Research into how we can keep our brains healthy as we age has gained momentum in recent years. There is now an increased focus on the changes that we can makes to our health and lifestyle, which may prevent dementia. Here are some things that research has shown reduce a person’s risk of cognitive decline with age.
Our latest study shows that having more sex is associated with better cognitive function.
We recruited 28 men and 45 women, aged between 50 and 83, to take part in our study. We found that those who had sex weekly scored on average 2% higher on some cognitive tests than those who had sex monthly, and 4% higher than those who never had sex. These results were shown on tests of verbal fluency (such as naming as many animals as possible in one minute) and visuo-spatial abilities (drawing familiar objects from memory or copying complex pictures).
The association could be the result of the heightened levels of intimacy and companionship inherent in sexual relationships (that is, an increase in social contact), or there could be a purely biological explanation – where regular surges in arousal and release of sex-related hormones
‘……………..By Russell FosterProfessor of Circadian Neuroscience , University of Oxford
We are only beginning to unravel the genetic and biochemical basis of mental illness – a vague term including conditions as diverse as anxiety, depression, and mood and psychotic disorders. With millions of people suffering from such conditions, it is crucial that we find ways to improve diagnosis and treatment. But an increasing body of scientific evidence is now suggesting that we should turn our attention to one of our most basic functions: sleep.
Studies suggest that disrupted sleep such as insomnia could actually help us predict episodes of mental illness and that fixing sleep problems may help treat them. Despite this, the effects of sleep on mental illness have been largely ignored in the clinic so far. But how is sleep and mental health actually linked in the brain? To understand this, let us first consider the biology of sleep and circadian rhythms.
Circadian rhythm and health
There have been over a trillion dawns and dusks since life began some 3.8 billion years ago. The physiology, metabolism and behaviour of organisms, including us, are aligned to this daily cycle through internal clocks which enable us to effectively “know” the time of day. This clock also stops everything happening at the same time and ensures that biological processes occur in the appropriate order. For cells to function properly they need the right materials in the right place at the right time.
Thousands of genes have to be switched on and off in order and in concert. Proteins, enzymes, fats, hormones and other compounds have to be absorbed, broken down, metabolised and produced in a precise time window to allow important processes such as growth, reproduction, metabolism, and cellular repair. These take energy and all have to be timed to best effect by the millisecond, second, minute and hour of the 24-hour day.
Circadian rhythms are innate and hard-wired into the genomes of just about every living thing on the planet. In humans, our physiology is organised around the daily cycle of activity and sleep. In the active phase, when energy expenditure is high and food and water are consumed, organs need to be prepared for the intake, processing and uptake of nutrients.
During sleep, although energy expenditure and digestive processes decrease, many essential activities occur including cellular repair, toxin clearance, memory consolidation and information processing by the brain.
Disrupting this pattern, as happens with jet-lag, shiftwork, and mental illness breaks down the internal synchronisation of the circadian network and our ability to do the right thing at the right time is greatly impaired. This can have a major impact on our health, with some of the effects described in the table above.
Sleep disruption in mental illness
The relationship between mental illness and sleep and circadian rhythm disruption was first described in the late 19th century by the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin. Today, such disruption is reported in as many as 80% of patients with schizophrenia, and is increasingly recognised as one of the most common features of the disorder.
Yet despite its prevalence in mental illness, sleep disruption has been largely ignored, dismissed as a consequence of either social isolation, lack of employment, anti-psychotic medication. However, our team has explored this assumption and showed that sleep and circadian-rhythm disruption in patients with conditions such as schizophrenia persists independently of anti-psychotic medication and that it cannot be explained on the basis of social isolation or lack of employment. These results led us to suggest that mental illness and sleep disruption may share common and overlapping pathways in the brain.
The sleep and circadian timing system is the product of a complex interaction between multiple brain regions, neurotransmitters and hormones. As a consequence, abnormalities in any of these neurotransmitter systems will likely have an impact on sleep and circadian timing at several levels.
Similarly, psychiatric illness arises from abnormalities in the interacting circuits and neurotransmitter systems of the brain, many of which will overlap with those regulating sleep and circadian rhythms. Viewed in this way, it is no surprise that sleep disruption is common across the mental illness spectrum, or that disruption of circadian biology might worsen a fragile mental health state. Very significantly, many of the health problems caused by sleep disruption are common in mental illness, but have almost never been directly linked to the disruption of sleep.
