The interior of a blood vessel with red blood cells and white blood cells, which are part of the immune system.

The Immune System and Sleep

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The interior of a blood vessel with red blood cells and white blood cells, which are part of the immune system.

How does sleep affect the immune system?

A good night’s rest does more than make you feel refreshed in the morning. It keeps your body healthy. That is why sleep is part of living a long life. Scientists have found this statement to be more and more true over the years. In fact, a study has discovered that sleep affects the immune system in a rather interesting fashion.

How the Immune System Operates During Sleep

T cells are perhaps one of the most important aspects of the immune system. These white blood cells attack viruses and protect the body from any other harmful invaders. With sleep being an important part of health, researchers dove deep into finding out how a lack of sleep affects the body.

They started by testing how the immune system reacts to sleep deprivation by studying the “sleep-wake” of fourteen young males. The men participated in two separate studies. One study monitored the participants over 24 hours, allowing them to sleep between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., giving them the 7 to 8 hours of sleep recommended by the CDC. The other study kept the gentlemen awake for 24 hours straight.

Their study resulted in some surprising insights. After testing the blood of the volunteers during both studies, they found that the immune system’s t cells were reduced when patients went to sleep. On the opposite end, when the volunteers stayed awake for more than 24 hours, a high number of t cells remained in their body.

There are some theories as to why the t cells react like this during sleep. The chances of infection are fairly low during sleep. So perhaps the body reduces the amount it produces so that it has a chance to replenish the t cells during sleep. As for the high counts of t cells in patients that are awake, it could be that their risk of infection is much greater. This could cause these white blood cells to remain in the body as an added form of protection.

A young asian woman suffering from insomnia, which can lead to brain dysfunctions.

The Brain and Sleep: Insomnia’s Troubling Contribution

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A young asian woman suffering from insomnia, which can lead to brain dysfunctions.

What’s the connection between insomnia and the brain?

Imagine your worst night of sleep. No matter how hard you close your eyes, your mind races with a million thoughts, your body can’t find the perfect position, and before you know it, it is time to get ready for a new day. Now, imagine that one sleepless night becomes a recurring situation. This is insomnia and its effect on the mind (that big old brain of yours) is substantial.

How Insomnia Takes Its Toll on the Brain

It’s not that hard to understand how insomnia can have a negative impact on your life. It’s a key sleeping disorder. This condition prevents people from falling asleep at night, causing daytime sleepiness and anxiety. Some have been known to experience hallucinations if their condition becomes chronic.

In a recent study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), researchers were able to pinpoint which regions of the brain are altered in patients with insomnia. By comparing and monitoring the brain activity of patients with and without insomnia, they were able to gain some insights.

“While patients with insomnia often have their symptoms trivialized by friends, families and even physicians, the findings in this study add strong evidence to the emerging view that insomnia is a condition with neurobiological as well as psychological causes,” said Dr. Buysse, professor of psychiatry and clinical and translational science, and the UPMC Professor of Sleep Medicine.

They discovered that the regions of the brain that help self-awareness, contemplation, and mood did not work properly. Another interesting insight is that the brain does not completely “shut off” when sleep. Certain regions stay active. This may be to help recall, memory, and other important functions.

Unfortunately, they were unable to decipher whether or not insomnia is the cause of these dysfunctions or if the altered brain activity in these areas is causing the troubling condition. Hopefully, the researchers can find the answer in the future. For now, those with insomnia need to see a doctor

in order to receive care and return to a good quality of life.

A graphic image of a nerve cell, representing the phrenic nerve.

The Phrenic Nerve: Controlling Breathing

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A graphic image of a nerve cell, representing the phrenic nerve.

The phrenic nerve plays an important role in sleep and health.

A variety of conditions can affect your breathing. This makes it hard to sleep and eventually leads to troubling issues. However, when one particular part of your body is damaged, your breathing truly suffers. That part of the body is called the phrenic nerve, and its time to find out why it is important.

What is the Phrenic Nerve?

The phrenic nerve controls voluntary and involuntary breathing. The latter occurs during sleep and helps people maintain a good night’s rest. The nerve starts in the neck and runs along the spine until it reaches the diaphragm. When the body needs to breathe, the brain sends information along this nerve, telling the diaphragm to contract.

This part of the body is crucial. When injured, the nerve ceases to function properly. Simple tasks become much harder and even worse, it affects your sleep. A phrenic nerve injury has been known to cause conditions like insomnia. Some patients find it hard to breathe while lying down, which explains their difficulties falling asleep.

