Saturday, July 31, 2010

Multiple Factors Hurt Teen Sleep

Only a small percentage of American teens regularly meet their sleep needs. The reason their losing valuable shuteye isn’t quite as simple as sometimes portrayed. A front page article in the Chicago Tribune earlier this week blamed sleep loss on technology such as video games and gadgets. While this is assessment isn’t untrue, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Teens have a tendency to be night owls even though they need more sleep than adults. The AASM recommends a minimum of 9 hours of sleep nightly for teens and adolescents. Many schools require teens to wake up very early, sometimes even before their parents. It’s not uncommon to see high school athletes report to morning practice as early as 5 a.m.

Some teens may not be able to go to sleep early enough to get the recommended hours of sleep even if they wanted. Many teens’ circadian systems are incompatible with early morning schedules. An article in the latest issue of Chronobiology International shows evidence that teens are naturally wired to stay awake later especially in the spring and summer.

The study found sleep onset times were delayed when adolescents were exposed to natural light during the evening hours. As the days become longer teens are inclined to stay up later.

The authors compared self-reported bedtimes and sleep durations to the time of sunset. Teens slept went to sleep early and slept longer during shorter winter days. Researchers presume a lighting scheme to reduce teens’ exposure to evening sunlight may help them get to sleep early during longer days.

That alone may not be enough. Turning off the television and Xbox an hour before bedtime may help. Schools too need to make adjustments so more than 21 percent of teens get enough sleep. Pushing start times forward can make students happier, more productive and even keep them out of harm's way.

Friday, July 30, 2010

New York City Launches Offensive on Bed Bug Infestations

Bedbugs are back. Exterminators are responding to 57 percent more bed bug infestations compared to five years ago. The blood feasting bugs are hitching a ride to apartments, houses and hotels now in urban and rural areas.

Nowhere are the infestations worse than in New York City, the unofficial capitol of bed bugs. A report released Wednesday by the city’s Bed Bug Advisory Board found more than 6 percent of New York households have bed bugs.

In response, Gotham is declaring a coordinated campaign to eliminate the nighttime pests. The board recommends public education is the first step. It plans on launching an online clearinghouse for information about bed bugs.

Outside of the old adage “don’t let the bedbugs bite”, this generation is unfamiliar with the bedtime blood suckers. We’ve been blindsided because bed bugs haven’t been a problem for a lifetime. Reports of widespread infestations really only began around 2006.

Detection and elimination is difficult and costly. Allergic reactions to bed bug bites usually take about a week to occur. About a third of people won’t have an allergic reaction until after several nighttime attacks. Even if residents realize they have an infestation they may not be able to afford an exterminator. The going rate for bed bug services ranges from about $1,000 for a one bedroom apartment to $5,000 for an average-sized house.

Last year congress introduced the “Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2009,” to help identify and alleviate bed bug infestations. The bill would create for bed bug inspections, especially in hotels. The critters hitch a ride home with you through your clothing or belongings after spending even one night in an infested hotel.

The Sleep Education Blog will continue to keep an eye on New York City’s campaign against bed bugs. Look for further updates as the city’s educational website launches.
Photo by Tom Simpson

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ravens Rookie Linebacker Kindle Fractures Skull, Narcolepsy to Blame?

Speculation is rampant after the Baltimore Raven’s first pick in the 2010 NFL draft suffered a bizarre off -field injury earlier this week. Rookie linebacker Sergio Kindle will miss training camp after fracturing his skull by falling down two flights of stairs. Numerous media outlets are linking the fall to narcolepsy. A sleep specialist might respond to these reports with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The original report came from Raven’s coach John Harbaugh. He said the fall happened when Kindle turned the wrong way after waking up in the middle of the night at a friend’s home. The linebacker’s college coach Mack Brown responded with speculation that narcolepsy led to teh incident.

Here’s the problem, a person with the type of narcolepsy that could cause a falling injury would be incapable of playing sports, let alone professional football. Narcolepsy with cataplexy causes a person who is awake to suddenly lose muscle tone. These episodes are usually triggered as a response to strong emotions such as surprise or happiness.

Wouldn’t football cause a near constant narcoleptic response based on the sport’s violent and emotional nature? What happens when a linebacker is suddenly blindsided by an offensive guard’s block? A person with narcolepsy with cataplexy would be unlikely to last more than a few plays before collapsing.

And why would a team draft a player with the condition? Kindle fell from the first round of the NFL draft, as he was originally projected. But scouts did not seem concerned with reports claiming Kindle had narcolepsy. Knee injuries and character problems caused the draft day slide. A high level Raven’s scout said the team would have never drafted Kindle if narcolepsy was such a problem.

