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Monthly Archives: December 2014

  • The Role of Work Start Times and Sleep Deprivation

    According to research done at the University of Pennsylvania, if workplaces would delay their morning start time, employees would end up getting a lot more rest. Continue reading

  • Finding Better Sleep for Shift Workers

    A recent study conducted by researchers at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, Finland has determined that by taking melatonin supplements, workers who are assigned to night shift schedules are able to get 24 more minutes of sleep. Of equal importance, it was shown that workers who are provided with doses of stimulants such as modafinil or armodafinil are able to stay alert more effectively, though that alertness may come at the cost of adverse side effects. The report also praised the impact of combinations of naps and caffeine in order to reduce drowsiness during night shifts. Continue reading

  • Technology Is Killing Our Sleep

    Think about what people’s bedrooms used to look like … I’m talking about fifty years ago or longer. There was a bed and nightstand, other furniture to hold clothes, and probably a lamp. No television, though there was likely a clock radio with an alarm sitting on that nightstand. Continue reading

  • Alzheimer’s and Sleep

    There has been an increasing amount of scientific interest in the relationship between sleep and proper neurological functioning, and particularly in the study of whether sleep or the lack of sleep has an impact on the potential for developing degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease It is already well known that sleep plays a valuable role in the brain’s daily recovery, providing the opportunity for neurons to reestablish connections that have been lost and to establish new ones that form important memories. Sleep helps to improve our focus on the task at hand, helps us to pay attention to items that are in our environment, and helps us to stay alert and energetic.

    On the other hand, the loss of sleep can lead to the destruction of brain cells, as well as on damage to other important bodily functions and processes. Sleep deprivation has been linked to deficiencies in the immune system and higher potential for such dangerous chronic conditions as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and depression. Now comes a new study out of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, that shows exactly how getting less sleep than your body needs may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

    According to the Wisconsin researchers, those who have consistently reported insomniac symptoms have a higher potential for having amyloid deposits in their brains. Beta-amyloid is a sticky protein that can gather in the brain and eventually find other beta-amyloids and get stuck to one another there. When these clumps become large enough and there are enough of them, they form plaques that can block neuronal signals in the brain. When they become even more prevalent they eventually cause inflammation, and that can destroy cells. Plaques made up of amyloid cells are a marker for Alzheimer’s disease. Other telltale signs include neurofibrillary tangles, which consist of tau proteins that become dysfunctional and end up interfering with communication between the cells. Though both are considered hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, it is unknown as to how or why either one develops. What is clear is that when they are there, it takes only a few years for brain function to deteriorate.

    . Now comes a new study out of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, that shows exactly how getting less sleep than your body needs may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. . Now comes a new study out of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, that shows exactly how getting less sleep than your body needs may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

    The scientists from the University of Wisconsin, Madison presented their research at the annual meeting of the College of Neuropsychopharmacology, which was held in Phoenix, Arizona. During the presentation, researcher Ruth Benca describe analyzing both amyloid levels and reported sleep quality in a group of almost 100 healthy patients between the ages of 50 and 73. The subjects were all volunteers in a program called the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention. They were asked to answer the questions on surveys related to any sleep problems that they might be experiencing and their current sleep habits, then had scans done of their brains. The scans were specifically searching for amyloid deposits. The group found that those who self-reported difficulty in sleeping had a higher likelihood of having the deposits, with many experiencing the plaques in the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is the area of the brain that is responsible for awareness, thought, attention and memory.

    This study is not the first to link sleep deprivation with problems involving brain function. In 2012 a group of researchers discovered that when subjects woke up over five times per hour of sleep or spent less than 85 percent of their time in bed actually sleeping, they had a higher likelihood of having amyloid plaques in their brains. An additional study discovered that those who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea – a sleep disorder that awakens people hundreds of times per night in order to breath – presented with a much higher number of the neuro fibrillary tangles that are characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease.

    Though it seems clear that there is a relationship between lack of sleep and neurodegenerative disease, researchers are not at all certain as to which side of the problem comes first – the lack of sleep or the plaques. After all, it is certainly just as possible that the plaques arise and cause difficulty falling asleep as it is that lack of sleep causes the formation of the plaques. According to Dr. Benca, “we still need to determine whether sleep disturbance promotes amyloid deposition in the brain, or if a neurodegenerative process produces disordered sleep.” Once the scientists are able to figure out that part of the puzzle, they’ll be in a better position to help identify Alzheimer’s disease risks and to possibly help find a cure.

    One other study that has been done into this particular topic has raised a great deal of interest in those studying whether more sleep can help to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s or other degenerative diseases. A research project conducted by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard and her colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Center determined that the brain goes through a specific process every night while it is asleep that flushes out toxins that accumulate during the body’s waking hours.

    The Rochester study showed that the waste products that accumulate in the brain are cleared out during sleep by cerebrospinal fluid, which moves through the brain’s various channels and washes away the build up that occurs. This finding was particularly interesting because it found that this system of flushing, which is accomplished by the glymphatic system, specifically removes beta-amyloid from the brain tissue. In those who are not getting adequate sleep, this system does not function properly, leaving the beta amyloid to build up within the brain. The researchers theorize that the cerebrospinal fluid is able to do its job while the brain is asleep because the volume of space outside the brain cells increases when the brain is asleep.

    If this study is correct, then there is a strong chance that the reason that those with sleep problems have a greater presence of beta-amyloid protein is because their lack of sleep prevents it from being washed away. Dr. Nedergaard says, “Understanding precisely how and when the brain activates the glymphatic system and clears waste is a critical first step in efforts to potentially modulate this system and make it work more efficiently.”

  • The Costs of Insomnia

    When people think about insomnia, they tend to focus on the physiological and psychological impact that it has on the person who is having difficulty getting to sleep. If you mention the financial effects that insomnia has, they are likely to continue thinking of it in terms that reflect single patients: the cost of sleep aids, perhaps of doctor visits, maybe even of time taken off of work as a sick day due to fatigue. Continue reading

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