As an emergency room doctor, I am trained in providing acute and critical care. But it’s equally important to help my patients and readers manage their day-to-day wellness. That’s why I’ve put together some simple swaps you can start doing today, from kickstarting your wellness at night to avoiding that dreaded afternoon crash.
I regularly switch between day and night shift, so I’m always looking for hacks to lessen the strain on my natural circadian rhythm. Approximately 15 million Americans work a permanent night shift or regularly rotate in and out of night shifts, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
There’s certainly no shortage of over-the-counter and prescription medications that promise a more efficient and restful sleep. But there are also some non-pharmacological swaps that I love.
Swap melatonin pills for a handful of tart cherries. Tart cherries, especially Montmorency cherries, have high amounts of natural melatonin and tryptophan. An additional benefit is that tart cherries contain high levels of anthocyanins, which provide substantial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity on a similar level to that provided by common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. So next time, grab a handful of tart cherries or a glass of tart cherry juice an hour before bed.
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Swap the nightcap for two scoops of Epsom salt in a warm bath. I’ve written extensively about the benefits of Epsom salt in a previous column. The added benefit of a nighttime Epsom salt bath ritual comes from leaving your phone and electronics in the other room and literally doing nothing while absorbing magnesium-induced muscle relaxation before bed. Pro tip: Light a couple of candles and focus on observing the flickering of the flames while taking slow deep breaths and then rinse with cold water.
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Swap out Netflix for a book. Don’t get me wrong, I love streaming movies. It’s easy to collapse on the couch and pick up the remote. But I’ve noticed that absorbing too much blue light from the TV screen after dark both revs up my nightly anxiety and makes it harder to get sleep. Instead, try charging your phone and putting it on silent in the other room and get into bed with a new book.
If you must work at night or really want to watch a movie, get yourself some blue light-blocking glasses. These glasses have come a long way. Now you can get stylish frames without the distracting orange tint.
Swap supermarket eggs for farmer’s market eggs. There’s little difference between white and brown eggs. But you should care about the color of the yolk. A darker or more orange yolk is from pasture-raised hens who were fed a carotenoid-rich diet of leafy greens and grass, flowers and seeds. Such yolks are also tastier and higher in omega-3 fatty acid. So, especially for those of you looking to reduce your triglyceride cholesterol, talk to the farmers at your local market.
Swap that vitamin D supplement for some early morning sunshine. Vitamin D at 1000-2000 IU a day is a must for most adults, even those who live in an area with regular sunshine exposure. But nothing sets the circadian rhythm each morning better than early sunshine exposure. Plus, early morning sun has less dangerous UVA and UVB rays than afternoon sun.
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Swap morning coffee for water with electrolytes (or fresh lemon). While I love coffee and cannot start my day without it, I think it’s important that water be the first thing that hits my stomach in the morning. We wake up already dehydrated due to overnight water loss. Electrolytes are important gate-keepers that facilitate transport of water across membranes and into our cells.
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Swap out the candy bar for protein. That 3 pm crash hits hard. It’s easy to reach for a sugar-rush candy bar or other non-nutritious, empty-calorie snack. Next time, try a handful of almonds or a protein shake. It’ll satisfy your hunger and give you an energy boost without the post-sugar crash. Protein powder supplements, including vegan options, have become really quite tasty in recent years. They can be enjoyed on the fly or at your desk with just a glass of fresh water.
Swap out the espresso shot for a dose of nature. Instead of the afternoon coffee run, go for a walk for an energy boost. Better yet, if you have access to the beach, a park or a lake, take 10 minutes and spend some time in nature. The mental benefits are tried and true and don’t cost a dime.
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Michael Daignault, MD, is a board-certified ER doctor in Los Angeles. He studied Global Health at Georgetown University and has a 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 United States Peace Corps Volunteer. Find him on Instagram @dr.daignault