The Powerful Link Between Insomnia and Depression

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When one has difficulty sleeping, the waking world seems opaque. On top of feeling tired and fatigued, those who experience sleep disturbances can be irritable and have difficulty concentrating. When one has more severe cases of insomnia, one also faces a higher risk of developing heart disease, chronic pain, hypertension, and respiratory disorders. It can also cause some to gain weight.

Sleep disruptions can also have a major impact on one’s emotional well-being. A growing body of research has found that sleep disturbances and depression have an extremely high rate of concurrence, and many researchers are convinced that the two are biconditional—meaning that one can give rise to the other, and vice-versa. A paper that was published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience concluded, “The link between the two is so fundamental that some researchers have suggested that a diagnosis of depression in the absence of sleep complaints should be made with caution.” The paper’s lead author, David Nutt—the Edmond J. Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London—found that 83 percent of depressed patients experienced some form of insomnia, which was more than double the amount (36 percent) of those without depression.

Bei Bei, Dpsych, PhD, from the Monash School of Psychological Sciences in Clayton, Australia, said the inverse was true, as well: “If a person does not currently have depression but goes through extended periods of time with sleep disturbances or insomnia, the sleep disturbances can potentially contribute to a mood disturbance or to even more severe depression.”

The Mechanisms Behind the Two Diseases

The sleep-wake cycle is regulated by what is known as the circadian process. When working properly, the circadian process operates in rhythm with the typical cycle of a day. One gets tired as the light of the day fades and the body prepares for sleep. One awakes as it becomes light again. The internal mechanisms behind the circadian cycle involve a complex orchestration of the neurochemical and the nuerophysiological presided over by the hypothalamus.

Depression, meanwhile, is a medical condition and a mood disorder. While there are several possible antecedents to depression, as genetic and environmental factors can lead to a depressive episode, the neurophysiological causes of depression pertain to a deficiency of chemicals in the brain that regulate mood: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

However, these neurotransmitters do far more than just regulate mood. They have also been found to be integral to sleep efficiency. Disruptions in these brain chemicals can lead to disturbances in sleep, particularly REMsleep, and can also lead to more restlessness during typical times when one should be in bed. This can create a vicious cycle wherein the more severe one’s depression becomes, the more severe one’s insomnia becomes. The inverse can also true: The more severe one’s insomnia becomes, the more severe one’s depression becomes.

Evaluation and Treatment

Because these concurrent afflictions reinforce one another, medical professionals need to address both simultaneously for optimal treatment. However, there is not one cookie-cutter response that can eliminate both depression and insomnia. Many variables, including improper medication, can contribute to insomnia and different symptoms indicate different causes, which is why it is important to provide your mental health professional with any information that can give them with more insight about your condition. Describing your symptoms to your doctor allows them to narrow down the list of likely culprits and prescribe medications with greater precision. For example, letting your doctor know that you wake up in the middle of the night, and then have difficulties falling back to sleep is a distinct symptom from having difficulties falling asleep in the first place.

Though depression and insomnia are commonly linked, they can be independent of one another. Then again, they may be part of a larger array of comorbid disorders that require specific treatment plans to resolve. To determine the best course of action, your doctor may recommend a sleep study, medication, or a behavioral therapy.

Sleep Study

A sleep study is a test that measures how much and how well you sleep. During this test, you will be monitored by a team of sleep specialists who will be able to determine if there are any other disorders, such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea, that may be causing your insomnia. Even if the study does not reveal a definitive culprit, the sleep study will also allow your doctor to get a better picture about what is behind your insomnia.

Medication

Sleeping pills may help you fall asleep, but they are not long-term solutions to mental health. If you are suffering from a bout of insomnia that is related to a psychiatric disorder, you need to address that disorder to address your insomnia. Oftentimes, this will require a treatment plan that includes a pharmaceutical component. This component will be unique to each patient, as there is not a one-size-fits-all regimen of medication for optimal mental health. Furthermore, there are numerous comorbidities with depression, such as anxiety, that may be contributing to your insomnia and that may not be resolved by certain types of anti-depressants alone.

Another potential treatment involves a combination of medication, light treatment, and melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the circadian process. The conditions of patients who receive light therapy in conjunction with antidepressant therapy tend to show more improvement than those who are prescribed antidepressants alone. This is true for patients with seasonal and nonseasonal depression.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia

In other cases, some mental health professionals may recommend you see a sleep specialist to receive cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) involves numerous non-drug techniques to induce sleep and it can be utilized before resorting to the use of pharmacological sleep aids with surprisingly good results.

Several studies have shown CBTI to be quite effective in treating insomnia and some forms of depression. A paper published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2006 concluded that “The benefits of CBTI extend beyond insomnia and include improvements in non-sleep outcomes, such as overall well-being and depressive symptom severity, including suicidalideation, among patients with baseline elevations.” A paper published in the International Review of Psychiatry in 2014 found that CBTI may help with other comorbidities beyond depression. These include anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse issues.

The National Sleep Foundation notes that this type of therapy can still be quite intensive. CBTI requires regular visits to a clinician for assessment, keeping a sleep diary, and, perhaps most importantly, the changing of behaviors that may be felt as though they are firmly part of one’s routine. CBTI may also include some sleep hygiene education, where patients learn how different settings and actions can inhibit or promote sleep. It may also rely on relaxation training, where patients learn methods of calming their bodies and minds.

Concluding Thoughts

If you are struggling with either depression, insomnia, or both, treatments are available. The above studies demonstrate that there are holistic approaches, as well as pharmaceutical remedies, that can help induce sleep without the aid of sleeping pills. It is also a reminder that the most effective treatment plans are tailored to both the individual patient and the patient’s concurrent illnesses.

LinkedIn Image Credit: Kleber Cordeiro/Shutterstock

Can Different People See the Same Colors? Scientists Have an Idea

Author Article

“How can we be sure that people see the same color when they look at something?” – Henrietta, age 12, Market Harborough, UK

In fact, we can’t be so sure that we do all see the same colors. What colors we see depends not just on how things are in the world around us, but also on what happens in our eyes and our brains.