You may remember the Sleep Education Blog covered that story earlier this year. Kindle reportedly couldn’t stay awake in team meetings when he was with the Texas Longhorns. The same reports mentioned Kindle struggled with substance abuse.

It’s impossible to say what happened in the middle of the night earlier this week, but based on medical knowledge and past reports it’s safe to say narcolepsy with cataplexy did not cause Kindle to fall down stairs and fracture his skull. Hopefully we will learn the true cause of the injury as the story unfolds.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Morning Larks Lead Better Careers, Chronotype Expert Claims

The business world wakes up bright and early and the evening types have no choice but to fight their natural inclination to keep up with competition. For this reason it’s the morning types that hold an advantage at the office. The body of research by chronotype expert Christoph Randler suggests people who reach their peak performance in the a.m. hours seem to be better positioned for career success.

Randler was featured this month in the Harvard Business Journal’s “Defend Your Research” series. His latest research concludes morning larks are more likely to be of the “take charge” type. A sample of 367 college students responded to surveys with questions about when they tend to be most energetic and whether they are willing and able to take action to change a situation to their advantage. The students who reported they are at their best in the morning hours more often agreed with proactive statements about themselves.

He said its proactivity that leads to better job performance, greater career success and higher wages. Randler’s earlier studies suggest the advantage starts in school. The morning bell rings bright and early at most schools, and from a young age the morning types benefit. They tend to get better grades, which gets them into better colleges and then nets them better jobs out of school. They’re poised to start work early at a high level of performance once they join the 8 to 5 business world.

Despite how it sounds, evening people aren’t condemned to a life of destitution. Research shows they’re often smarter, creative, more outgoing and have a better sense of humor than their button-down counterparts. They can thrive given a more suitable schedule and environment.

These sweeping statements are a bit of a simplification, Randler admits. Evening types can be proactive and some can slightly shift their daily sleep-wake schedules without difficulty. Other research shows our chronotypes shift towards the mornings as we age. The effect may be due to the adult responsibilities such as working and raising children.

If you don’t know whether you’re a morning or evening type there’s an easy way to tell, Randler states. Evening chronotypes sleep in an average of two hours longer on weekends, while morning chronotypes are up bright and early as usual.

Image by Joey Parsons

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Many Children in Mental Health Treatment Medicated for Insomnia

Parents and their children are both increasingly turning to the medicine cabinet to meet their sleep needs. One specific population of school-aged kids and adolescents seems to be the most medicated for sleep. Nearly a third of children in therapy for psychiatric or behavioral disorders are treated for insomnia using prescription and over-the-counter medications, a new study suggests.

Nearly all of the 1,300 participating members of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said they prescribed at least one sleep medication per month. About 88 percent said they recommended over-the-counter treatments for insomnia.

Recommended medications included antihistamines and the antidepressant trazadone, which is often prescribed off-label for insomnia. Clinicians surveyed in the study also prescribed drugs with psychiatric or behavioral effects such as antipsychotics and anticonvulsants for insomnia.

The principal author of the study notes that most often the sleep medications are used to manage the effects of sleep disruption on daytime functioning. The average participating psychiatrist reported seeing about 70 children per month. Older children were more frequently treated for insomnia.

While most insomnia patients were older than six years old, clinical psychiatrists reported more than 20 percent of preschool-aged patients were affected by insomnia.

The complete study will be published in the August 1st issue of Sleep Medicine.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review: "Inception" Limited Science, Spectacular Fiction

If all dreams were like “Inception” I would never sleep.
Every dream in the film seems to end unpleasantly. Try going to sleep knowing you’ll likely get mauled by a mob of angry rioters or stabbed in the chest by a beautiful French woman. It doesn’t sound pleasant.

Not to give away the film’s convoluted plot, but the dream world is a violent place where everything happens for a reason. In that sense Christopher Nolan’s vision is more “The Matrix” than the ICSD-2.

That isn’t to say “Inception” is a bad movie, it’s actually fantastic. Just don’t expect it to be an educational experience. The film has its own rules Nolan reportedly came up with well before he reinvented the Batman franchise.

“Inception” is a heist movie at its core. Only instead of breaking into a money vault ala “Ocean’s 13” the protagonists try to crack companies’ deepest secrets. A fugitive Leonardo DiCaprio assembles a global team of highly skilled specialists for one last job. His roster includes a dream architect (Ellen Page), a master of disguise (Tom Hardy) and a chemist/ anesthesiologist (Dileep Rao).

