1. Link found between cognitive fatigue and effort and reward

    September 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Kessler Foundation press release:

    Kessler Foundation researchers have authored a new article that has implications for our understanding of the relationship between cognitive fatigue and effort and reward. The study, which was conducted in healthy participants, broadens our understanding of disease entities that are associated with a lower threshold for cognitive fatigue, such as multiple sclerosis, brain injury, stroke and Parkinson disease. The article, “The relationship between outcome prediction and cognitive fatigue: a convergence of paradigms,” was epublished ahead of print on May 25, 2017, in Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience. The authors are Glenn Wylie, DPhil, Helen Genova, PhD, John DeLuca, PhD, and Ekaterina Dobryakova, PhD, of Kessler Foundation.

    Injury and disease of the brain increase the likelihood of cognitive fatigue, which can be disabling. Researchers are studying the mechanisms of cognitive fatigue, toward the goal of developing effective interventions. “In this study, we focused on the activity of the anterior cingulate cortex, which has been shown by others to be related to error processing, and which we have shown to be associated with fatigue,” said Dr. Wylie, who is associate director of Neuroscience Research and the Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation. “We challenged participants with difficult tasks of working memory, and assessed which parts of the anterior cingulate cortex were associated with error processing,” he explained. “We then investigated whether exactly the same areas of the anterior cingulate cortex were also associated with fatigue. They were, suggesting that cognitive fatigue may be the brain’s way of signalling to itself that the effort required for the task no longer merits the rewards received.”


  2. Severe stress behind self-perceived memory problems

    September 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Gothenburg press release:

    Stress, fatigue, and feeling like your memory is failing you. These are the symptoms of a growing group of patients studied as part of a thesis at Sahlgrenska Academy. Result — They may need help, but they are rarely entering the initial stages of dementia.

    “We are seeing a growing number of people who are seeking help because of self-perceived cognitive problems, but have no objective signs of disease despite thorough investigation,” says Marie Eckerström, doctoral student at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology and licensed psychologist at the Memory Unit of Sahlgrenska University Hospital.

    The influx of this particular group of patients, which currently represents one-third of the individuals who come to the unit, has increased the need for knowledge of who they are. In her work, Marie Eckerström followed a few hundred of them, both women and men, over an average of four years.

    They are usually highly educated professionals who are relatively young in this context, between the ages of 50 and 60. When tested at the hospital, their memory functions are intact. But, in their everyday environment where they are under pressure to constantly learn new things, they think things just are not working right.

    The correlation between self-perceived memory problems and stress proved to be strong. Seven out of ten in the group had experiences of severe stress, clinical burnout, or depression.

    “We found that problems with stress were very common. Patients often tell us they are living or have lived with severe stress for a prolonged period of time and this has affected their cognitive functions to such an extent that they feel like they are sick and are worried about it. In some cases, this is combined with a close family member with dementia, giving the patient more knowledge but also increasing their concern,” says Marie Eckerström.

    The memory unit investigates suspicions of the early stages of dementia in those who seek help. Research is conducted in parallel to this.

    “We primarily investigate suspected dementia. If we are able to rule this out, then the patient does not remain with us. But, there are not so many places such patients can turn and they seem to fall between the cracks.”

    Perceived memory problems are common and may be an early sign of future development of dementia. For those in the studied group who also had deviating biomarkers in their cerebrospinal fluid (beta-amyloid, total-tau and phospho-tau), the risk of deteriorating and developing dementia was more than double. However, the majority demonstrated no signs of deterioration after four years.

    “These individuals have no objective signs of dementia. The issue instead is usually stress, anxiety or depression,” says Marie Eckerström.

    One out of ten with only self-perceived memory problems developed dementia during the investigated period. According to Marie Eckerström, this is a higher percentage than the population in general, but is still low.

    “It is not a matter of just anyone who has occasional memory problems in everyday life. It is more a matter of individuals who sought medical attention to investigate whether they are developing serious problems,” states Marie Eckerström.


