Sleep Hygiene

Admin 13 May , 2020

Information gathered and prepared by H. Wiens MSc., RP.Registered Psychotherapist Portage Medical Family Health Team


A good night’s sleep that is 7-9 hours in duration has broad health benefits, such as improving the immune system, diminishing our risks for dementia, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even obesity. Sleep also has a profound effect upon our degree of concentration and ability to encode memory. Sleep increases the degree of serotonin and dopamine within the brain that has a direct impact upon mood, energy level and overall degree of happiness.

In these challenging times, we need restorative and restful sleep more than ever.  Here are some tips to consider.

10 Strategies to improve sleep:

  1. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This allows the pineal gland to produce enough melatonin so that you begin to feel sleepy and fall asleep much sooner, to acquire deeper quality sleep for a longer duration.
  2.  Set an alarm for bedtime. A regular night-time routine will signal to the body and brain that it is time to wind down.
  3. Engage in non-stimulating activities. Listen to relaxing music, nature sounds or podcasts such as Sleep with Me. Adult coloring books have the same effect as meditation to calm brain activity. Reading a magazine or calming book may also be soothing. Take some time to engage in relaxation strategies, such as deep belly breathing while saying a mantra and imagining a calming scene. Be sure to complete stimulating activities such as eating or doing chores at least 2 hours prior to bedtime. Limiting liquids will also minimize trips to the bathroom during the night.
  4. Shut off all electronics. A tablet, phone, PC or TV’s backlight reduces the amount of melatonin available for falling asleep in a timely manner to acquire deep and restful sleep.
  5. Cool off. Keep the bedroom at 18-20 Celsius, which allows the body to acquire restful REM sleep, which is restorative to cells and brain chemistry.
  6. Darken room and get morning light. Research indicates keeping the room dark or wearing a sleep mask results in deeper quality sleep. While getting sunlight during the day helps to set our circadian rhythm.
  7. Exercise. This allows the body to release body tensions and lactic acid that accumulates within muscle tissue. Be sure to complete your workout at least 3 hours prior to bedtime. Engaging with progressive muscle relaxation will also alleviate tension.
  8. Limit caffeine intake. Assess how many cups of coffee, pop, energy drinks and chocolate is ingested daily and try cutting back to improve your quality of sleep. Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours prior to bedtime.
  9. Deal with ruminations. Write a worry list, at least 2 hours prior to bedtime. Create a gratitude journal, in which you write three things that you are grateful for today. Engage in thought stopping by telling yourself that you will deal with the issue tomorrow and instead turn your attention to your relaxation strategies. You may also challenge your negative thought by replacing that thought with counter evidence.
  10.  Re-think your nap. Naps that are longer than 30 minutes in duration may disrupt the amount of melatonin required for a good night sleep.

Additional resources:

Health Benefits of Gardening

Admin 21 Apr , 2020

10 Tasks to Prepare Your Spring Garden

Adapted from

Inspect Raised Garden Beds
Check garden beds for any damage. Repair any bowed or split wood on the frames.

Check Your Garden Tools
Get your garden tools in tip-top shape before the planting season gets in full swing. Give them a good wipe down and inspect for rust on the tool heads.

Turn Your Compost
It’s time to turn your compost pile and check for any that is ready to use. Add compost to improve soil by scratching in finished compost into the top one inch of soil.

Top Dress Garden Beds
If you run short of home-grown compost, use well-seasoned manure to top-dress your garden beds in preparation for planting.

Divide Perennials
Spring is a great time to transplant divisions or move plants around. Share or trade some of your plants with neighbors and gardener friends, but be mindful of sharing pests, disease, and weeds.

Weed and Mulch
Eradicate those early spring weeds before they get too comfortable in your garden. Remove any young, sprouting weeds first and then put down a layer of cardboard or landscape fabric onto the bare ground before you add mulch

Seed Starting
Sow warm-weather vegetables and annuals indoors before the last frost date. To aid in germination, pre-soak larger seeds and seeds with thick coats such as beets and nasturtium the night before you sow them in starter pots.

Early Spring Vegetables
Direct sow any early spring vegetables once the soil is workable. Cool weather veggies like lettuce, cabbage, radishes and scallions will germinate in cooler soil.

Remove any dead branches from shrubs, trees and perennial foliage after new growth has begun. Prune the spring bloomers, like forsythia and rhododendrons, as needed soon after flowering is complete. Thin and shape hedges after the first flush of new spring growth.

Plan to Protect Seedlings
A late season frost or freeze can happen anytime in the spring. Make sure you have enough cloth and plastic to protect tender plants.


