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Get Morning Light, Sleep Better at Night




Ask clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD, a.k.a. The Sleep Doctor, for his No. 1 tip for having more energy and sleeping better, and he doesn’t hesitate to share his own morning routine: He rises at 6:15 a.m. daily, drinks a big glass of water, and meditates as he waits for the sun to come up. Then at 7 a.m. sharp he walks his two dogs, Hugo and Moose, around the block, making sure to leave his sunglasses at home.

“Every single human, just as soon as possible after waking up, should go outside and get at least 15 minutes of direct natural light. Period,” says Breus, a Los Angeles-based sleep medicine specialist and co-author of the new book, Energize!Go from Dragging Ass to Kicking It in 30 Days.

Breus’s simple life hack reflects a growing body of scientific evidence linking ample exposure to bright light early in the day to everything from better sleep and clearer thinking to improved mental health and reduced risk of obesity and diabetes.

One study of 700 people, done at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, found that those who either spent 1 to 2 hours outdoors daily or spent their days in a brightly lit room were less likely to have trouble sleeping or report anxiety.

Another found that when people let natural light stream into their apartments by day for 1 week, they fell asleep 22 minutes earlier, slept more regularly, and were happier and more alert by day than during a week in which they pulled the blinds.

“Light is the single most important element for setting our circadian clock, or internal 24-hour rhythm, and morning light is key,” says Nathaniel Watson, MD, a sleep specialist and professor of neurology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Each of us has not only one master clock deep in our brain, but also a series of other clocks inside our tissues that manage when hormones are released, keeping our sleep-wake cycle, hunger patterns, and other daily rhythms humming along on a predictable cycle.

If you lived in a cave with no light at all, the hands on the master clock would still click away, but at about a 24.2-hour cycle, slightly out of sync with the clock society operates on. Each day, you’d drift further out of sync.

“Today, your watch would say it’s 7 a.m., but your biological clock might say it’s 6:50 a.m.,” says Mariana Figueiro, PhD, director of the Light and Health Research Center at Icahn School of Medicine in New York. “Tomorrow, your biological clock might say it’s 6:40 a.m., and the following day 6:30 a.m. And it would get harder and harder to get up.”

Open the blinds or step outside, and the instant that morning light streams into your eyes, it synchronizes your body clock with the 24-hour day in two critical ways:

  • Specialized cells in your retinas tell your brain to stop making the sleep hormone melatonin.
  • Your brain’s master clock sets a sort of internal timer, instructing the body to start making melatonin again about 14 hours later.

Morning light also nudges the body to crank up production of the stimulating hormone cortisol, getting your brain fired up for the day.

In one experiment, office workers got more bright morning light for 5 days. They found it easier to make decisions and scored 79% higher on cognitive tests.

Studies show that morning light may also affect the hormones leptin (the satiating hormone) and ghrelin (the hunger hormone) in ways that promote a healthy body weight.

And researchers at Northwestern University found that people who got most of their bright light exposure before noon weighed a little less — 1.4 pounds, on average — than those exposed to most bright light in the evening.

On the flip side, it’s best to minimize bright light at night, since it has the same awakening effect that it does in the morning.

“Light is like a cup of coffee,” says Figueiro. “It has a direct, acute effect and that is to maintain alertness, and that happens day or night.”

Bright, short-wavelength or “blue light” (the glowing screen on your laptop or smartphone) is particularly sleep-disrupting, as it most closely mimics the natural light from the sun that we evolved to wake up to.

Unfortunately, people spend about 87% of their time indoors these days, where environments are darker than they should be by day and lighter than they should be at night. 

And the pandemic, which has prompted more people to work from home, has in many ways made things worse.

“A lot of times, you can get your morning light during your commute time,” Figueiro says. She notes that a bike ride or a walk from the train station to work can easily provide enough morning light to keep the circadian clock clicking on time, even on a cloudy day.

Instead, many of us now simply stroll from our bedroom to our computer. “People are missing out on that morning light. It worries me,” Figueiro says.

But the remedies are simple.

Try your best to get a minimum of 1 hour outdoors each day. That includes at least 15 to 30 minutes in the morning after daybreak. Another good time for a walk outside is around 1 to 3 p.m. in the afternoon, when the body produces another brief spike of melatonin.

