5 May 2018
5 May 2018
According to the American Sleep Association,1 up to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder, nearly 40 percent unintentionally fall asleep during the day at least once a month and nearly 5 percent have nodded off while driving at least once. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with 10 percent of American adults struggling with chronic insomnia and 30 percent reporting occasional or short-term insomnia.
Interestingly, insomniacs will often insist they’ve not slept a wink all night, even though they’ve actually been sleeping. Researchers have now discovered there’s a reason for this discrepancy in experience, and it has to do with consciousness. In a nutshell, even though the brain is sleeping, insomniacs remain consciously aware, and therefore believe they’ve not slept at all.
Daniel Kay, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Utah who led the study,2 told Medical News Today,3 “… [Y]ou can be consciously aware and your brain [can] be in a sleep pattern. The question is: What role does conscious awareness have in our definition of sleep?” Traditionally, it’s been believed that sleeping involves the absence of conscious awareness, but Kay’s team was able to conclude that this is not categorically true.
To investigate the role of consciousness during sleep, the team analyzed the sleep patterns and subjective experience of 32 people with insomnia and 30 who reported sleeping well.
Once the participants were deemed to be asleep, based on their brain patterns, a radioactive tracer was injected into their arms. Using brain imaging, the researchers were able to examine neurons that remained active during sleep, and their exact locations. The following morning, the participants were asked about their subjective experience of their sleep. Medical News Today explains the results:
“The study found that people with insomnia who reported that they had been awake, even when the polysomnography showed otherwise, had increased activity in brain areas associated with conscious awareness during the dreamless phase of sleep — that is, nonrapid eye movement sleep …
[I]t is normal during the process of falling asleep for the brain to send inhibitory neurons that make people less and less consciously aware until they’ve reached a state of deep sleep. However, what the findings of the new study suggest is that people with insomnia may not feel as though they’re asleep until their brain experiences a greater inhibitory activity in areas that are linked to conscious awareness.”
As noted by the authors,4 “Brain activity in the right anterior insula, left anterior cingulate cortex, and middle/posterior cingulate cortex may be involved in the perception” of insomnia. People who reported sleeping well turned out to have increased activity in the same areas of the brain as insomniacs. The reason for this is because your brain goes through “an inhibition process” when you fall asleep, gradually lowering your conscious awareness.
While insomniacs require a greater level of inhibition before their consciousness recedes, many good sleepers report falling asleep long before their brainwaves indicate that they’re actually sleeping. This is basically the reverse situation of insomnia: Good sleepers lose conscious awareness at a very low level of inhibition, making them believe they fell asleep much faster than they actually did, based on their brain patterns.
So, if you struggle with insomnia, frequently feeling you haven’t slept a wink, what can you do? Kay says, “In patients with insomnia, processes involved in reducing conscious awareness during sleep may be impaired. One of the strategies for targeting these processes may be mindfulness meditation. It may help the patients inhibit cognitive processes that are preventing them from experiencing sleep.”
Practicing “mindfulness” means you’re actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now. Rather than letting your mind wander, when you’re mindful, you’re living in the moment and letting distracting thoughts pass through your mind without getting caught up in their emotional implications.
You can add mindfulness to virtually any aspect of your day — even while you’re eating, working or doing household chores like washing dishes — simply by paying attention to the sensations you are experiencing in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, is a more formal practice in which you consciously focus your attention on specific thoughts or sensations, and then observe them in a nonjudgmental manner.
This is just one type of meditation; there are many forms available. Transcendental meditation, for instance, is one of the most popular forms of meditation, practiced by millions of people around the world. It’s simple to perform. Simply choose a mantra that has meaning for you, sit quietly with your eyes closed and repeat your mantra for a period of about 20 minutes, twice a day.
The idea is to reach a place of “restful” or “concentrated” alertness, which enables you to let negative thoughts and distractions pass by you without upsetting your calm and balance. Some aspects of mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, and other forms of meditation overlap.
For instance, focusing your mind on your breath is one of the most basic, and most rewarding, relaxation and meditation/mindfulness strategies there is. To learn more about meditation and the different forms of practice available, see “Meditation Connects Your Mind and Body.”
Aside from the possibility that you’re simply misperceiving your inability to sleep, certain environmental factors can make it more difficult to fall asleep. This includes such things as:5
One of my favorite tools for resolving anxiety that contributes to insomnia is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), which combines tapping on certain points of your body with verbal statements that help pinpoint the underlying issues. In the video above, EFT therapist Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for sleep.