The squad infiltrates dreams by drugging their target and hooking themselves up to a special suitcase. Once inside, the dreamer’s subconscious, or the dream world’s citizens, tries violently to drive them out. Die in the dream and you wake up. Except for that aforementioned one last job where the stakes are higher. Die there and you go to dream limbo where you’ll spend agonizing many decades alone waiting to wake up.

Alternatively, falling or waiting for time to run out also wakes up the dreamer. But minutes in the real world can last hours or days inside dreams within dreams within dreams. Each level of the dream hierarchy is more difficult to penetrate, with a more advanced subconscious security system.

And there are still more rules, involving “dream totems” and gravity. It’s all complicated but if you suspend your disbelief you’re in for some incredible set pieces.

There is some real-life basis to this science fiction. “Inception” was inspired by Nolan’s lucid dream experiences.

Lucid dreaming involves being aware that you are dreaming while you’re still asleep. Most people are unable to have lucid dreams unless they train themselves using pre-sleep “autosuggestion.”

The process is somewhat like how the Ellen Page character designs dreams. You can prepare yourself to see certain images and recognize the bizarre events of the dream. The same sort of rehearsal process can be used to improve learning or treat recurring nightmares.

Some of the rules inside of the dreams also apply. Most of us have woken from the “kick effect” of falling dreams. It doesn’t happen for most people but death can occur in the dreams of the elderly or terminally ill. Multilayered dreams can also occur outside of “Inception.”

The rest of the concepts of “Inception” fall well into the realm of psychobabble. It doesn’t take a clinical sleep specialist to know you can’t dive into someone else’s dreams and steal their secrets. But you can influence them by suggestion. A lifetime in dream limbo is also ridiculous, though it works well as a plot device within the film.

“Inception” is a wildly original movie in a summer movie sea of sequels and remakes. Go see “Inception” right away, or better yet see it twice. Don’t wait for it to come out on DVD.
Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures

Saturday, July 24, 2010

New Parents Lose Six Months of Sleep, says Unscientific Survey

Prospective parents usually go into the final months of pregnancy bracing for months of poor sleep. New information about the amount of sleep most lose may surprise even the most experienced mothers and fathers.

There’s a report out that parents lose an average of six months of sleep in the first two years of raising a child.

There’s good reason to be suspicious about this seemingly inflated statistic. The information came from a completely unscientific survey conducted by a bed and mattress manufacturer. We’ll share the results anyway, but take them with a grain of salt.

The surveyors reached out to 1,000 parents in the United Kingdom earlier this July as part an event called “National Love Your Bed Week.”

Almost two thirds of parents reported getting about three and three-quarters hour of sleep, including naps during the first two years of raising a child. Silentnight Beds supposedly did the math. The press release reports those parents missed out on six months of total sleep during that period. About 1 in 10 parents had less than two-and-a-half hours of uninterrupted sleep.

There’s no way to verify any of these statistics, but it doesn’t take a peer-approved clinical study to know new parents will lose sleep. Luckily the Sleep Education Blog and have some advice to get some sleep while raising a newborn.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dr. Oz Wrong on Melatonin Supplements

Dr. Oz is correct when he says melatonin is the most misused sleep aid in America, unfortunately he’s not helping the issue. In his latest sleep issue segment the television host called the hormone supplement “pretty effective” in regulating sleep. In actuality, there are mixed findings that melatonin supplements actually work.

Research shows up to 1 mg of melatonin may help certain people with insomnia, but the effects are relatively mild. It may help people fall asleep about seven minutes faster than normal. Melatonin wears off quickly, so people with insomnia may have difficult time staying asleep.

An AASM review found the supplement may be useful for treating jet lag, shift work or delayed sleep phase. Melatonin may help correct disrupted circadian rhythms and sleep timing issues.

Try taking melatonin a few days before and after travelling across several time zones or before shift work. There are no serious risks related to melatonin use, but the long term effects are still unknown.

Doctor Oz’s final piece of advice is a better solution for insomnia – make sure to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. If sleeplessness persists try cognitive behavioral therapy. The AASM reports it is the most effective option for treating insomnia.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Father Manages Sleep Apnea on National TV in “Losing It with Jillian” Finale

The final episode of NBC’s “Losing It with Jillian” serves as a warning about the lifestyle factors that can lead to sleep apnea. After years of refusing treatment for severe sleep apnea a family’s 328 pound patriarch decided to clean up his act fearing he could “drop dead at any second.”

Enter tough love celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels. The famous taskmaster from “The Biggest Loser” whips a family into shape each episode by teaching them the value of fitness and nutrition.

