Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Black Friday's Best Deal: Extra Sleep

It’s that magical time of year when millions of frenzied consumers chase one-time-only holiday bargains. The day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, is a holiday in itself. Smartphones, high-definition televisions and countless other items are available for less money… but there’s another type of price to pay.

Most of the best bargains are door-buster sales. You have to be among the first in the store for a shot at the low-priced prize, meaning you better be in line at midnight.

You might want to consider your sleep before you bundle up and line up outside Target or Best Buy. Holiday weekends like this are few and far between. The long weekend is the perfect time to make up for all the lost sleep and get your slumber schedule back on track.

If you still want to get that Christmas shopping done on the cheap, try shopping online instead. offers all kinds of Black Friday prices, and even price-matches some items.

Friday isn’t the only day you can score a great deal online. Best Buy, Macy’s and JCPenney all have “Black Thursday” specials on their website, beginning at midnight. Then there’s always also “Cyber Monday”, the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Make sleep a priority this year and you don’t necessarily have to miss out on the deals. You’ll be better rested for the always stressful holiday season.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Clock Gene Levels Linked to Insomnia and Depression

Scientists are learning why insomnia and depression are so closely interconnected. Sleep disturbances, especially early morning awakenings, are a common symptom of depression. An Ohio State University study suggests that these symptoms are related to an over-active body clock.

The so-called Clock gene helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythms. Molecular-level disturbances in the Clock gene may disrupt the 24-hour body clock, causing sleep problems.

The study compared the blood samples of people with a history of depression to those who had never been clinically depressed. The study included 60 participants; 25 spent at least five hours per week caring for a family member with dementia.

Blood analysis shows people with a history of depression had higher levels of the Clock gene. The relationship held true after statistical adjustments for age and lifestyle factors such as substance use, exercise, medical conditions and caregiving status.

Researchers also analyzed three other circadian genes, but found no statistically significant differences in gene levels between depressed and non-depressed subjects.

The authors of the study caution that the findings demonstrate there is a link, but causal direction remains unclear. In other words, further research is needed to determine whether depression causes the clock gene to be elevated, or vice versa.

Researchers explain their findings are simply a snapshot of how gene activity differs between people with and without depression.

Several other studies have attempted to explain the link between insomnia and depression.

A study published in the September 2010 issue of SLEEP suggests sleep deprivation causes depression in young adults. Every hour of sleep lost significantly raises the risk of emotional distress, a combination of high levels of depressive and anxious symptoms.

Another study presented at SLEEP 2010 in San Antonio reported similar findings, but for teenagers. Students who reported problems with daytime sleepiness were three times more likely to have depression compared to their peers.

In any case, the treatment options for depression and insomnia often overlap. While medication can help in the short term, cognitive-behavioral therapy is the best approach for lasting results. Conquering depression and insomnia takes a lot of work, but your health and happiness are worth the effort.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nighttime Sleep Essential for Mental Development in Young Children

Good nighttime sleep at a very early age may help kick-start cognitive development and give kids a leg-up in school. The amount of nighttime sleep – not daytime naps – is the key component to advanced executive function in children, a study included in the November/December issue of Child Development reports.

Executive function is another name for a specific group of mental skill areas essential for success in the classroom. Skills include attentiveness, self-discipline, organization, memorization and the abilities to plan, think and work with others. Executive function develops rapidly across the first six years of life. Little is known about why some children are more successful at developing those skills than their peers.

The study followed 60 Canadian children between their 12 and 26 months of age. At the 12 and 18 month mark, each parent completed sleep diaries by recording when their child slept and for what length. Researchers tested the children’s executive function at 18 and 26 months of age.

Results show children who slept mostly at night did better at most executive function-related tests, especially the tasks involving impulse control. The number of times the children woke per night did not impact test results. The findings held true even after the authors adjusted for factors such as socio-economic class, parents’ education level and children’s general cognitive skills.

The authors of the study note that infant sleep later sets in motion the development of more advanced executive skills. This may help flesh out recent findings that linked earlier bedtimes to higher test scores in school-aged children.

The AASM recommends infants get a minimum of 14 hours of sleep per day for healthy development. Toddlers should sleep 12 to 14 hours per night. Start your child’s health habits out on the right foot and make their sleep a priority.

Photo by doriana_s

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More Evening-Types Smoke, Have Harder Time Quitting

Morning types seem to have all of the advantages. They aren't only less depressed and more successful, as a previous studies reported – they tend to avoid a particularly bad habit that can destroy your health. More night owls tend to be smokers, and quitting can be more difficult for them, according to the results of a longitudinal study published in the journal Addiction.

The study’s authors say the findings don’t necessarily mean being a night person will put you at risk for tobacco use. There are several possible explanations why night owls are more likely to smoke.

