Tag: sleep

Why Sugar Makes Us Sleepy

Consider the orexin system. Secreted by a small cluster of neurons in the hypothalamus, orexin is a neuropeptide that regulates an astonishing array of mental properties, from sleepiness to hunger.

People with chronically low levels of orexin suffer from narcolepsy and obesity; many also have cataplexy, which occurs when the experience of strong emotions triggers a sudden weakening of skeletal muscles.

Studies have shown that injecting mice with orexin increases metabolism, largely because it makes the animals more active.

The reverse is also true: low levels of orexin make people feel rundown and tired. This helps explain the mechanics of sleep deprivation, as keeping monkeys awake for extended periods all but silences their orexin cells.

In many respects, orexin acts like an internal gas pedal, as even slight twitches in the system can dramatically shift levels of activity.

The reason the orexin system is so important is that it links the needs of the body to the desires of the mind.

Several studies have demonstrated that the intake of sugar can decrease the activity of orexin cells, which is probably why we want to nap after a carb heavy lunch.

This phenomenon also begins to explain the downward spiral of obesity triggered by our warped modern diet.

Because we eat lots of refined sugars, washing down Twinkies with cans of Coke, we continually reduce levels of orexin in the brain, which then reduces levels of physical activity.

In other words, we get fat and sleepy simultaneously. However, not every food has such perverse consequences.

It’s long been recognized that meals high in protein are both more filling and less exhausting, which is why we’re always being told to snack on almonds and follow the Zone Diet, with its balance of carbs, protein and fat.

Although the biological mechanism behind this dietary wisdom has always been unclear, that’s beginning to change – we finally understand why consuming protein can be an effective weight loss tool.

The answer returns us to orexin.

According to a new paper in Neuron led by scientists at the University of Cambridge, consuming foods high in protein can increase the activity of orexin neurons.

This, in turn, leads to increased wakefullness and bodily activity, helping us burn off the calories we just consumed.

Furthermore, eating protein in conjunction with glucose – adding almonds to Frosted Flakes, in other words – can inhibit the inhibitory effects of sugar on orexin. The sweetness no longer makes us tired.

The researchers demonstrated this effect in a number of ways. They began in situ, showing that clumps of orexin cells in a petri dish got excited when immersed in a solution of amino acids.

Then, they moved on to in vivo experiments, studying the impact of an egg white slurry of live animals.

This protein meal not only increased orexin activity in the brain, but also led to a dramatic surge in locomotor activity, as the animals began scurrying around their cage. The effect persisted for several hours.

These experiments also document, at a biochemical level, why the modern American diet is such a catastrophic mess.

The typical supermarket is filled with processed foods where the only relevant “nutrient” is some form of sweetener.

While such snacks are unfailingly cheap and tasty, they also lead to sudden spikes in blood sugar and a reduction in orexin activity.

We eat them for the energy boost, but the empty calories in these foods make us tired and sad instead.

And so we keep on swilling glucose, searching for a pick-me-up in all the wrong places.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Here’s How To Stop Snoring While Sleeping

Studies show that more than 45 per cent healthy adults snore while sleeping. However, a majority of those people would like to know how to stop snoring naturally and permanently.

Getting someone to stop snoring can also prove to be a difficult.

While snoring home remedies can work, research has revealed that 75 per cent of those who snore have obstructive sleep apnea, which could increase the risk of developing heart disease in future.

Here’s how to stop snoring naturally:

Sleeping on your side: This stops the base of your tongue and soft palate from collapsing to the back wall of your throat that usually happens when you sleep on your back.

This usually results in a vibrating sound when a person is asleep. If sleeping on your side is difficult, a body pillow or taping tennis balls to the back of your pyjamas can be a quick and cheap solution.

Losing weight: This can help people who have recently gained weight and have started to snore as a result.

Thin people do snore, but weight gain can occasionally squeeze the diameter of the throat, again causing it to collapse during sleep.

Not drinking: Drinking alcohol four or five hours before sleeping can make snoring worse and louder as it can reduce the resting tone of the muscle in the back of your throat.

Some people who do not usually snore can sometimes snore after drinking. Lack of sleep can also play a significant part in the increase of snoring as, when an overtired person goes into a deep sleep, muscles become floppier.

Opening nasal passages: This can also help minimize snoring if a person has cold or if a person’s nose is blocked for other reasons. A hot shower, a neti pot or nasal strips can help clear passages before bed.

Drinking water: This can stop the secretions in your nose and soft palate from becoming sticky when you are dehydrated, so ensuring you are having enough water each day can help stop snoring.

However, if none of these work, surgery could be a natural inclination.

