is signaled to squeeze down, expressing its contents into the intestine. Afterwards, the gallbladder slowly fills again. If bile becomes too concentrated, its salts and cholesterol may crystalize and form stones, known as gallstones. If the gallbladder doesn’t contract for long periods of time, bile stasis may not only lead to the formation of stones, but the bile can become infected with bacteria, a condition called cholecystitis. Gallstones are very common and may require surgical removal of the gallbladder.

Keep Things Moving and Flowing

Drink water throughout the day, especially during the cold of the winter, the heat of the summer and all year round if you live in a dry climate. Water will keep your blood thinner, your urine flowing and your bile dilute.

Exercise. Increasing the rate of blood flow throughout your body will further reduce stagnation and will help remove toxins and deliver nutrients to all of your tissues.

Eat at least one fatty food a day to empty your gallbladder. Fat can be a slice of avocado or a tablespoon of coconut oil rather than a bag of chips.

As winter approaches and your skin becomes dry and flaky, while slathering on the skin moisturizer, consider that it’s perhaps even more important to prevent yourself from drying up on the inside. Keep your body moving and don’t become stagnant like a faltering pond.

Why I Care What I Eat

I’ve learned to enjoy imperfect fruit.

Flawless pieces of fruit look perfect because they have been sprayed with chemicals like fungicides and insecticides to kill off anything that might be tempted to grow or feed on their surface. Although there aren’t any bugs on the perfect looking fruit, there is a layer of chemicals, neatly sealed in place by wax, a sealant derived from petroleum.

The only way to remove the wax and chemicals from the fruit’s surface is to use a soap to dissolve the wax. Please don’t use dish soap! Dish soaps are detergents that contain many harsh chemicals which can adhere to and even be absorbed into the fruit. Fruit and vegetable washes are sold in the market made just for the purpose of washing off wax. These sprays will also remove the glue that attaches the little price tag applied to each piece of fruit.

organic-apple

Organic fruit needs to be washed too.

Buying organic produce doesn’t mean that you are safe to eat your fruits and vegetables without washing them first. Organic growers use organic pesticides and fungicides. There are natural, organic waxes, such as beeswax and soy wax which producers are allowed to apply to the fruit to prolong shelf life. Organic pesticides and fungicides can be toxic. One example is copper, a commonly used organic fungicide. Eating too much copper can cause neurological problems and may even contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Organic herbicides and fungicides can also harm your microbiome.

A bottle of fruit and vegetable wash spray should be considered an important kitchen staple. It will help reduce your ingestion of toxic chemicals on store bought fruit with minimal effort and expense.

As this year’s harvest ripens, I am so grateful to have fruit that hasn’t been sprayed or waxed. Now, I opt for the imperfect piece of fruit every time.

The Importance of Taking EMF Out of the Bedroom

Ascending the stairs, I was struck by a sense of nostalgia but also an increasing uneasiness. Was it because it had been years since we had last visited? Our welcome was lukewarm. We entered the guest suite and plopped our bags down. My step mother had tossed a pile of towels on the floor for use during our brief stay. I felt anxious.

The last time I had stayed in this room, beautiful Lake Tahoe showed in the window. Now though, the view was obscured by a McMansion which had been erected on the neighboring property. I missed the view, but what bothered me more was the presence of a small black box on the nightstand next to the guest bed. It had a series of lights, some of which blinked. It was a wifi router.

After freshening up from our long drive, we sat in the living room, the room beneath the wifi router, and listened to our hostess complain of her worsening headaches, debilitating tinnitus and increasing anxiety which had plagued her for months. My father too had been suffering poor health and had been recently diagnosed with an arrhythmia. The thought crossed my mind that they might be suffering health effects related to EMF toxicity. Although we weren’t sure if the strongest EMF was coming from in the house or from a neighbors house, I suggested some steps they could take to reduce their exposure. My initial recommendation was for them to move the router away from all sleeping areas.

