sleep

RECENT POSTS

Foggy Days, Sleepless Nights: When Alzheimer’s Care Goes Nocturnal

(Ronel Reyes/Flickr via Compfight)

(Ronel Reyes/Flickr via Compfight)

By Jessica Alpert

Marion Tripp was what you might call a quintessential “Yankee.” From impeccable pie crusts to crackshot deer hunting, she regularly impressed people with her wide range of skills. When her daughter and son-in-law started an organic farm in rural Maine, she’d bundle up in a snowmobile suit and sell their rutabagas at the local farmer’s market. I never knew Marion but her grandson — my husband — loves to remember her this way.

Not the way she was at the end.

Alzheimer’s ravaged Marion’s brain and left her confused, “mean,” paranoid, and violent. The last three years of her life, she had round-the-clock care since she rarely slept more than a few hours at a time. Her nocturnal habits were not unique. Indeed, in the world of Alzheimer’s, this tendency toward nighttime wakefulness is known as “sundowning.”

“Several things go awry with Alzheimer’s that affect the person’s brain chemistry and changes their circadian rhythm,” says Dr. Paul Raia, vice president of clinical services for the Massachusetts/New Hampshire chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. He says there are various reasons for this nocturnal shift including lack of melatonin, diminished access to natural light and less rapid eye movement or REM sleep.

But it’s not just about being unable to sleep for long stretches of time. Like Marion Tripp, many Alzheimer’s patients are often agitated, angry, even violent. “During that period [of REM sleep], you are ridding the toxins from your brain and you’re stabilizing memory and you’re dreaming and essentially you are paralyzed with your body in a relaxing mode,” says Raia. “[The patients] may take a series of small naps throughout the day and when they wake up, they may not be fully awake. They can’t navigate well or negotiate well in their environment.” Continue reading

Sweet Dreams: Study Finds Later Nights, Less Sleep Linked To Negativity

(eltpics via compfight)

(eltpics via compfight)

Sleep is the new Prozac. Or, put another way, sleep is emerging as one of the most potent weapons you can use to stave off depression, anxiety and a whole host of other physical and mental ills.

Here’s the latest pro-sleep research by psychologists at Binghamton University in New York. Their new paper, “Duration and Timing of Sleep are Associated with Repetitive Negative Thinking” is just published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research.

From the news release:

When you go to bed, and how long you sleep at a time, might actually make it difficult for you to stop worrying. So say Jacob Nota and Meredith Coles of Binghamton University in the U.S., who found that people who sleep for shorter periods of time and go to bed very late at night are often overwhelmed with more negative thoughts than those who keep more regular sleeping hours…

Previous studies have linked sleep problems with such repetitive negative thoughts, especially in cases where someone does not get enough shuteye. Nota and Coles set out to replicate these studies, and to further see if there’s any link between having such repetitive thoughts and the actual time when someone goes to bed.

They asked 100 young adults at Binghamton University to complete a battery of questionnaires and two computerized tasks. In the process, it was measured how much the students worry, ruminate or obsess about something – three measures by which repetitive negative thinking is gauged. Continue reading

Pediatricians: Middle And High School Should Start No Earlier Than 8:30 AM

(eltpics/Flickr via Compfight)

(eltpics/Flickr via Compfight)

It’s one of the great joys of early parenthood: Finally being able to sleep until a reasonable hour — say, 6 a.m. Then, before you know it, you’re facing the opposite problem: Homeroom is just half an hour away, and your tween or teen remains an immovable lump beneath the covers.

As any parent who’s observed it would suspect, this is deep biology at work. Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics issues both an up-to-date explanation of research on adolescent sleep and a ringing call to the country’s schools to heed it and begin school later for “pathologically sleepy” older students. Sleep deprivation in youth is a common — “and easily fixable” — public health issue, the academy says in a policy statement.

From the press release, whose headline begins “Let Them Sleep:”

“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” [statement lead author Dr. Judith] Owens said. “Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

Many studies have documented that the average adolescent in the U.S. is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy. A National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.

This medical stance on sleep deprivation is not new; the research has been accumulating for many years. But the academy reports that about 40 percent of American high schools still start before 8 a.m., and only 15 percent launch the school-day at or after 8:30. Among middle schools, it says, more than one-fifth begin at 7:45 or earlier.

If schools are not shifting later as fast as pediatricians might like, that could be because, like virtually everything in education, it’s not as simple as it might seem.

‘Life is going on right now in hyperspeed for most of our young people.’

“Once you go deeper into the lives of kids today, things become more complex,” says Dr. Bob Weintraub, who was the headmaster of Brookline High School from 1992 to 2011 and is now a professor of educational leadership at Boston University. Based on the research, Brookline High shifted start times for most students to 8:30 during his tenure, he said, but such shifts do raise issues.

“One of the practical problems has always been for high school athletics and school activities,” he said; if school ends later, sports and other activities must start later, and outdoor sports are hindered when darkness descends. Continue reading

Pop Awake At Night? Researchers Blame ‘Sleep Switch’ In Your Aging Brain

(eflon via Compflight)

(eflon via Compflight)

If you’re on the older side and find yourself popping hideously awake in the middle of the night or far-too-early morn, here’s your line for the next time it happens: “Oh, that darned ventrolateral preoptic nucleus of mine! How I miss my old galanin!”

Researchers have just reported in the journal Brain that they’ve found a group of neurons — in the aforementioned nucleus — that function as a kind of “sleep switch,” and whose degeneration over the years is looking very much like the cause of age-related sleep loss. It’s also looking pivotal in the insomnia that often causes nocturnal wandering in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is the first time that anyone has ever been able to show in humans that there is a distinct group of nerve cells in the brain that’s critical for allowing you to sleep,” said the paper’s senior author, Dr. Clifford Saper, chair of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

You may well be wondering exhaustedly how soon this insight — based on the post-mortem analysis of 45 human brains — will lead to better sleeping pills for older folks. I asked Dr. Saper that, too. No promises with timeframes at this point, but he does see the prospect for better-targeted sleeping pills for seniors, with fewer side effects like Ambien’s balance-related problems.

Our conversation, lightly edited:

Can this group of neurons actually explain the lion’s share of sleep problems that older people and people with Alzheimer’s disease have?

It really can. Let me give you a little background. We discovered this cell group in the brains of rats in 1996. We found that there’s a group of of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus that fire when animals are asleep. And we later found that if you eliminate those nerve cells, that animals lose up to 50 percent of all their sleep time, and the remaining sleep is fragmented. They can’t sleep for long bouts at a time; they keep waking up all the time.

At that time, we weren’t sure whether this would be the same in other species. So we looked at the brains of half a dozen other species — of mice and cats and monkeys — and we found that all of them have this cell group and that the cells were active during sleep in all of them. In every species we looked at, this same cell group had a particular neurotransmitter in it, called galanin.

I’ve never heard of that neurotransmitter before… Continue reading

The Migraine-Body Clock Connection: New Genetic Clues

migraine

Wikimedia Commons

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.

Janesdead/flickr

Janesdead/flickr

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.

girlsrunning

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.

RelaxingMusic/flickr

RelaxingMusic/flickr

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