If you and I look at the leaves of a tree, we might both say that they are “green.” But could it be that you see them as green, while I see them as a color closer to your brown, or maybe even your purple.

Let me explain. The eyes sense light, and we can think of light as being made up of many waves of different lengths. The shortest wavelengths we can see give us the color violet, while the longest wavelengths give us red.

There are also lots of wavelengths we can’t see, which create colors we can’t even imagine.

Most of the objects we can see around us don’t make light themselves. Instead, light from the sun, the moon, or man-made lamps hits them.

Depending on the object, some wavelengths of light will bounce off, while others will be taken in. When we look at an object, our eyes sense the waves of light that have bounced off it.

This all happens very fast, because light moves extremely quickly —almost 300 million meters per second, in fact.

You might think that if the color of an object is decided by the wavelength of light that bounces off it, everyone would see colors the same. But there’s more going on inside the human body, which affects how people see color.

Cells and Cones

The backs of our eyes are covered with a thin layer of cells, which respond to light. Cells are the building blocks of all life. The cells in the back of our eyes, which help us to see color, are called cones.

Most people have three kinds of cones in their eyes — S, M, and L cones —and each of these only senses light waves of a certain length.

When a long wave hits an L cone, it seems to fit into it, like a key in a lock. The cone then shouts out to its neighbors that it has caught some light, so we say that it’s active.

L cone
An L cone picking up red light.

The L cones only care about long light waves, so they won’t catch any short or medium ones: those go to the S and M cones.

When light hits the S cones and they become active, we call that “blue”; when it’s the M cones, we see “green”; and when it’s the L cones, we see “red.”

Some people have more or fewer than three kinds of cone cells in their eyes. Some people — we can’t be sure exactly how many — have four kinds of cones. But for those of us with three, we can’t really imagine how they might see the world.

apples different colors
To someone who’s color blind, red and green apples might seem a similar color. 

Many people only have two kinds of cones — these people are often called “color blind.” Color blind people don’t see things in black and white; they just have trouble telling the difference between red and green — both could look sort of brown to them. Dogs also only have two kinds of cones, so they probably also have trouble seeing differences between red and green. But some animals have amazing color vision.

For example, bees can see shorter wavelengths than humans and use this ability to find the sweet nectar in flowers. The Mimulus flower petals have a dark-colored “path” to guide bees down to the nectar, which humans cannot see at all.

The Mimulus flower as humans (left) and bees (right) see it.
The Mimulus flower as humans (left) and bees (right) see it.

Seeing With Your Brain

But it’s not just our eyes that see — it’s our brains. We say we see different colors because of how our brains learn to link the signals they get from the eyes with the names of different colors. When a baby points at a ball and her father asks, “Would you like to play with that green ball?”, she learns to associate the color she’s seeing with the word “green,” and she will soon call things of a similar color “green” as well.

Many other things can affect how your brain sees color, including the season, what you looked at before, or the position of your body. Try this experiment to see for yourself:

Lie down on your left side for five minutes with your eyes shut. Now, close your left eye and open your right eye. Then switch eyes. Do things look different when you’re using different eyes?

When you laid on your side, more blood went to the lower (left) part of your head and body, and this makes the colors you see with each eye look different.

Can we be sure that people see the same color when they look at something? Not at all — while the cones in our eyes suggest we’re seeing something similar, it’s likely that we all see just a tiny bit differently.


This article was originally published on The Conversation by Niia Nikolova. Read the original article here.

8 Simple Productivity Hacks Backed By Science

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In a world where your output is often measured by how much you can do on any given day, productivity is a serious concern. Entrepreneurs are their own boss, and while this has many benefits, procrastination and loss of focus can derail your efforts. As a digital nomad, these risks are compounded as work often has to fit around travel and different time zones.

Arguably, it’s better to be effective than productive, suggesting that being effective is about focusing on the right things. But all things being equal, if you were productive at what makes you most effective, you wouldn’t just get more done – you would truly be on the path to success.

So, how can you boost your productivity? Here are eight simple hacks you should try for yourself.

1. Turn Up The Tunes

Dr. Teresa Lesiuk at the University of Miami studied the effect listening to music had on work performance. What she found was that those who listened to music while working worked faster, had better ideas and experienced positive mood change.

You may want to experiment with different types of music for optimal performance. If you find music with lyrics too distracting, then classical or meditation music might be best. Personally, I have a soothing playlist with tracks by Ludovico Einaudi and Ólafur Arnalds which helps with creative thinking and strategy sessions.

2. Work Up A Sweat

study conducted at Bristol University found that exercise boosted employee performance by 21%. Their research was based on 200 employees across three organizations who exercised one day and didn’t exercise the next. Overall, on workout days, participant scores were 21% higher for concentration, 22% higher for finishing work on time, 25% higher for working without unscheduled breaks and 41% higher for feeling motivated.

3. Make Your Office Green

According to the University of Exeter, employee productivity soars by 15% when offices are furnished with just a handful of houseplants. Plants are also known to reduce stress, illness, absenteeism and noise levels. They can also help with cleaning the air and making your workspace more attractive to job applicants.

While a bonsai may look aesthetically pleasing, opt for something low maintenance like a cactus, spider or pothos plant. Looking at an office full of dead plants isn’t going to do much for productivity.

4. Get More Sleep

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found in a 2010 study that employees with insomnia or insufficient sleep experienced major productivity losses, spending almost three times as much of their day just on time management. Sleep-deprived workers also suffered a lack of motivation, couldn’t focus, had trouble remembering things and making good decisions. Getting your seven to eight hours per night is highly recommended.

5. Focus On One Thing At A Time

study from 2009 shows that heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli. Multitaskers also performed worse on a test of task-switching. As it turns out, multitaskers are just more distracted.

If you want to get more done, do one thing at a time. Your concentration will improve, and ultimately, you’ll be more productive. My inbox is usually the biggest distraction that causes me to jump from one task to another so I make sure my phone notifications are off and my inbox is closed when I am working on big tasks.

