1. Study examines sleep problems in young people

    October 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the James Cook University press release:

    A collaborative research project involving James Cook University and the University of Queensland indicates high rates of sleep problems continuing through teenage years and into early adulthood — but also suggests a natural remedy.

    Dr. Yaqoot Fatima from JCU’s Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health was associated with a study that tracked more than 3600 people from the age of 14 until they were 21.

    “Just over a quarter of the 14-year-olds reported sleep problems, with more than 40 percent of those still having sleep problems at 21,” said Dr. Fatima.

    She said the causes of sleep problems were different at different ages.

    Maternal factors, such as drug abuse, smoking, depression and anxiety among mothers are the most significant predictors of adolescent sleep problems in their children, at 14-years-old. For all people studied, being female, having experienced early puberty, and being a smoker were the most significant predictors of sleep problems at 21 years.”

    She said adolescent depression or anxiety were linking factors for sleep problems between the two ages.

    “It’s a vicious circle. Depression and anxiety are well-established risk factors for sleep problems and people with sleep problems are often anxious or depressed,” she said.

    Dr. Fatima said that as well as the traditional factors, excessive use of electronic media is emerging as another significant risk.

    “In children and adolescents, it’s found to be strongly associated with later bedtime and shorter sleep duration, increasing the risk of developing sleep disturbances,” she said.

    Dr. Fatima said the study was worrying as it revealed a high incidence of persistent sleep problems and possible concurrent health problems among young people — but it also strongly suggested an answer to the problem.

    “Even allowing for Body Mass Index and other lifestyle factors, we found that an active lifestyle can decrease future incidence and progression of sleep problems in young subjects. So, early exercise intervention with adolescents might provide a good opportunity to prevent their sleep problems persisting into later life.”

    She said the next study being considered would look at what factors lead to young adults’ sleep problems continuing as they grow older and how that might be prevented.


  2. New insights into how sleep helps the brain to reorganize itself

    October 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    A study has given new insights into how sleep contributes to brain plasticity — the ability for our brain to change and reorganize itself — and could pave the way for new ways to help people with learning and memory disorders.

    Researchers at the Humboldt and Charité Universities in Berlin, led by Dr Julie Seibt from the University of Surrey, used cutting edge techniques to record activity in a particular region of brain cells that is responsible for holding new information — the dendrites.

    The study, published in Nature Communications, found that activity in dendrites increases when we sleep, and that this increase is linked to specific brain waves that are seen to be key to how we form memories.

    Dr Julie Seibt, Lecturer in Sleep and Plasticity at the University of Surrey and lead author of the study, said: “Our brains are amazing and fascinating organs — they have the ability to change and adapt based on our experiences. It is becoming increasingly clear that sleep plays an important role in these adaptive changes. Our study tells us that a large proportion of these changes may occur during very short and repetitive brain waves called spindles.

    “Sleep spindles have been associated with memory formation in humans for quite some time but nobody knew what they were actually doing in the brain. Now we know that during spindles, specific pathways are activated in dendrites, maybe allowing our memories to be reinforced during sleep.

    “In the near future, techniques that allow brain stimulation, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), could be used to stimulate dendrites with the same frequency range as spindles. This could lead to enhance cognitive functions in patients with learning and memory disorders, such as dementia.”


  3. Study suggests earlier school start times may increase risk of adolescent depression and anxiety

    October 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Rochester Medical Center press release:

    Teenagers who start high school before 8:30 a.m. are at higher risk of depression and anxiety, even if they’re doing everything else right to get a good night’s sleep, a recent study out of Rochester, N.Y., suggests.

    Led by University of Rochester Medical Center clinical assistant professor in Psychiatry Jack Peltz, Ph.D., the study, recently published in Sleep Health, not only reinforces the theorized link between sleep and adolescent mental health, but is among the first to demonstrate that school start times may have a critical impact on adolescent sleep and daily functioning. The findings provide additional evidence in the national debate over how school start times impact adolescent health.

    “Our study is consistent with a growing body of research demonstrating the close connection between sleep hygiene and adolescent mental health,” says Peltz, who is also on the faculty of Daemon College in Amherst, N.Y. “But ours is the first to really look at how school start times affect sleep quality, even when a teen is doing everything else right to get a good night’s sleep. While there are other variables that need to be explored, our findings show that earlier school start times seem to put more pressure on the sleep process and increase mental health symptoms, while later school start times appear to be a strong protective factor for teens.”