One may be the type of activities night owls engage in. They may spend more time doing activities in environments that promote smoking, such as socializing at bars or restaurants.

Night owls may also have a tendency to be more sensation-seeking than larks. The brain’s systems that manage addiction and reward-seeking may relate to chronotype, the authors write.

The study compared more than 23,000 pairs of twins for 30 years. Participants were surveyed about their smoking habits once per decade. In their second interview, they answered questions about whether they were evening or morning types.

About thirty percent of the participants answered definitively that they were morning types. 1 in 10 said they are clearly night owls. The rest were somewhere in-between.

During the start of the study, 43 percent of the night owls smoked and 27 percent of morning types smoked. Smoking rates dropped to 35 percent and 21 percent about a decade later. Evening-types were 27 less likely to have quit smoking.

Learn more about evening and morning chronotypes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sleep Loss Linked to Heart Disease and Stroke Risk

Researchers have discovered new clues to why chronic insomnia can cut short men’s lives. People who sleep poorly or are chronically sleep deprived have elevated inflammation caused by increased hormone production, a recent study reports. Inflamation is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

The study, presented at the American Heart Associate Scientific Sessions, involved 525 middle-aged people. Each subject reported the number of hours they slept per night before they were was screened for chronic sleep deprivation using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index survey.

After a screening for inflammatory hormones, researchers compared the level of inflammation and sleep quality. Participants who slept fewer than six hours per night and scored poorly on the sleep quality index had higher levels of inflammation. The results were adjusted for external risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

The results show there is a relationship between sleep deprivation and heart disease, but it’s not clear if it’s a causal relationship.

Previous studies show people who sleep at least seven hours per night live longer than their peers. People with abnormally short or long sleep durations have a high risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and stress.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Fight Sleep Apnea Well After the War is Over

As we honor the men and women who served their country this Veterans Day its important that we recognize a problem that plagues tens of thousands of vets.

U.S. Military medical experts report 1 in 5 veterans develop sleep apnea - that's four times the risk compared to the general population. More than 63,000 former troops receive treatment, and that number is bound to rise as baby boomers who served in the Vietnam War grow older.

There are a couple factors that explain why veterans have a much higher rate of sleep apnea. Wartime exposure to airborne toxins, smoke and dust can cause permanent respiratory damage, making breathing difficult. In addition, many injured or disabled troops may gain weight as they get older.

Many use their veterans benefits for treatment of sleep apnea. CPAP is the first-line treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). Learn more about CPAP on Sleepeducation's CPAP Central webpage.

Image courtesy the U.S. Army

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mike & Molly Mixed on CPAP, Sleep Apnea

Mike & Molly, a traditional CBS sitcom with three cameras and a laugh track, is the most controversial new show on television this fall. The show is about an obese Chicago couple in the early stages of their relationship.

Health pundits rail on Mike & Molly for promoting obesity and unhealthy life choices. Entertainment critics have a different but equally critical take on the show – some say the show uses endless fat jokes to mock obese people.

At this point in the show’s run it’s hard to say if either group is right, but there is one healthy choice Mike & Molly is promoting – the recognition and treatment of obstructive sleep apnea.

The latest episode, titled “Mike has Sleep Apnea,” introduced millions of prime-time viewers to CPAP, the front-line treatment for the sleep disorder. The episode is a step forward for sleep apnea awareness, but it doesn’t get everything right.

The episode is about the new couple’s difficulties sharing a bed for reasons including an obvious (and unfunny in this blogger’s opinion) fat joke and Mike’s treatment for sleep apnea.

The couple gets in bed and Mike matter-of-factly tells Molly he sleeps with a CPAP to stop from snoring. Then he tells her he doesn’t have to wear it that night. Both statements raise concerns.

After a few jokes about the appearance of Mike’s CPAP mask, Mike is fast asleep. Meantime, Molly can’t sleep because of the sound of air blowing from CPAP. She tries to move Mike, who starts snoring.

This is where the show gets things wrong. Loud snoring should not happen with CPAP unless the machine has a titration problem. An appointment with a sleep specialist can fix that easily.

For that matter, technically Mike’s treatment isn’t just to prevent snoring, but the breathing pauses from sleep apnea. A person with the disorder may sound like they are choking or not breathing at all.

Additionally, Mike’s offer to skip CPAP for a night sets a bad example. For moderate to severe cases of sleep apnea, treatment is not optional. Sleep apnea can wreck your sleep in the short-term and devastate your health in the long-term when untreated.

Make no mistake about it, Mike & Molly’s take on sleep apnea is flawed, but it may inspire people to seek treatment. And for that reason, the show may not be as bad as its reputation suggests.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

AAA Study Finds 2 out of 5 Americans Drive Drowsy

New traffic safety statistics provide a wake-up call for America about the public safety threat that is drowsy driving.

