The Migraine-Body Clock Connection: New Genetic Clues


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If you’re one of the 36 million Americans who suffer from migraine headaches, you probably already know that if your sleep routine is thrown off, you’re asking for head-whanging trouble.

New research suggests that the migraine-sleep connection goes far deeper than that, and revolves around the brain’s hypothalamus, which helps control our body clocks among other functions.

The Dana Foundation, which supports brain research, has just posted an intriguing scientific yarn about how insights gained from a family of extreme “morning larks” — as in, up at 4:30 every morning, asleep by 7:30 at night — may help point to a better understanding of migraine that could lead to better treatments. Read the full story here. The crux:

The spark of insight that brought the two fields together occurred recently when migraine researcher Robert Shapiro realized that his patient, who was seeing him for migraine with aura, was a member of an extended Vermont family of extreme morning larks. Continue reading

Study: Insomnia Linked To Heart Disease Deaths In Men

New research says anti-anxiety and insomnia drugs can increase the risk of death

As if it weren’t bad enough that insomnia in and of itself can be torture. New research just out in the journal Circulation suggests that insomnia may increase a man’s chances of dying from heart disease — though just modestly.

The study adds yet another incentive for the estimated one-third of Americans who suffer from insomnia to work on sleeping better. It comes on the heels of other findings that curing your insomnia could double your chances of recovery from depression.

From the Brigham and Women’s Hospital press release on the Circulation study:

“Insomnia is a common health issue, particularly in older adults, but the link between this common sleep disorder and its impact on the risk of death has been unclear,” said Yanping Li, PhD, a research fellow in the Channing Division of Network Medicine at BWH and lead author of the paper. “Our research shows that among men who experience specific symptoms of insomnia, there is a modest increase risk in death from cardiovascular-related issues.”

Specifically, researchers report that difficulty falling sleep and non-restorative sleep were both associated with a higher risk of mortality, particularly mortality related to cardiovascular disease.

Researchers followed more than 23,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study who self-reported insomnia symptoms for a period of six years. Beginning in 2004 through 2010, researchers documented 2025 deaths using information from government and family sources. After adjusting for lifestyle factors, age and other chronic conditions, researchers found that men who reported difficulty initiating sleep and non-restorative sleep had a 55 percent and 32 percent increased risk of CVD-related mortality over the six year follow up, respectively, when compared to men who did not report these insomnia-related symptoms.

Why To Sleep Tonight: So You Don’t Strangle Your Spouse

I can personally vouch for this research finding: lack of sleep can turn a little spat with your spouse into a major emotional war.

According to a new study that asks the question, “Do Sleepless Nights Mean Worse Fights?” by researchers at U.C. Berkeley, couples who get a bad night’s sleep tend to fight more about their relationship. Psychologists Amie Gordon and Serena Chen conclude that without sleep, couples have a harder time managing conflict. The study was published online in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.



I can remember falling to the ground into a weepy ball during one exhaustion-fueled fight with my husband when our daughter was an infant. Indeed, everything seems much more bleak, and your partner seems far less sympathetic, at 3:30 am. Conflict-resolution skills go out the window.

Even without young children, I know loving couples who sleep apart as a way to keep their marriages in tact.

Here’s more on the Berkeley study from the news release:

Researchers collected data on the sleep habits of more than 100 couples who had been together, on average, for nearly two years. They gauged participants for depression, anxiety and other stressors in order to focus solely on the link between the couples’ sleep quality and relationship conflicts.

In one experiment, 78 young adults in romantic relationships provided daily reports over a two-week period about their sleep quality and relationship stresses. Overall, participants reported more discord with their partners on the days following a bad night’s sleep. Continue reading

Health Of The Nation: Obesity Up, But ‘Notable’ Decline In Physical Inactivity

In our house, when there’s good news and bad news, we usually start with the good. So here goes:

According to a new national health statistics report out today analyzing five key health behaviors among U.S. adults — sufficient sleep, smoking, drinking, obesity, and physical activity — there are several bright spots. For instance, the survey found that fewer young people (18-24) are smoking and the number of adults who report they’re completely aerobically inactive showed ‘notable’ declines in recent years, from 39.7% inactive between 2005-2007 to 33.9% in the years 2008-2010.