    Peltz is one of many investigators now exploring ways to address what has become a nationwide sleep epidemic among adolescents. About 90% of high-school-aged adolescents get insufficient sleep on school nights, or barely meet the required amount of sleep (8-10 hours) needed for healthy functioning. School start times, among other interventions (ie. limiting electronic use before bedtime), have become a critical point of interest. The research to date, however, has primarily focused on the academic benefits of delaying school start times for adolescents, rather than examining how earlier start times may disrupt sleep-related processes and affect mental health outcomes, says Peltz.

    “Looking at school start times as a larger contextual variable that may moderate sleep hygiene, sleep quality and adolescent functioning, fills an important gap in the literature,” he says.

    With the help of a grant from the National Sleep Foundation, Peltz’ and his co-authors used an online tool to collect data from 197 students across the country between the ages of 14 and 17. All children and parents completed a baseline survey that included questions about the child’s level of sleep hygiene, family socioeconomic status, their circadian chronotype (roughly, whether you are a “morning person” or “night person”), and their school start times. They were separated into two groups: those who started school before 8:30 a.m. and those who started after 8:30 a.m. (which is currently the recommended start time for high schoolers by the American Academy of Pediatricians).

    Over a period of seven days, the students were instructed to keep a sleep diary, in which they reported specifically on their daily sleep hygiene, levels of sleep quality and duration, and their depressive/anxiety symptoms.

    The results showed that good baseline sleep hygiene was directly associated with lower average daily depressive/anxiety symptoms across all students, and the levels were even lower in students with school start times after 8:30. However, students with good baseline sleep hygiene and earlier school start times had higher average daily depressive/anxiety symptoms.

    “Our results suggest that good sleep hygiene practices are advantageous to students no matter when they go to school,” says Peltz. “Maintaining a consistent bedtime, getting between 8 and 10 hours of sleep, limiting caffeine, turning off the TV, cell phone and video games before bed… these efforts will all benefit their quality of sleep and mental health. However, the fact that school start times showed a moderating effect on mental health symptoms, suggests that better sleep hygiene combined with later school start times would yield better outcomes.”

    Peltz says one possible explanation for the difference may be that “earlier starting students” have more pressure on them to get high quality sleep, or there may be other aspects of the school environment that vary by start time that may trigger their depression/anxiety symptoms. Peltz says there may be other lifestyle changes that coincide with earlier start times as well (for example, morning nutrition or exercise) that require closer scrutiny.

    “More studies are definitely needed, but our results help clarify the somewhat mixed findings with other sleep hygiene-focused interventions, by suggesting that school start times may be a very important contextual factor,” he says.

    Peltz hopes the evolving evidence in this area will help propel more concrete national sleep hygiene recommendations for children and teens, similar to what the American Dental Association recommends for oral health.

    “If we don’t sleep, eventually we will die…our brains will cease to function,” he says. “At the end of the day, sleep is fundamental to our survival. But if you have to cram for a test or have an important paper due, it’s one of the first things to go by the wayside, although that shouldn’t be.”


  4. An epidemic of dream deprivation: Unrecognized health hazard of sleep loss

    October 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Arizona Health Sciences press release:

    A silent epidemic of dream loss is at the root of many of the health concerns attributed to sleep loss, according to Rubin Naiman, PhD, a sleep and dream specialist at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, who recently published a comprehensive review of data.

    His review, “Dreamless: the silent epidemic of REM sleep loss” in the “Unlocking the Unconscious: Exploring the Undiscovered Self” issue of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, details the various factors that cause rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and dream loss. Typical sleep follows a pattern in which deeper, non-REM sleep is prioritized by the body. Only later in the night and into the early morning do people experience dreaming, during REM sleep.

    “We are at least as dream-deprived as we are sleep-deprived,” noted Dr. Naiman, UA clinical assistant professor of medicine. He sees REM/dream loss as an unrecognized public health hazard that silently wreaks havoc by contributing to illness, depression and an erosion of consciousness. “Many of our health concerns attributed to sleep loss actually result from REM sleep deprivation.”

    The review examines data about the causes and extent of REM/dream loss associated with medications, substance use disorders, sleep disorders and behavioral and lifestyle factors. Dr. Naiman further reviews the consequences of REM/dream loss and concludes with recommendations for restoring healthy REM sleep and dreaming.


  5. Study looks at why students don’t always use learning strategies they know about

    October 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Many university students don’t use common learning strategies, despite knowing that they exist, finds a study in open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology. Specific training on how and when to use learning strategies could help more students to maximize their academic potential.

    The first year in university is a steep learning curve for many students. Living away from home, managing finances and balancing socializing with classwork are all new challenges. Another big change is planning and organizing their own learning, including dealing with various forms of academic assessment, from multiple-choice exams to essays.

