Sunday 4 December 2016

Coping with the heat at night, and breast cancer risks

Ask the GP...

Nina Byrnes

Published 14/06/2016 | 02:30

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File photo

Advice from our GP on how to achieve a good night's sleep and on the risks of developing breast cancer.

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Question: I have been finding it very difficult to sleep with the heat lately. I spend the night tossing, turning and uncomfortable. Have you any tips or advice?

Dr Nina replies: Hot humid weather can make for sleepless nights. Humidity makes it difficult for sweat to evaporate from the body and this is often the main contributing factor. In warmer climates, piped air conditioning often helps keep rooms cool but this is a rare luxury in Ireland.

As with any sleep issues, sticking to a healthy night-time routine will help. Avoid caffeine in the hours before sleep. Don't eat a large meal late at night. A light carbohydrate snack is okay. Don't drink hot drinks right before bed. Remove all computers, phones and any other sources of blue light and follow a relaxing routine which eases the brain into sleep mode.

Pay attention to the room you are sleeping in. Bedrooms should be cool, dark and quiet. You may have noticed that many houses on the continent have small windows with external shutters. This stops too much sunlight getting in and heating the house.

Closer to home you can prevent too much heat by keeping windows open on the shady side of your house and keeping blinds shut on the sunny side. When the sun goes down open all the windows to allow a breeze through the house. This may not be possible if you suffer with allergies or if windows need to be closed for personal safety.

Another way to keep your room cool is to install a fan. This will help circulate air and keep you cooler. Putting a bowl of ice cubes in front of a fan is sometimes referred to as the 'poor man's air conditioner'.

Look at your bedding and night clothes. Use thin cotton sheets rather than heavy duvets or quilts. These will absorb moisture. Sleep in light cotton clothes or consider wearing none, as the more layers, the more heat. A cool bed means cooler sleep. Some mattresses have temperature regulation technology, which may be worth looking at.

Take a shower before bed. This shouldn't be too hot or too cold. A tepid shower will cool you off and leave you feeling refreshed. A cold shower is counterproductive, as forcing your body to cool initiates your internal heating mechanisms.

Wet a facecloth and put it in the freezer. Keep a few of these in a cool box beside your bed then use this to cool your skin during the night if you are too hot.

It is important to keep hydrated. Drink fluids throughout the day and keep water by the bedside. Freezing a bottle of water then allowing it to thaw by the bedside will ensure you have cool refreshing water available whenever you need it.

Look at your lifestyle during the day. Avoid too much alcohol. This may help you fall asleep but you are more likely to wake during the night and have a restless sleep. It will also dehydrate you.

Avoid getting sunburn. This will certainly disrupt your sleep and leave you less than comfortable. Don't exercise late at night as this will leave you overheated and restless.

Lastly remain mindful, accept the heat for what it is and stay focused on the positive aspects of sunny weather. Inevitably the restless sleep and the Irish hot weather will soon pass.

Question: A close friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She was the first in her family to have it. It has made me worry about my chances of getting it. Are there other risks apart from a family link?

Dr Nina replies: High-profile celebrities such as Angelina Jolie have raised awareness of the family link and BRCA genes. While it is true that genetics can play a role, only 5pc to 10pc of cases are genetic.

Being female and over 55 are the main risks. Other risks include having particularly dense breasts, a first menstrual period before age 12 or menopause after age 55. The oral contraceptive increases the risk slightly, hormone replacement therapy slightly more. None of us can address our gender, age or genetics but there are several risks we can modify.

Few are aware of the lifestyle factors that play a role in breast cancer risk. There is a link between post-menopausal obesity and breast cancer. Studies suggest that losing even 5pc of body weight can reduce the risk by as much as 25pc to 40pc, compared to those who gain weight in menopause. Eating a broad varied diet with whole grains, healthy fats and lots of plant-based food is also beneficial.

Physical activity is also important. This needs to be fairly intense and regular. Studies suggest this can reduce the risk by an average of 25pc. Aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk exercise at least five times a week.

There is a strong link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk. The risk is estimated to increase 7pc to 10pc for every unit consumed per day. Women who drank four to nine units (that’s half to one bottle of wine) per week had a 15pc increased risk.

It is important to be aware of your risks but don’t let this consume you. Your best chance of reducing the risks of many cancers is to lead a healthy lifestyle.

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