“Instead of a coffee break when you start to feel sluggish in the afternoon, go outside and take a sunshine break,” Breus says. Leave your sunglasses off to get the full effect.

Face a window. If you spend most of your time indoors during the day, situate yourself so you face the window and open the shades whenever possible.

If your daytime room has no window, or just a small one, add more light. Figueiro recommends a table lamp on each side of your computer (1,500 lumens each) with a light-colored shade that diffuses the light. A plain white lightbulb will do, but for greater effect, go for blue light or put the light closer to your eye.

Get an extra boost. If you drive to work in the dark, travel across time zones often, or have trouble getting natural morning light, using a “dawn simulator” or “light therapy” lamp in the morning can also help, says Watson: They can deliver a whopping 10,000 lux of bright light. That’s about five times the brightness of outside light on a very cloudy day.

Set a curfew for screens. To minimize light at night, shut off your electronics (or at least dim the display and set it so the words are white on black) 2 hours before bedtime. If you really have trouble winding down, consider wearing blue-light blocking glasses 90 minutes before bed. Also use warm, low-level, dim lighting in your bedroom and living room at night.

And yes, you also need to keep a consistent schedule, going to bed at the same time each night and rising at the same time each day. It’s simple – but not easy.

“Sleep thrives on consistency and routine.” says Breus. As a sleep consultant to celebrities and athletes in Los Angeles, he knows how hard this can be. But, as he says, if you want to sleep better, it’s worth it.


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The Truth About Whole-Body Scans




Take a drive around certain neighborhoods in Los Angeles and you may spot as many signs advertising body scans as burger joints. Or maybe you’ve seen the ads on TV or the internet: “Protect your health! Get a body scan now!” 

Are whole-body CT scans really able to do that – and what are the risks? And are DEXA scans a good way to check on your body composition?

While technologies vary, most of these high-tech checkups use computed tomography (CT) scans to examine your entire body or specific parts, such as the heart and lungs, to try to catch dangerous diseases in earlier, more curable stages.

During the 15- or 20-minute scan, you lie inside a doughnut-shaped machine as an imaging device rotates around you, transmitting radiation. The technique combines multiple X-ray images and, with the aid of a computer, produces cross-sectional views of your body. By examining the views, a doctor can look for early signs of abnormalities.

The scans aren’t cheap – whole-body scans run anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per scan and usually aren’t reimbursed by insurance. And the question of how helpful these scans really are is a matter of debate among medical experts.

Advocates promote scans as a smart part of a routine physical exam. But if you’re healthy, with no worrisome symptoms, a scan is usually not warranted, says Arl Van Moore, MD, a radiologist and clinical assistant professor of radiology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC, who is also a spokesman for the American College of Radiology (ACR).

According to the ACR’s official position, there’s not enough evidence to recommend scans for those with no symptoms or family history suggesting disease. But Van Moore sees a possible exception. “There may be a benefit to people at high risk of lung cancers, such as current smokers or those with a long history of smoking,” he says. 

For healthy people, the scans may cause undue worry – for instance, by finding something that turns out to be benign. Plus, the amount of radiation exposure, especially with frequent scans, is another concern. If scans are done too often, the radiation exposure may actually increase the number of cancer cases over the long term, according to a 2004 report in the journal Radiology.

The American College of Preventive Medicine says that whole-body scans “aren’t very good at finding cancer in people without symptoms” and that the radiation you get from these scans can increase your risk of cancer.

Before scheduling a body scan, talk to your doctor about your overall health risks and how a scan may or may not help you. In particular, ask yourself:

  • What’s your history? Do you have a personal or family history of lung disease, heart disease, or specific cancers?
  • Did you inhale? Are you a longtime smoker?
  • If so, how long? Even if you’ve quit smoking, for how many years were you an active smoker?


This is a different type of scan, called DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry). You might have heard of DEXA scans to check on bone density to see if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia. It uses low-level X-rays to check on your body composition, like how much body fat you have and where it is in your body. 

There are various ways to measure your body fat. Experts have told WebMD in the past that DEXA scanning is a “very good technique” and “one of the most accurate methods out there.” And researchers have called it the “gold standard” for checking on body composition – specifically, for bone, fat, and muscle. But it’s not covered by insurance, unless you’re getting a DEXA scan to screen for bone density. The cost of a DEXA scan varies, starting around $75 in some cases.