For the Alvarez family the path to weight loss began with a difficult visit to the doctor’s office. The father David Alvarez Sr. learned he was risking his life every time he went to sleep without a CPAP machine. An overnight sleep study showed his sleep apnea was especially severe. Breathing pauses lasted up to 32 seconds, and his apnea index was 64.

He begrudgingly resumed CPAP therapy, but years of sleep apnea had taken a toll on his health. Doctors advised against doing activities that would moderately raise his heart rate, making a weight loss plan more difficult.

His son David Jr. was unhealthy and on track to develop diabetes and sleep apnea. In a heartbreaking or depending how you view it, manipulative scene the two had a father son chat about CPAP and obstructive sleep apnea. David Jr. tried wearing the CPAP mask, while his father explained why it could be his future. David Sr. said he was ashamed that he had to “do this or I’m dead.”

There is no shame in a therapy that can save your life. Obesity and unhealthy lifestyle choices promote obstructive sleep apnea, but some people develop the sleep disorder anyways.

The lesson that should be taken to heart is that you have some control and you can reduce your chances of getting sleep apnea. There are treatments but there is no surefire magic bullet for people who already have sleep apnea. Weight loss can help but won’t eliminate symptoms for severe cases. An approach using diet and exercise should be paired with CPAP, oral appliance therapy or surgery for sleep apnea.

The full episode is available streaming on Hulu until August 19th.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sleep Usually Sacrificed in Early Morning Work Schedules

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise, so starting work at the crack of dawn shouldn’t be that difficult, right? In theory it’s not, but modern lifestyles make the old saying unrealistic. The early risers rarely go to sleep early enough, according to a new survey published in the journal Chronobiology International.

More than 1 in 10 people occasionally wake up before sunrise to go to work. About 2 percent of people do it all the time. But bedtimes rarely change.

Total sleep time ends up falling because of the schedule. People who report to work between 3:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. usually slept for less than five hours per night.

Study subjects signaled such sleep loss leads to dissatisfaction with work, fatigue
and feelings of not being well rested. Some workers reported trouble sleeping while on early work schedules.

The findings should raise some eyebrows for managers responsible for scheduling employees. Productivity is bound to drop when employees are tired and unhappy.

Sleep disorder or not it’s hard to blame early morning workers for staying up past 9 p.m., after all they have the same modern obligations and distractions as everyone else.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Switch to Shift Work Leads to Sleep Struggles

Try going to sleep when the sun is rising and staying asleep through the brightest hours of the day. The odd sleep schedules that come with shift work is never easy. It goes against everything we learned at an early age. Turning your sleep schedule topsy-turvy is a shock to the system that can lead to insomnia and chronic fatigue.

Switching from shift work to regular daytime hours has the opposite effect, a new study reports. Swedish researchers examined the transition hardships associated with shift work in an article published in the July issue of Chronobiology International.

The study involved more than 3,600 participants who answered questionnaires about work hours, sleep and work environment at the start and end of a five year period.

Results show the participants had the most sleeping problems upon entering shift work. Many reported falling asleep on the job and having difficulty getting to sleep after work.

The risk of work fatigue and insomnia significantly diminished after the subjects returned to daylight work hours.

The findings were adjusted for various factors including work demands, physical workload and familial status.

Some shift work schedules are more difficult than others a previous study suggests. Jobs with start times between 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. tend to limit sleep and harm performance at work.

Caffeine may help offset fatigue and limit mistakes at work. Make sure to limit consumption to the first couple hours of work so you don’t have problems getting to sleep later.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bowler Scores Another Sleep-Deprived Guinness World Record

One famous Guiness World Record holder feared for his life and sanity while trapped in a block of ice. It wasn’t the stunt itself that spooked self-professed street magician David Blaine, it was the sleep deprivation. He described five days without so much as a nap as the most horrific thing humans can experience, in a recent interview for the book “Wide Awake: A Memoire of Insomnia.”

The Guiness World Records banned the sleep-deprivation category of stunts because of the potential health hazard, yet many officially sanctioned feats still require staying awake for days.

This baffling policy sends mixed messages about sleep deprivation. Staying up for a week straight isn't okay unless the time is spent playing trading card games?

A bowler who recently disregarded his own health to chase a world record shared Blaine’s sentiments about sleep-deprivation. He called the mental anguish from sleeplessness the hardest part the world’s longest tenpin bowling marathon.

ESPN Dallas reports Stephen Shanabrook, 24, rolled for five days straight at a 24 hour bowling alley in Plano, Texas.

Unlike Blaine he allowed himself to take a few extremely brief naps. The longest lasted only two hours. Shanabrook aimed for five games an hour or a game every 12 minutes because the official Guiness rules state the record-holder must bowl within the “spirit of the game.” Any time that was left over could be accumulated and used for whatever he wanted. Naturally he chose bathroom breaks, eating and occasionally napping.