EFT helps to release worries, fears and even physical symptoms that stand between you and a good night’s sleep by reprogramming your body’s reactions to many of the unavoidable stressors of everyday life, making it easier to take them in stride.
When stress triggers are reduced, you will naturally sleep better. In 2012, a triple blind study8 found that EFT reduced cortisol levels and symptoms of psychological distress by 24 percent — more than any other intervention tested. This is enormously significant, as there are few things that will destroy your health faster than stress.
Researchers at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine discovered that how you cope with stress might have an even greater impact on your sleep than the number of stressors you encounter. They also found that mindfulness therapies worked best for suppressing the “mental chatter” that inhibits the onset of sleep. Lead author Vivek Pillai, Ph.D., wrote,9 “While a stressful event can lead to a bad night of sleep, it’s what you do in response to stress that can be the difference between a few bad nights and chronic insomnia.”
To learn more about the ins and outs of sleep, and lots more tips and strategies to improve your quality and quantity of your rest, please see “Sleep — Why You Need It and 50 Ways to Improve It.” Whatever you do, avoid sleeping pills. Not only do they have extremely limited benefits, the side effects can be quite severe. Take Belsomra, for example, a next-gen type sleeping pill that acts on a neurotransmitter called orexin “to turn down the brain’s ‘wake messages.’”
The company’s own clinical trials showed the drug allowed people to fall asleep an average of six minutes sooner than those taking a placebo, and stay asleep 16 minutes longer. More than 1,000 consumer complaints against Belsomra have been filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with complaints ranging from lack of effectiveness and next-day drowsiness to sleep paralysis, heart problems and suicidal ideation. One in 5 reports claim the drug made them the opposite of sleepy.10
Other research has found sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata reduce the average time it takes to fall asleep by about 13 minutes compared to placebo, while increasing total sleep time by about 11 minutes.11 Interestingly, participants believed they had slept longer, by up to one hour, when taking the pills. This is thought to be due to anterograde amnesia, which causes trouble with forming memories.
When people wake up after taking sleeping pills, they may, in fact, simply forget they’d been unable to sleep. Sonata is also associated with addiction.12 Studies have also shown that use of sleeping pills increase your risk of death and cancer.13 To learn more about the hazards of sleeping pills, see Dr. Daniel Kripke’s e-book, “The Dark Side of Sleeping Pills.”14
Fortunately, there are far safer options. While you work on addressing the root causes of your sleep problems, temporarily using a natural sleep aid may help you get to sleep easier. Following are a handful of alternatives:
Seeking the feel good factor? Go natural.
That is the simple message from University of Otago researchers who have discovered raw fruit and vegetables may be better for your mental health than cooked, canned and processed fruit and vegetables.
Dr Tamlin Conner, Psychology Senior Lecturer and lead author, says public health campaigns have historically focused on aspects of quantity for the consumption of fruit and vegetables (such as 5+ a day).
However, the study, just published in Frontiers in Psychology, found that for mental health in particular, it may also be important to consider the way in which produce was prepared and consumed.
“Our research has highlighted that the consumption of fruit and vegetables in their ‘unmodified’ state is more strongly associated with better mental health compared to cooked/canned/processed fruit and vegetables,” she says.
Dr Conner believes this could be because the cooking and processing of fruit and vegetables has the potential to diminish nutrient levels.
“This likely limits the delivery of nutrients that are essential for optimal emotional functioning.”
For the study, more than 400 young adults from New Zealand and the United States aged 18 to 25 were surveyed. This age group was chosen as young adults typically have the lowest fruit and vegetable consumption of all age groups and are at high risk for mental health disorders.
The group’s typical consumption of raw versus cooked and processed fruits and vegetables were assessed, alongside their negative and positive mental health, and lifestyle and demographic variables that could affect the association between fruit and vegetable intake and mental health (such as exercise, sleep, unhealthy diet, chronic health conditions, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and gender).
“Controlling for the covariates, raw fruit and vegetable consumption predicted lower levels of mental illness symptomology, such as depression, and improved levels of psychological well-being including positive mood, life satisfaction and flourishing. These mental health benefits were significantly reduced for cooked, canned, and processed fruits and vegetables.
“This research is increasingly vital as lifestyle approaches such as dietary change may provide an accessible, safe, and adjuvant approach to improving mental health,” Dr Conner says.
