Wanting Better Sleep?

 Exercise, Sleep  Comments Off on Wanting Better Sleep?
Jan 092014
 

A byproduct of a study on the effects of exercise on breast cancer is that older women who exercise in the morning experience better sleep than those who exercise in the evening, according to the article “Morning Exercise May Help Sleep.” So if you’re wanting better sleep, think about becoming an early bird.

This study didn’t try to find a reason why early birds sleep better. But some speculate that early morning exercise may reset your circadian rhythm toward daily activity and nightly sleep patterns. Whereas exercising at night may tell your body you want to remain active all night.

That’s because exercise raises your body temperature, increases activity hormones and creates lactic acid, all which makes you more restless and discourages sleep. A good night’s sleep, on the other hand, requires a slight drop in body temperature, and you definitely don’t want an increase in activity hormones if you’re wanting to sleep.

The WebMD article “Why You’re an Early Bird or a Night Owl” agrees with this speculation by stating: “Morning people, however, also have advantages. Larks generally sleep better, have more regular sleep patterns, and have more flexible personalities.”

If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, it may be because you’re trying to do too much in the late afternoons and evenings. Try being more active in the morning, and less active in the afternoon and evenings. And it’s best to do your exercise routine in the mornings.

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Being Awake and Asleep at the Same Time: Micro-sleeping

 Sleep  Comments Off on Being Awake and Asleep at the Same Time: Micro-sleeping
Dec 052013
 

In the recent New York train crash, the train’s engineer said that he was in a “daze situation” where he zoned out. Sleep researchers now know that when we are sleep deprived, a few localized brain cells can stop functioning while the rest of the brain is still awake. This is called micro-sleep.

ScienceDaily reports that researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison claim that “some nerve cells in a sleep-deprived yet awake brain can briefly go ‘off line,’ into a sleep-like state, while the rest of the brain appears awake.” They state further, “Specific groups of neurons may be falling asleep, with negative consequences on performance.”

I’ve experienced this myself while driving. After a long day, I’ve found myself not being consciously aware of some parts of a trip. If you have put things in their wrong place in the kitchen or dropped small items out of your hand for an unknown reason, you probably experienced micro-sleep. It can occur while performing a routine task. Most of your brain is awake, but a few critical brain cells may have fallen asleep.

If you continue without taking a nap or getting a full night’s sleep, the entire brain can automatically turn off and go to sleep. When this happens, we have no control in preventing it. When your brain decides it needs sleep, it just shuts down.

The only remedy for micro-sleep is sleep. If we don’t give our brains sufficient sleep, we risk making mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes can cause the death of innocent lives.

So if you find yourself in a daze or zoning out, pull over and take a nap. If you don’t, you’re endangering innocent lives.

How to Decrease Your Risks of Alzheimer’s Disease

 Alzheimer's, Brain Health, Sleep  Comments Off on How to Decrease Your Risks of Alzheimer’s Disease
Nov 012013
 

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the best way to decrease our risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease is living a healthy lifestyle. New research is indicating that a good night’s sleep is also essential for brain health.

Three years ago, research at Columbia University showed that we can substantially reduce our risks of Alzheimer’s Disease by regularly consuming a Mediterranean-type of diet. This dietary lifestyle includes consuming more fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, fish and poultry, seeds and healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil or canola oil, and eating less red meats and high fat dairy products.

On top of eating a Mediterranean-style of diet, these researchers also found that we can reduce our risks even further with frequent moderate-intensity exercise.

A new study led by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard of the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that a good night’s sleep is also essential for long-term brain health. Dr. Nedergaard states that “the restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.”

This new understanding of brain activity is made possible with new imaging technologies allowing observation of the activities of a living brain. In this study, medical researchers were allowed to see how the living brains of mice, remarkably similar to human brains, function.

This study shows that our brain functions differently between awake and sleep states. When we’re awake, our brain must use all its energy for cognitive and muscle control functions. It has little energy to remove biological waste products that our brain cells make, while we do our daily activities. Cleaning our brains of biological waste is an activity that can only be accomplished while we’re sleeping.