Surgery is the Answer

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) discovered some interesting facts about the phrenic nerve. They learned that the nerve can suffer from injury during surgery or due to neck cancers. This is why doctors must identify the nerve before performing surgery in that area. Otherwise, they risk harming a vital part of a patient’s body.

Another fact is that there are between 5,000 to 10,000 cases of phrenic nerve injury every year. Doctors perform reconstruction on the nerve in order to alleviate a patient’s breathing problems and fix the nerve. Over the course of 2.7 years, the researchers at UCLA followed 180 people after they were treated with phrenic nerve reconstruction.

The surgery seems to be the answer the condition, with about 89 percent showing positive results. This offers people the chance to breathe normally again and return to a stable quality of life.

A graphic image of an ear and otoscope. The latter is used to check one's hearing.

Other Senses Play a Role in Hearing

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A graphic image of an ear and otoscope. The latter is used to check one's hearing.

Hearing requires more than just your ears.

Our senses are crucial aspects of our body, with each serving a specific purpose. However, it turns our senses do not work alone. In a coordinated effort, they work together to function properly. According to a recent study by NYU Langone Medical Center, our sense of hearing collaborates with some of our other senses to better interpret sound.

Hearing Sounds

“What the brain ‘hears’ depends on what is ‘seen’ in addition to specific sounds, as the brain calculates how to respond,” says study senior investigator and neuroscientist Robert Froemke, Ph.D., an assistant professor at NYU Langone and its Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine.

The nerve cells that are responsible for hearing also use the other senses. As Dr. Froemke stated, sight plays a big role in providing context. When you can see your surroundings, your brain knows how to properly react to certain sounds. Think of sights relationship to hearing as a form of confirmation, helping the brain determine what the origin of a certain sound is.

“Our study shows how the same sound can mean different things inside the brain depending on the situation,” says Froemke. “We know, for instance, that people learn to respond without alarm to the honk of a car horn if heard from the safety of their homes, but are startled to hear the same honk while crossing a busy street.”

NYU Langone’s team used mice and treats to look into how the nerve cells work. What they found is that depending on the context, the brain will adjust hearing accordingly. Surprisingly, when the mice expected a treat, these nerve cells weren’t as active. However, when they expected a reward based on a sound, some of these nerves were highly active.

Further research needs to be done. What scientists should look into is how these nerves react in a person without sight or poor sight. Hopefully, it can help them understand cognitive issues.

An image of young psychiatrist comforting her sad patient, who has schizophrenia.

Sleep and Schizophrenia

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An image of young psychiatrist comforting her sad patient, who has schizophrenia.

Researchers discover interesting results concerning sleep and schizophrenia.

A lack of sleep has a drastic effect on the body. It can cause several debilitating conditions. In order to prepare for the diseases that develop from sleep deprivation, scientists are constantly studying their connection to sleep. A recent study looks into the link between sleep and schizophrenia.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is more commonly known as multiple personality disorder. This disorder causes severe mental health issues, including hearing voices, abnormal social behavior, confusion, and an inability to determine what is real. Unfortunately, this can lead to other mental conditions, making life harder for an individual.

BIDMC’s Study

“One of the most exciting advances in sleep research over the last decade has been the growing understanding of sleep’s causal relationship to psychiatric disorders,” said senior author Robert Stickgold, MD, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at BIDMC. “Here, we reviewed the evidence that reduced sleep spindle activity predates the onset of schizophrenia and contributes to its cognitive deficits and other symptoms.”

Sleep spindles are burst of brain activity, which helps people conserve memory during sleep. Scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center decided to research its connection to the troubling mental disorder. Surprisingly, the mental disorder might not be the cause of sleep disturbances. Instead, researchers found the opposite. Sleep conditions are most likely at fault, causing schizophrenia.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that sleep not only controls memory and emotional processing in all of us, but that deficits in sleep probably contribute to a wide range of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, ADHD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and depression,” Stickgold said. “Now we can begin tracing it all the way from the genes to the disorders themselves.”

Schizophrenia can be caused by genetic or environmental factors. Researchers believe that one gene variant, which affects a calcium channel located near the area of the brain that generates sleep spindles, is responsible for the defect. If scientists can get this gene working correctly, then they may find a feasible treatment option.

An image of two preschoolers with their heads on top of a school desk, which is a result of sleep deprivation in kids.