About 1 in 6 fatal accidents involves a drowsy driver, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports. And there’s a 41 percent chance you’re part of the problem, study results show.

Approximately 2 out of every 5 drivers admit to drifting to sleep behind the wheel at some point in their lives. About 10 percent nodded off while driving within the past year. Alarmingly, half of the survey respondents the incident said it happened on a busy highway.

Drowsy driving is the cause of an estimated 4,400 deadly crashes per year, accounting for 17 percent of all fatal accidents on U.S. roadways. You may think most drowsy driving accidents happen in the pitch black and bleary-eyed overnight hours, but findings show the afternoon rush is actually slightly more risky.

Teens and young adults are most likely to cause drowsy driving accidents. The risk is 78 percent higher compared to middle-aged adults, and may be the symptom of a larger problem.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports teens need more sleep than adults, yet rarely achieve it on school nights. More than a quarter of teens are badly sleep deprived while only about 15 percent of teens sleep 8.5 hours on a given school night. In many cases accumulated sleep debt can be as great as five to 15 hours per week, the equivalent of total sleep deprivation.

In severe cases the effects of sleep deprivation are comparable to alcohol intoxication. Teens’ inexperience at the wheel worsens an already dangerous scenario.

Men cause more drowsy driving-related accidents compared to women. The study doesn’t provide a reason, but men are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that can wreck your sleep and make it difficult to stay awake and alert in the daytime.

Accidents most often occur within the first hour of driving. Most people don’t realize they may struggle to stay awake towards the beginning of a trip, the study found.

The AASM reports the following are signs you may be too drowsy to drive:

1. Yawning repeatedly
2. Inability to keep your eyes open.
3. You catch yourself “nodding off” and have trouble keeping your head up.
4. Trouble remembering driving the last few miles.
5. You end up too close to cars in front of you.
6. Missing road signs or driving past your turn.
7. Drifting into the other lane of traffic.
8. Drifting onto the “rumble strip” or onto the shoulder of the road.

If you find yourself doing any of the things listed above, pull over and take a nap. Drink a cup of coffee and wait a half hour for the caffeine to enter your bloodstream for the boost in alertness you need to finish the trip.

Always get a full night’s sleep before driving. If you can’t sleep, arrange for a ride from a friend.
Make the right choices before and after you get behind the wheel and avoid being one of the 41 percent of Americans who drive drowsy.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sleep: Nature’s Study Aid

Get some sleep instead of pulling an all-nighter to buy extra time to cram for a vocabulary exam. A new study found that sleeping after a study session dramatically helps with the recall of new words. This approach can help prospective students improve their performance on the make-or-break tests like the SAT, ACT or GRE.

Two groups of study participants learned a series of new words phonologically similar to familiar words. Both groups were tested after the initial study session. The session occurred in the evening for half of the subjects; the others studied in the morning.

Volunteers who studied in the evening slept before taking a follow-up test in the morning. The people who studied in the morning had to take the second test later in the evening, and were not permitted to sleep.

Results indicate the participants remembered more words when they slept before the follow-up exam. Brain activity data suggests sleep spindles during deep sleep helped the volunteers retain the new words.

In a statement to the media, one of the authors suggested sleep plays an important role in the reorganization of new memories.

Regular may notice studies these findings are in line with several recent studies involving sleep and memory. One noted study involved word association problems commonly found in the SAT. The research concluded that long naps with REM sleep led to higher test scores than short naps or waking rest periods.

Another article published in April reported that naps helped a group of study participants learn the correct path through a complex maze.

The message is clear: sleep on your academic success and shun the caffeine and cram sessions.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Resist Temptation and Use the Fall Back Hour for Sleep

Sunday at 2 a.m. marks the unofficial start of winter as daylight savings time ends and standard time returns. Until the second Sunday of March, sunset will comes an hour early everywhere but Hawaii, Arizona and parts of Indiana.

Few look forward to the shorter days, but the silver lining is the extra hour of personal time that comes with the switch. Instead of extending your evening activities go to bed and enjoy the extra hour of sleep.

Spurn sleep and lengthen your Saturday nightcap and you may be sorry when Monday comes around and you return to your responsibities.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports sleep debt can lead to decreased productivity and increased family stress. Fall back weekend is the perfect time to chip away at accumulated sleep debt.

Set your alarm before going to bed at a normal hour, and wake up at the same time as you normally would. If you can, take it easy on Sunday and get to bed at a normal hour to get the winter off on the right foot.

A few other tips for the time change:

Early morning sunrises will make a brief and welcome return. Before they go away again consider getting a light box to simulate sunrise for a more pleasant wake-up during dark winter mornings. It’s normal to have a difficult time waking up early feeling energized when and it might as well be midnight outside. Clinical sleep specialists often recommend light boxes for treatment of insomnia or shift work disorder.