Electromagnetic Frequency (EMF) is a form of energy that has led to all kinds of technology from microwave ovens and Wifi to cordless phones and cell phones. Some dream of a day when wireless technology will be available everywhere and able to control everything. Alarm systems, watches, exercise monitors, and “smart” meters that utilize EMF to transmit information to utility companies are some examples of the diverse applications that utilize EMF.

Although for most, EMF is undetectable by the senses, EMF can be measured by an EMF detector. Check out this brief video to get a demonstration of the EMF emitted from a portable phone system.

If people could hear or, in some other way, sense EMF, I suspect most move EMF sources as far away from their living space as possible. Certainly no one would try and sleep next to a router or a portable phone. EMF is a form of energy that can be absorbed by the human body. Many physiological effects on the body have been documented in the peer reviewed literature. Some effects, such as an association with developing cancer, are controversial, but other effects, such as a decrease in sperm count following cell phone placement in a man’s pocket, has been scientifically proven and confirmed by further studies.

I think of EMF as waves of energy, similar to the ocean’s waves. Waves can be entertaining and provide a means of effective communication and information transmission, but one needs to get out of the waves to rest. All sources of EMF in and near the bedroom should be turned off when one is ready to sleep. This can easily be done by putting routers on timers so that they automatically turn off at night and turn back on in the morning. Portable phones, particularly base stations, which emit EMF incessantly, should be kept out of the bedroom while one sleeps.

My hosts in Lake Tahoe purchased an EMF detector for their own personal discovery and uncovered several unexpected sources of high EMF in their living space, including their refrigerator. They took steps at mitigation, and I haven’t heard any complaints from either of them since.

There are many sources of EMF within the house and sources from outside the home can penetrate through windows. By removing sources of EMF from your bedroom, you will give your body the ability to truly rest while you sleep and perhaps improve your health.

Pride and Serenity Growing an Edible Lawn

And Why I Left Levittown Behind

As I mowed the lawn yesterday, I must have killed at least 100 bees. They were all over the little white and purple flowers springing up from the clover. I am hoping most of them heard the tractor coming or felt the ground vibrating as I approached. Some bees did fly off before, snip, their flower was cut off at the stem.

I used to feel guilty about killing the flowers, but of course a few days later, more flowers would open up and the bees would find new sources of nutrition. The other insects living in the lawn weren’t so lucky. A swarm of about 7 birds dive bombed the insects as they flew off of the ground cover as I came by. The birds came precariously close to me as they tried to eat as many bugs and insects as they could. This used to make me nervous, but now, I enjoy the dance. I like feeding the birds this way. They aren’t my pets, but I think they know me.

From a distance, my lawn looks beautiful. It’s green and a host to all kinds of birds, reptiles and small mammals. Last weekend, while walking on the property with my sister, I even saw a crayfish crawling on the lawn. Up close though, my lawn is varied with spots of grass, areas of clover, and infiltration of all other kinds of “weeds”. It’s a hodgepodge of life. Aside from mowing, my lawn is low maintenance and essentially free. I don’t pay for grass seed, fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Areas of my lawn are kept overgrown so that the bunnies have a place to hide from predators.

One of my neighbors has a pristine lawn. It is a beautiful shade of green and composed of identical length blades of grass which he mows daily. He has perfected the diamond shaped grid pattern. The only thing missing from his lawn is life. To perfect his grassy expanse, he sprays it with all sorts of chemicals to kill weeds and insects. The birds have nothing to eat from his lawn. The deer and rabbits would probably get sick if they ate his grass. Their household doesn’t include a dog, but if it did, I’m not sure how all the toxins in the lawn would affect the dog’s health. But, the grass sure looks pretty.

Sometimes when we understand where habits come from, we can undo them.

People are very touchy about their lawns. A well manicured lawn of homogeneous grass blades is a symbol of status and pride and a source of judgement for circles of social consciousness. Where did the manicured grassy lawn concept come from? The same place where the “I just want to have a house in the country with a white picket fence” came from, Levittown. This was the first American suburb created in the late 1940s.