“Researchers have found daily gardening to represent the single biggest risk reduction for dementia, reducing incidence by 36%”

Gardening involves so many of our critical functions, including strength, endurance, dexterity, learning, problem solving and sensory awareness


Beating the Winter Blues

djadmin 06 Feb , 2020

Information gathered and prepared by W. Bulthuis MSW, RSW
Clinical Social Worker Portage Medical Family Health Team


  Beat the Winter Blues!

A Very Common Experience!
Research in Ontario suggests that 15 percent of the general population experience winter blues, which can include changes in appetite and lethargy. The winter blues differs from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which affects about two percent of the population and is a serious form of depression.(Jan 15, 2018 CMHA)

Recognize the signs

Winter Blues:
•Difficulty sleeping
•Feeling less social than usual
•Difficulty taking initiative

Seasonal Affective Disorder:
•Mood that is down or depressed most of the day, nearly every day
•Loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy
•Withdrawing and isolating yourself from friends and family
•Struggling to focus and perform at work or home
•Feeling constantly fatigued and lethargic
•Feeling hopeless about the future
•Having suicidal thoughts

…………….Talk to your doctor!
(from:  More than Just the Winter Blues – Rush University Medical Centre (          

Treatments that work:
•Sunlight – Get outside whenever the sun is out during the darker days
•Light Therapy – See further explanation below
•Exercise – Moderate exercise of at least 30 minutes most days of the week may provide the biggest mood boost
•Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – what is this? (Self-Help:  Mind over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky)
•Medication – Talk to your doctor

A Healthy Lifestyle:
•Sleep and wake time the same daily to regulate your circadian rhythms
•Structure eating – 3 meals a day around the same time every day
•Avoid the urge to overdo simple carbohydrates like starchy or sweet foods Eat a balanced diet of proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains
•Make and keep plans with friends and family to help you stay connected
•Take time for yourself and engage in activities you enjoy
(from:  More than Just the Winter Blues – Rush University Medical Centre (

Light Box:  The science of circadian rhythms shows how light activates a certain portion of our retina.  When blue light falls on receptors on the lower part of the retina, messages are transmitted to the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus.  This process, which is separate from vision, energizes us.


*Online survey to determine your Circadian Rhythm Type – to identify what time of day light therapy is effective for you:

(from:  How Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Endanger your Health, Dr. Elizabeth Saenger)
Image from:  James Madison University News (Online:  Jan 25, 2017 )

Setting SMART goals in 2020

Admin 06 Jan , 2020

Information gathered and prepared by A. Balind MSW, RSW
Clinical Social Worker, Portage Medical Family Health Team

Why should we take the time to set goals? This is a skill that we are taught from a young age, but is something we rarely use outside of school or work.  Goal setting is important for many reasons.  Here are a few:

  • Gives you motivation for the future; short- and long-term
  • It helps to improve self-confidence and self-esteem
  • It assists you in picturing your life for the future
  • It allows you to organize your time and resources to make the most of your life
  • Holds you accountable

Research suggests that when we set goals we are more likely to accomplish the things that we want in our lives.  As we age, setting goals can become more difficult.  It is a skill, just like riding a bike, so practice makes it easier with time.  Here is a way to help make goal setting easier.


If you would like more information or assistance with goal setting, please contact the Portage Medical Family Health Team! We would be happy to assist you in reaching your goals!

Healthy Mind Platter

Admin 19 Dec , 2019

Information gathered and prepared by W. Bulthuis MSW, RSW
Clinical Social Worker Portage Medical Family Health Team

The Healthy Mind Platter Through the Holidays

Focus Time: 
•Make a list of things you have to do and then prioritize 2 or 3 things.  Give yourself permission to let go of some of the others.
•Create a budget and stick to it!

Play Time:
•Take time every day to enjoy one thing – savour one cookie, do a puzzle, sing in the shower.
•Take a moment to enjoy the lights or decorations.

Time In:  
•Take 5 minutes to sit, breathe and focus.
•Try identifying 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you touch, 2 things you smell, 1 thing you touch.
•Find one (small) thing to be grateful for each day or keep a gratitude journal

Connecting Time:
•Do a random act of kindness – give up your parking spot, compliment the clerk, be generous.
•Reach out – connect with friends, attend your house of worship or volunteer.
•Holidays can include getting together with challenging people!  Accept that people are who they are and find ways to minimize their impact on your life.

Physical Time: 
•Prioritize time for exercise every day.  Keep walking!

Sleep Time: 
•Adults need between 7 – 9 hours of sleep a night to allow the brain to recover.
•Having trouble winding down?  Try a “relaxation for sleep” recording.  (You can find free meditations at:

Down Time:
•Slow down while you do a mundane task.  Let your mind wander
while you water the plants, walk the dog or do the dishes.