The stunt began last Monday and ended five days and five hours later, easily shattering the current record.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Counterpoint: Smartphones Can Help You Sleep

Inexpensive apps designed to help you sleep provide a compelling reason to bring your iPhone or Droid to the bedroom.

Previously, The Sleep Education Blog gave a rundown of the reasons why smartphones may keep you awake at night. It turns out there are some pros to go with those cons.
Both the App Store and the Android Marketplace are filled with all kinds of sleep-related downloadable programs. Some are handy, some not so much. Reviews on the Macworld website seem to reflect the varying quality of sleep apps.

For general audiences, white noise generators will be most useful. The free WhiteNoise app by TMSOFT seems to be the most accessible and popular. The noises the program generates range from relaxing to annoying. Try sleeping with the Oscillating Fan, Extreme Rain Pouring or Beach Waves Crashing and avoid the Chimes Chiming and Crickets Chirping sounds.

Another category of noise generators may not be as useful as advertised. The programs play ambient music embedded with nearly-inaudible sounds that signal your brain to sleep. The app is similar to a popular line of CDs available for purchase online. Unfortunately, there aren’t any peer-reviewed scientific studies to back up those claims. The app may be useful if you find the music relaxing. This blogger found the Vangelis-like new age muzak irritating.

Some apps allegedly track your sleep architecture if you place your phone under your pillow. The most popular app, the Sleep Cycle Alarm, even promises to wake you softly when you’re in the latest phase of sleep. There are no indications that this works.

You might instead want to try one of the programs where you can manually log your sleep. These are especially practical for people with insomnia or other sleep disorders. With a couple quick taps every morning you’ll have a full sleep diary prepared for your next visit to an AASM accredited sleep center.

Apps from WebMD, the Mayo Clinic and numerous medical journals are useful for finding health information on the go. Most of this content can be accessed on the web, so if the app is not free pull up Safari or Google Chrome.

The Sleep Education Blog recommends if the app is free, give it a test drive. Just don’t start surfing the web or texting from bed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why iPhone and Droid Aren't Smart for the Bedroom

Smartphones more than ever are capturing the hearts of American consumers. Look at most tech blogs these days and you’ll find a vast number of articles are about Apple’s iPhone 4 or Google's latest Android phone. It’s not hard to see why. The modern “super phone” does it all; it’s a phone, a computer and an entertainment system rolled into a handheld device.

Just don’t bring these devices into the bedroom. Smartphones are smaller, but functionally similar to the supposedly insomnia-causing iPad.

Obviously that story reported by countless news outlets in April was a bit overblown. iPads, smartphones or computers with bright screens won’t cause insomnia outright, but they can be detrimental to your sleep.

If you’re familiar with the concepts of sleep hygiene you would know that bright screens can prevent you from feeling tired. The blue and green light emitted from the screen can alter the natural human circadian process by preventing the body from secreting melatonin. Sleep hygiene also advise against using your bedroom for activities other than sleep and sex.

Going against both of these recommendations by using your iPhone in bed is a recipe for disaster, right? Not necessarily. Some people can get away with using smartphones in bed without the slightest change in sleep. It’s kind of like how some people prefer to fall asleep with the television on.

The Sleep Education Blog of course doesn’t advocate either practice. We recommend turning off all electronic devices at least a half hour before bed, especially if you typically have a difficult time falling asleep. Try reading a book, listening to music or a podcast or doing light chores around your home instead.

Even your run-of-the-mill cell phone may interfere with sleep. Parents complain teens and young adults may stay up too late texting or talking to friends. Some studies have gone so far as to suggest the radio frequency field can alter your sleep architecture just by keeping your cell phone on the nightstand. Other studies have reported no such effects.

Because there are so many conflicting reports, we don’t know exactly what kind of other effects cell phones have on our sleeping patterns. So maybe it’s best just to be safe and leave cell phones and smartphones out of the bedroom.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Dream Team: Nolan’s “Inception” getting high praise

From the art house to the megaplex, we’ve seen countless attempts at recreating dreams for the big screen. Dream depictions date back to the beginning of film, and the success stories are limited. Most of the time dreams in film are hackneyed plot devices or lazy attempts at character development.

The few exceptions are artsy surrealist films. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali best portrayed the shocking incoherence of nightmares in the 1929 silent short “Un Chien Andalou.” David Lynch is the modern master of the tradition. His films like Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead paint dark, unsettling dreamscapes where the rules of the waking world don’t apply.