Apple iPhone users may want to use an extra alarm. Last week, countless owners of the popular smart phone overslept by a full hour because the phone’s internal clock never turned back an hour for Europe’s daylight savings. In all likelihood, Steve Jobs and AT&T won’t let that happen twice. But better to be on the safe side. Same goes with any cell phones, computers or electronic devices with an automatic internal clock.

For more information about the switch from daylight savings time, read last years coverage on the Sleep Education Blog.

Photo by rappensuncle

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sleep Apnea Risks Common among Hospital Patients

A large number of hospital patients may have a high risk for obstructive sleep apnea, a new study suggests. A survey conducted at Loyola University Health System found that more than 80 percent of respondents experienced some of the common warning signs of sleep-disordered breathing.

The results of the study don’t necessarily mean all of these people have sleep apnea. The only way to diagnose sleep apnea is through an overnight sleep study, conducted by a sleep medicine specialist. Instead the study indicates that these people reported some of the following risk factors:

• Loud snoring and/or pauses in breathing
• Daytime Fatigue
• High blood pressure
• Obesity
• Thick neck circumference
• More than 50 years of age
• Male Gender

157 out of 195 patients indicated they had at least three of the risk factors. Only 41 were evaluated in an overnight sleep lab. Doctors discovered 31 had obstructive sleep apnea.

Although sleep apnea is one of the more common sleep disorders, the rate reported in the study is abnormally high. This may be due to old age, obesity or overall poor health of hospital patients.

Read more about Obstructive Sleep Apnea at

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Can You Overdose on Caffeine?

Caffeine is a unique substance. Unlike most other stimulants and commonly abused drugs you can’t seriously harm your health by overdoing it. At least, that’s the perception.

In November, something happened to a British man that even the most seasoned caffeine fiend would have trouble grasping. He died of a caffeine overdose.

A medical autopsy revealed the 23-year-old had the consumed the caffeine equivalent of 70 energy drinks when he died. Rather than drinking coffee, soda or energy drinks, he decided to swallow spoonfuls of caffeine powder he purchased on the internet.

Previous case studies show consumption of around 10,000 mgs of caffeine can cause cardiac arrest leading to death.

To put things in perspective, a Starbucks venti (large) brewed black coffee contains only 415 mgs of caffeine. You would have to drink 24 large-sized coffees to reach the 10,000 mgs of caffeine that can alone cause a deadly overdose.

Past cases of such extreme caffeine consumption have led to severe symptoms including seizures, dangerously low blood pressure, severely abnormal heart rhythm and circulatory failure.

More often, deaths related to caffeine overconsumption are due to the combination of another substance, most commonly alcohol. Increasingly popular energy drinks containing alcohol have been linked to several high profile incidents, including the October 2010 hospitalization of nine students at a party at Central Washington University.

Case studies show that alcohol mixed with energy drinks leads to higher rates of intoxication. Authors explain that caffeine may alter the perception of alcohol intoxication. In other words, you feel less drunk than you actually are because of the caffeine, so you may continue to drink more.

When taken in moderation without other substances, caffeine is safe and can help alertness and mood. Caffeine can make it difficult to fall asleep and can reduce the total sleep time and time in deep sleep. Avoid consuming caffeine in the afternoon or evening to avoid disruptive effects on your sleep.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sleep Deprivation Effects Worse for Extroverts

There’s a sharp downside to being an extrovert, new findings show. The effects of sleep deprivation are worse for the naturally outgoing than for socially-reluctant homebodies.

A study published in the November issue of the journal SLEEP brings to light how our social lives can affect how we function without sleep. Frequent interaction with others also makes sleep deprivation worse.

Each of the 48 participants, aged 18 to 39, took a personality type test prior to the start of the study. Test results determined that 23 were extroverts and 25 were introverts.

After a full night of sleep, participants were required to stay awake for a total of 36 hours. After a few hours of baseline testing, half of the participants spent 12 hours with their peers playing interactive games and puzzles, watching movies and having group discussions. The others completed similar activities while alone in their private rooms. Following social time, the participants spent 22 hours of designated sleep deprivation.

Throughout the study, each person was tested every hour for the effects of sleep deprivation. Testing alternated between a test for motors skills and reaction and a test for ability to stay awake.

Extroverts suffered more than anyone from the effects sleep deprivation during every hour of testing. Introverts had an easier time staying awake and had better reaction times. Extroverts who were denied social contact actually did better in the tests than those who were allowed to socialize.

Authors of the study believe high levels of social stimulation may increase the need for sleep because social interactions lead to rapid fatigue in brain regions that regulate attention and alertness.

Introverts may be genetically built to resist sleep deprivation because they have naturally higher levels of cortical arousal.

The findings may have implication for job that requires long periods of wakefulness, such as military personnel. The authors of the study suggest managers may want to consider social personality when scheduling lengthy team assignments or independent work.