6. Take Planned Breaks

Some people like to avoid distractions and get into a flow state while working. This makes a lot of sense on paper and when it’s crunch time I have been in danger of getting too in the zone. As it turns out, brief diversions can improve focus and performance, according to a study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Don’t forget to take a few quick breaks throughout your workday. Just make sure they are planned at intervals and not too long.

7. Power Nap

You would think sleeping on the job is a terrible idea. Typically, this would be viewed as a blatant act of defiance in the workplace. But according to a studyconducted by Vern Baxter and Steve Kroll-Smith, more employers are encouraging employees to take naps. As companies empowered their employees to nap, their overall productivity increased. Napping may not be the norm for you or your team, but it might be worth considering adding it to your routine or company culture.

8. Go For Walks

A 2014 study from Stanford University demonstrated the value of going for walks. Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz found that participants who were walking – versus sitting – came up with 60% more unique responses to stimuli.

If you’re trying to solve a difficult problem, or if you’re beginning to feel a little tired, going for a walk might be an excellent way to stimulate creative thinking and come up with better solutions to the problems you’re encountering. In case you were thinking of staying inside and walking on a treadmill, think again, walking outside is better for creativity.

Final Thoughts

While productivity hacks can appear counterintuitive by taking you away from your work, the long term benefits of taking care of yourself physically and mentally will make you more productive in the long run.

You Really Can Decide to Be Happy. Science Says So

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CREDIT: Getty Images

Is happiness a choice? No… and yes. In The How of Happiness, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky says that 50 percent of happiness is genetically predetermined. In terms of happiness, you are what (half of) you are.

 

But that leaves 50 percent of your level of happiness largely within your control: Health, relationships, career, goals, activities…

 

Which means that even if you have an inborn tendency to skew to the gloomy side, you can still take scientifically proven steps that will make you happier:

1. Find ways to help other people.

While giving is usually considered unselfish, giving can also be more beneficial for the giver than the receiver: Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it.

 

Intuitively, we know that. It feels great to help someone in need. Not only is that fulfilling, it’s a reminder of how comparatively fortunate we are — which is a nice reminder of how thankful we should be for what we already have.

 

Plus, receiving is something you cannot control — if you need or want help, you can’t make other people help you. But you can always control whether you offer and provide help.

 

And that means you can always control, at least to a degree, how happy you are — because giving makes you happier.

2. Actively pursue goals.

Goals you don’t pursue aren’t goals, they’re dreams, and dreams make you happy only when you’re dreaming.

 

Pursuing goals, though, does make you happy. According to David Niven, author of 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life, “People who could identify a goal they were pursuing were 19 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives and 26 percent more likely to feel positive about themselves.”

 

So be grateful for what you have, and then actively try to achieve more. If you’re pursuing a huge goal, make sure that every time you take a small step closer to achieving it, you pat yourself on the back.

But don’t compare where you are now with where you someday hope to be. Compare where you are now to where you were a few days ago. Then you’ll get dozens of bite-size chunks of fulfillment — and a never-ending supply of things to be thankful for.

3. Do what you do well more often.

You know the old cliché regarding the starving-yet-happy artist? Turns out it’s true: Artists are considerably more satisfied with their work than non-artists — even though the pay tends to be considerably lower than in other skilled fields.

 

Why? I’m no researcher, but clearly the more you enjoy what you do and the more fulfilled you feel by it, the happier you will be.

 

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor says that when volunteers picked “one of their signature strengths and used it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed.”

 

Of course it’s unreasonable to think you can simply do what you love. But you can find ways to do more of what you do best.

 

Delegate. Outsource. Shift the products and services you provide into areas that allow you to bring more of your strengths to bear. If you’re a great trainer, find ways to train more people. If you’re a great salesperson, find ways to streamline your administrative tasks and get in front of more customers.

 

Everyone has at least a few things they do incredibly well. Find ways to do those things more often.

 

You’ll be a lot happier. And probably a lot more successful (in whatever way you choose to define success.)

4. Make a few really good friends.

It’s easy to focus on building a professional network of partners, customers, employees, connections, etc., because there is (hopefully) a payoff.

 

But there’s a definite payoff to making real (not just professional or social-media) friends. Increasing your number of friends correlates to higher subjective well-being; doubling your number of friends is like increasing your income by 50 percent in terms of how happy you feel.

 

And if that’s not enough, people who don’t have strong social relationships are 50 percent less likely to survive at any given time than those who do. (That’s a scary thought for loners like me.)

 

Make friends outside of work. Make friends at work. Make friends everywhere.

Make real friends. You’ll live a longer, happier life.

5. Actively (and regularly) count your blessings.

According to one study, couples who expressed gratitude in their interactions with each other experienced increased relationship connection and satisfaction the next day — both for the person expressing thankfulness and (no big surprise) the person receiving it. (In fact, the authors of the study said gratitude was like a “booster shot” for relationships.)

Of course the same is true at work. Express gratitude for employees’ hard work, and you both feel better about yourselves.

 

Another easy method is to write down a few things you are grateful for every night. One study showed people who wrote down five things they were thankful for once a week were 25 percent happier after 10 weeks; in effect, they dramatically increased their chances of meeting their happiness set-point.

 

Happy people focus on what they have, not on what they don’t have. It’s motivating to want more in your career, relationships, bank account, etc., but thinking about what you already have, and expressing gratitude for it, will make you a lot happier.

 

It will also remind you that even if you still have huge dreams, you have already accomplished a lot — and should feel genuinely proud.

6. Embrace the fact that (more) money won’t make you happier.

Money is important. Money does a lot of things. (One of the most important is to create choices.)

 

But after a certain point, money doesn’t make people happier. After about $75,000 a year, money doesn’t buy more (or less) happiness. “Beyond $75,000…higher income is neither the road to experience happiness nor the road to relief of unhappiness or stress,” say two Princeton University researchers on the subject.

“Perhaps $75,000 is the threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to do what matters most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure,” the researchers speculate.