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5 Family and Community Engagement Strategies to Improve Student Outcomes




Strong school-family-community partnerships bring exceptional value to children’s education. A recent book by Karen L. Mapp, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and four other co-collaborators synthesizes the available research to explain who benefits from these partnerships and the many advantages of family and community engagement.

Everyone Wins! The Evidence for Family-School Partnerships & Implications for Practice (Scholastic, 2022) cites various research to demonstrate how family-community-school partnerships benefit all stakeholder groups when they’re approached effectively:

  • Students have higher grades, better attendance, deeper engagement in school, greater self-esteem, and higher rates of graduation and college attainment.
  • Educators enjoy better job satisfaction, better success motivating students from different backgrounds, more family support, and an improved mindset about students and their families.
  • Families have stronger relationships with their children and better rapport with educators. They can navigate school policies and advocate for their children more effectively.
  • Schools enjoy a better climate, more support from their community, and improved staff morale—leading to better teacher retention.
  • School districts and communities become better places to live and raise children. They experience fewer disciplinary problems, greater participation in afterschool programs, and more family and student involvement in decision-making.
community members talking and hugging in matching green volunteer t-shirts in front of an outdoor mural

What elements make school-family-community partnerships particularly effective? Here are five tips for how school systems can successfully promote family and community engagement in education and drive better student outcomes.

1. Successful Family Engagement Requires Intentional Leadership

Engaging with families has to be a core activity and not just an afterthought. It requires a total commitment by school and district leaders, and this commitment must include investing in the tools and training needed to help educators effectively engage with families from all backgrounds. It must be a real and intentional focus, and as Mapp says: “It’s real when I see it on your budget sheets.”

2. Teachers and Administrators Must Communicate Clearly and Consistently

To encourage family involvement in their children’s education, educators must interact with families frequently—and in many ways. For instance, teachers and administrators might engage with families in person during school drop-off and pick-up periods, set up a Family Information Board in the school’s lobby, write and distribute regular newsletters or blog posts, and/or send emails or text messages to parents.

Communicating effectively is one of the National PTA’s “National Standards for Family-School Partnerships,” which guides how schools and families should work together to support student success. Teachers and administrators should learn about and meet families’ preferred methods of communication, and families should be able to share and receive information in culturally and linguistically relevant ways.

3. Develop Healthy, Positive Relationships Based on Mutual Trust and Respect

Interactions between educators and families should be positive and reciprocal, with families feeling valued and supported. Educators can establish trust and encourage healthy, two-way communications with families by sharing information about their children’s positive behaviors and accomplishments and which skills may need work. Listen to all parents and provide opportunities for shared decision-making.

4. Be Mindful of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Welcoming all families and fostering a sense of belonging is another National PTA standard. When families engage with your school, do they feel respected, understood, and connected to the school community?

To ensure equity and inclusion, learn about the families you serve and their unique needs and challenges. Use culturally responsive engagement practices. Create opportunities for connection, especially with historically marginalized families and students. Learn about and seek to remove barriers for families to participate fully in their children’s education.

5. Help Families Support and Extend the Learning at Home

Students learn more effectively when they have opportunities at home to practice, reinforce, or extend the skills and lessons they’ve learned in school. Educators can facilitate this process by giving families specific ideas for expanding their children’s learning at home, such as by incorporating core math and literacy concepts into everyday routines.

Schools can also make instructional resources such as take-home packs, activity sets, and other materials available to families to support their children’s education.

How School Specialty® Can Help

School Specialty has more than six decades of experience in providing tools, resources, and strategies that promote successful education both in school and at home. We offer arts and crafts, early childhood, ELA, math, science, STEM/STEAM, physical education, special needs, and social emotional learning resources for families, as well as games, puzzles, and general supplies.

How do you promote family engagement in your classroom and community? Let us know in the comments!


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Preteens and skincare: What parents should know – CHOC





Published on: April 16, 2024
Last updated: April 9, 2024

Should teens and preteens be using so many skincare products with fancy ingredients? A pediatric dermatologist answers parents’ questions.



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