Reviews show “Inception”, opening at midnight Friday, appears to sets a new benchmark for movies about dreams. Accessible to audiences but impossible to describe on paper, it’s not your typical summer blockbuster.

Roger Ebert said it best when he wrote in his review “Here is a movie immune to spoilers: If you knew how it ended, that would tell you nothing unless you knew how it got there. And telling you how it got there would produce bafflement.”

Here’s what we know from the previews and press releases:

Leonardo DiCaprio leads a team of specialists who infiltrate people’s dreams to steal their secrets. He’s offered one last job as a chance at redemption. Instead of stealing an idea he has to plant one. Something of course goes wrong as the trailers and commercials are filled with images of the world bending and cities collapsing.

"Inception's" pedigree is unmatched on paper. Director Christopher Nolan is the man who reinvented Batman and set records with “The Dark Knight.” Oscar winners and rising stars fill out the large ensemble cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Michael Caine are just a few to name aside from DiCaprio.

The Rotten Tomato ranking, which averages all positive and negative reviews, is at a very respectable 87 percent. Mr. Ebert himself gave “Inception” four stars.

Look for a full review on the Sleep Education Blog in the coming days.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tart Cherry Juice Won’t Cure Insomnia

Drink tart cherry juice every morning and evening and at best you may see slight improvements in your sleep.

A small pilot study shows the healthy beverage can help fight sleeplessness for certain people, but it’s no replacement for front line insomnia treatments. Tart cherry juice may be useful as a supplement to sleep hygiene and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Tart cherries contain melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates sleep. Melatonin supplements have produced mixed results for insomnia patients in past studies. They may benefit some people, but melatonin supplements aren't the mythical "magic bullet" for sleep.

The latest pilot study, published in the July issue of The Journal of Medical Food, pitted tart cherry juice against a placebo beverage. Only 15 adult insomnia patients drank an 8 oz. glass of tart cherry twice a day for two weeks. After a two week break, they began to regularly consume a placebo drink. The participants kept a sleep diary to track their insomnia throughout the study.
The subjects spent fewer overall minutes awake after initially falling asleep when they drank the tart cherry juice. Otherwise the effects were negligible. It still took the same amount of time to get to sleep, and the total sleep time did not improve.

The results were similar to valerian or melatonin, other slightly effective natural remedies. The authors concluded cognitive behavioral therapy and sleeping pills are far better treatments for sleeplessness.

The good news is eating or drinking tart cherries is great for other aspects of your health. The so-called “super fruit” contains high levels of antioxidants and other nutrients such as vitamin C, beta carotene and potassium.
Photo by Larry Page

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

FDA Warns Against Nighttime Cramp Cure

A medication sometimes used to treat painful nighttime leg cramps may have some severe side effects including death. The FDA is advising you to stop using the Quinine, a drug sold under the brand name Qualaquin, unless otherwise directed.

Quinine is primarily a malaria drug, but has a long history of off-label use to prevent leg cramps. An FDA study shows the prescription drug reduces the frequency of cramps by up to one-half.

Nearly one in 25 may suffer serious side effects such as permanent kidney damage and thromobocytopenia, or severe bleeding due to loss in platelets.

The FDA reports the severe side effects occurred in 38 known cases between April 2005 and Oct. 1, 2008. Two people died after taking Quinine.

The warning is the second since 2006, when the FDA cautioned consumers because of serious safety concerns and risks.

Regular exercise and stretching appears to be the main option for preventing sleep-related leg cramps.

Nighttime leg cramps are most common in older adults and pregnant women. A typical episode involves suddenly waking with sharp pain in your leg or foot when a muscle contracts and tightens. Lingering soreness may prevent you from getting back to sleep.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Facts on Lavender Soap for Restless Leg Syndrome

Television host Dr. Mehmet Oz recently recommended an unusual herbal remedy for restless leg syndrome. He claims placing a bar of lavender soap beneath the bed sheets has relaxing effects that alleviate the syndrome’s symptoms and encourage better sleep.

See the clip below:

It’s debatable whether lavender soap actually works as Dr. Oz claims. While you can find testimonials from patients and herbalists on all over the web, the scientific evidence is somewhat lacking. There has yet to be a peer-reviewed study that backs lavender to specifically treat restless leg syndrome.

Several published reports suggest lavender may help with insomnia and even depression. There are some side effects to consider before starting lavender aromatherapy. The National Cancer Institute warns lavender may not be safe for women at risk for breast cancer due to some “hormone-like effects.” Lavender can also cause skin irritation and may be poisonous if swallowed.