  3. Study looks at drawbacks of binge-watching TV

    August 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Binge-watching may be a great way for young adults to catch up on multiple episodes of their favorite television series like “The Walking Dead” or “Game of Thrones,” but it comes at a price.

    New research by the University of Michigan and the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research in Belgium found that higher binge-viewing frequency leads to poorer sleep quality, more fatigue and increased insomnia, while regular TV viewing does not.

    “Our study signals that binge viewing is prevalent in young adults and that is may be harmful to their sleep,” said co-author Jan Van den Bulck, U-M professor of communication studies.

    Binge viewing, in which people watch an excessive amount of the same TV program in one sitting, has been on the rise as more American households use streaming services and digital video recorders.

    Researchers surveyed 423 adults between the ages of 18 to 25 in February 2016. They were asked about sleep quality, fatigue and insomnia, as well as the frequency of binge watching programs on a TV, laptop or desktop computer for the last month.

    Most of the sample (81 percent) reported that they had binge-watched. Of that group, nearly 40 percent did it once during the month preceding the study, while 28 percent said they did it a few times. About 7 percent had binge-viewed almost every day during the preceding month. Men binge-watched less frequently than women, but the viewing session nearly doubled that of women.

    Respondents indicated they slept, on average, seven hours and 37 minutes. Those who binge-viewed reported more fatigue and sleep quality compared to those who didn’t binge-watch.

    Liese Exelmans, a researcher at the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research and the study’s lead author, said people might sleep an appropriate amount of time (seven to nine hours for adults), but the quality is not always good.

    “These students have flexible daytime schedules,” she said. “Chances are they are compensating for lost sleep by sleeping in.”

    The study showed that increased cognitive arousal prior to sleep (i.e., being mentally alert) is the mechanism explaining the effects of binge viewing on sleep quality.

    “Bingeable TV shows have plots that keep the viewer tied to the screen,” Exelmans said. “We think they become intensely involved with the content, and may keep thinking about it when they want to go to sleep.”

    A racing heart, or one that beats irregularly, and being mentally alert can create arousal (or pre-sleep arousal) when a person tries to fall asleep. This can lead to poor sleep quality after binge-viewing.

    “This prolongs sleep onset or, in other words, requires a longer period to ‘cool down’ before going to sleep, thus affecting sleep overall,” Exelmans said.

    The Researchers note that binge-watching frequently happens unintentionally. People get absorbed into their shows, watch “just one more episode” and fail to go to bed in a timely manner.

    “They might not intend on watching a lot, but they end up doing so anyway,” Exelmans said.

    Sleep insufficiency has been connected to physical and mental health consequences, including reduced memory function and learning ability, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

    “Basically, sleep is the fuel your body needs to keep functioning properly,” Exelmans said. “Based on that research, it’s very important to document the risk factors for poor sleep. Our research suggests that binge viewing could be one of this risk factors.”


  4. Study suggests engaging in casual video game play during rest breaks can help restore mood in response to workplace stress

    August 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society press release:

    More than half of Americans regularly experience cognitive fatigue related to stress, frustration, and anxiety while at work. Those in safety-critical fields, such as air traffic control and health care, are at an even greater risk for cognitive fatigue, which could lead to errors. Given the amount of time that people spend playing games on their smartphones and tablets, a team of human factors/ergonomics researchers decided to evaluate whether casual video game play is an effective way to combat workplace stress during rest breaks.

    In their Human Factors article (now online), “Searching for Affective and Cognitive Restoration: Examining the Restorative Effects of Casual Video Game Play,” Michael Rupp and coauthors used a computer-based task to induce cognitive fatigue in 66 participants, who were then given a five-minute rest break. During the break, participants either played a casual video game called Sushi Cat, participated in a guided relaxation activity, or sat quietly in the testing room without using a phone or computer. At various times throughout the experiment, the researchers measured participants’ affect (e.g., stress level, mood) and cognitive performance.

    Those who took a silent rest break reported that they felt less engaged with work and experienced worry as a result, whereas those who participated in the guided relaxation activity saw reductions in negative affect and distress. Only the video game players reported that they felt better after taking the break.

