Your baby should only sleep on his or her back. (Photo: Staff)

We’re all leading busy lives, and the internet can be a bit of a wasteland, right? So, as I’ve done numerous times before, I’d like to draw your attention to some recent health articles and research you may have missed. I hope you find them as useful as I did.

Americans don’t understand all the risk factors for cancer.
A new study found that while Americans understand some of the common risk factors for cancer, we don’t appear to know them all. For instance, almost 80 percent of 4,000 U.S. adults are aware that tobacco use is a risk factor for cancer. Also, 66 percent of adults are aware of the link between sun exposure and cancer.


Unfortunately, there are other risk factors the majority of people surveyed weren’t aware of at all. Only 31 percent are aware of the link of cancer to obesity, 30 percent to alcohol and 25 percent to lack of exercise.

The most significant difference between what we know and don’t seems to be how much we discuss these links. Part of this starts when we’re kids. When I worked at a day care for elementary school kids, even the kindergarteners knew cigarettes were bad for them.

It wasn’t just that these kids had already been told not to smoke. They were afraid to even go anywhere near a cigarette that someone had left on the playground, much less touch it. When I picked up the cigarette butt to throw it away, the collective gasp of the kids could probably be heard a mile away.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Kids need to know how dangerous cigarettes are, but the point I’m trying to make is that proper education saves lives. We see and hear a lot about the link between cigarettes/sun exposure and cancer, and we should keep telling people about these risks. However, we also need to talk more about the risk of cancer associated with alcohol, obesity and lack of exercise.

There is a link between PTSD and sleep.
While we usually hear about post-traumatic stress disorder in relation to soldiers in war zones, PTSD can actually happen to anyone. In fact, it’s estimated that 6.8 percent of all U.S. adults will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. It’s hard to get an accurate reading on the exact number, because unfortunately, not everyone knows they suffer/suffered from PTSD, even after the fact.

There’s no real way to predict with any certainty who is at a greater risk of suffering from PTSD, but it can potentially happen to anyone who experiences a traumatic event in their lives. Those events are most commonly a near-death situation, a serious injury or a sexual assault. At the same time, PTSD can be triggered by traumatic events such as parents getting divorced, a minor car crash or losing your job. It varies from one person to the next.

At any rate, a new study found a link between the quality of your sleep and how your brain responds to fear. Researchers noted that within two groups of participants, those who got more rapid eye movement sleep had less activity in the areas of the brain linked to fear when they were confronted with a frightening event.

Of course, getting better sleep can’t guarantee that you’ll prevent PTSD from happening, but it’s about doing everything you can to set yourself up for success, isn’t it? PTSD is potentially debilitating, after all. If nothing else, having a little less fear in our lives is a good thing.

Know the link between babies sleeping facedown and SIDS.
Since I have my own newborn, I felt the need to include this bit of research as well. I don’t want to imagine anything ever happening to our little girl, and I’m sure that’s the case for all the other parents out there. Sudden infant death syndrome is not fun to even think about, much less talk about. But it’s better to know the facts beforehand than to find out too late.

So, with that said, new research found the first direct link between babies sleeping facedown and a developmental abnormality that can lead to SIDS. Like everyone else, during my wife’s pregnancy and through our time at the hospital after she gave birth, we were repeatedly told not to let our baby sleep facedown.

Of course, we agreed without thinking too much about it. We weren’t presented with different opinions on this matter. Every doctor and nurse told us the same thing—babies should sleep on their backs. I assumed this was mainly because of the threat of choking, honestly, and while that’s another reason not to have babies sleep on their bellies, the biggest risk is SIDS.

The researchers investigated 55 SIDS cases in the U.S. to try to determine what may have caused these children’s deaths. What they found is a link between the brain’s control of head and neck movement, breathing, heartbeat and the body’s responses to lack of oxygen. While babies who die from SIDS may look and act healthy, they are potentially at risk because of unforeseen abnormalities.

Although the specific abnormality itself isn’t entirely clear yet, this part is clear: Children who sleep on their stomachs are at a higher risk for SIDS. So we should definitely follow the doctor’s advice on this one. Make sure your baby sleeps only on his or her back. I know I will.

Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.