* The top 10 raw foods related to better mental health were: carrots, bananas, apples, dark leafy greens such as spinach, grapefruit, lettuce, citrus fruits, fresh berries, cucumber, and kiwifruit.
Source: Tamlin Conner – University of Otago
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Open access research for “Intake of Raw Fruits and Vegetables Is Associated With Better Mental Health Than Intake of Processed Fruits and Vegetables” by Kate L. Brookie, Georgia I. Best and Tamlin S. Conner in Frontiers in Psychology. Published April 10 2018.
Intake of Raw Fruits and Vegetables Is Associated With Better Mental Health Than Intake of Processed Fruits and Vegetables
Background: Higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, rich in micronutrients, have been associated with better mental health. However, cooking or processing may reduce the availability of these important micronutrients. This study investigated the differential associations between intake of raw fruits and vegetables, compared to processed (cooked or canned) fruits and vegetables, and mental health in young adults.
Methods: In a cross-sectional survey design, 422 young adults ages 18–25 (66.1% female) living in New Zealand and the United States completed an online survey that assessed typical consumption of raw vs. cooked/canned/processed fruits and vegetables, negative and positive mental health (depressive symptoms, anxiety, negative mood, positive mood, life satisfaction, and flourishing), and covariates (including socio-economic status, body mass index, sleep, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol use).
Results: Controlling for covariates, raw fruit and vegetable intake (FVI) predicted reduced depressive symptoms and higher positive mood, life satisfaction, and flourishing; processed FVI only predicted higher positive mood. The top 10 raw foods related to better mental health were carrots, bananas, apples, dark leafy greens like spinach, grapefruit, lettuce, citrus fruits, fresh berries, cucumber, and kiwifruit.
Conclusions: Raw FVI, but not processed FVI, significantly predicted higher mental health outcomes when controlling for the covariates. Applications include recommending the consumption of raw fruits and vegetables to maximize mental health benefits.
Even one night of lost sleep may cause the brain to fill with protein chunks that have long been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study warns.
People deprived of sleep for one night experience an immediate and significant increase in beta amyloid, a substance that clumps together between neurons to form plaques that hamper the brain‘s ability to function, researchers found.
“We certainly show that even one night of sleep deprivation can increase the levels of these harmful beta amyloid compounds,” said study author Ehsan Shokri-Kojori, a research fellow with the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
“That’s a very logical assumption, I would say, and it’s consistent with prior research,” he said.
Previous mouse and human studies have found potential links between too little sleep and an accumulation of beta amyloid in the brain, researchers said in background notes. However, many of the human studies have relied on self-reports of sleep quality.
So Shokri-Kojori and his team decided to create an experiment that would more precisely test the effect of sleep deprivation on beta amyloid levels in humans.
They recruited 20 healthy people with no history of brain disorders, and had them spend two nights in the lab—one in which they were allowed to get a good night’s rest, and another in which they didn’t sleep a wink.
The morning after both nights, the participants underwent brain scans to assess their levels of beta amyloid.
The researchers found that sleep deprivation was associated with a significant increase in beta amyloid in the brain, when compared with a good night’s sleep.
“It’s not just how much exercise you do but how you compare yourself with your friends that really determines your fitness: …the researchers discovered something extraordinary. People who thought they weren’t doing as much exercise as their peers died younger than those who thought they did more, even when the actual amount of exercise they did was the same.”
Do you wake up bright eyed and bushy-tailed, greeting the sunrise with cheer and vigor? Or are you up late into the night and dread the sound of your alarm clock? We call this inherent tendency to prefer certain times of day your “chronotype” (chrono means time). And it may be more than a scheduling issue. It has consequences for your health, well-being and mortality.
Being a night owl has been associated with a range of health problems. For example, night owls have higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Night owls are also more likely to have unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, and physical inactivity.
We study the health effects of being a night owl. In our recent study published in Chronobiology International, we found even worse news for the owls of the world: a higher risk of early death.
Our bodies have their own internal time-keeping system, or clock. This clock would keep running even if a person were removed from the world and hidden away in a dark cave (which some dedicated researchers did to themselves years ago!). We believe these internal clocks play an important role in health by anticipating the time of day and preparing the body accordingly.
For example, as humans, we typically sleep at night, and our bodies start preparing for our habitual bedtime even before we try to fall asleep. Similarly, we eat during the day, so our body is prepared to process the food and nutrients efficiently during the daytime.