 

And if you don’t buy that, here’s another take: “The materialistic drive and satisfaction with life are negatively related.” Or, in layman’s terms, “Chasing possessions tends to make you less happy.”

 

Think of it as the bigger house syndrome. You want a bigger house. You need a bigger house. (Not really, but it sure feels like you do.) So you buy it. Life is good…for a couple months, until your bigger house is just your house.

 

The new always becomes the new normal.

 

“Things” provide only momentary bursts of happiness. To be happier, don’t chase as many things.

 

Instead, chase more experiences.

 

And most importantly: Remember, fifty percent of how happy you are lies within your control.

 

See happiness as a choice — and start doing more of the things that make you happy.

10 Things You Should Do Every Day To Improve Your Life, According To Science

Ladders Article

These are the 10 things that scientific research shows can help improve your life.

1. Get out in nature

You probably seriously underestimate how important this is. (Actually, there’s research that says you do.) Being in nature reduces stress, makes you more creative, improves your memory and may even make you a better person.

2. Exercise

We all know how important this is, but few people do it consistently. Other than health benefits too numerous to mention, exercise makes you smarterhappier, improves sleepincreases libidoand makes you feel better about your body. A Harvard study that has tracked a group of men for more than 70 years identified it as one of the secrets to a good life.

3. Spend time with friends and family

Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert identified this as one of the biggest sources of happiness in our lives. Relationships are worth more than you think (approximately an extra $131,232 a year.) Not feeling socially connected can make you stupider and kill you. Loneliness can lead to heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

The longest lived people on the planet all place a strong emphasis on social engagement and good relationships are more important to a long life than even exerciseFriends are key to improving your lifeShare good news and enthusiastically respond when others share good news with you to improve your relationships. Want to instantly be happier? Do something kind for them.

4. Express gratitude

It will make you happier.

It will improve your relationships.

It can make you a better person.

It can make life better for everyone around you.

5. Meditate

Meditation can increase happinessmeaning in life, social support and attention span while reducing anger, anxiety, depression and fatigue. Along similar lines, prayer can make you feel better — even if you’re not religious.

6. Get enough sleep

You can’t cheat yourself on sleep and not have it affect you. Being tired actually makes it harder to be happy. Lack of sleep = more likely to get sick. “Sleeping on it” does improve decision making. Lack of sleep can make you more likely to behave unethically. There is such a thing as beauty sleep.

Naps are great too. Naps increase alertness and performance on the job, enhance learning abilityand purge negative emotions while enhancing positive ones. Here’s how to improve your naps.

7. Challenge yourself

Learning another language can keep your mind sharp. Music lessons increase intelligence. Challenging your beliefs strengthens your mind. Increasing willpower just takes a little effort each day and it’s more responsible for your success than IQ. Not getting an education or taking advantage of opportunities are two of the things people look back on their lives and regret the most.

8. Laugh

People who use humor to cope with stress have better immune systems, reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, experience less pain during dental work and live longer. Laughter should be like a daily vitamin. Just reminiscing about funny moments can improve your relationship. Humor has many benefits.

9. Touch someone

Touching can reduce stress, improve team performance, and help you be persuasive. Hugs make you happier. Sex may help prevent heart attacks and cancer, improve your immune system and extend your life.

10. Be optimistic

Optimism can make you healthierhappier and extend your life. The Army teaches it in order to increase mental toughness in soldiers. Being overconfident improves performance.

This article first appeared on Barking Up The Wrong Tree

 

New Study Pinpoints Why Sleep Is Often the Best Medicine

Author Article

Dimitrov et al., 2019
This diagram shows how the effects of Gαs-coupled agonists on T cells can be influenced by sleep or disease.
Source: Dimitrov et al., 2019

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book,” according to an oft-quoted Irish proverb. We all know from life experience that not getting enough sleep increases our odds of getting sick and that a solid night’s sleep is recuperative. But, until recently, scientists haven’t really understood why sleep is often the best medicine for fighting off an infection or why good sleep hygiene keeps us healthy.

Today, a new study (Dimitrov et al., 2019) on the immunology behind sleep (and sleep deprivation) by researchers in Germany offers some fresh evidence-based clues about why “long sleep” has anecdotally been considered “one of the best cures in a doctor’s book” since temps immémorial.

Their paper, “GαS-Coupled Receptor Signaling and Sleep Regulate Integrin Activation of Human Antigen-Specific T Cells,” was published February 12 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. This study was co-led by Stoyan Dimitrov and Luciana Besedovsky from the University of Tübingen’s Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology.

As the diagram above illustrates, the researchers were able to identify how sleep improves the potential ability of immune T cells to adhere to their targets firmly. These findings help to explain why sleep improves our ability to fight off infection and how other day-to-day factors that are linked to insomnia (such as chronic stress) might make us more susceptible to illness.

What Are T Cells?

NIAID/Public Domain
Scanning electron micrograph of a human T cell (also called a T lymphocyte) from the immune system of a healthy donor.
Source: NIAID/Public Domain

T cells are a type of lymphocyte and a subtype of white blood cells that play a crucial role in cell-mediated immunity and actively participate in the body’s overall immune response. Typically, when T cells recognize a specific target—such as a virus-infected cell—they activate something called “integrins” which are sticky, Velcro-like adhesion proteins that glom onto an infected cell and demolish it.

Integrins were first identified as a family of cell surface adhesion receptors in the late 1980s (Hynes, 1987). Richard O. Hynes of MIT has been a pioneer of integrin research (Hynes, 1992) for decades.

Since the early 21st century, scientists have continued to figure out how specific signals (Ley et al., 2007) activate the “stickiness” of integrins. Unfortunately, pinpointing specific signals that dampen the ability of T cells to firmly adhere to their targets has remained enigmatic.

In an attempt to crack this code, Dimitrov and colleagues decided to investigate how sleep, lack of sleep, and disease influence the ability of a group of signaling molecules called “Gαs-coupled receptor agonists” to regulate integrin activation of antigen-specific T cells in humans.

Interestingly, the researchers found that sleep up-regulates integrin activation via the suppression of Gαs-coupled receptor signaling.