These insights enable us to make important predictions. For example, genes linked to mental illness should play a role in sleep and circadian rhythm generation and regulation and genes that generate and regulate sleep and circadian rhythms should play a role in mental health and illness.
To date a surprisingly large number of genes have been identified that play an important role in both sleep disruption and mental illness. And if the mental illness is not causing disruption in sleep and circadian rhythm, then sleep disruption may actually occur just before an episode of mental illness under some circumstances.
Sleep abnormalities have indeed been identified in individuals prior to mental illness. For example we know that sleep disruption usually happens before an episode of depression. Furthermore, individuals identified as “at risk” of developing bipolar disorder and childhood-onset schizophrenia typically show problems with sleep before any clinical diagnosis of illness.
Such findings raise the possibility that sleep and circadian rhythm disruption may be an important factor in the early diagnosis of individuals with mental illness. This is hugely important, as early diagnosis offers the possibility of early help. It is also plausible that treating the actual sleep problems will have a positive impact upon the level of mental illness. A recent study managed to reduce sleep disruptions using cognitive behavioural therapy in patients with schizophrenia who showed persecutory delusions and found that a better night’s sleep was associated with a decrease in paranoid thinking along with a reduction in anxiety and depression. So the emerging data suggests treating sleep problems can be an effective means to reduce symptoms.
So where do we go from here? It is now abundantly clear that sleep problems in mental illness is not simply the inconvenience of being unable to sleep at an appropriate time but is an agent that exacerbates or causes serious health problems. Understanding the nature of sleep disruption in mental illness, and developing evidence-based therapeutic interventions using cognitive behavioural therapy, appropriately timed light exposure and some exciting new drugs to stabilise circadian rhythms is a major focus of the work currently being undertaken in Oxford.
It is time we began to take seriously the importance of sleep across all sectors of society, and particularly in mental illness. Treating sleep problems in mental illness will not only improve the health and quality of life for countless individuals and their caregivers, but will also have a massive impact on the economics of health care. ………..’
‘….medicaldaily.com – People just aren’t getting enough rest. With a Starbucks on almost every corner, people underestimate the importance of sufficient sleep and rely on a cup or two of coffee to make it throughout the…’
People just aren’t getting enough rest. With a Starbucks on almost every corner, people underestimate the importance of sufficient sleep and rely on a cup or two of coffee to make it throughout the day. In a new study, researchers have found yet again that getting the proper amount of sleep can keep you from developing poor cognitive function later in life.
The study conducted by the University of Warwick, published in PLOS ONE, involved about 4,000 men and over 4,800 women. Researchers observed the quantity versus quality of sleep in different age groups. For adults ages 50 to 64, getting the right amount of sleep was helpful in avoiding brain damage. Adults who slept more than the recommended six to eight hours of sleep showed signs of lower cognitive function. For older adults 65 years and up, the quality of sleep was more important than the quantity. Too much sleep was also noted to be damaging.
“Sleep is important for good health and mental wellbeing. Optimizing sleep at an older age may help to delay the decline in brain function seen with age, or indeed may slow or prevent the rapid decline that leads to dementia,” Francesco Cappuccio, a co-researcher, said in a press release.
If you feel groggy in the morning, it could be that you are getting too little sleep or too much sleep. The National Sleep Foundation says that seven to eight hours of sleep is sufficient, but based off of your age and how you feel, it can vary. Getting a lack of sleep can put you at risk for several chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.
If you are having trouble getting a good night’s rest, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a few tips that can help you. Try going to bed and waking up around the same time every day. It is recommended one avoid large meals before going to bed and turn off lights and the television. Consistent trouble with sleep could be associated with sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, or sleep apnea.
People suffering with insomnia can’t get to sleep at night and tend to fall asleep during the day. Narcolepsy causes excessive daytime sleepiness. Restless leg syndrome causes pains in your legs, making it very difficult to go to sleep. Sleep apnea causes heavy breathing during the middle of your sleep and causes you to stop breathing for short periods. If you have any of these syndromes, you should seek treatment immediately.
Source: Miller MA, Wright H, Ji C, Cappuccio F. Cross-Sectional Study of Sleep Quantity and Quality and Amnestic and Non-Amnestic Cognitive Function in an Ageing Population: The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). PLOS ONE. 2014. ………….’
