Sleeping only four hours a night for five nights, on average, or five hours a night for a week can impair you as much as being awake for 24 hours—or being legally drunk. Having one beer in that sleepy condition has the effect of a six-pack. Don’t drive if you’re sleep deprived. If you have to drive, pull off the road if you can’t keep your head up or you are drifting from your lane, blinking or yawning a lot, or missing exits or traffic signs.
Don’t mix driving and sleeping pills. The pill you take at night can impair your driving ability for up to 17 hours.
Don’t walk under the influence. About half of all adult pedestrians killed in traffic accidents in recent years had been drinking, and more than a third were legally drunk.
If you have low back pain and are shopping for a mattress, buy a medium firm one, not a hard one. Conventional wisdom, along with many mattress ads, claims that firmer mattresses are better for your back. But a Spanish study of people with chronic back pain found that a mattress of medium firmness is more likely to reduce symptoms. Your mattress is a health issue, however, only if it is uncomfortable and interferes with your sleep and/or leaves you with a backache.
Install a carbon monoxide detector. And take these steps to keep this odorless but deadly gas out of your house: have your heating system professionally inspected and tuned up annually. Vent all fuel-burning space heaters and gas ranges to the outside. Run an exhaust fan and keep a window open slightly while you cook; make sure the stove’s flame is blue (if it’s yellow, call your local gas company and ask to have the burner adjusted).
To avoid traveler’s diarrhea in developing countries, take these precautions: drink only bottled or canned beverages, and be sure you’re the one who breaks the seal. Or stick to hot drinks made with boiling water. Never use tap water, even for brushing your teeth. Pass up ice cubes. Don’t eat anything raw. Raw fruit is okay if you peel it—don’t wash it in tap water.
Never shake an infant or young child. Since a young child’s neck muscles are weak, this can cause brain or spinal cord damage. Whether you use wood or plastic for cutting raw meat and poultry, scrub the board well afterward with hot soapy water, and wash the knife and your hands thoroughly as well. Cutting boards are prone to bacterial contamination from food. If the surface has fat on it, or if the plastic is deeply scarred, it’s especially important to get it very clean. A plastic board has the advantage of being dishwasher safe.
Don’t skip your seat belt just because you have an airbag. Safety belts reduce driver fatalities by 42%; add an airbag and you gain another 6%. But the airbag alone reduces fatalities by only 18%. Moreover, the impact of an airbag can be dangerous if you aren’t belted.
Use lead-glazed earthenware pottery only for ornamental purposes. The lead in some pieces—especially those from Mexico, China, and many developing nations—can leach into foods.
Women should have their bone density tested starting at age 65, earlier if they are at high risk for osteoporosis. Men at high risk should also be screened.
If you skid when driving: take your foot off the brake and the accelerator, and shift into neutral. Look and steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go. As soon as the wheels grip the road again, return to driving gear and slowly accelerate.
If you have crowns or bridges, work hard to keep them clean. The tooth base that holds a crown can decay, and crowns and bridges can attract and hold plaque (the film in which harmful bacteria live) and thus increase your risk of periodontal disease. Floss thoroughly at least once daily and brush at least twice. Brush at the gum line with a soft brush, and aim the bristles at a 45° angle to the gum line. If you have extra space between your teeth, use an interdental brush—a tiny brush tip at the end of a handle. To clean around fixed bridges, use a floss threader to get the floss between the bottom of the bridge and your gums.
If you often have bad breath, gently brush your tongue when you brush your teeth. Brush the back of the tongue to remove odor-causing bacteria lodged on the surface. You can also use a tongue scraper. Consult your dentist to make sure that gum or tooth disease is not the culprit. Most people can’t tell if and when they have bad breath unless someone tells them.
Measure your waist to find out if you are at risk for weight-related health problems. More than 40 inches in men, and 35 inches in women is a sign of significant abdominal obesity and increased risks, regardless of height. But those are not magic numbers: there’s some evidence that risk starts to rise before those cutoff points.
With herbal “remedies,” it’s buyer beware. There is no testing for safety or effectiveness. In addition, there’s no guarantee that they are what the labels say they are, that the dosage is accurate, or that the next bottle will have the same ingredients.
Many women still don’t know that some oral contraceptives can serve as “morning after” pills. Called emergency contraceptives, these pills can prevent an unwanted pregnancy if taken within 72 hours (the sooner, the better) after intercourse. They reduce the chance of becoming pregnant by at least 75% and have only minor side effects.
If you grind your teeth at night, your dentist can create an individually fitted mouth guard or splint made of soft or hard acrylic. Usually worn at night, the guards redistribute the forces exerted while grinding and thus help protect teeth. They can cost $400 or more. You can try a simple athletic mouth guard, sold at sporting goods stores for around $5. If it fits properly, it should spread the clenching pressure evenly across your mouth. It won’t be as comfortable as a custom made device and will certainly be bulkier and more visible.