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Article posted: 7/22/2013 6:00 AM

Your health: Try to get some rest

A new book warns against taking too many vitamins that might not work and may cause more harm than good.

A new book warns against taking too many vitamins that might not work and may cause more harm than good.

 
If you are having trouble sleeping, natural remedies and lifestyle changes can help you get more rest.

If you are having trouble sleeping, natural remedies and lifestyle changes can help you get more rest.

 
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Better zzzs, naturally

The world looks very different at 3 a.m. when you're lying in bed staring at the ceiling or the clock. "How will I make it through tomorrow without any sleep?" you worry. If you regularly can't get to sleep -- or stay asleep -- and it's affecting you during the day, then you may have insomnia, says Harvard Medical School.

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Prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids can help you drift off, but these drugs also have side effects. These include morning drowsiness, which can make activities like driving or using machinery dangerous, and an increased risk for falling. There are other ways to get a good night's sleep than medications.

Try simple lifestyle changes, recommends Dr. Hadine Joffe, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Two good ones to start with include avoiding caffeine and sticking to a regular sleep schedule. If these steps don't help, it's worth a call to your doctor to see if a medical condition -- such as thyroid problems, anemia, sleep apnea, menopausal hot flashes, heartburn, incontinence or depression -- are affecting the quality or the quantity of your sleep.

Treating the health problem may take care of the sleep problem.

Vitamin awareness

From acupuncture and Chinese herbs to coffee enemas and multivitamins, alternative medicine is a bustling industry. There are tens of thousands of supplements and holistic therapies on the market, bringing in roughly $34 billion each year, says The Washington Post.

Half of all Americans report using alternative medicine in some form. But, according to "Do You Believe in Magic?" by Paul A. Offit, only a handful of these therapies have proven benefits.

The book uses scientific research, case studies and Offit's personal anecdotes as chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to evaluate popular alternative therapies.

According to the book, only four of the more than 50,000 supplements on the market have proven positive results: omega-3 fatty acids (for preventing heart disease), folic acid (during pregnancy), and calcium and vitamin D after menopause to protect against osteoporosis. Apparent success with other therapies is due to the placebo effect, which Offit acknowledges can be powerful and is often underrated by conventional medical practitioners.

Still, Offit, says that, at best, most supplements are a waste of money. At worst, using them can have dire consequences.

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