You may want to consider other natural treatments for restless leg syndrome. Regular exercise routines including walking and riding a bike can reduce the “creepy crawly” sensation that makes sleep difficult. A hot bath in the evening can relax your muscles and help you wind down.

Avoid using caffeine or alcohol, especially in the afternoon or evening, as Dr. Oz warned in the segment. Certain medications may cause restless leg symptoms, including antidepressants and antihistamines. Other secondary causes include pregnancy and iron deficiency.

Many medications can treat restless legs. If it is preventing you from getting adequate sleep you may want to see a sleep specialist.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Make Plans and Sleep on Them for Memory Boost

If you want to check off more items on that to-do list, your best bet may be to think it over and then get some rest.

A new Washington University study found people are more likely follow through with their plans if they memorize them before bedtime. Study participants who tried to carry out their intentions before sleep had less success.

The memory boost is a sort of “trigger effect.” A situation, place or thing the next day will suddenly remind you of your plans. Sleep strengthens the association between context and intention. Researchers say it doesn’t help the direct connection between the person and the message itself.

A process called prospective memory happens during slow wave, or deep sleep. Researchers believe it involves communication between the hippocampus and cortical regions. The hippocampus reactivates recently learned memories and places them in long-term storage.

The study involved four groups of 24 university students. One of the groups learned a test routine in the evening and returned for the test in the morning.
The group who tested in the morning performed the prospective memory task best in the part of the test that emphasized context.

The memory-boost may be helpful for everyday texts. For people who follow sleep hygiene the planning process seems to be an appealing wind-down activity compared to watching television or using a computer.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sleep-Deprived Parents May Find Answers in Infant Study

New parents go to bed knowing its coming and its going to ruin their sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, maybe around 3 or 4 a.m., they’ll waken to the sound of their infant child crying.

Everyone seems to take a different approach to getting their baby to sleep again. Do you leave the child alone, or do you rock the baby to sleep? Do you bring your baby to your bed with you? Right now there’s no clear answer to this parenting peril.

In a few years may change. Canadian researchers are launching a project called the “Rocky Baby Study,” to test these different approaches, the Montreal Gazette reports.

About 250 babies will wear a small wrist actigraph as they sleep to monitor their sleep/wake patterns.

The study coordinators are betting on something called the Australian model of intervention. The program educates parents about infant sleep habits and requirements. They will learn sleep patterns change and babies can sleep on their own for a longer time after six months. The parents will also receive training and tips for bedtime and daytime sleep rituals.

The study is expected to be completed in 2 ½ years. It may take even longer before the results are published.

The months after childbirth are usually the most difficult for parents. Most complaints about sleep disturbance and daytime impairment usually occur within the first six months.

Parents should make sleep a top priority, for the sake of their health and their family. Recent findings suggest first-time parents who are able to sleep are more satisfied with their partners.

The AASM reports there are several things new parents can do to improve their sleep.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Learning from Lindsay Lohan, Follow Doctors' Orders for Sleeping Pills

Former teen starlet turned jailbird Lindsay Lohan reportedly was asking for trouble by combining Ambien and several other drugs. A report by the tabloid TMZ claims the troubled actress’s medicine cabinet contained Zolpidem, Adderall and Dilaudid, a potentially dangerous combination. Although CBS News was unable to verify it, the Lohan’s story is an opportunity to talk about responsible use of sleeping pills.

For Lohan, the consequences could have been a lot worse than a 90-day prison sentence. CBS News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. John Lapook reports combining Dilaudid and Ambien can depress your breathing and cause oxygen in your blood to become dangerously low.

Other potential drug combinations may be a recipe for trouble. Although probation has prevented Lohan from drinking or using illegal recreational drugs, it’s anyone’s guess what she may have been doing before had to wear a monitoring bracelet and take drug tests regularly.

Sleeping pills should never be taken with alcohol. That combination may result in a visit to the emergency room. Other drugs, especially those with depressant effects may lead to similar serious health problems.

The AASM reports Ambien is a safe short-term solution to insomnia… if you closely follow doctors’ orders. Strange episodes of sleep walking, sleep driving or even sleep sex can occur when the drug isn’t used as directed.
Cognitive behavioral therapy may be a better choice for long-term or chronic cases of insomnia.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Middle-aged Sleep Loss Linked to Weight Gain for Women

It’s a troubling scenario for women as they get older: lose sleep and gain weight. New findings suggest middle-aged women with insomnia will likely pack on pounds.

A Finnish study published in the International Journal of Obesity followed more than 7,300 middle-aged men and women for seven years. About a third of the women who reported having difficulty sleeping posted a double-digit weight gain.