Maybe it’s time to give up on this quest for the increasingly toxic green grassy lawn. Our insects, birds and mammals need food. All components of a healthy lawn should be edible for some form of life. If you want a fragrant lawn, plant chamomile and thyme like they used to do around the old English and French castles in the 16th century. Your lawn will be the talk of the town until everyone else follows your lead.

Are You Slowly Going Deaf Exercising with Those Ear Buds?

Walk through any gym, and you’re likely to see people on the treadmill or working out, listening to music through a set of ear buds. Most people don’t realize it, but the combination of exercise and loud music can cause you to slowly go deaf.

We have been working out to music for decades. Years ago, music was a shared experience, played in the background. In fact, some based membership decisions on the type of music played at the gym.

MP3 players like the Walkman and then the iPod came around, and everything changed. These devices, when used with ear buds, block out extraneous noise while delivering music directly down the ear canal. Seems like a great idea, but ear buds have been shown to be able to wreak havoc on the inner ear.

When young, I mistakenly thought that when people became deaf, it was because their eardrum popped. Whereas this can happen with an extremely loud noise, such as an explosion, this “all or none” effect isn’t the typical way one loses their hearing. More commonly, it’s a slow, insidious process, called noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). This form of deterioration can begin at any age from childhood through old age. This is a preventable form of hearing loss that occurs from repeated exposure to excessively loud sound.

NIHL is a common condition. The National Institutes of Health report that approximately one out of seven Americans (15%) aged 20 to 69 have hearing loss related to occupational or leisure activities, presumably from chronic exposure to loud noise and/or music. People with this form of hearing degeneration initially present with the inability to discriminate between different sounds or a hypersensitivity to certain sounds. Ringing in the ears, referred to as tinnitus, can also occur. Eventually, a hearing aid is needed.

Hearing requires more than just an intact eardrum.

The ear is the first part of an apparatus that first converts vibrational waves of energy into mechanical vibration and following, into electrical impulses which travel from the inner ear to the brain. The brain is where we interpret this information as something we call “sound”. The switch from mechanical vibration to electrical impulse occurs within a structure of the inner ear called the cochlea.

The cochlea is filled with fluid and contains a collection of cells with tiny protruding hairs called cilia. Mechanical vibrations transmitted within the fluid cause the cilia to vibrate. The cells housing the cilia change this mechanical information into an electrical nerve impulse which is then transmitted to the brain.

Each time we are exposed to excessively loud noise, tiny blood vessels that supply the cells in the cochlea constrict, diminishing its blood supply. If the blood supply is reduced too drastically, the cells sporting the cilia can die. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. They can’t grow back.

Where does exercise fit in?

During exercise, blood is diverted to the body’s active muscles that need oxygen and nutrients. This redirection of blood will cause a decrease in blood flow to the cochlea. By itself, this is not a problem for the cells in the cochlea. But mix loud music with exercise, and there is a compounding effect on the blood vessel constriction, doubling the risk for damage. More damage leads to more eventual hearing loss.

The maximum sound intensity that is safe under normal activity and health is 80 decibels. This equates to the noise level generated by running the vacuum cleaner or garbage disposal. Sounds over 85 dB can cause hearing loss. In general, if you are wearing ear buds and can’t hear when someone is talking to you in a normal tone voice, the volume is probably turned up to loud.

Listening to music while exercising can give an energy boost. We become entrained with the music and as a result, it motivates us to move and perform with the rhythm. The good news is that the music doesn’t need to be loud to receive this beneficial effect.

Be Cautious of Toxic Air Fresheners – At Home and on the Road

Clean indoor air is important. With non-fragrant cleaning materials, indoor plants and an air purifier, my home air is clean, even in the wintertime. I began to take this for granted, until a recent road trip.

I usually try to stay in a mid range motel or a bed and breakfast. On this past trip though, I had a two day drive and planned to spend the evening at a motel on the fly after hitting my driving limit. Upon exiting the highway, I pulled up to a roadside motel with a vacancy.

As I walked into the room, it was as if I had been placed into a sealed box filled with a sickly sweet, synthetic chemical odor of potpourri. The scent was overpowering and made me dizzy. I left the room door ajar to air out the room. Why the heck did they dispense so much air freshener in the room? What odor are they trying to conceal?