O.K., now the bad news: Heavy drinking has increased, except among the senior set over 75, smoking prevalence remains virtually unchanged (beyond the youngsters) and obesity is up.


My first reaction is: Huh? Is anyone out there listening to Michelle Obama and all those other Get-Out-There-And-Move and Cut-The-Sugar advocates?

But then I talked to Dr. Eddie Phillips, director of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine and an assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, who insisted on highlighting the positive.

A little background: Dr. Phillips’ focus is on physical activity, the link between health and exercise and on educating physicians about how to more seamlessly incorporate physical activity into the practice of medicine.

His takeaway from the CDC report is this: “People are starting to move.” Continue reading

Childhood Obesity Magic Bullet? More Sleep

As parents and policy makers agonize over how to combat childhood obesity, a report in the journal Pediatrics last week suggests at least one quick, simple fix: more sleep.
sleeping teen

The study, which involved surveying more than 1,400 adolescents from suburban Phladelphia high schools, found that each additional hour of sleep was associated with a decrease in Body Mass Index (BMI). And, the association between more sleep and lower BMI was most pronounced in the “upper tail” of the BMI disribution, the study found.

The report concludes: “Increasing sleep among adolescents, especially those in the upper half of the BMI distribution, may help prevent overweight and obesity.” Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: So You Can Sleep Tonight

It’s something that everyone who has suffered from insomnia or been summoned hourly by the hungry cries of a newborn baby knows: sleep is critical for sanity, physical health and proper brain functioning. Without it, you’re sunk.

And here’s a pretty easy way to get it: just go out (or stay in) and exercise — now.



The National Sleep Foundation’s 2013 Sleep in America Poll found “a compelling” link between exercise and better sleep — and folks didn’t have to work out much to reap the benefits.

According to the poll of 1,000 adults between 23 and 60 years old:

Self-described exercisers report better sleep than self-described non-exercisers even though they say they sleep the same amount each night (6 hours and 51 minutes, average on weeknights). Vigorous, moderate and light exercisers are significantly more likely to say “I had a good night’s sleep” every night or almost every night on work nights than non-exercisers (67%-56% vs. 39%). Also, more than three-fourths of exercisers (76%-83%) say their sleep quality was very good or fairly good in the past two weeks, compared to slightly more than one-half of non-exercisers (56%).

Of course, self-reporting is always tricky, and it is possible that the good sleepers just felt more compelled to exercise, rather than the other way around, but still, the link between exercise and better quality sleep just makes intuitive sense (for what that’s worth).

Among poll respondents, more intense exercise tended to be better and those who didn’t exercise at all seemed to suffer most from sleep problems. Continue reading

More Reason To Sleep On It: Sorting Out The Brain’s ‘Inbox’


Imagine you’re cleaning off your desk. You sort some papers into folders with the relevant labels. Others you red-tag as “urgent” or yellow-tag as “semi-urgent.” Quite a few go directly into the large circular file at your feet, also known as the trash basket.

Turns out, it seems that your brain does something very similar with your memories every night as you sleep.

The journal Nature Neuroscience has just published a special issue on memory, and among its authors is Dr. Robert Stickgold of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, a leading researcher on the role that sleep plays in consolidating memories.

In the past, my layperson’s take-home message from his complex research might have been, “Sleep helps strengthen memories. So if it’s the night before an exam and you have the option of cramming more or sleeping, better to sleep.”

But there’s ever so much more to know, and for researchers to find out — about sleep states beyond REM, about how our brains “tag” some memories for retention and dump others, about how sleep can improve performance overnight — even about why toddlers so desperately need naps.

Our conversation, lightly edited:

You’ve written a sweeping review of years of recent research on what sleep does to memories. How would you sum up for a lay audience what we now know?

I’d start by telling them a true story, which is that about 50 years ago, my father commented to me that when he was in law school studying for an exam, he would stay up late at night reading case after case, and go to sleep with a complete mishmash of cases in his mind. When he woke up the next morning, they had just all been filed away in the right spot. That was 50 years ago, and I can now say, ‘Yes, and now we have an idea how.’