On the flip side, specific Gαs-coupled receptor agonists—which include hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine along with proinflammatory molecules like prostaglandin (PG) E2 and PGD2, as well as the neuromodulator adenosine—prevent T cells from activating their integrins after recognizing their target in a dose-dependent manner.

“The levels of these molecules needed to inhibit integrin activation are observed in many pathological conditions, such as tumor growth, malaria infection, hypoxia, and stress,” Dimitrov said in a statement. “This pathway may, therefore, contribute to the immune suppression associated with these pathologies.”

“Our results demonstrate that a couple of hours of sleep loss suffice to reduce the adhesion capacity of antigen-specific T cells,” the authors concluded. “This finding shows that sleep has the potential to enhance the efficiency of effector T cell responses, which is especially relevant in light of the high prevalence of sleep disorders and conditions characterized by impaired sleep, such as depression, chronic stress, aging, and shift work.”

In addition to pinpointing why sleep is often the best medicine, Dimitrov and colleagues speculate that their recent findings (2019) might spur the creation of new therapeutic strategies and pharmaceuticals that could optimize the firm adhesion of T cells to their targets.

Hopefully, someday soon, the scientific advancement of integrin activation methods will be able to save human lives by prompting specific T cells to seek out, attack, and kill tumor cells as part of cancer immunotherapies and the treatment of other diseases.

Science Says Today’s Girls Are More Anxious Than Ever

Author Article

Parents worry that their daughters constantly seem pressured and stressed. Turns out, most are. Studies show an alarming increase in anxiety and stress experienced by girls starting at age 10 and through college.

If you have a daughter, you know: They are under enormous pressure to do well in school, to be socially engaged and accepted, to look good—anyone of which can at times cause what feels like crippling stress or anxiety.

According to new Pew Center research, 7 in 10 teens see anxiety and depression as a major problem among their peers ages 13 to 17. Pew notes, “Girls are more likely than boys to say they plan to attend a four-year college…and they’re also more likely to say they worry a lot about getting into the school of their choice.” The Center’s research confirms “a larger share of girls than boys say they often feel tense or nervous about their day (36% vs. 23%, respectively, say they feel this way every day or almost every day).”

Adding to and percolating beneath those stressors are worries about bullying, drug addiction and alcohol use, relationships with boys, and, understandably, school shootings and what feels like a constant barrage of negative news. For young girls, many of whom are prone to overthinking a situation or incident, the pressure can feel relentless.

Ask any young lady you know and she may tell you she feels anxious at a party or she’s stressed by a disagreement she had with her best friend. She might be terrified by a speech she has to give in class or a test she doesn’t feel prepared to take. Or, she could be nervous about what she will see the next time she opens Snapchat or Instagram. She might be stressed or anxious about an upcoming athletic competition or musical performance, or what to do about a boy who is pursuing her (or isn’t).

If you have a daughter, you have to be asking yourself, “How can all this stress and anxiety be good, even beneficial?” As a parent in the trenches and the recipient of the outbursts, meltdowns, sulking or silent treatment, you have to also be asking yourself, “How can I help effectively?”

Stress and Anxiety are “Fraternal Twins”

Your daughter may hate feeling stressed or anxious; she may see these strong responses only as a plague. But, they’re not necessarily a bad thing. It’s important to first understand how stress and anxiety play a role in anyone’s day-to-day functioning. Although stress and anxiety often merge in people’s minds and are used interchangeably, parents can help their daughters use both to their advantage.

Know that these “negative” emotions and the body’s natural response to protect itself, can actually be harnessed for good. Lisa Damour, author of Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls refers to stress and anxiety as “fraternal twins…they are both psychologically uncomfortable.” She defines stress as “feeling of emotional or mental strain or tension;” anxiety as “the feeling of fear, dread, or panic.”

Because stress and anxiety have become epidemic for young girls doesn’t mean stress and anxiety can’t be helpful—even good—especially if we reframe them as tools for moving in the right direction, instead of bad feelings that hold us back. Damour makes these points to keep in mind as you assist your daughter:

It might be easier to run away at the first sign of stress or anxiety. But, by teaching our daughters to face stressful situations, we help them build resilience.
Stress and anxiety are byproducts of stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Operating beyond their comfort zone helps girls grow, especially when taking on new challenges.
Analyzing an anxiety-producing situation with daughters helps them better evaluate if they are over reacting to how bad it is or underestimating their ability to deal with it.
Dr. Damour documents just how profound and weighty that pressure is at the same time she delivers strategies to alleviate the pressure. She reassures parents that stress and anxiety can be a positive to help girls learn to take upsets and setbacks in their stride.

Transition Time Needed

In guiding your daughter, Dr. Damour recommends you think of your daughter’s brain as a snow or “glitter” globe turned upside down. The adolescent brain needs time for the “snow” to settle before it can think straight.

Once a parent understands how the adolescent brain functions, it is easier to allow your daughter transition time before rushing headlong into “bailouts” or making comments that are unproductive. This approach is valuable in the middle of an immediate “crisis.”

The transition time may be when your daughter races home after school, clearly upset, and heads to her room. Give her the space she needs and when she emerges discuss the situation or predicament she feels she’s in and options she might have. Allow her to complain, then ask her what she thinks might help…or happen. The goal is have her understand that her stress or anxiety is in Damour’s words, “only a thought or only a feeling.”

As we know dismissing her fear or avoidance isn’t the right path, strive to help her brainstorm her own solutions. Ask for ways she thinks she can handle or solve the problem. You will be surprised at her ability to figure it out with your composed guidance.

It’s Not About Rescuing Your Daughter

As parents our first instinct is to bail out our daughter. And, considering how strong these anxious emotions can feel, it’s natural to feel compelled to swoop in and save the day. We want nothing but comfort and painlessness for our children. This, however, can lead to a parent becoming a crutch. We may make an excuse so she doesn’t have to take the test she says she can’t pass, or have her stay home from a party because some friendship drama may be afoot, or even let her skip out on a recital or a play rehearsal or performance she committed to, all to protect from these endlessly stressful or anxiety-provoking situations that have created a meltdown.