    Rupp, a doctoral student in human factors and cognitive psychology at the University of Central Florida, notes, “We often try to power through the day to get more work finished, which might not be as effective as taking some time to detach for a few minutes. People should plan short breaks to make time for an engaging and enjoyable activity, such as video games, that can help them recharge.”


  5. Does stress lead to lengthier periods of sick leave?

    June 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Deutsches Ärzteblatt International press release:

    The duration of a person’s unfitness for work is determined by more than his/her primary diagnosis. Patients often report psychological problems and a feeling of being burnt out. Antonius Schneider and colleagues analyzed whether an association exists between such psychological symptoms and the length of sick leave, even if patients received their sick note because of purely physical symptoms, such as back pain.

    The researchers studied the data of 225 patients, from 14 general practices, who had been issued with a sickness certificate. The diagnoses that prompted the sick leave varied. Respiratory disorders and disorders of the musculoskeletal system were the most common diagnoses. The longest mean periods of sick leave were documented for patients with diagnoses of skin diseases and mental disorders. All study participants completed a questionnaire that included the Maslach Burnout Inventory, General Survey, and Patient Health Questionnaire, with the scales depression, somatization, and anxiety. Patients’ characteristics such as sex, age, relationship status, and educational attainment were also captured.

    For the total study population, doctors’ sick notes were associated with longer periods of sick leave in patients with a lower level of educational attainment (less than 10 years of schooling), independently of the primary diagnosis. An association existed between the length of the sick leave period and emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, depression, anxiety, and somatization. When study participants were excluded whose unfitness for work was primarily due to psychological and psychiatric diagnoses, the sick leave period correlated with emotional exhaustion, somatization, and — almost statistically significantly — with depression. Sex and relationship status were not relevant.

    In a secondary analysis, age and formal education were associated with the duration of sick leave. Each year of increase in age led to an increase in the length of the sick leave period by 1.7%. In persons with higher levels of education, the length of sick leave was reduced by 40%. In terms of the psychological burden, an association of anxiety symptoms with the duration of unfitness to work was primarily noted.

    The authors conclude that a holistic approach in patient-centered communication, such as is applied in case of depression and anxiety, may be helpful in psychological or physical symptoms of unknown origin during the consultation with the primary care physician.


  6. Loneliness in young adults linked to poor sleep quality

    May 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Kings College London press release:

    Researchers from King’s College London have found a link between loneliness and poor sleep quality in a study of more than 2,000 British young adults.

    Lonelier people were 24 per cent more likely to feel tired and have difficulty concentrating during the day, according to the study published in Psychological Medicine.

    Loneliness is defined by researchers as a distressing feeling that people experience when they perceive their social relationships to be inadequate. This is distinct from the concept of social isolation, as people can be socially isolated without feeling lonely, or feel lonely despite being surrounded by many people.

    While the effect of being lonely is well documented among the elderly, it is a common problem for young people too — the Mental Health Foundation reports that loneliness is most frequent between the ages of 18-34. Despite this, little is known about health problems that are associated with loneliness among young adults, or the impact on sleep.

    The researchers from King’s College London sampled data from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, a cohort of 2,232 18-19 year-old twins born in England and Wales. They measured loneliness by scoring responses to four questions: ‘How often do you feel that you lack companionship?’, ‘How often do you feel left out?’, ‘How often do you feel isolated from others?’ and ‘How often do you feel alone?’

    They also measured sleep quality in the past month, including the time it takes to fall asleep, sleep duration and sleep disturbances, as well as daytime dysfunction such as staying awake during the day.

    Overall 25-30 per cent of the sample reported feeling lonely sometimes, with a further five per cent reporting frequent feelings of loneliness. The researchers found that the association between loneliness and sleep quality remained even after they accounted for symptoms of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, which are commonly associated with sleep problems and feeling lonely.

