June 5, 2009

Sleep deprived? It could be how you go to sleep

Posted: 09:24 AM ET

How is it that my colleague can look bright and chipper on five hours of sleep and I look like I aged 10 years this morning?

sleep consumer tip

Sleep experts always get asked, how much sleep do people need? And their answer is always, "It depends." There is no magic number. But a key factor in the equation of "enough sleep" is the quality of sleep, and that starts with how you go to sleep. If you're sleeping on top of work papers or falling asleep more and more on your couch, you need help.

The Mayo Clinic suggests tips to help you adopt stronger sleeping routines - before bed - for more restful nights. We picked a few that are not your typical ones, (the usual ones being exercising and having a good mattress). Remember, it's about quality of sleep.

  • Have a time you wake up and go to bed, and stick to it, seven days a week. Your body will learn this routine and you'll fall asleep faster.
  • Cut off eating and drinking at a certain time, well before your bedtime. This is not only good for dieting, but sleeping as well. What you eat or drink can keep you up.
  • Make your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Why do you think hotels are so great to sleep in?
  • Pick a relaxing bedtime routine. This could be a warm bath, reading a book, foot massage. Your body will pick up on this relaxing activity and it will ease you into sleep.
  • Go to bed when you're tired, if not, keep doing something else. Don't force yourself to sleep, let your body naturally want it.

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Filed under: Health • mental health

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February 2, 2009

Getting help for a child with autism

Posted: 03:21 PM ET

This week for CNN American Morning, I’m sharing the story of the Bilson family, whose 13-year-old daughter, Marissa, has autism. The Bilsons have had a tough time with Marissa; she often pitches fits, and the entire family suffers. Not knowing what to do next, the Bilsons called in a therapist who spent the week with them, teaching them skills for making life better for Marissa and for the rest of the family. You can read more about Marissa here, and see a video about the therapy here.

Here’s the problem: the therapy costs about $20,000 for the week. The Bilsons received it for free, because our cameras were videotaping it, but that price tag is out of reach for most families with autistic children. So what are some affordable approaches for these families? There are many affordable programs out there, but it’s not always clear how parents can access them. Here, from mothers of children with autism, are ways parents can advocate for their children with autism, from babyhood through the school years.

1. Trouble getting a diagnosis? Bring in a video, letters.

The first step towards getting assistance for your child is to get a diagnosis of autism. Some parents have had difficulty with this, since a child doesn’t always display the worrisome behavior during a doctor’s appointment. If this is the case,  Alison Singer, executive vice president of Autism Speaks, an awareness and advocacy organization, suggests videotaping your child's behavior and showing it to the doctor. "You could play it on your laptop, or even just bring in the video camera," she says.

Getting a letter of support from your child's day-care provider or preschool teacher might also help.  "Teachers are seen as other professionals, and a letter saying, 'In 20 years of teaching, this behavior is really unusual,' can go far," says Singer, who has a 10-year-old daughter with autism. If your child isn't in day care or school, even a letter from a neighbor who knows your child could help, she says.

Educating yourself about autism will also help you have a discussion with your pediatrician. Autism Speaks, First Signs, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all give excellent overviews. Autism Speaks' Video Glossary has more than 100 video clips comparing the behavior of children with autism spectrum disorders with the behavior of a typical child.

2. Sign up for early intervention

Any child younger than age 3 with a developmental delay qualifies to receive services through Early Intervention, a government-mandated program that provides services to eligible children. Services are free of charge, and vary from state to state; they may include speech and language instruction, and/or occupational and physical therapy.

To learn how to apply for Early Intervention, click on this state-by-state directory from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities and scroll down.

Early Intervention is invaluable because it links parents to services in the community, but Lisa Goring, mother of a child with autism and director of family services at Autism Speaks, warns that parents may also have to search on their own, since it can be hard to find services without a long waiting list. "There just aren't enough service providers for the kids who need them," Goring says. To find services on your own,, which offers information about special education law and advocacy, has a Yellow Pages for Kids that lists providers.

Long waits are so prevalent that Nancy Wiseman, founder and president of the advocacy group First Signs, whose 12-year-old daughter has autism, has a few suggestions for how to get in quicker. First, parents should stress the age of their child (many clinics will give priority to children under 3), and should ask the pediatrician to make a call to the specialist. More suggestions are in her book "Could it be Autism? A Parent's Guide to the First Signs and Next Steps."

3. Know your child's rights in school

When your child enters public school, he or she has rights under federal and state laws. The U.S. Department of Education has information about federal laws and state laws. The National Association of Parents with Children in Special Education has information about children's legal rights as well.

Wiseman says that even with these protections, you'll still have to work to get what's best for your child. For example, Wiseman moved to get into a different school district, and then a few years later, when that district no longer worked well for her daughter, she twice fought to place her child out of the district. "It's very frustrating to battle a school, and you really have to do your homework," she says.