Who hasn’t at times been at a loss in how to help? In her book, Dr. Damour offers parents a roadmap to step in and alleviate some of the pressure, but not in ways that parents are prone to believe are helpful.

Helping her avoid a situation will likely make the problem worse. Avoidance is only temporary relief. At some point, she’s going to have to face the test, face the boy, talk to her friend, join the conversation on Facebook, or perform in a recital or on an athletic field.

Instead of rushing to smooth the path to whatever a daughter’s conflict, drama, or worry of the moment, in most situations, parents can pause and lead them through it. Realize it’s better help to step back, calm their own alarm system, and encourage your daughter to find alternatives, think about what might happen, and come up with solutions she feels that can handle or execute. Guide her to form long-lasting habits that empower her to handle her stress and anxiety instead of trying to erase it altogether (which, as we know, won’t happen).

Tamping Down Perfectionism

Gently steer your daughter away from perfectionism if she leans in that direction. This is one common route to anxiety in the first place. The idea of being perfect particularly doing well in school is a toxic pressure that both society and parents place on their daughters, Dr. Damour points out. It’s time for parents to help their overly stressed daughters pull back on the time and intensity she may be devoting to academics.

Under Pressure not only helps calm parents but also gives them the tools to be supportive when daughters face obstacles. The work done now will help build resilience for the inevitable upsets they will face in the future. I highly recommend this book.

Copyright @2019 by Susan Newman

The Single Most Important Factor in Leading a Happy, Fulfilling Life—According to Science

Author Article

Working out at the gym got a lot easier the day I realized the sweat served a higher purpose. I’m 43, and have three kids under eight years old, so if I want to be around—healthy and active—for my grandkids, I better put the work in now or face regret later.

Activities that aren’t inherently joyful, like clocking time on a treadmill, get better when done in service of something bigger.

The same can be said of cleaning out one’s closet. Satisfying, yes, but the buzz is too fleeting to be self-sustaining. It’s only when decluttering is reframed as a piece of a larger, more significant puzzle that it sticks.

Without a bigger picture in mind, our actions are often dictated by “What’s more pleasurable in the moment?” rather than “What’s better in the long-term?” In the moment, the consequences of most choices are insignificant. It makes little difference, on a particular day, if you opt to stay on the couch rather than hitting the gym, but over the course of a year, the negative results from this repeated decision will compound.

An intentional life is one marked by long-term thinking that leads to beneficial short-term decision-making. First, decide what you want. Then, decide—every day, in ways big and small—how to get there. Have the ends in mind, and the means will become clear.

Determining the ends, however, is not always easy.

What makes Netflix so appealing—the quantity of programming—also makes it hard to decide what show to watch. The same quandary applies to life, but the stakes are obviously far greater. There are countless ways to live, values to prioritize, and experiences to optimize for. However, because there’s no clear path to follow despite the abundance of options, it’s easy to bounce aimlessly through life like a tumbleweed.

One of the best ways to live a fulfilling, intentional life, and direct one’s actions toward a beneficial end, is to adopt an “ism” operating system. Some “isms,” such as materialism and consumerism, have proven to be harmful and should be avoided. Others, such as minimalism, lead to smart decision-making, contentment, and happiness.

Years ago, when I first stumbled across the notion of minimalism, I bought into the idea that a life with less could lead to more. Like many, I began my journey by eliminating the low hanging fruit of plentiful and obvious excesses from my life. Over time, despite how satisfying purging could be, I came to realize that minimalism is not an end in itself. The process of decluttering, detaching, and deemphasizing materialism is simply a step on the road toward something more significant. Minimalism is a mechanism to create space and time for what really matters.

The Real Secret to Happiness

For thousands of years, people have grappled with the big question of “What really matters?” What, among the many alternative ways we can choose to spend our finite time, will bring us happiness?

Recently, another batch of smart people have attempted to answer these eternal questions, and their conclusion reinforces something that most of us intuit.

According to Harvard’s Grant & Glueck Study, which tracked more than 700 participants over the course of 75 years, the key to long-term happiness and fulfillment comes down to a single factor: the quality of our relationships.

The root of happiness is not money, fame, or good looks—it’s the people we choose to surround ourselves with and how well we nurture our relationships with them.

Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, explained that: “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

As with most things in life, when it comes to building good relationships, quality is more important than quantity. Indeed, practicing minimalism is as important in curating relationships as it is in decluttering a closet.

In the 1990s, British anthropologist and researcher Robin Dunbardetermined that we are only capable of having a finite number of people in our social sphere—150 at most—due to the size of our brains. Any more, and it becomes impossible to manage one’s social network. This theory is known as “Dunbar’s Number.”

Dunbar went on to conclude that while we can form, at most, 150 loose relationships, we only have the capacity to form close, meaningful relationships with approximately five individuals.

The takeaways from the Grant & Glueck Study, and Robin Dunbar’s research, are both hopeful and daunting. Hopeful in the sense that our capacity to lead happy, fulfilling lives rests on our capacity to forge close bonds with merely five individuals. Daunting in that most can appreciate the challenge posed by nurturing just one close relationship over a lifetime.

Nonetheless, despite how hard it may be, the reward is worth it. As Booker T. Washington once said, “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.”

The Payoff from Positive Relationships

The benefits of having close, healthy relationships with members of one’s immediate family are self-evident. A safe, secure, and loving family results in happy, independent children and parents who derive the satisfaction of having completed a job well done. The payoff from social and professional relationships may be less obvious, but are no less important. Consider the following historical examples of people leveraging close relationships into meaningful success:

In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway moved to Paris to join a group of expatriate, “Lost Generation” writers, including Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had taken up residence in the Left Bank. They hung out at cafes, argued about politics, caroused late into the nights on the streets of Paris, and produced some of the greatest works of literature of the 20th Century.

In the 1970s, young and brash directors Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Brian De Palma, known as the “Movie Brats,” took Hollywood by storm. They competed, collaborated, shared resources, worked on each other’s films, gave critical feedback, and formed friendships. They transformed an industry because of, not despite, one another.