Your brain does weird things when it goes too long without sleep. I remember friends regaling me with military tales of hallucinations from sleep deprivation training. Stories of talking to people who aren’t there, dreams merging into reality, and pink elephants.
If you’ve never been witness to sleep deprivation, here’s your chance. The National Geographic Channel’s Brain Games wanted to explore how three volunteers would fair after going 36 hours without sleep. The channel had experts alongside the three participants every step of the way, examining memory, motor skills, and reaction times to document as they tried to resist the sandman’s spell.
A lot of things can happen when your brain goes without sleep. The chemistry gets mixed up, and some could argue that you become a different person without it. Jason Silva, the host of Brain Games, explained:
“One of the things that happens when you’re sleep-deprived is that your ability to regulate emotions goes haywire. Your brain becomes disorganized in its capacity to process information and your sensitivity to information also get scrambled.”
Even when we aren’t going to extremes, researchers have found lack of sleep plays on our eating habits, causing us to eat more. Also, poor sleep has been linked to the production of a chemical associated with Alzheimer’s. Sleep is a major building block of not just our day, but our life that helps us function properly. But when we deprive ourselves from sleep, the brain begins to do something interesting: Your brain starts shutting down parts not vital to survival.
While most of us aren’t going for 36-hour stretches without sleep, many Americans aren’t getting enough, which could have detrimental effects in day-to-day life.
The advice given by autism specialists is often subject to second opinions, by just about anyone and everyone. It is not the fault of families who seek more information, nor the doctors who are working to understand the situation.
The conventional medical community has been slow to respond to the epidemic (yes, Virginia, there is an epidemic), with very little information about precise diagnosis,etiology, treatment, or prevention. This has led to a situation in which anyone who even knows someone with ASD, saw a story on TV, the web, or has an affected child (improved or not) has advice. Also, the Internet is a sponge, soaking up stories consisting of unequal proportions of fact vs. folklore.
Diet Children who test positive for antibodies against specific foods should avoid them. This will result in less inflammation, and therefore more energy for growth and development. The only remaining question should be whether or not there is improvement in some of the signs and symptoms of autism. Parents are a pretty good judge of this. ASD patients who abstain from foods that lead to elevated levels of morphine due to the incomplete digestion of wheat and/or dairy (“leaky gut“) have a much better chance of getting out of their ‘fog’, leading to improved eye contact and socialization.
The ‘concern’ by the conventional medical community that specialized diets will cause nutritional deficiencies can easily be handled by laboratory evaluation, and intervening with appropriate supplements. Oh, and btw, when was the last time the pediatrician tested for any of these nutritional markers, anyway?
Parents can assess whether simple sugars, such as glucose or fructose, lead to hyperactivity. Importantly, foods that contain artificial colors or flavors represent an extra burden for the body to detoxify.
The reason that the families at The Child Development Center continue to administer restrictive diets is that they see the improvements in their children’s behaviors. Diets are a pain in the ass, but they work.
A clerk at Whole Foods told one of our parents that, “The doctor is wrong about melatonin – Valerian root is much more natural.” Melatonin is the chemical that our brain utilizes to control our daily rhythm of waking and sleep. The synthesis of melatonin is fairly simple, and the product is exactly the same as what the brain produces. Valerian root is extracted from a plant, and contains over a dozen different chemicals, some of which may actually worsen symptoms of ASD. The salesperson, etc., assumes absolutely no responsibility for that erroneous opinion.
Chamomile tea is fine, especially for relaxation, and so it may decrease sleep latency (the time it takes to a fall asleep). But, it is a plant product, as well.
Warm epsom salt baths prior to bedtime are great. However, this is not because it sucks toxins out of the brain. Who doesn’t get relaxed from a warm bath, especially those with sensory overload?
Anti-fungals First, let’s not forget that pediatricians have been overdosing your children with antibiotics for years. Additionally, there are steroids and antibiotics in practically everything that we eat. It is no surprise that yeast overgrowth could be the natural outcome in such a circumstance.
Second, fluconazole (diflucan) is a preparation that The Child Development Center has been utilizing for years without any problems. Hepatic toxicity is avoided by checking liver function tests prior to prescribing the medication; and periodically, thereafter, depending on how often the child requires it. Potent probiotics and avoiding further antibiotics are the surest way to avoid future yeast overgrowth.