Janitorial servicing of our brain is reserved during sleep, because the brain in sleep mode has the energy to clean itself rather than using that energy for wake-state activities. Not only that, but when we’re sleeping, the space between our brain cells increases by 60%. This allows large waste molecules to pass easily back to blood vessels that carry these wastes out of the brain and to our liver for waste disposal. Large waste molecules like beta-amyloid proteins.

Beta-amyloid protein plaques are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Clumps of these sticky proteins prevent nutrition from reaching our brain cells, which eventually kills them. If enough beta-amyloid clumps form in our brains to kill vital cognitive brain cells, Alzheimer’s disease develops.

The new research is suggesting that these brain-cell killing proteins is typically removed in a healthy brain during a good night’s sleep. However, if we form the habit of not sleeping between 6 to 8 hours on most nights, these harmful protein clumps just keep building up in our brains. Over time, these beta-amyloid clumps kill enough brain cells that prevent us from having healthy cognitive function, which can eventually lead to death.

We may find that a healthy diet with moderate-intensity exercise keeps our circulatory system healthy enough to deliver essential nutrients to our cognitive brain cells for proper functional activities. A healthy circulatory system is also essential to perform necessary janitorial functions in our brain to remove harmful waste products that can lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s. With new research, we now know that a good night’s sleep is necessary to allow our body to remove these harmful waste products from our brain.

So, if you want to substantially reduce your risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease, eat a Mediterranean-type of diet, keep physically active, and get a good quality 6 to 8 hours of sleep every night.

Part 2: Natural Sleep Aids – Glycine

 Sleep  Comments Off on Part 2: Natural Sleep Aids – Glycine
Mar 182013
 

There is one important difference between those of you who sleep well and insomniacs. Insomniacs have a higher core body temperature than those that sleep well throughout the night.

When you sleep well, your core body temperature decreases at the onset of sleep, and continues to decrease as you go deeper into sleep. Then your core body temperature increases as you approach a waking period. When you don’t sleep well, your core body temperature doesn’t decrease as much as it should to induce a high quality of sleep. And glycine helps to reduce your core body temperature to induce the quality of sleep that you need to sleep soundly throughout the night.

What Is Glycine?

Glycine is an amino acid that, just like GABA, acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in your brain. As was stated in Part 1 of this series, GABA calms your brain and central nervous system to help you go and stay asleep. Whereas glycine reduces your core body temperature, which in turn induces sleep and maintains a good quality of sleep.

Glycine is readily available in most health stores as a supplement. I prefer the powder form. And just a little scope of powder is all that you need to get a good night’s sleep. It has a peasant sweet taste and quickly dissolves in liquid.

Alternative Ways To Decrease Your Core Body Temperature

Keep your bedroom cool. Research shows that you can decrease your core body temperature and improve your sleep quality by keeping your bedroom between 60 and 68 degrees F.

If you think that temperature range is too cold, drink chamomile tea about an hour before bedtime. Chamomile tea is known to increase glycine levels, and it taste good too. I not only drink chamomile tea, but I add glycine powder to the tea as well. Ever since I started drinking this combination an hour before bedtime, my sleep quality has drastically improved.

Summary

Increased levels of two inhibitory neurotransmitters in your brain are known to improve quality of sleep. GABA calms your nervous system, and increased levels close to bedtime helps induce sleep. Glycine lowers your core body temperature that recent research shows is essential for a good quality of sleep.

GABA levels can be increased with valerian root and yoga exercises. These methods, however, may take several weeks to increase GABA levels to the extent that is required to help you sleep better.

Glycine supplements has a more immediate effect on giving you better quality sleep. These supplements are easy to find in health stores, and has few if any side effects. You can also drink chamomile tea, which increases glycine levels in your body. Or you can do what I do and add a small amount of glycine powder to chamomile tea and start sleeping better almost immediately.