A “tribe” of inspiring and supportive people can lift you up, hold you accountable, and inspire you to live to your greatest potential. As motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously observed, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. So choose wisely.

Implicit in this principle, of course, is the fact that it works both ways. If you fail to choose wisely, and surround yourself with people who exhibit behaviors and habits that are inconsistent with your own desires, you’ll have a hard time bucking the group’s standards—as unappealing as they may be.

For example, if you desire to lead a healthy and active lifestyle, you’ll be hard pressed to do so if your inner circle consists of couch potato friends who spend their days playing video games and eating junk food. On the other hand, if your friends are physically fit you stand a much greater chance of being fit yourself because the cultural norms of your group will influence your own behavior. Who you spend the most time with is who you are.

Find the Tribe that’s Right for You

Our instincts to fit in have ancient roots. For thousands of years, humans have lived in tribes in which it was essential to conform. To buck the tribe was to be shunned or cast out altogether, leading to great hardship. Modern culture is different, but from fraternities and sororities to sports teams and social groups, tribes still exist and still enforce social norms. Just ask a young college student who is pledging a fraternity whether participating in hazing rituals is optional if you doubt the existence of modern tribes and their codes of social conduct.

In this environment, faced with the expectations of a tribe, you have a few options: (1) conform to the rules of the tribe, (2) resist, or (3) find a new one.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with conforming to a tribe’s social norms—as long as those norms align with your own desires. If you’re living out of alignment with your desired values, and those around you are exemplifying the lifestyle you want to live, then the quickest way to get what you want is to surrender to the group’s standards. But often the opposite is true—you want something different than what the group demands. In this scenario, surrendering to the group is sacrificing the life you desire.

Another option is to resist the group, but this path is perilous. It’s hard enough to change one’s own thoughts and behaviors. Why take on the nearly impossible task of trying to change someone else’s?

The third way is to practice relationship minimalism, which is not always the path of least resistance, but is certainly the path of greatest benefit. Most people enter into relationships too haphazardly, or maintain existing ones by default. They rely on proximity or convenience to guide relationship decision-making, or are gripped by the inertia of the status quo.

Finding the tribe that’s right for you is not always easy. It requires careful consideration. Often it means making difficult decisions to part ways with those who don’t align with your values. But isn’t the payoff of lifelong happiness and fulfillment worth it?

There are people out there who can bring real joy to your life, who you can share meaningful experiences with, and who will be there to lift you up when you need it. Cultivate a tribe in which your desired behavior is the normal behavior. Surround yourself with people who are leading lives you want to live.

Here’s how:

First, use minimalism to shed the extraneous excesses that clutter your home and your mind. Cast aside harmful “isms” that are detracting, not adding, value to your life and the lives of those around you. This will create the space and time necessary to tackle life’s more important issues.

Second, leverage your newfound mental bandwidth to think deeply about how you want to live your life. How do you want to spend your time? What makes you happy? What kind of person do you want to be?

Third, make the hard decisions necessary to part ways with toxic people in your life, and scale back ambivalent relationships to make room for new, better aligned ones.

Fourth, find people who exemplify the values and lifestyles you aspire to. Clusters of such people may already have found each other and formed groups—from book clubs to biking groups—centered around the activities and experiences that are consistent with your desires. Begin to engage.

Fifth, take frequent, consistent steps to strengthen budding relationships with members of your newfound tribe. Show up. Give back. Express gratitude. Let your guard down. Be generous. Find your people, then never take them for granted. You’ll become a transformed and better person when you surround yourself with people who push, prod, and encourage you to reach new heights.

Give of yourself to others who inspire you and a delightful thing will happen: you’ll get so much more than you could ever imagine in return.

***

Jay Harrington blogs at Life and Whim where he offers insights and inspiration about how to live a life full of more First Moments.

Your Brain Cleans Itself Best With The Right Kind Of Sleep

Author Article

Because sleep often becomes increasingly lighter and more disrupted as we get older, the study reinforces and potentially explains the links among aging, sleep deprivation, and heightened risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Sleep is critical to the function of the brain’s waste removal system and this study shows that the deeper the sleep the better,” says Maiken Nedergaard, codirector of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study.

“These findings also add to the increasingly clear evidence that quality of sleep or sleep deprivation can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.”

The study, which appears in the journal Science Advances, indicates that the slow and steady brain and cardiopulmonary activity associated with deep non-REM sleep are optimal for the function of the glymphatic system, the brain’s unique process of removing waste. The findings may also explain why some forms of anesthesia can lead to cognitive impairment in older adults.

WASHING AWAY WASTE

Nedergaard and her colleagues first described the previously unknown glymphatic system in 2012. Prior to that point, scientists didn’t fully understand how the brain, which maintains its own closed ecosystem, removed waste. The study revealed a system of plumbing which piggybacks on blood vessels and pumps cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) through brain tissue to wash away waste. A subsequent study showed that this system primarily works while we sleep.

Because the accumulation of toxic proteins such as beta amyloid and tau in the brain are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have speculated that impairment of the glymphatic system due to disrupted sleep could be a driver of the disease. This squares with clinical observations which show an association between sleep deprivation and heightened risk for Alzheimer’s.

In the current study, researchers conducted experiments with mice anesthetized with six different anesthetic regimens. While the animals were under anesthesia, the researchers tracked brain electrical activity, cardiovascular activity, and the cleansing flow of CSF through the brain.

The team observed that a combination of the drugs ketamine and xylazine (K/X) most closely replicated the slow and steady electrical activity in the brain and slow heart rate associated with deep non-REM sleep. Furthermore, the electrical activity in the brains of mice administered K/X appeared to be optimal for function of the glymphatic system.

“The synchronized waves of neural activity during deep slow-wave sleep, specifically firing patterns that move from front of the brain to the back, coincide with what we know about the flow of CSF in the glymphatic system,” says Lauren Hablitz, a postdoctoral associate in Nedergaard’s lab and first author of the study.