We have explored many ‘natural’ products, including citrus seed extract, circumin, uva ursi, turmeric , and others. When ‘yeasty behaviors’ ensue, it is best to ‘bite the bullet’, and give the medicine.
Conversely, stronger medications, such as ketoconazole and Lamisil do not seem warranted.
B12 Shots “Do we really have to give those shots? Aren’t there oral supplements that have plenty of B12.”
The problem with water-soluble vitamins is not getting them into the body, it’s the prevention of rapid removal. Depositing this useful, safe supplement into fat (the tush), will enable a 2-to-3 day release into the bloodstream. You can’t keep a lollypop in your mouth all day long.
Most importantly, addressing G-I health and optimizing mitochondrial function (with oral glutathione), prior to administering methyl B12, optimizes the chances that this protocol will be successful.
Too few professionals are practicing the medicine discussed by the members of Medmaps.org. We spend hours learning about basic science, months reading and evaluating research, and years treating patients and advising parents. Once a doctor arrives at a your child’s diagnosis and other key issues, a course of action is suggested that produces tangible improvements for many.
Families who are fortunate enough to find a competent physician will do best to take the well-meaning advice offered by others, and the information found on the Internet, with more than a few grains of salt. Concern about whether a treatment is ‘natural’ is not nearly as important as safety and results.
Sleep is something that we all desperately need but it can be difficult to get enough of it. According to sleep experts a 7-12 year old should be getting approximately 10-11 hours of sleep every night. Unfortunately there are many children, and even more children with autism, that are simply not getting anywhere near enough sleep.
The way that each child’s sleep is affected is unique. For example, for one child it may be that they have a really hard time falling to sleep. They may cry for long periods of time, call out for a parent incessantly and/or repeatedly get out of bed. Yet for another, it might be that they wake up several times in the middle of the night, and have a hard time falling back to sleep.
As a mother of two young children I know what it is like to deal with the bedtime and sleep woes. If any of the situations described above sound familiar to you, I am here to tell you that there is hope. As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), I have learned through the work of other experts in the field and from working with families, that falling asleep relatively quickly can be learned, and that waking up in the middle of the night and going back to sleep can be learned. In this article I share tips and strategies that have been adapted from the work of experts in the field of Behaviour Analysis that will hopefully lead to you and your family getting proper sleep and feeling well rested every morning!
Tip #1 Keep the bedroom cozy and calm
It is important to create a calm and comfortable bedroom that includes the ideal conditions to facilitate sleep. This means that we should keep the activities in the bedroom, particularly on the bed to things that are calm. For example, I would not be playing any games that are physically stimulating like jumping on the bed just before bedtime. It is also a good idea to put the more stimulating activities in a different room. This means keeping the television, technology, and favourite toys out of this room as well. Some experts say that the ideal conditions for sleep include a temperature that is a little on the cool side but not too cool. That lighting should be from a nightlight and not too bright. I once worked with a child with autism that experienced more night awakenings right after we replaced the bulb in the night light because it was just different enough to affect his sleep.
Tip #2 Develop a consistent routine
A routine that is consistent is predictable, and this may help prevent some of the bedtime woes described above. When deciding what your personal routine will look like make sure to factor in some winding down time. The activities that are done just before you get into the routine should be less stimulating and more calming. You know your child and your family the best so you would create a routine that is consistently used most nights that reflects the types of things you do. Check out our blog on setting goals for more tips on developing a bedtime routine.
Tip #3 Sleep dependencies
Experts suggest that sometimes our children have sleep dependencies that affect his/her ability to get a proper rest. Sleep dependencies are essentially things in the environment that your child needs to have in place to fall asleep. For example, this might be a soother for one child or it might be you rocking them to sleep. If in the middle of the night they wake up, which happens quite regularly for most, they are unable to fall back to sleep if that thing/person is not there. Experts suggest using things that are readily available in your absence and can be there if you happen to be at a relative’s home or somewhere else. Examples include: pillows, or a stuffed animal. For more information on sleep dependencies please take a look at the references cited at the end of this article.