After washing up, I closed the door and prepared myself for sleep. Despite my dread at spending a night in that chemical laden room, I fell asleep instantly. In the early am, I awoke with a headache. I had planned to “sleep in”, but the odor was back in full force. I needed to get out of that room as quickly as possible.

Many new air fresheners either chemically inhibit receptors in your nose or actually coat the inside of the nose with a thin film of chemicals that work by initially stimulating and then deactivating your sense of smell. Isn’t this a form of poisoning? If one went to a public building that had a technology that temporarily blinded you, would this be acceptable? Why is it that we have allowed products in the marketplace that disrupt one of our important senses?

The ability to smell is important for many reasons. Aromas can attract or repel. Odors can alert us to danger such as fire, spoiled food or the presence of toxins. Pleasant smells can create a sense of calm and peace. Nerves travel directly from the nose and into the brain, stimulating memory centers, bringing to consciousness associations we have had with that scent in the past. We have all had recollections of loved ones and past experiences brought on by a particular scent, describable and indescribable.

Our sense of smell works in concert with our sense of taste.

Although the headache cleared after my escape from the motel room, after arriving to the beach, I was still marred by the air freshener.

I treated myself to a lobster dinner, but the food was tasteless. Because my sense of smell had been deactivated, I couldn’t smell or properly taste my food.

It took several days before my sense of smell returned and all was good. If I had continued exposure to that toxin, I would have lost my sense of smell for the whole week.

Many people purchase these carpet sanitizing and deodorizing products for use in their homes. Through daily exposure, these materials have inflicted a chemically induced anosmia on themselves and on their housemates/family.

If there is an offensive smell in your home, remove the source, don’t masque the odor with chemicals that take away your ability to smell. In addition to being able to “smell the roses”, you will enjoy an enhanced sense of taste.

Fireworks on July 4th – A Symbol of Entrainment

While sitting on the boat, waiting for the fireworks display to start, my mind drifted. Why was I destined to live a life of turbulence? Deep inside, I knew I became involved with people who mirrored different aspects of my own personality. My own complexity must be the source of my relational ups and downs. Was I destined to be alone? Yes, I became too introspective on this festive holiday.

The fireworks display started. Sheeewwwewww… Kaboom! One hundred tiny pink lights lit up the sky in an umbrella display. Boom! Boom! The lights were ordinary. I had seen them many times before. Yet, this year, they took on greater significance as I began to consider each light both individually and then as part of the whole. Sheewwww… boom!

I was mesmerized, looking at the lights as they fell from the sky, all turning color and then into glitter at the same time. All extinguishing at the same time. I reasoned that there must be the same amount of chemical in each particle falling from the sky, which then undergoes the same reaction at the same time. The result to the onlooker is coherence. A synchronized display. Yet, to me, it was a metaphor for entrainment, and a glimpse into the entanglement of relationships.

Entrainment is a phenomenon whereby physical objects in motion sync with each other over time. Entrainment is not chemical, physical or electrical. It’s an energetic, mysterious phenomenon that is very real. Think of a flock of birds moving synchronistically, all darting right or left at precisely the same time. Similarly, cuckoo clocks on display will all swing in perfect unison. In the garden, weeds all bloom and go to seed at the same time, regardless of how big the plant has become. Entrainment is universal.

Expressions like “Misery loves company”, “Laughter is contagious.” and “It takes one to know one” each hint to the concept of entrainment. While in the presence of someone who is heated and anxious, the companion too will become nervous. If one is in the presence of a calming energy, such as a trickling brook or a nurturing partner, the mind and body will relax. Living beings, including people, animals and even plants will entrain to the rhythms of music. Upbeat tempos will bring energy and higher metabolism, whereas slower rhythms will bring about lethargy and contemplation.

Entrainment occurs at many levels. Numerous internal processes are regulated by entrainment. For example, your heart rate entrains with your breathing rate. If your heart rate goes up, your breathing rate will increase. If you consciously slow your breath, your heart rate will drop.