    One of the proposed reasons for restless sleep in lonely individuals is the possibility they feel less safe, so the researchers examined the impact of past exposure to violence, including crime, sexual abuse, child maltreatment and violent abuse by family members or peers. The association between loneliness and poor sleep quality was almost 70 per cent stronger among those exposed to the most severe forms of violence. The study authors suggest a number of biological processes which may explain the association between loneliness and sleep quality, including a heightened biological stress response. Previous research suggests that loneliness is associated with changes in circulating cortisol, indicating elevated activation of the stress response system. Physiological arousal resulting from this process may play a role in the disrupted sleep of lonely individuals.

    Professor Louise Arseneault from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, said: ‘Diminished sleep quality is one of the many ways in which loneliness gets under the skin, and our findings underscore the importance of early therapeutic approaches to target the negative thoughts and perceptions that can make loneliness a vicious cycle.’

    Professor Arseneault added: ‘Many of the young people in our study are currently at university, living away from home for the first time, which can compound feelings of loneliness. It is therefore important that they receive appropriate support to address these feelings before they turn into severe mental health problems.’

    Timothy Matthews from the IoPPN at King’s College London, added: ‘We also found that past exposure to violence exacerbated the association between loneliness and poor sleep, which is consistent with the suggestion that sleep problems in lonely individuals are related to feeling unsafe. This makes sense as sleep is a state in which it is impossible to be vigilant for one’s safety, so feeling isolated from others could make it more difficult to sleep restfully, and even more so for individuals who have been exposed to violence in the past. It is therefore important to recognise that loneliness may interact with pre-existing vulnerabilities in some people, and that these individuals should receive tailored support.’


  7. Deep sleep may act as fountain of youth in old age

    April 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the UC Berkeley press release:

    As we grow old, our nights are frequently plagued by bouts of wakefulness, bathroom trips and other nuisances as we lose our ability to generate the deep, restorative slumber we enjoyed in youth.

    But does that mean older people just need less sleep?

    Not according to UC Berkeley researchers, who argue in an article published April 5 in the journal Neuron that the unmet sleep needs of the elderly elevate their risk of memory loss and a wide range of mental and physical disorders.

    “Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” said the article’s senior author, Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience. “We’ve done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep, and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that.”

    Unlike more cosmetic markers of aging, such as wrinkles and gray hair, sleep deterioration has been linked to such conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and stroke, he said.

    Though older people are less likely than younger cohorts to notice and/or report mental fogginess and other symptoms of sleep deprivation, numerous brain studies reveal how poor sleep leaves them cognitively worse off.

    Moreover, the shift from deep, consolidated sleep in youth to fitful, dissatisfying sleep can start as early as one’s 30s, paving the way for sleep-related cognitive and physical ailments in middle age.

    And, while the pharmaceutical industry is raking in billions by catering to insomniacs, Walker warns that the pills designed to help us doze off are a poor substitute for the natural sleep cycles that the brain needs in order to function well.

    “Don’t be fooled into thinking sedation is real sleep. It’s not,” he said.

    For their review of sleep research, Walker and fellow researchers Bryce Mander and Joseph Winer cite studies, including some of their own, that show the aging brain has trouble generating the kind of slow brain waves that promote deep curative sleep, as well as the neurochemicals that help us switch stably from sleep to wakefulness.

    “The parts of the brain deteriorating earliest are the same regions that give us deep sleep,” said article lead author Mander, a postdoctoral researcher in Walker’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at UC Berkeley.

    Aging typically brings on a decline in deep non-rapid eye movement (NREM) or “slow wave sleep,” and the characteristic brain waves associated with it, including both slow waves and faster bursts of brain waves known as “sleep spindles.”

    Youthful, healthy slow waves and spindles help transfer memories and information from the hippocampus, which provides the brain’s short-term storage, to the prefrontal cortex, which consolidates the information, acting as the brain’s long-term storage.

    “Sadly, both these types of sleep brain waves diminish markedly as we grow old, and we are now discovering that this sleep decline is related to memory decline in later life,” said Winer, a doctoral student in Walker’s lab.

    Another deficiency in later life is the inability to regulate neurochemicals that stabilize our sleep and help us transition from sleep to waking states. These neurochemicals include galanin, which promotes sleep, and orexin, which promotes wakefulness. A disruption to the sleep-wake rhythm commonly leaves older adults fatigued during the day but frustratingly restless at night, Mander said.