    New students typically work out their own strategies for learning, often through trial and error. However, strategies to prepare for one type of test or assignment may not work for another. As a result, students may find themselves underprepared and struggling. Even post-graduate students can encounter new challenges, such as writing a Master’s thesis, that might require different learning techniques.

    Self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies are a very effective way for students to maximize their academic potential, and considered essential for academic success by educational researchers. “SRL refers to evaluating, planning, and executing your own learning,” says Nora Foerst of the University of Vienna. “SRL includes many different learning strategies, such as planning your approach, structuring your learning content, rewarding yourself after accomplishing a goal or making realistic demands to avoid frustration.”

    Previous studies found that many students know about common SRL strategies. However, researchers are less sure how often students actually use the techniques, whether they can use them effectively, and whether they know which techniques are most appropriate in specific learning situations.

    These unknowns inspired Foerst and her colleagues to survey students enrolled in Bachelor’s or Master’s programs in Psychology or Economics at the University of Vienna on their learning strategy knowledge and actions. The scientists asked students whether they knew about beneficial SRL strategies for specific learning situations. They also assessed whether the students put the techniques into practice, and if not, why not.

    As expected, most students could correctly identify many SRL strategies. However, fewer students actually applied them while studying. In some cases, as many as one-third of the students who correctly identified a technique as beneficial admitted that they didn’t use it in their own learning.

    Both Psychology and Economics students showed a similar discrepancy between knowledge and action. Psychology students were slightly better at identifying the strategies, likely because their curriculum included information about SRL techniques.

    The survey revealed a variety of reasons for not using self-regulated learning strategies. Many students felt they didn’t have enough time to use the strategies, or were unable to apply them effectively. Some failed to see the benefits of the strategies for specific tasks, or believed that using them would be too much work.

    So, how can universities increase the number of students that benefit from self-regulated learning strategies? “We want this study, and future studies, to encourage universities to provide more SRL training for their students,” says Foerst. “Specifically, it appears that students need hands-on training to learn how and when to apply SRL strategies for specific learning situations. In addition, they need help to understand that the techniques could save them time and enhance their learning outcomes.”


  6. Why do we fall asleep when bored?

    by Ashley

    From the University of Tsukuba press release:

    Losing yourself in your favorite activities without any urge to sleep, or falling asleep during boring lectures — As humans, we often defy sleepiness and stay awake when attention is necessary, but also experience an inescapable desire to sleep in boring situations. The brain mechanisms governing the regulation of sleep by cognitive and emotional factors are not well understood.

    A new paper published in the journal Nature Communications finds that a part of the brain that is associated with motivation and pleasure — the nucleus accumbens — also can produce sleep. The new findings may explain why we have the tendency to fall asleep in the absence of motivating stimuli, i.e., when bored.

    Researchers at the University of Tsukuba’s International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine (WPI-IIIS) and Fudan University’s Department of Pharmacology in the School of Basic Medical Sciences used chemo-genetic and optical techniques to remotely control the activities of nucleus accumbens neurons and the behaviors they mediate. As a result, the Japanese-Chinese team discovered that nucleus accumbens neurons have an extremely strong ability to induce sleep that is indistinguishable from the major component of natural sleep, known as slow-wave sleep, as it is characterized by slow and high-voltage brain waves.

    “The classic somnogen adenosine is a strong candidate for evoking the sleep effect in the nucleus accumbens,” says Yo Oishi, the lead author on this project. Adenosine has long been known to represent a state of relative energy deficiency and to induce sleep via adenosine receptors. A specific subtype of adenosine receptors, the A2A receptors, are densely expressed in the nucleus accumbens. Caffeine, the most widely consumed psychostimulant in the world, produces its arousal effect also in the nucleus accumbens by blocking A2A receptors. Compounds that activate A2A receptors in the nucleus accumbens may open safe therapeutic avenues for treating insomnia, which is one of the most common sleep problems with an estimated prevalence of 10-15% in the general population and 30-60% in the older population.


  7. Study suggests sleep deprivation may help reduce depression symptoms in some patients

    October 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine press release:

    Sleep deprivation — typically administered in controlled, inpatient settings — rapidly reduces symptoms of depression in roughly half of depression patients, according the first meta-analysis on the subject in nearly 30 years, from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Partial sleep deprivation (sleep for three to four hours followed by forced wakefulness for 20-21 hours) was equally as effective as total sleep deprivation (being deprived of sleep for 36 hours), and medication did not appear to significantly influence these results. The results are published today in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

    Although total sleep deprivation or partial sleep deprivation can produce clinical improvement in depression symptoms within 24 hours, antidepressants are the most common treatment for depression. Such drugs typically take weeks or longer to experience results, yet 16.7 percent of 242 million U.S. adults filled one or more prescriptions for psychiatric drugs in 2013. The findings of this meta-analysis hope to provide relief for the estimated 16.1 million adults who experienced a major depressive episode in 2014.