Over time, we entrain with the company we keep. Women living in close proximity will cycle together. Couples who have been together for a long time will even physically resemble one another. Groups of people entrain to local politics, societal issues, even the weather. In a global sense, the human race is entrained with each other, as well as entrained with the position of the earth and its relationship with other planets, the sun and other celestial bodies. Perhaps this is where the origins of astrology lie.

As my mind drifted back to earth and to the boat, I began to cough and sputter. The smoke from the fireworks had formed a cloud on the water into which we had slowly drifted. Our captain backed up the vessel and we pulled away, leaving the toxic gas to dissipate. Approaching the shore, I came to the acknowledgment that we are all connected with each other. We have lovers, friends and adversaries. Regardless of the emotional hits we get from our relationships, we entrain with each other and our world, all of the time.

No one is alone.

Light at Night

How to Get Restful Sleep in a World that Never Shuts Down

Here we go again, another week of overnights. Another week of disturbed sleep.

I walked into the basement bedroom and placed the blackout liner over the ground level window and moved my toiletries to the downstairs bathroom. When I return home from work at 6:30 am tomorrow morning, I want to be certain there won’t be any light filtering into the room. I set out a pair of earplugs and a blindfold. It works some of the time. Sleep is important.

Many of us are saddled with having to work the graveyard shift. Service industries either outsource their night time coverage to the other side of the world, or delegate the onus of overnight work on the local work force. Sometimes the work is disseminated among the employees. At other times, a designated person or team is assigned this shift. Working overnights can take a toll on your health.

We are not nocturnal creatures. Systems in our body are designed around the rising and setting of the sun, called circadian rhythm. The brain’s production and secretion of melatonin provides the body with a biological clock discriminating between day and night.

To optimally produce and secrete melatonin, one needs exposure to periods of bright light, ideally sunlight, interrupted by complete or near complete darkness. Even for those who go to bed at a normal hour and sleep through the night, darkness in the bedroom isn’t easy to achieve. Sources of light in the bedroom can significantly affect your melatonin production. Who would have thought that light, particularly artificial sources of light could be toxic!

After learning this, I purchased a set of black out shades for the bedroom windows. But after the shades were installed, I noticed that every electrical device in the bedroom was supplied with an indicator lamp letting me know where it was located, just in case I wanted to use it in the middle of the night?! Those tiny lights cut the blackness of night with a faint glow of red, green or even blue light. One might think that closing the eyes is sufficient to block out ambient light, but that is not the case. Light will illuminate the retina, the back of the eye, even when the eyelid is closed. The eyelid will prevent you from “seeing”, of course, but there is a separate pathway from the eye that signals the brain whether it is light or dark. The brain then decides whether or not to produce melatonin. To avoid having to turn off all of these little appliances when I sleep, which some people do, I put on a pair of blinders. These eye covers prevent any light at all from entering my eye.

The proper timing and amount of melatonin produced is critical for proper health. Too much melatonin can cause depression. But the immune system will not function properly without enough melatonin. Melatonin also has hormonal effects on the body and has also been shown to kill off cancer cells. Unfortunately, studies have shown an increased cancer rate in people who do overnight shifts. I don’t have any idea how to trick the body into secreting the proper amount or concentration of melatonin, except to try and prepare for bed with appropriate lighting and then make the bedroom as dark as possible while I am sleeping, even at odd hours.

Preparation for bed is simple. Think of nature. The reddish color of the sun as it sets tells all living things, that the day has ended. To simulate this effect, use bedroom lamps that produce more reddish shades of light to get the brain geared up for sleep. Equally important, avoid blue lights before bedtime, particularly LED screens on electronic devices. Children especially will produce significantly less melatonin if exposed to a laptop or other LED display before bedtime.

Melatonin is produced in the absence of light, most intensely between 1 and 3 am. As I write this, it’s 3:30 am. My peak melatonin production is over for the night, yet I am still awake, looking at LED displays for work.

I just walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Ugh. This shift is aging me.

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