You and the district will have to come up with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). To prepare, Wiseman recommends "The Complete IEP Guide: How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child" by attorney Lawrence Siegel.

Also, school districts often have a Special Education Parent Teacher Association. Member parents often give good advice on how to work with the school district.


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Filed under: Cohen • Empowered Patient • mental health

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January 5, 2009

When a child dies, how do you cope?

Posted: 03:01 PM ET

When the news broke late Friday that John Travolta and Kelly Preston's son Jett died, I thought of my parents.

My brother Jonathan drowned when I was a baby and he was toddler. Even though I never knew Jon, he remains a part of my life. During bedtime prayers growing up, we always prayed for "big brother Jon up in heaven with Jesus." Every year on Jon's birthday, my dad still gives my mom a single yellow rose. Some 30 years later, my parents still feel the pain of losing their first born in such a tragic way.

My colleague Madison Park spent the morning talking with families and experts about the emotional toll of losing a child. You can read her story here at We've also been touched by the hundreds of people who have shared on iReport their stories of loss. Click here for some of their stories or to share your own story. These stories of love and loss raise many questions. How do you move forward after losing a child? Does joy ever return? I turned to Dr. Michael Jellinek, chief of child psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital for some insight.

1. It can take years for life to get back to normal When you lose a parent or grandparent, Jellinek says the normal grieving process happens within a year. "Those rules go out the window with children," says Jellinek. Grief can last years, especially if there is unresolved grief from childhood or if the person has a history of depression. So how do you know if grief is out of control? Jellinek says you should become concerned if, after some time, there is still a functional impact on the survivors. For example, they never go out to movies or dinner, or if every holiday becomes a tribute to the dead child.

2. Moms and dads grieve differently According to Jellinek, moms tend to talk and think about the death alot. "They tend to keep it quite active in their day-to-day life,” says Jellinek. After a few months, fathers may make themselves busy, taking on a second job or a hobby. Also, other vulnerabilities may surface. If there's a family history of alcohol abuse, a parent who never had a problem before, may become an alcoholic. "I've seen some parents become so depressed that they don't care about living,” says Jellinek. He knows of one woman whose child was critically ill in the hospital. The mom started driving faster and faster to and from the hospital. "She didn't care if she lived or died," he says.

3. The best thing to do is just be there "I think a lot of people try to do too much too early," says Jellinek, "Being there is a lot more important." The best thing you can do, he says is keep the parent company or be helpful by running errands and making meals. Also, don't force parents to talk about their grief. "It becomes intrusive if you do it at the wrong time," he says.

4. Helping others can help with grief Jellinek says it often helps grieving parents to get involved with a charity or a support group that helps other parents in a similar situation. "It's a way of making something positive out of a tragedy," he says.

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Filed under: Health • Jennifer Pifer-Bixler • mental health

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November 3, 2008

Is the election stressing you out? Tips on getting your life (and sanity) back

Posted: 05:45 PM ET

An iReport from Janet Bollero of Winter Garden, Florida, caught my eye today.  Bollero says tomorrow's election is stressing her out.  In fact, she’s ‘measured’ how anxious she is with a Stress-o-meter.  Bollero registered at “frightfully frazzled.”  Now granted that the “stress-o-meter” is nothing more than a novelty, Bollero makes an interesting point. Psychologists tell us many of their patients are freaked out over the election.  "I haven't seen this kind of anxiety since 9/11," says Nancy Molitor a clinical psychologist in a suburb of North Chicago.  Molitor says many of her clients are pinning their hopes on one candidate to fix the economy, end the war in Iraq and keep us safe.  Other people are worried about voter fraud and the safety of the candidates.  Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to stress.   


YOU CAN CONTROL ONLY YOUR ACTIONS “You can’t control the outcome,” says Molitor.  She says it is important to be realistic.  Focus on what you CAN do, such as vote or canvass for your candidate.  Also, don’t lose perspective. Focus on the good things in your life, a job you love or a family that brings you meaning.  Says Molitor, just as after 9-11, “Life will go on.”  


LISTEN TO YOUR BODY Often when we are stressed out, our eating habits go into autopilot.  Don’t mindlessly eat the left over Halloween candy.  Make sure you are eating food such as fruits and veggies that won’t make your blood sugar yo-yo.  Also, watch how much you are drinking. All those things can alter your mood and make a bad situation worse.


WHAT IF MY GUY LOSES? Believe it or not, experts say for some people it will be like a death in the family.  As funny as it may sound, you may need to go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Embrace the pain and work through it.  If you are still bummed out two to three weeks after Election Day, you may want to seek professional help.




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Filed under: Health • mental health

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About this blog

Clark Howard helps you become a wise consumer. We know you're busy, and that's why Clark's tips are quick and effective. He'll arm you with the information you need to make smart choices. During these tough economic times, Clark wants to help you save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off!