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Am Fam Physician. 1998;57(11):2591-2592

Many older adults have trouble sleeping, but sleeping pills aren't the answer. According to sleep researchers at Duke University who conducted a three-month study comparing two sleep remedies, behavior modification works better than sleeping pills because patients learn to depend on themselves rather than on artificial means of falling asleep. Patients should be advised to wait until they're tired before going to bed, avoid staying awake in bed more than 20 minutes, keep regular sleep and wake times, and get exposure to as much daylight as possible to reset their circadian clocks.

Seventy-three percent of all workers identify their job by title or skills rather than by company name. According to a poll by Kelly Services and Louis Harris & Associates, cited in American Demographics, 68 percent of workers ages 25 to 29 identify their job by title or skills, as do 79 percent of workers ages 30 to 39, 74 percent of workers ages 40 to 49 and 74 percent of workers ages 50 to 64.

Does the phrase “eat your vegetables” sound familiar? Well, if you're taking an oral contraceptive, it should. According to a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women taking oral contraceptives should be eating more carrots, yams and broccoli. The study of 610 women over 24 years of age showed that beta-carotene levels were lower in women using oral contraceptives than in women not using oral contraceptives. The association between oral contraceptive use and low beta-carotene levels was particularly strong in women 35 to 44 years of age.

What a person wishes for says a lot about him or her. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality, 405 college students were asked what they would want if they were granted three wishes. The most common wishes were for friends, happiness, health, marriage, money, success, self-improvement and the ability to help others. Men were more likely to wish for sex and power, while women wished more for happiness, a better appearance and improved health. The participants who were already satisfied with their lives were the most likely to believe that their wishes could come true.

The discovery of the oldest known case of HIV—an African man who died in 1959—suggests that the virus first infected people in the 1940s or early 1950s. After checking 1,213 blood samples taken in Africa from 1959 to 1982, scientists found signs of the virus in a sample that was obtained from a Bantu man who lived in Leopoldville, Belgian Congo (now Kinshasa, Congo) in 1959. Since HIV mutates quickly, scientists will be able to measure the evolution of the current versions of HIV against this older version, according to a report published in Nature.

Which medical schools had the highest number of graduates enter primary care in 1997? According to the Third Annual Primary-Care Scorecard, published in The New Physician, 53.3 percent of graduates from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, Grand Forks, entered primary care, followed by 51.8 percent of graduates each from Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, and the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, 50.4 percent from the University of Minnesota–Duluth School of Medicine and 48.2 percent from the University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City.

Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may affect the sexual functioning of men and women in different ways, says Psychology Today. In a study of 25 patients with depression who were taking SSRIs, sexual functioning became much worse in men but became much better in women. Side effects may be less common in women, researchers speculate, or it could be that the women had more sexual problems related to chronic depression at the start of the study, compared with the men. The women simply could have had more room for improvement.

What do brain tumors and artificial sweeteners have in common? Probably nothing, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Reports that the incidence of brain tumors went up at the same time that the sweetener aspartame was introduced were inaccurate. The incidence of brain tumors actually began to increase before the introduction of aspartame and the most recent data have shown a slight decrease in the past years, says Consumer Reports on Health.

According to a survey in U.S. News & World Report, 75 percent of Americans are worried about their health care coverage and 50 percent say they're concerned that their physicians are basing treatment decisions only on what is covered by their health care plan. Twenty-five percent can't figure out their medical bills, 20 percent have trouble paying their medical bills and about 15 percent have had delays in getting appointments with their physician.

Walking is the number one outdoor recreation activity for persons 60 years of age or older, with 52 percent of this population participating, according to a poll conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, cited in American Demographics. Picnicking is the second most popular outdoor activity, with a participation of 35 percent, followed by bird watching, 29 percent; pool swimming, 22 percent; non-pool swimming, 17 percent; freshwater fishing, 14 percent; motor boating, 13 percent; bicycling, 11 percent; golf, 10 percent; and hiking, 10 percent.

Our human need to communicate is an instinct ingrained in our brains, suggests a report in The Brain in the News. Researchers in Montreal have found that the areas of our brain that control language respond in the same way to sign language as they do to the spoken word. The brains of deaf people who have used only sign language since birth responded to signed words in areas that had been thought to be used exclusively for speech. This indicates that perhaps the brain will find a way—any way—to overcome its isolation and communicate its innermost desires, thoughts and intentions.

Sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome may be able to find some relief. Although there is no known cure for this mysterious illness, recent research published in the British Medical Journal offers a ray of hope for those seeking relief of symptoms: aerobic exercise. Fifty-nine patients with chronic fatigue syndrome were divided into two groups: one group performed aerobic exercises at least five days a week, and the other practiced relaxation exercises and stretching for the same period of time. After 12 weeks, one half of the aerobic-exercise group reported feeling much better, compared with one fourth of the other group, according to Consumer Reports on Health.

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Copyright © 1998 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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