Insomnia Is Most Common
Insomnia - trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both - affects about 70 million Americans says the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. Short-term insomnia is common and may be brought on by stress or bad sleeping habits says Safwan Badr, past president, American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a sleep expert with Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State Univ. School of Medicine, Detroit. He offers these tips to combat the most common causes of short-term insomnia: Keep a consistent bedtime and waking time. Don’t watch TV in bed. Avoid daytime naps. If you can’t fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes of going to bed, get up and go to another room where you can do low-key activities such as listening to quiet music.
Brain Activates Reward Center
When you do not get enough sleep, the brain will cause you to crave junk food finds a new study from Columbia University. Marie-Pierre St-Onge and colleagues studied the brains of 25 men and women using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they looked at pictures of healthy foods and unhealthy foods. The scans were taken under two conditions – after five nights of restricted sleep or after a good night’s rest of 9 continuous hours. When presented with unhealthy foods, the brain was activated in certain reward regions. The volunteers were more likely to crave foods that were sweet or salty after periods of sleep deprivation. Previous research has also shown that lack of sleep triggers other responses that cause people to increase calorie consumption, leading to weight gain.
150 Minutes Per Week
People who participate in 150 minutes per week of moderate to intense physical activity sleep better and are more alert during the day, says a new study of a nationally representative sample of more than 2600 men and women, ages 18-85. It’s estimated that, among US adults, 30 to 40% have sleep issues or feel sleepy during the day. "Increasingly, the scientific evidence is encouraging as regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep,” says study author Brad Cardinal, Oregon State U. Researchers, who controlled for age, BMI, smoking and depression status and general health, concluded that the risk of feeling sleepy during the day decreased by 65% for those meeting physical activity guidelines.
Long-Term Safety Not Tested
Menopause can bring about a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats and sleep problems. Valerian root is an herb used for centuries as a sleep aid. A new study, published in the September issue of the journal Menopause, finds that the herbal preparation may also be beneficial for women who are experiencing sleep problems while going through menopause. Researchers with Tehran University gave 100 women either two valerian capsules or a placebo every day for one month. At the end of the study, 30 percent of the women taking valerian reported improvement in sleep quality versus only 4 percent of women taking the inactive dummy pill. Most side effects from taking the herb are mild and include headache and upset stomach.
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Aerobic exercise helps to relieve insomnia and improve mood in middle-aged and older adults finds a new study from Northwestern Medicine. The study is significant since about half of this population report chronic insomnia symptoms. Drug-free therapies to improve sleep are desirable and, particularly for this age group, eliminate the possibility of drug interactions with other medications the patient may be taking. "By improving a person's sleep, you can improve their physical and mental health," says lead author Dr Phyllis Zee. "Sleep is a barometer of health, like someone's temperature. If a person says he or she isn't sleeping well, we know they are more likely to be in poor health with problems managing their hypertension or diabetes."
Minor Complaints Likely
Obese men and women are more likely to visit their general practitioners than smokers, say Dutch researchers. BBC reports on the study involving data from almost 4,500 adults. The findings aren't explained by obese people having higher rates of chronic illnesses like diabetes. While researchers thought they'd find that unhealthy people visit the GP more often, instead they found that only body mass index, BMI, was independently associated with the frequent GP visits made by obese people. Researchers speculate that obese men and women visit their doctors more often for minor complaints like sleep problems or musculoskeletal pain, but more research is needed to determine the cause of the frequent visits.
Up to 50 Years Before Diagnosis
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder, in which people act out their dreams with violent movements, may be an indicator of dementia and Parkinson’s disease, finds research published in the journal Neurology®. Mayo Clinic records identified patients with REM sleep behavior disorder before they developed dementia or Parkinson’s and found that the time between the two incidents could be as long as 50 years. "More research is needed on this possible link so that scientists may be able to develop therapies that would slow down or stop the progression of these disorders years before the symptoms of Parkinson's disease or dementia appear," said study author Dr. Bradley F. Boeve. It’s not known how many people who have REM disorder may later develop neurologic diseases.
State of Hyperarousal
The brains of older people with insomnia function differently than the brains of those who have no sleep problems, according to Dutch scientist, Ellemarije Altena, who investigated the consequences of sleeplessness. Study participants, who included insomniacs and those with no sleep problems, were put through a series of tasks that tested response time and cognition. Insomniacs scored surprisingly well, at times surpassing their less sleep-deprived contemporaries, particularly when it came to shorter tasks. Altena attributes this to a state of “hyperarousal,” or a mild form of stress, that insomniacs develop to compensate for lack of sleep. But they fell short when it came to tasks that required a decision. Altena hopes the study will lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of insomnia.