    Of course, not everyone is vulnerable to sleep changes in later life: “Just as some people age more successfully than others, some people sleep better than others as they get older, and that’s another line of research we’ll be exploring,” Mander said.

    Meanwhile, non-pharmaceutical interventions are being explored to boost the quality of sleep, such as electrical stimulation to amplify brain waves during sleep and acoustic tones that act like a metronome to slow brain rhythms.

    However, promoting alternatives to prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids is sure to be challenging.

    “The American College of Physicians has acknowledged that sleeping pills should not be the first-line kneejerk response to sleep problems,” Walker said. “Sleeping pills sedate the brain, rather than help it sleep naturally. We must find better treatments for restoring healthy sleep in older adults, and that is now one of our dedicated research missions.”

    Also important to consider in changing the culture of sleep is the question of quantity versus quality.

    “Previously, the conversation has focused on how many hours you need to sleep,” Mander said. “However, you can sleep for a sufficient number of hours, but not obtain the right quality of sleep. We also need to appreciate the importance of sleep quality.

    “Indeed, we need both quantity and quality,” Walker said.


  8. Study suggests dopamine regulates the motivation to act

    May 7, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Asociación RUVID press release via AlphaGalileo:

    mental healthThe widespread belief that dopamine regulates pleasure could go down in history with the latest research results on the role of this neurotransmitter. Researchers have proved that it regulates motivation, causing individuals to initiate and persevere to obtain something either positive or negative.

    The neuroscience journal Neuron publishes an article by researchers at the Universitat Jaume I of Castellón that reviews the prevailing theory on dopamine and poses a major paradigm shift with applications in diseases related to lack of motivation and mental fatigue and depression, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, etc. and diseases where there is excessive motivation and persistence as in the case of addictions.

    It was believed that dopamine regulated pleasure and reward and that we release it when we obtain something that satisfies us, but in fact the latest scientific evidence shows that this neurotransmitter acts before that, it actually encourages us to act. In other words, dopamine is released in order to achieve something good or to avoid something evil”, explains Mercè Correa.

    Studies had shown that dopamine is released by pleasurable sensations but also by stress, pain or loss. These research results however had been skewed to only highlight the positive influence, according to Correa. The new article is a review of the paradigm based on the data from several investigations, including those conducted over the past two decades by the Castellón group in collaboration with the John Salamone of the University of Connecticut (USA), on the role of dopamine in the motivated behaviour in animals.

    The level of dopamine depends on individuals, so some people are more persistent than others to achieve a goal. “Dopamine leads to maintain the level of activity to achieve what is intended. This in principle is positive, however, it will always depend on the stimuli that are sought: whether the goal is to be a good student or to abuse of drugs” says Correa. High levels of dopamine could also explain the behaviour of the so-called sensation seekers as they are more motivated to act.

    Application for depression and addiction

    To know the neurobiological parameters that make people be motivated by something is important to many areas such as work, education or health. Dopamine is now seen as a core neurotransmitter to address symptoms such as the lack of energy that occurs in diseases such as depression.

    “Depressed people do not feel like doing anything and that’s because of low dopamine levels,” explains Correa. Lack of energy and motivation is also related to other syndromes with mental fatigue such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia, among others.

    In the opposite case, dopamine may be involved in addictive behaviour problems, leading to an attitude of compulsive perseverance. In this sense, Correa indicates that dopamine antagonists which have been applied so far in addiction problems probably have not worked because of inadequate treatments based on a misunderstanding of the function of dopamine.

     


  9. Study suggests resident fatigue, stress may trigger motor vehicle accidents

    December 27, 2012 by Sue

    From the Mayo Clinic press release:

    Doctor with patientIt appears that long, arduous hours in the hospital are causing more than stress and fatigue among doctors-in-training — they’re crashing, or nearly crashing, their cars after work, according to new Mayo Clinic research. Nearly half of the roughly 300 Mayo Clinic residents polled during the course of their residencies reported nearly getting into a motor vehicle crash during their training, and about 11 percent were actually involved in a traffic accident.