Sleep Deprivation in Kids Leads to Bad Eating Habits

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An image of two preschoolers with their heads on top of a school desk, which is a result of sleep deprivation in kids.

Sleep deprivation in kids is becoming a rising problem.

How are your children sleeping? In our last post, we talked about how a lack of sleep in adolescents affects their life choices in the future. Another study has discovered that preschoolers (Ages 3 to 4 years old) are more likely to develop bad eating habits if they suffer from sleep deprivation. Find out why it is important for children to take naps during the first few years of their lives, and how to prevent sleep deprivation in kids.

What Research Says About Sleep Deprivation in Kids

The research was performed at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where researchers sought to mimic the sleeping habits of preschoolers. They did this by depriving the kids of an afternoon nap and keeping them up two hours later than their bedtimes. The next day, they let the children sleep as much as they could.

The researchers’ test resulted in the kids consuming at least 20 percent more calories than they would normally eat. Even after receiving an adequate amount of sleep the next day, the children still consumed at least 14 percent more calories than usual.

Apparently, this issue is becoming a common problem. The National Sleep Foundation has found that 30 percent of these children are not sleeping enough.

“We found that sleep loss increased the dietary intake of preschoolers on both the day of and the day after restricted sleep,” says Assistant Professor LeBourgeois of the Department of Integrative Physiology and lead author.

How to Prevent Sleep Deprivation

This study is revealing. It confirms that the link between sleep and obesity is the same in children as it is in adults. In order to prevent your child from developing bad eating habits, here are a few points to remember:

  • Preschoolers need their naps.
  • Children around the age of 3 and 4 years old need go to bed at a regularly scheduled time.
  • According to the CDC, preschoolers need at least 11 to 12 hours of sleep a day.

 

An image of good sleeping habits. It depicts a close up shot of a young boy, asleep in bed.

Sleeping Habits Linked to Drug Abuse in Adolescents

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An image of good sleeping habits. It depicts a close up shot of a young boy, asleep in bed.

Can your child’s sleeping habits lead them to make negative life choices?

The importance of sleep is crucial to our development and well-being. Unfortunately, for many people in America, our sleeping habits are not the best. This is especially true in the early years of our lives. Growing adolescents need rest and when they don’t receive the proper amount, it can lead to dire consequences. As the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) recently discovered, there may be a relation between a child’s sleeping habits and their likelihood to abuse substances.

The Importance of Good Sleeping Habits

The study by the UPMC showed that children who do not sleep enough and experience poor sleep quality are more likely to try alcohol and cannabis. Many years ago, the mothers of 186 boys completed a Child Sleep Questionnaire when the children were 11 years old. Researchers followed up with these boys about their use of cannabis and alcohol after they turned 20 years old.

It was after this follow-up that the researchers saw the link between sleeping habits and substance abuse. In fact, they estimated that the for every hour less of sleep that an 11-year old boy received, the earlier they were likely to use these substances. This lack of sleep is more of a risk for kids during late childhood. It is also a situation that some scientists hope they can prevent.

According to Brant P. Hasler, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology, and lead author of the study, “Doing what we can to ensure sufficient sleep duration and improve sleep quality during late childhood may have benefits in terms of reducing the use of these substances later in life.”

While this study proved a need for children to obtain better quality sleep, it only analyzed how a lack of sleep affect young boys. Hopefully, another study will confirm if adolescent girls are affected in the same way. What we do know is that parents need to monitor their child’s sleeping habits.

A male doctor is checking an elderly woman's ear to see if she needs a cochlear implant.

Cochlear Implant Performance: Improving

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A male doctor is checking an elderly woman's ear to see if she needs a cochlear implant.

Improvements to the cochlear implant brings new hope to those with hearing loss.

Those who deal with hearing damage suffer from a series of issues. These issues include hearing loss, difficulties understanding others, poor speech, and other communication problems. A cochlear implant is a tools used to combat this type of hearing loss. Every year, scientists research the effectiveness of this surgical implant.

Their research helps them discover new ways to make the device work better. One study found that the level of hearing damage a person has suffered does not determine how well a cochlear implant works. Another study discovered that the benefits were significant.

Why Is the Cochlear Implant Effective?

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that is surgically inserted into person’s ear. Using a microphone, the device converts external noise to digital signals. These signals are sent to the auditory nerve and processed by the brain as sound.

The cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. The aid amplifies sound for damaged ears, while the implant works around the damage and directly stimulates the auditory nerve.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute tested individuals with significant, little, and no residual hearing prior to their cochlear implant surgery. What they found is that those who had the worse hearing damage experienced substantial improvements in hearing. They were able to interpret speech in loud spaces and speech patterns better.

Another study discovered that adults over the age of 65, with profound hearing loss, greatly benefited from cochlear implants. After surgery, their speech perception and cognitive function improved drastically. The brain’s cognitive function is its ability to reason, recall, pay attention, and understand language. The better you can hear, the more this function works.

Scientists believe that cochlear implants work well. Both its ability to send electrical signal directly to the auditory nerve, and the brain’s ability to properly interpret these signals improves hearing. This spells good news for those with significant hearing loss. It helps them to communicate better others around them.

A women is have trouble sleeping in her bed.

Women or Men: Who Has More Trouble Sleeping?

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A women is having trouble sleeping in her bed.

Who has more trouble sleeping? Men or women?

Many people in America receive an insufficient amount of sleep. Our busy lives do not leave us with much time to rest. Another pressing problem is that people have trouble sleeping. This can be due to sleeping disorders and other personal issues.

In a recent study, researchers have discovered an interesting revelation. It appears that women have more trouble sleeping than men.

Why Women Have Trouble Sleeping

The study in question was performed Dr. Diane B. Boivin and her team at the McGill University. She and her team wanted to know why women were more likely to experience sleep disturbances than men. The answer seems to lie in the body’s clock.

Our body’s internal clock manages how we sleep. Researchers compared 15 men and 11 women, examining how the body clock regulated their sleep and alertness.

Here is what they found: “”For a similar sleep schedule, we find that women’s body clock causes them to fall asleep and wake up earlier than men. The reason is simple: their body clock is shifted to a more easterly time zone,” says the Director of the Centre for Study and Treatment of Circadian Rhythms at the Douglas Institute.

They also found out that a women’s menstrual cycle contributes to how they sleep. It seems to affect the body’s temperature and sleep.

Dr. Boivin explains that, “”Our participants did not exhibit any sleep problems during the study. Just the same, our results are helping us understand, among other things, why women are more likely than men to wake up earlier in the morning and feel tired after a night’s sleep. As well, women are less alert at night than men.”

More research need to be done in order to find out just how much this affects women. While the female participants did not exhibit any sleep problems, they still experienced a lack of sleep. Sleep hygiene is very important as it affects one’s quality of life, and can lead to other disorders.

A doctor is performing test on his patient to see the affect of a new sleep hormone.

Sleep Hormone May Help Against Breast Cancer

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A doctor is performing test on his patient to see the effects of a new sleep hormone.

Is a new sleep hormone the answer to breast cancer?

The body is a fascinating thing. It develops ways to protect us and keep us healthy. There so many diseases and disorders affecting us today. Knowing this, scientists look to improve upon the body’s natural defenses. In a recent study, it appears that researchers have found a solution to fighting off breast cancer. A sleep hormone, known as melatonin, seems to be the key.

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain during sleep. It helps to regulate the sleep cycles in animals and humans. As we age, we produce less melatonin. Doctors often use melatonin supplements to treat patients with sleep disorders, headaches, cancers, and hearing conditions like tinnitus.

Sleep Hormone Fights Cancer

According to CDC, adults (18-25) need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a day. However, after interviewing 1,031 adults, analytic company Gallup discovered that at least 40% of Americans receive less than 7 hours of sleep.

A lack of sleep among U.S. citizens is not uncommon. The United States is considered a high-work, high-stress environment and leaves a lot of people sleep-deprived. This fact is important for women, as sleep deprivation can lead to breast cancer.

In a study by the Michigan State University, their research has revealed that melatonin may suppress the growth of breast cancer tumors. The discovered this by growing tumors from stem cells called “mammospheres.” The scientists applied a melatonin treatment, which decreased the number of tumors and their size.

James Trosko, one of the researcher at MSU, states “This work establishes the principal by which cancer stem cell growth may be regulated by natural hormones, and provides an important new technique to screen chemicals for cancer-promoting effects, as well as identify potential new drugs for use in the clinic.”

Hopefully their work leads to more studies involving breast cancer. The CDC states that “About 220,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,000 in men. About 40,000 women and 400 men in the U.S. die each year from breast cancer.” If an increase in the sleep hormone melatonin helps, then doctors may be able to aid women in need.

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