Our chronotype is also related to our biological clock. Morning larks’ biological clocks are set earlier. Their habitual bedtimes and wake times occur earlier in the day. Night owls have internal clocks set for later times. But are there any problems related to being a lark or owl, other than scheduling difficulties? Research suggests that there are; night owls tend to have worse health.
And, in our new study, we compared risk of dying between night owls and morning larks. In this study, death certificates were collected for an average of 6.5 years after the initial study visit to identify those who died. We found that night owls had a 10 percent increased risk of death over this six-and-a-half year period compared to larks. We also found that owls are more likely to have a variety of health problems compared to larks, particularly psychiatric disorders like depression, diabetes and neurological disorders.
The switch to daylight saving time in the U.S. (or summer time in the U.K.) only makes things more difficult for night owls. There are higher rates of heart attacks following the switch to daylight savings, and we have to wonder if more night owls are at risk.
We researchers do not fully understand why we see more health problems in night owls. It could be that being awake at night offers greater opportunity to consume alcohol and drugs. For some, being awake when everyone else is sleeping may lead to feelings of loneliness and increased risk of depression. It could also be related to our biological clocks.
As explained above, an important function of internal biological clocks is to anticipate when certain things, like sunrise, sleep and eating, will occur. Ideally, our behavior will match both our internal clock and our environment. What happens when it doesn’t? We suspect that “misalignment” between the timing of our internal clock and the timing of our behaviors could be detrimental over the long run.
A night owl trying to live in a morning lark world will struggle. Their job may require early hours, or their friends may want to have an early dinner, but they themselves prefer later times for waking, eating, socializing and sleep. This mismatch could lead to health problems in the long run.
It is true that someone’s “chronotype” is (approximately) half determined by their genes, but it is not entirely preordained. Many experts believe that there are behavioral strategies that may help an individual who prefers evening. For example, gradually advancing your bedtime – going to bed a little earlier each night – may help to move someone out of the “night owl zone.”
A gradual advance is important because if you try to go to bed two to three hours earlier tonight, it won’t work, and you may give up. Once you achieve an earlier bedtime, maintain a regular schedule. Avoid shifting to later nights on weekends or free days because then you’ll be drifting back into night owl habits. Also, avoiding light at night will help, and this includes not staring into smartphones or tablets before bed.
On a broader scale, flexibility in work hours would help to improve the health of night owls. Night owls who can schedule their day to match their chronotype may be better off.
It is important to make night owls aware about the risks associated with their chronotype and to provide them with this guidance on how to cope. We researchers need to identify which strategies will work best at alleviating the health risks and to understand exactly why they are at increased risk of these health problems in the first place.
Brain scans of psychopaths reveal what they desire more than anything. The psychopathic brain is wired to go after rewards, whatever the cost, a neuroscience study finds.
The brains of psychopaths release four times as much dopamine in response to rewards as normal people. Imagine how much more pleasure they get from taking whatever they want.
Dr Joshua Buckholtz, the study’s lead author, said:
“Psychopaths are often thought of as cold-blooded criminals who take what they want without thinking about consequences.
We found that a hyper-reactive dopamine reward system may be the foundation for some of the most problematic behaviors associated with psychopathy, such as violent crime, recidivism and substance abuse.”
Psychopaths are also known to have a lack of fear and empathy. But this study emphasised their strong focus on reward.
Dr David Zald, study co-author, said:
“There has been a long tradition of research on psychopathy that has focused on the lack of sensitivity to punishment and a lack of fear, but those traits are not particularly good predictors of violence or criminal behavior.
Our data is suggesting that something might be happening on the other side of things.
These individuals appear to have such a strong draw to reward – to the carrot – that it overwhelms the sense of risk or concern about the stick.”
The results come from a study in which people – some psychopaths – were given a dose of amphetamine (speed), then had their brains scanned. The aim was to see how people’s brains reacted to the stimulant.
Dr Buckholtz explained:
“Our hypothesis was that psychopathic traits are also linked to dysfunction in dopamine reward circuitry.
Consistent with what we thought, we found people with high levels of psychopathic traits had almost four times the amount of dopamine released in response to amphetamine.”
In the second part of the study, participants had their brains scanned while getting a monetary reward for doing a task. Again, the psychopaths showed much higher levels of brain activity in anticipation of getting the reward.
Dr Buckholtz said:
“It may be that because of these exaggerated dopamine responses, once they focus on the chance to get a reward, psychopaths are unable to alter their attention until they get what they’re after.”
The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience (Buckholtz et al., 2010).