“It appears that the chemicals involved in the firing of neurons, namely ions, drive a process of osmosis which helps pull the fluid through brain tissue.”

NEW QUESTIONS

The study raises several important clinical questions. It further bolsters the link between sleep, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have known that as we age it becomes more difficult to consistently achieve deep non-REM sleep, and this study reinforces the importance of deep sleep to the proper function of the glymphatic system.

The study also demonstrates that enhancing sleep can manipulate the glymphatic system, a finding that may point to potential clinical approaches, such as sleep therapy or other methods to boost the quality of sleep, for at-risk populations.

Furthermore, because several of the compounds used in the study were analogous to anesthetics used in clinical settings, the study also sheds light on the cognitive difficulties that older patients often experience after surgery and suggests classes of drugs that could help avoid this phenomenon. Mice in the study that researchers exposed to anesthetics that did not induce slow brain activity saw diminished glymphatic activity.

“Cognitive impairment after anesthesia and surgery is a major problem,” says coauthor Tuomas Lilius with the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. “A significant percentage of elderly patients that undergo surgery experience a postoperative period of delirium or have a new or worsened cognitive impairment at discharge.”

Additional researchers from the University of Rochester and the University of Copenhagen contributed to the study. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute on Aging, the Adelson Foundation, the Sigrid Juselius Foundation, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, and the Lundbeck Foundation supported the research.

Source: University of Rochester

An Introduction to the Neuroscience Behind Creating Your Reality

Author Article

Have you ever wondered why two people can share the exact same situation, yet experience it differently?

Neural pathways are often described as a type of super-highway of nerve cells, the function of which is to transmit messages. Much like a walking track in the bush, the more you walk over it, the more trodden and clear it becomes. The same thing happens when we engage in behaviors such as thinking certain thoughts with a high degree of regularity.

You see the brain consumes between 20-30% of the caloric burn in our body at rest. It uses so much energy because it’s so complex and so it has needed to evolve and adapt in order to automate various processes as a way of conserving energy. This is why and how regular behaviors become habits (or things we seemingly do without a great deal of conscious thought).

Think about something simple like brushing your teeth. You can brush them just fine, no problem but what if I asked you to use your non-dominant hand to do that instead? You’d suddenly have to think about the action of your arm and the motion of your wrist or hand. It would be hard at first because it’s unfamiliar, but if you persevered with it, over time, it would become easier as the task became more familiar. This is an example of neuroplasticity and can be thought of as “re-wiring your brain.”

So now you know in general terms how neural pathways work and their function, we can proceed to look at beliefs. Perhaps you are familiar with the famous metaphor of the iceberg where the tip represents conscious thought and everything below the water line represents subconscious thought. The subconscious mind holds our beliefs, many of which we acquired as we were growing up. The function of a belief is in part to help us make sense of the world around us. It creates a filter for our brain to receive, store, interpret and recall information picked up from the world around us by our senses and it automates the way our brain processes information.

In order for a thought (which occurs in the conscious mind) to become a belief, it must be repeated. It’s this repetition that allows a neural pathway to be created. Here’s an example. Let’s imagine that growing up, you heard your parents say things like “you have to work hard to get ahead.” You heard it a lot. Now imagine that you too now hold the belief (without realizing it) that you have to work hard in order to make money. So you work long hours nearly every day. It affects your marriage, you stop seeing your friends due to your work commitments, and you stop going to the gym. You don’t sleep well at night and you are often irritable or grumpy because you feel pressured to make the money.

If you hold a belief that “you have to work hard to make money”, then that is what will show up in your reality. Your mind will filter out all of the information that it thinks is unimportant and will only bring you the information you’ve told it is important with your belief. So that’s all you see when, in fact, the reality might be very different.

Sometimes beliefs are healthy and other times, they work against us. The good news is that there is a part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System or the RAS and part of its role is to actively seek out the information that you tell it to. So, if you want to change a belief the RAS can be your greatest asset! The RAS transmits information between the conscious and subconscious minds and the other beautiful thing about it is that it doesn’t question you at all. Whatever you tell it, it will believe because it does not distinguish between fact and fiction. It simply obeys commands from your conscious mind.

But changing a belief takes time and consistent practice. There are many ways to help your subconscious mind adopt new thinking styles though and these include things like visualization, using your imagination, meditating, acting as-if, using journal prompts to uncover beliefs and develop healthier alternatives, using affirmations (they work on repetition and hence create new neural pathways) and through the use of story.

Hypnosis is another effective way of speeding up the process of changing beliefs because it goes almost directly to the subconscious. It can be more efficient than some other approaches but as with all interventions, is not without its limitations so won’t work for everyone.

One very effective tool that you can use to change a belief is listening to audio narrative such a meditation recording or an affirmation recording. This works best in the last five minutes before you go to sleep and in the first five minutes upon waking because that is when the subconscious mind is most receptive to information. You can prime your brain to develop the neural pathways that you prefer to have by doing things like listening to audio at these times.

When you change your beliefs by redirecting your conscious thought, you can change your belief (filter) and when you change your filter, you change your experience of the world around you, otherwise referred to as your reality. If you are consistent with your practice, you will be begin to see things differently in no time.

How would you prefer to feel today?

References

Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive Psychology (Third ed., pp. 24-76). N.p.: Linda Schreiber-Ganster.

Liou, S. (2010, June 26). Neuroplasticity. In web.stanford.edu. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from http://web.stanford.edu/group/hopes/cgi-bin/hopes_test/neuroplasticity/

Martindale, C. (1991). Cognitive psychology: A neural-network approach. Belmont, CA, US: Thomson Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.

Neurons, . (2013, May 6). Neurons. In http://www.biology-pages.info. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from http://www.biology-pages.info/N/Neurons.html

Tassell, D. V. (2004). Neural Pathway Development. In http://www.brains.org. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from http://www.brains.org

Walker, A. (2014, July 1). How Your Thought Pathways Affect Your Life. In http://www.drwalker.com. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from http://www.drawalker.com/blog/how-your-thought-pathways-create-your-life

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