Sources:

Research: The Effects of Glycine
Research: Glycine Ingestion Improves Subjective Sleep Quality
Journal of Pharmacological Sciences: Glycine Improves the Quality of Sleep
Research: Rapid Decline in Body Temperature Before Sleep
Research: Do Chronic Primary Insomniacs Have Impaired Heat Loss When Attempting Sleep?
Research: The Relationship Between Insomnia And Body Temperatures
The New York Times: The Claim: Cold Temperatures Improve Sleep
ScienceDaily: Chamomile Tea: New Evidence Supports Health Benefits
Research: Glycine Improves the Quality of Sleep
What is Glycine?

Part 1: Natural Sleep Aids – GABA

 Sleep, Supplements  Comments Off on Part 1: Natural Sleep Aids – GABA
Mar 122013
 

I remember my older relatives not sleeping well when I was young. They easily woke early. Rustled in bed often. Now that I’m that older relative, I understand why they had a hard time sleeping. It’s easy to wake 2 or 3 in the morning with your mind worrying about something. Perhaps you just don’t feel well, or you’re just not very tired. Not very tired, that is, until the next afternoon. Then I can hardly keep my eyes open.

We Sleep Less And Less Well With Age

We tend to believe that sleeping less and less well is just a part of growing older.

It is true that as we age, we may need less sleep. Older adults tend to function just fine with 7 to 8 hours of sleep, while younger adults need closer to 9 hours. It is also true that we experience more fragmented sleep as we age, and we have poor regulation of sleep patterns due to the decrease in natural melatonin levels in our bodies. Many times this means that we seniors get less deep, restorative REM sleep. We get lower quality sleep.

It is the reduction in the quality of sleep, however, that can develop into serious health problems.

Consequences of Poor Sleep

Sleep problems at any age shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are health and safety consequences of poor quality sleep.

Insufficient sleep can lead to disease risks. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, consistently getting inadequate sleep can increase your risk of developing chronic diseases.

  • Sleeping less than 6 hours each night produces hormonal changes in your body that increases your risk of becoming obese. Less sleep increases your level of insulin, which is associated with weight gain. Your body also produce less leptin, which suppresses your appetite, while making more ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite. This results in increased food cravings even though you’ve had adequate amounts of calories to sustain life and health.
  • Inadequate sleep increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Sleep less than you should, and you increase your chances of developing hypertension and heart disease.
  • People who sleep less than the recommended amount have a more difficult time fighting off common diseases, like colds and flu.
  • Sleep 5 hours or less each night, and you increase your risks of death by 15%.

Then there is the safety risks of poor quality sleep. Did you know that investigators claim that sleep deprivation played significant roles in the 1979 Three Mile Island and 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accidents? They also believe that sleep deprivation played important roles in the Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, and the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion.

If you don’t get enough quality sleep, you’ll not function mentally as well as you should. And sometimes, lives are lost.

Is Prescription Medication The Answer To Poor Quality Sleep?

Perhaps not!

You’ve probably heard the sleepwalking, sleepdriving stories concerning Ambien. The most famous being Kerry and Patrick Kennedy having driving mishaps while under the influence of that drug. They’re not alone. There are many stories of people eating, talking on the phone, walking and driving while on Ambien, and not remembering doing any of those things.

And there is the potential of these drugs to have addictive properties. Even though Ambien is not considered addictive if taken as prescribed, people are starting to overuse the drug. Unfortunately, people take more of the drug than they should to relieve rebounds in anxiety as the drug wears off. This often leads to abuse.

Even though these drugs are good at making you unconscious, acting on a subconscious level without remembering it, drug abuse and side effects are good reasons to stay away from prescriptions drugs as sleep aids.

Are There Natural Sleep Aids?

An ideal solution to obtain better sleep is to find something that is a natural sleep aid without the dangerous side effects of manufactured drugs. Not only natural, but perhaps a chemical that is manufactured by your own body to help you sleep.