    Previous studies have shown rapid antidepressant effects from sleep deprivation for roughly 40-60 percent of individuals, yet this response rate has not been analyzed to obtain a more precise percentage since 1990 despite more than 75 studies since then on the subject.

    “More than 30 years since the discovery of the antidepressant effects of sleep deprivation, we still do not have an effective grasp on precisely how effective the treatment is and how to achieve the best clinical results,” said study senior author Philip Gehrman, PhD, an associate professor of Psychiatry and member of the Penn Sleep Center, who also treats patients at the Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center. “Our analysis precisely reports how effective sleep deprivation is and in which populations it should be administered.”

    Reviewing more than 2,000 studies, the team pulled data from a final group of 66 studies executed over a 36 year period to determine how response may be affected by the type and timing of sleep deprivation performed (total vs early or late partial sleep deprivation), the clinical sample (having depressive or manic episodes, or a combination of both), medication status, and age and gender of the sample. They also explored how response to sleep deprivation may differ across studies according to how “response” is defined in each study.

    “These studies in our analysis show that sleep deprivation is effective for many populations,” said lead author Elaine Boland, PhD, a clinical associate and research psychologist at the Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center. “Regardless of how the response was quantified, how the sleep deprivation was delivered, or the type of depression the subject was experiencing, we found a nearly equivalent response rate.”

    The authors note that further research is needed to identify precisely how sleep deprivation causes rapid and significant reductions in depression severity. Also, future studies are needed to include a more comprehensive assessment of potential predictors of treatment outcome to identify those patients most likely to benefit from sleep deprivation.


  8. Why bad sleep doesn’t always lead to depression

    September 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Duke University press release:

    Poor sleep is both a risk factor, and a common symptom, of depression. But not everyone who tosses and turns at night becomes depressed.

    Individuals whose brains are more attuned to rewards may be protected from the negative mental health effects of poor sleep, says a new study by Duke University neuroscientists.

    The researchers found that college students with poor quality sleep were less likely to have symptoms of depression if they also had higher activity in a reward-sensitive region of the brain.

    “This helps us begin to understand why some people are more likely to experience depression when they have problems with sleep,” said Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. “This finding may one day help us identify individuals for whom sleep hygiene may be more effective or more important.”

    The paper appeared online Sept. 18 in The Journal of Neuroscience.

    The researchers examined a region deep within the brain called the ventral striatum (VS), which helps us regulate behavior in response to external feedback. The VS helps reinforce behaviors that are rewarded, while reducing behaviors that are not.

    Electrical stimulation of the VS has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression in patients who are resistant to other forms of treatment, and earlier studies by Hariri’s team show that people with higher reward-related VS activity are more resilient to stress.

    “We’ve shown that reward-related VS activity may act as a buffer against the negative effects of stress on depressive symptoms,” said Reut Avinun, a postdoctoral researcher in Hariri’s group at Duke and the lead author of the study. “I was interested in examining whether the same moderating effect would also be seen if we look at sleep disturbances.”

    Avinun examined the brain activity of 1,129 college students participating in the Duke Neurogenetics Study. Each participant completed a series of questionnaires to evaluate sleep quality and depressive symptoms, and also completed an fMRI scan while engaging in a task that activates the VS.

    In the task, students were shown the back of a computer-generated card and asked to guess whether the value of the card was greater than or less than five. After they guessed, they received feedback on whether they were right or wrong. But the game was rigged, so that during different trials the students were either right 80 percent of the time or wrong 80 percent of the time.

    To tease out whether general feedback, or specifically reward-related feedback, buffers against depression, the researchers compared VS brain activity during trials when the students were mostly right to those when they were mostly wrong but still received feedback.

    They found that those who were less susceptible to the effects of poor sleep showed significantly higher VS activity in response to positive feedback or reward compared to negative feedback.

    “Rather than being more or less responsive to the consequences of any actions, we are able to more confidently say it is really the response to positive feedback, to doing something right, that seems to be part of this pattern,” Hariri said.

    “It is almost like this reward system gives you a deeper reserve,” Hariri said. “Poor sleep is not good, but you may have other experiences during your life that are positive. And the more responsive you are to those positive experiences, the less vulnerable you may be to the depressive effects of poor sleep.”