Sleep problems, whether chronic or occasional, came before weight gain in many cases. Lead investigator Peppi Lyytikainen told Reuters Health the findings do not prove a causal relationship. He believes the findings may suggest improving sleep quality can help with losing weight. It’s still unknown if treating insomnia will cause weight loss.

Men may not have to worry. Results showed no link between insomnia and weight gain in males. However, previous research suggests otherwise. Men who sleep less may gain weight because they exercise less and eat fewer healthy foods. Short sleep may alter appetite-regulating hormones and cause you to crave high-calorie, high-carb foods.

Middle-aged women are susceptible to sleep distubances due to the hormonal and physical changes related to menopause. Its not unusual for post-menopausal women to report poor sleep quality or insomnia.

Image by Robert Hruzek

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Students See Improvements With Later School Start Times

A slight change to high school start times may make a big impact on wakefulness and academic performance. A study published in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine is the latest to show why starting school near dawn may not be in the students’ best interest.

Improvements were across the board when a boarding school in Rhode Island pushed start times forward from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Student felt more motivated when they were satisfied with sleep. Mood-related problems such as depression dropped, attendance improved and fewer students visited the nurse’s office with fatigue-related complaints.

By pushing forward start times by only 30 minutes the average night sleep increased by 45 minutes. Students went to sleep only about 18 minutes later. More than half of students slept for more than eight hours per night. More than three-quarters of normally sleep-deprived students reported getting more than seven hours of sleep per night.

The study involved 201 high-schooled aged participants. Each completed an online survey about sleep habits twice: before and after the school switched start times.
Classes may start as early as 7 a.m. in some U.S. schools. Student athletes may be required to report to school well before daybreak for practice.

The effect of various school start times is a hot topic in the sleep research community. Recent studies show early classes may be making students depressed. One well-publicized article links earlier start times to dangerous driving.

Adolescents and teenagers have different sleep architecture from adults and require more sleep. High school-aged students are more likely to be night owls and have difficulty sleeping in the evening. The AASM reports teenagers should get about 9 hours of sleep per night.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Learn About Sleep Apnea Treatments in 2 Minutes

Last week, Stanford University Hospitals and Clinics posted this educational video explaining sleep apnea. In the online video, AASM Past President Clete Kushida explains the top three treatment options:

The three main treatments options are Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) , surgery and oral appliance therapy.

If you think you may have sleep apnea book an appointment at your nearest AASM-accredited sleep center.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Don’t Let Bed Bugs Take a Bite Out of Holiday Travel

Last year, the Sleep Education Blog reported on the resurgence of bed bugs in North America, primarily on the both coasts. Infestations of the miniscule creepy crawlers can be difficult to clear once they get inside your home. And bed bugs find their way there by hitching a ride on your clothes or belongings.

Americans hitting the highways for the holiday weekend should beware of these blood-sucking bugs. Stay in one infested hotel room and the next thing you know your home bedroom mattress will be crawling with bed bugs. It’s impossible to tell by the naked eye if a hotel has bed bugs. You may think you’re safe if you stay at reputable hotel, but that’s not true. Even 4-star luxury resorts get them.

Hotels don’t want to ruin their reputation by letting the information get out, so most of the time bed bugs go unreported. That’s why a website called The Bedbug Registry exists. It’s a searchable website that tracks user submitted reports by hotel name, city and date. Be warned, the cases are not independently verified. But if a hotel has numerous complaints it’s a good bet it has bed bugs.

Bed bugs don’t transmit disease, but can cause itching and discomfort. There is no pesticide that kills the tiny creatures. Treatment methods vary. One way to get rid of them is through heat, by raising the temperature to 115 degrees. If your home has bed bugs its best to get professional help.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sleep Isn't Easy for Newly Divorced Women

40 percent of marriages in America end in divorce. Those who have seen their marriage crumble rarely describe the process in a positive light. The litigation, the loss of income, and the sudden social adjustments can be as emotionally difficult as the death of a child or loved one.

Sleepless nights caused by anxiety and depression can be expected, especially for women. A study published in the July issue of the journal SLEEP shows women reported the worst sleep in the years following divorce or a loss of a partner. Women in stable relationships have far better sleep quality.

370 middle-aged women from various ethnic and social backgrounds in four major U.S. metropolitan areas participated in the study. Each year they reported their relationship status to researchers, who then monitored their sleep for three nights. A polysomnographic sleep study and wrist actigraphy measured their sleep architecture, duration and number of disturbances.

In addition to widows and divorcees, newlyweds were also more restless. The authors of the study told the AASM there may be a ‘newlywed effect’, because women are still adjusting to sleeping with a partner.