It really does happen while you sleep, and although some of it can happen while you’re awake, especially if you’re consciously working at it, sleep seems to be a time that’s been set aside to make sure that filing gets done, even without your awareness or intent.

So sleep is a time of sorting and discarding memories?

Sleep is doing about five things. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today From Oprah’s Trainer: Nurture Yourself Every Day

Trainer and author Bob Greene

Trainer and author Bob Greene

Bob Greene, famed as Oprah Winfrey’s personal trainer, has a new book out, “20 Years Younger,” and will be sharing tips from it — and a few free copies — this evening from 7 to 9 at the Natick mall’s first floor atrium.

The Empire of Oprah can sometimes venture into some, shall we say, non-peer-reviewed advice? But his prescriptions have always tended to strike me as sensible and backed by reasonable evidence. Before we get into “20 Years Younger,” I asked him to formulate today’s “Why To Exercise.” His response:

Successful people look at today and find ways, even if their life is falling apart, to be happy today and feel good today and treat themselves right. And exercise and eating right is nurturing yourself every day. Whether or not the world is doing that, or close friends and family are doing that, you have the opportunity every day to nurture yourself, which is the most important thing to do because it also affects others.

Now for the book. Our conversation, lightly edited:

Funny coincidence about the title of your new book, “20 Years Younger.” I was just talking to a friend who recently returned from a high school reunion of 50-year-olds, and she said it looked sort of like two separate reunions, one of 40-year-olds and one of 60-year-olds. What would you say is the lesson there?
Continue reading

Older People Fall Asleep Easily — They Just Can’t Stay There, Study Finds

Another indignity of aging: loss of continuous sleep. (Fairy Heart/flickr)

Sleep, for me, is the key to overall health.
With it, I’ll gleefully dance with my kids to Adele.
Without it, I’m a raging shrew.

So I’m interested in all research that holds the promise of helping me get a good night’s sleep; the prospect of which grows dimmer with each passing year. I can fall into slumber like a rock, but then every tiny sound — a snore, a neighborhood cat, a child’s sigh — awakens me fully. Drugs sometimes help — sometimes not.

New research led by sleep specialist Elizabeth B. Klerman, MD, PhD, an associate physician in the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, reflects my own experience and one common to many other aging adults (though I’m not as old as the older folks Klerman studied, who were between 60 and 76, but otherwise healthy and not taking sleep medications).

Klerman and her Brigham colleagues found that this older group was able to fall asleep just as easily as a younger study cohort that ranged in age from 21-30. But the older folks had far more trouble remaining asleep through the night. Indeed, said Klerman, who is also an associate professor at Harvard Medical School: “The older population was four times more likely to wake up throughout the night when compared to younger people.”

The sleep researchers figured this out using a statistical model known as “survival analysis” and applying it to existing sleep data; they compared changes in the so-called “hazard” of awakening and falling back to sleep in the different age groups. Evidently, sleep “survival” in the older group was far worse, according to this type of novel analysis, hence all those nighttime awakenings. Continue reading

Study: Depressed Moms Wake Sleeping Babies Unnecessarily

Worry begets worry (and sleepless infants), a new study finds. (littlemaiba/flickr)

File this under: Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes.

A new government-funded study found that depressed, worried mothers were more likely to wake up their sleeping babies (and wake them unnecessarily) than non-depressed moms. This, in violation of perhaps the most important rule of mothering: Don’t, under any circumstances, wake a sleeping baby.

This study makes me sad because this was me: The overwrought new mom hovering over the totally fine baby to the point she woke up, confirming my worst fears (that I had a baby who wouldn’t sleep) and keeping me in a constant state of sleep deprivation (and depression) until she was about 5. But I did learn, and I’m pretty sure I let go a bit with my second daughter, leaving us both in peace at night.

Here’s the news release from Penn State:

“We found that mothers with high depressive symptom levels are more likely to excessively worry about their infants at night than mothers with low symptom levels, and that such mothers were more likely to seek out their babies at night and spend more time with their infants than mothers with low symptom levels,” said Douglas M. Teti, associate director of the Social Science Research Institute and professor of human development, psychology and pediatrics. Continue reading