  9. Study looks at teens’ sleeping patterns and habitual “jet-lag”

    September 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Örebro University press release:

    A lack of sleep is associated with more absence and teens turn up jet lagged to school on Mondays, as shown in a doctoral thesis by sleep researcher Serena Bauducco, at Örebro University, Sweden.

    “My research is about understanding young people’s sleeping patterns and what factors are linked to these. I am interested in why so many young people do not get enough sleep and what can be done about it,” says Serena Bauducco, linked to the School of Law, Psychology and Social Work at Örebro University.

    She has now presented her thesis showing that for teens who do not get enough sleep, their mental well-being is affected. Their sleep routines are not as good and they are more stressed and worried about school than those who get the sleep they need. These young people also bring their mobile phone or computer to bed to a greater extent than others.

    In her thesis, Serena Bauducco also shows that problems with sleep are directly linked to a higher degree of absence from school.

    “Those teens that showed symptoms of difficulties sleeping had three times as much absence than those who did not. That is quite a lot.”

    “We also checked other things that may be related to a high level of absence — for example bullying, depression and anxiety. But the correlation between difficulties sleeping and why they did not go to school was very clear.”

    Her thesis is based on a study of approximately 2,700 upper secondary school pupils, aged 13-16. The study shows that teens sleep longer at weekends. And because they go to bed later and wake up later, they turn up for school with a changed sleeping cycle. In other words — they suffer from jet lag.

    “As a result, they may be tired and grumpy at school. Studies show that not getting enough sleep may affect learning,” says Serena Bauducco.

    For some, it may take three to four days to get back into routine — and by then, the school week is nearly over. But for the large majority, the weekend-related jet lag is not a big deal. Almost all teens in the study did suffer from jet lag, but a majority of them did get enough sleep during the week.

    “Nevertheless, it was still 20 per cent of those taking part in the study that on the whole did not get enough sleep,” says Serena Bauducco.

    As children approach adolescence, they develop later evening habits and it takes them longer to get to sleep once they have gone to bed. This is a natural part of their development, but it can obviously still be difficult to manage.

    Serena Bauducco and her research colleagues therefore set up a programme with upper secondary school pupils in Örebro. The aim was to help the teens to create routines for themselves to get good sleep. It included simple things like not bringing their mobile phone into bed with them, and not sending or responding to text messages after 10 o’clock at night. But it also emphasised the importance of planning their time to make room for both school, spare time — and sleep.

    “One outcome was that those who had previously got the least sleep, improved their sleeping routines. They were less stressed and slept better.”

    So can you draw the conclusion that those teens who do not sleep very well, also find school work difficult?

    “It is not something that we have looked at, but there are other studies that point to that.”

    There are schools in Sweden that have introduced later school start times to adjust to teenagers’ biological rhythm. Some researchers say that sleeping in may lead to pupils performing better at school.

    Serena Bauducco thinks this is an interesting development.

    “A later start to the school day would lead to so many other things; staff have to change their working hours, bus time tables need changing and so on. I still think it is worth a try, as long as you also evaluate the effects of such structural change.”


  10. Preterm children have more medical sleep problems but fall asleep more independently

    September 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Sleep Medicine press release:

    A new study suggests that while healthy preterm children have more medical sleep problems than full-term children, they are more likely to fall asleep independently.

    Results show that preterm children displayed more medical sleep problems such as nocturnal movement, restlessness during the night and breathing problems, compared with those born at full term. However, a lower degree of behavioral sleep problems were present in preterm children.

    “Preterm children needed less support to fall asleep and fell asleep more often alone in their own bed compared to those born at full term,” said principal investigator Dr. Barbara Caravale, a researcher in the Department of Developmental and Social Psychology at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy. “However, preterm children showed more frequent sleep difficulties, such as restlessness and breathing problems during the night.”

    Study results are published in the September 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

    The study involved 51 preterm children with normal cognitive, language, and motor development, and 57 full-term children. Their average age was 21 months. Mothers completed a series of questionnaires to assess sleep-related difficulties, sleep habits and child temperament.

    The study found no differences between the two groups of children in bedtime, rise time or sleep duration. However, Caravale noted that the sleep problems reported by the parents of preterms may have resulted in sleep disruption, which could help explain significant differences in attention and emotionality.

    “We observed a link between sleep pattern and temperament in preterm children,” said Caravale. “Our study found that sleep problems were related to increased negative emotionality and decreased attention.”

    According to the authors, these results are consistent with previous studies demonstrating that children born preterm are at risk of attention and learning problems as well as emotional difficulties. For this reason, it is important that pediatricians screen for sleep problems more rigorously in preterm children, especially with respect to sleep-related breathing disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and sleep-related movement disorders.