* If you need help the Distress Line in Niagara is:  905-688-3711

Walking to Improve Mental Health!

Admin 03 Dec , 2019

Walking to Improve Mental Health!

Information gathered and prepared by W. Bulthuis MSW, RSW
Clinical Social Worker Portage Medical Family Health Team

More and more, research is showing that walking and other physical activity can help us to deal with stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. Not only is moving good for our physical health, but good for our mental health too.

Stress – We often carry stress in our bodies—tense muscles, back or neck pain, headaches and even tightness in our chest, a pounding pulse and muscle cramps. Worry and discomfort about these can lead to even more stress. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain which help to enhance well-being, and also relaxes muscles and tension in the body. This sends a message to the brain that things are OK.

Depression – Running for 15 minutes per day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%–relieving depression and also preventing relapse.

Anxiety – For anxious people, exercise can induce the physiological experience that is feared (like rapid heart rate) and increase tolerance and comfort with it. As well, exercise releases endorphins which enhance well-being.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other trauma – Exercises that involve cross movement and engage both arms and legs are some of the best choices. You can help your nervous system become unstuck and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response.

Cross movement occurs anytime the left and right sides of our bodies work simultaneously or one side of our body crosses the midline over to the other side. When this happens, the brain is compelled to send signals back and forth from one side to the other. The more times we do this, the stronger these connections become. You are re-integrating your brain and nervous system and reorganizing your mind-body connections!

Try this “Cross-Crawl” – Raise your right knee, reach across your body and touch knee with your left elbow. Raise your left knee, reach across your body and touch knee with right elbow.

Sometimes it is really hard to get started! Here are some tips for you.

Start small – make achievable goals

  • Schedule exercise when your energy is highest
  • Do activities that you enjoy
  • Find a comfortable setting and wear comfortable clothes
  • Reward yourself with a bubble bath, good book, favourite TV show
  • Make it social – bring a friend

References and more reading

It’s Flu Season!

Admin 12 Nov , 2019


What’s all the Fuss About the Flu?

            Every fall we are encouraged to get our flu shot. In fact, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends all Canadians 6 months of age and older be immunized against influenza. But misinformation often prevents people from accessing this important part of a healthy winter. Read along to get the facts.

            Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. In Canada, it kills 3,500 people every year. New strains of influenza appear every year which is why an annual shot is recommended. Your flu shot CANNOT give you the flu. Influenza vaccines are safe and reduce the spread of flu viruses. Many people confuse the cold with influenza. Here’s a chart to help determine if it’s a cold or the flu.

 What is the flu shot?

The flu shot is a vaccine administered to create antibodies that provide the best protection against the influenza virus. The vaccine contains inactive (killed) flu viruses to produce an immune response without causing infection.

How can I get the flu?

The flu is transmitted by droplet contact like coughing, sneezing, unclean hands and even talking. Avoid close contact with people who are sick and if you are sick, cover your nose and mouth while practicing good hand hygiene.

When should I get my flu shot?

Get the flu shot by the end of October as flu activities can start as early as October and peak between December and February. Since it takes about two weeks to develop antibodies, getting vaccinated in time helps protect and prevent the spreading of flu viruses.

Contact your family doctor or ask about getting a flu shot when you are visiting the Portage Medical Family Health Team.

Is it a cold or the flu?

References and Related Links

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2019). Influenza (Flu). Retrieved from:


Information gathered and prepared by L. Ogbor

Registered Nurse, Portage Medical Family Health Team




Looking for Community Support and Information?

Admin 18 Oct , 2019

Finding free or low-cost community supports and resources can be difficult and overwhelming. There are many different programs and services for people of all ages across the Niagara Region, but knowing how to access them can be tricky. A great first step for anyone is to call or google 211. This is a free, province-wide service, available to anyone via telephone or online to learn about social and human services in your area. You can request specific information from the website, or a phone representative, answering calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can direct you to services that help you.

Another useful resource is your community activity guide. Each local municipality has an activity guide in print and it can also be found online. These guides outline different social and recreational activities in your area. Also, your local library often has information on the different programs that they offer along with what may be happening in your community.

Portage Medical Family Health Team staff will also help you find more programs and services in our area. Just ask us!

211 Niagara:

Activity Guide


Information gathered and prepared by Alison B., MSW, RSW
Clinical Social Worker, Portage Medical Family Health Team

STOP Smoking Treatment for Ontario Patients

Admin 12 Sep , 2019
  • One-on-one counselling
  • Phone call follow-ups for guidance and support
  • Expert advice from our smoking cessation counsellor
  • FREE Nicotine replacement therapy for 26 weeks

Speak to your doctor/health care provider or ask at reception to book an appointment.