GABA may be that ideal and natural sleeping aid. In fact, one of the primary causes of poor quality sleep could very well be a GABA deficiency.

What is GABA?

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in your brain that counteracts other brain chemicals that keep your brain alert. Called gamma-aminobutyric acid, it helps your brain relax. It is an important ingredient in your sleep cycle that allows you to go into deep REM sleep. Without it, you may experience fragmented, restless sleep. It is possible that age related sleep problems may be associated with a deficiency in GABA.

Your brain produces its own supply of GABA. In the early stages of sleep, GABA is normally released to shut your brain down. Without it, you’ll be deprived of deep, restful sleep. And as we age, our brains may be producing less of this neurotransmitter that is essential for high quality sleep.

Many believe that GABA supplements, however, are ineffective since this chemical can’t pass through the blood-brain barrier. This natural barrier allows beneficial components of blood to enter your brain, but not other components that nature deems unsafe. Your brain is thus protected from foreign substances, hormones and neurotransmitters.

Innovative chemists have developed GABA analogs, which are able to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Chemical analogs are molecules that are similar to the original, but slightly different to overcome some chemical obstacle. These analogs are thought to mimic GABA in your brain. Phenibut is one GABA analog that can be found in health supplement stores. I haven’t tried it myself, but many claim that it provides relaxation and restful sleep. Several drawbacks is that Phenibut is pricy and is still a manufactured drug.

Even though Phenibut may work well to provide high quality sleep, are there ways to naturally entice your own body to make more GABA?

How To Naturally Increase GABA Levels In Your Brain

Valerian root has been used for millennia as a remedy for anxiety and insomnia. It is not known how this root works, but scientist think it may increase GABA levels in your brain. It is slow acting, however. It probably will take 2 to 3 weeks for you to feel any beneficial effects. If you are patient, valerian root will probably improve your quality of sleep over time, as some scientific studies have shown.

Yoga exercises are another way to increase your brain’s level of GABA. A study published by the Boston University School of Medicine concluded that GABA levels increased by 27% following a 60-minute session of yoga. On top of that, yoga is a good form of exercise.

These methods of increasing GABA levels in your brain may not be as convenient as popping a pill. Both valerian and yoga also may not give you the instant gratification that you seek, since they both slowly increase GABA levels. However, you won’t experience dangerous side effects with these two methods, and the results may be longer lasting.

Summary

It is true that you need less sleep as you age. However, you still need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep to stay physically and mentally healthy. Not just any sleep, but deep, high quality REM sleep.

Prescription drugs do put you to sleep, but come with a lot of unwanted side effects. Some of these side effects even involve sleepwalking, driving and eating while still under the influence of the drug. Not only that, but prescription drugs may not be putting you into that deep, high quality REM sleep that you need.

Many of you may be getting fragmented, poor quality sleep due to an deficiency of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in your aging brain. Unfortunately, GABA supplements probably don’t work since GABA can’t pass through your blood-brain barrier – at least not easily. There is a chemical analog of GABA called Phenibut that may help you relax and get deep REM sleep. It’s a little pricey and is still a manufactured drug. If you’re a little patient, you can slowly increase your brain’s GABA levels with valerian root and yoga exercises. The good point of these last two options is that they are natural sleeping aids with few side effects.

But there is still another option that I find effective – glycine. For now, I will leave the discussion of that option to Part 2: Natural Sleep Aids – Glycine.

Sources:

Harvard Medical School: Consequences of Insufficient Sleep
WiseGeek: GABA and Sleep
Livestrong: GABA Supplements that pass the blood-brain barrier
ABC News: Kerry Kennedy Crash Raises Questions About Ambien Use
Health: Can You Become Addicted to Ambien?
Health: Ambien Sleep Walking Turned Me Into a Midnight Binge Eater
Health: Are Sleep Problems Normal as We Get Older?
Neuroscience For Kids: The Blood Brain Barrier
University of Maryland: Valerian
NCBI: Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA Levels