    The study, recently published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found that residents attributed the traffic incidents to fatigue and to distress — including feelings of burnout or depression.

    “Just like any other field, residents need their recovery time. In order to make good decisions, physicians need to be physically and emotionally well,” says lead author Colin West, M.D., Ph.D., an internal medicine physician at Mayo Clinic. “Residents need to be rested. We don’t want them to have undue amounts of stress.”

    It is well documented that medical residents often work long and grueling hours during their three-year residencies. The intense work schedule has benefits, Dr. West says. For example, residencies prepare trainees to become independent physicians. However, it’s important that educators continually update their approach to retain the value of the training while minimizing stress and fatigue, he says. In addition to the 11 percent who had traffic crashes, 43 percent reported narrowly avoiding them.

    “The mere fact that motor vehicle incidents are common among residents brings the issues of resident fatigue, sleepiness and distress to a new level of priority,” Dr. West says. “New interventions designed to address both resident fatigue and distress may be needed to promote patient and resident safety.”

    Residents also were asked about the frequency of self-reported blood and body fluid exposures. Of the about 300 residents in the study, 23 (about 8 percent) reported having at least one blood and body fluid exposure due to fatigue or stress during the study period.

    To gather the data, participants completed surveys quarterly from July 1, 2007, through July 31, 2011, during their training period. Associations of validated measures of quality of life, burnout, symptoms of depression, fatigue and sleepiness with a subsequently reported blood and body fluid exposure or motor vehicle incident were determined from these survey results.

    The study was funded by the Mayo Clinic Department of Medicine Program on Physician Wellbeing.


  10. Researchers examine the neuroscience of mental fatigue

    December 13, 2012 by Sue

    From the Inderscience press release via MedicalXpress:

    neuron_networkWe all perhaps know the feeling of mental exhaustion, but what does it mean physiologically to have mental fatigue? A new study carried out using brain scans could help scientists uncover the neurobiological mechanisms underlying mental fatigue.

    According to Bui Ha Duc and Xiaoping Li of the National University of Singapore writing in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal Computer Applications in Technology, mental fatigue has become commonplace as many people face increasing mental demands from stressful jobs, longer working hours with less time to relax and increasingly suffer sleep problems. Mental fatigue has received attention from those involved generally in health and well being as well as from the military and transport industry. After all, mental fatigue not only affects the health of individuals but can also have implications for road safety and international security.

    The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor activity in the brains of ten student volunteers (male and female aged 19 to 25 years) deprived of sleep for 25 hours and given a simple task repeatedly through that period. They carried out scans at 9am, 2pm, 3am, 9am the following day. All volunteers had to have avoided alcohol and caffeine for the 24 hours prior to the experiment, were all physically and mentally fit prior to participation and none had any sleep problems.

    The activation of the left thalamus increases with sleep deprivation, going in an exactly opposite trend to the inferior parietal that (following the circadian rhythm) decreases in activation from 9 am to 3 am next day and then increases in activation. This finding fits with logic as the inferior parietal cortex integrates information from different sensory modalities. As all the information has to go through the thalamus and then is sent by the thalamus to the inferior parietal, when the inferior parietal decreases in activation, the thalamus must increase its activation to get the information sent through.

    The team explains that a gradual increase in mental fatigue led to decreased activity in the volunteers’ brains in specific regions: the anterior cingulate gyrus, right inferior frontal, left middle frontal and right superior temporal cortex. The anterior cingulate cortex has been described as an interface between motivation, cognition and action, and has been implicated in using reinforcement information to control behavior. The fMRI scans suggest that decreased activity in this part of the brain is therefore linked to those familiar feelings of mental fatigue including lethargy and slowness of thinking.

    “The research provides a neurophysiologic basis for measuring the level of mental fatigue by EEG, as well as for the intervention by non-invasive neural stimulation to maintain wakefulness,” the team says. “We have developed devices for both, which will be commercialized by our spinoff company, Newrocare Pte Ltd.”