Tip #4 Bedtime pass
If your child is getting out of bed a lot at bedtime or calling out to you and asking for a number of things, your family might be a good candidate for the bedtime pass. This strategy involves giving your child a bedtime pass, literally in the form of pass card that they can use to ask for something that they want. In some instances you might start out with 3 passes and gradually after a few nights reduce it to 2 passes then 1 pass. They can ask for you to bring them something or to leave his/her room for as many times as they have a pass. The cool thing about the pass is that it appears that children really like this strategy as well. Check out the article below for more information on how to use the bedtime pass.
Sleep is critical for all of us. If you try the tips listed above and you are still having challenges then you may wish to contact a local BCBA to help you assess the real reason for your child’s sleep problem. Once they have identified the reason they can help you develop an individualized plan that addresses your unique situation. Everyone deserves to feel rested in the morning!
Sarah Kupferschmidt, MA, BCBA
Many of the tips and strategies discussed were adapted from a variety of resources published by leading experts in this area. Here is a list of the resources that were used.
Durand, V.M. (1999). Sleep Better! A guide to improving sleep for children with special needs. Baltimore MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Friman, P.C., Hoff, K.E., Schnoes, C., Freeman, K.A., Woods D.W., & Blum, N. (1999). The bedtime pass: An approach to bedtime crying and leaving the room. Archives of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 153, 1027-1029. doi: 10.1001/archpedi. 153.10.1027
Jin, C.S., Hanley, G.P., Beaulieu, L. (2013). An individualized and comprehensive approach to treating sleep problems in young children. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 46, 161-180. …………’
Quality sleep is one of the pillars of good health, along with physical activity, proper hydration, low stress, and healthy eating habits. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, certain foods you’re consuming might be to blame. These 6 foods can have an adverse affect on your sleep quality, and should be consumed well before bedtime if you’re a sensitive sleeper.
Alcohol. That’s right. That glass of wine so notorious for making you feel sleepy works to sabotage your precious REM time. Alcohol can lessen the duration and quality of REM sleep, which is the most restorative part of your night. This cycle is hugely important and can impact concentration the next day, so if you’re feeling groggy and foggy it may be time to lay off the wine.
Celery. Believe it or not, the high water content of celery — along with cucumbers and watermelon — can act as a natural diuretic and could lead to a full nighttime bladder. Any time you wake up mid-sleep sets you back a little, so it’s best to steer clear of eating celery by the stalks before bedtime lest you want to be interrupted by a full bladder at 3 am.
Fatty, fried foods. These can unsettle the stomach, as they take a long time to digest which can cause abdominal discomfort. If your stomach is achy, relaxing and falling asleep is so much more difficult. When you do indulge in very fatty or fried meals, try to consume them at least 3 hours before you hit the sack.
Chocolate or hot cocoa. If you are caffeine sensitive, the small amount of caffeine in chocolate could have you buzzing a little later than you’d prefer. Also, the sugar content in a lot of chocolate can cause a blood sugar spike. This kind of blood sugar activity can cause restless, disturbed sleep. Save the hot cocoa for a few hours before bedtime, or opt for herbal tea instead.
Meat. The body takes a long time digesting meat — especially something like a thick steak. If you eat a lot of meat too close to bedtime, your body will still be digesting while your eyelids are trying to drift off into dreamland. That means you can’t go full force into restorative sleep — your body has to multitask. This adds up to a less restful night.
Soda. Ah, that lovely combination of caffeine and sugar again! Having a soda too close to bedtime is detrimental to sleep. The sugar causes a blood sugar spike; the caffeine stimulates brain activity. Mix that with some alcohol and you can pretty much kiss your quality shut-eye goodbye.
Sleep is paramount to good health. If you’re having trouble keeping yourself in deep sleep throughout the night, try adjusting your pre-bedtime diet to improve your sleep quality. If you continue to have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor to discuss potential causes.
Sleep Apnea affects 4 % of Americans. About 1 out of 4 middle aged men in America suffer from Sleep Apnea. Studies suggest that memory impairments can occur from disrupted sleep.
In Sleep Apnea, the sleep cycles are disrupted by periods of difficult breathing. In a new study by Dr. Andrew Varga, at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, subjects had impairments in their spatial memory from disrupted REM sleep cycles.
After a night of improper REM sleep, the subjects had difficulty remembering the placement of items and what they did with things the day before.
The REM stage of sleep is the Rapid Eye Movement stage. This is the deep sleep where we have dreams. The REM stage of sleep is critical for the body to repair any tissue damage from the day, such as muscle microtears. It also has to do with processing memories.