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Here’s Why Naps Are Really Good For You, According to Science

You may be familiar with that feeling of overwhelming sleepiness during the mid-afternoon.

It’s common, occurs whether you’ve eaten lunch or not, and is caused by a natural dip in alertness from about 1 to 3pm. So, if you find yourself fighting off sleep in the middle of the day and you’re somewhere where you can have a nap, then do it.

Taking the time for a brief nap will relieve the sleepiness almost immediately and improve alertness for several hours after waking. And there are many other benefits too.

Understanding why we nap

People nap for lots of reasons, some which are:

  • to catch up on lost sleep
  • in anticipation of sleep loss to avoid feeling sleepy later on
  • for enjoyment, boredom or to pass time.

Napping is relatively common. In fact, about 50 percent of us report taking a nap at least once per week.

Napping rates are greater in countries like Greece, Brazil and Mexico that have a culture of siesta, which incorporate “quiet time” in the early afternoon for people to go home for a nap. In such countries, up to 72 percent of people will nap as often as four times per week.

The perks of napping

Naps are not only beneficial because they make us feel less sleepy and more alert, but because they improve our cognitive functioning, reaction times, short-term memory and even our mood.

Our research (not yet published) has found those who regularly nap report feeling more alert after a brief nap in the afternoon when compared to those who only nap occasionally.

How long should a nap be?

The amount of time you spend napping really depends on the time you have available, how you want the nap to work for you, and your plans for the coming night. Generally speaking, the longer a nap is, the longer you will feel rejuvenated after waking.

Long naps of one to two hours during the afternoon will mean you are less sleepy (and require less sleep) that night. This could mean it will take longer than usual to fall asleep.

If you are planning to stay up later than usual, or if taking a little longer to fall asleep at bedtime is not bothersome, time your nap for about 1.5 hours.

This is the length of a normal sleep cycle. You will experience deep sleep for about an hour or so followed by light sleep for the last half an hour.

Waking up during light sleep will leave you feeling refreshed and alert. However, waking during deep sleep will not.

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The Right Tech To Propel Yourself Out Of Bed In Record Time

Earlier this year, China’s Sleepace successfully crowdfunded and shipped a 2 mm thick smart strap that lays on the bed and monitors a user’s sleep time, heart rate and breathing, body movement and sleep cycles.

The RestOn then sends the collected data to a companion app running on a Bluetooth-paired smartphone for analysis.

Now the company has added a smart light to the system called the Nox, which works in conjunction with the RestOn to help monitor, track and improve sleep quality.

The new Nox Smart Sleep System is made up of three parts.

There’s a RestOn smart band that’s slipped between the mattress and top sheet, the Nox light that’s plugged into a wall outlet and placed on a bedside table, and the Sleepace app running on a user’s smartphone.

The RestOn and the Nox both transmit data to the app via Bluetooth. The Nox uses a combination of light and sound to ease a user into a restful sleep.

The light part of the equation makes use of red wavelengths, which the company says can raise the secretion of melatonin, a naturally-occurring hormone that’s used medically in the treatment of some sleep problems.

The Nox also emits soothing sounds to help the would-be dreamer drift into slumber. When the RestOn’s sensors detect the user has fallen asleep, the Nox light is instructed to switch off.

The Nox light hosts built-in sensors that keep track of room temperature, humidity and CO2, as well as ambient light and background noises, and the Sleepace app uses this data – together with information supplied by the RestOn smart strap – to help users understand what’s been going on during the night.

The app then makes suggestions for improving the bedroom environment to help ensure better quality sleep and healthier sleeping habits.

The Nox displays the current time or temperature under the light to the front, and includes a USB port for charging a smartphone or tablet while the user gets some shut-eye.

When it’s time to wake up, the RestOn sensors will let the Nox know when a sleeper is entering the lightest part of the sleep cycle, and the Nox will be instructed to wake up the user 30 minutes before the time set for the alarm.

Sleepace says that this ensures a user is awoken at the right time, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day ahead.

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Learn How to Sleep on Your Back (It Isn’t Easy)

If you’re able to sleep on your back, you’re one of the few. Only 14% of us sleep on our backs. What’s so great about it?

Back sleeping can help to reduce back and neck pain, minimize the effects of acid reflux, decrease wrinkles, and even help to maintain perky breasts.

While back sleeping can exacerbate snoring issues for some and isn’t recommended during pregnancy, it’s considered the healthiest way to sleep.

Sleeping this way makes it easy for your head, neck, and spine to maintain a neutral position; they’re in near ideal alignment when lying on a flat surface. Most doctors and sleep experts recommend it–if you can pull it off.

It’s possible to learn how to sleep on your back, but it’s not easy for everyone.

How to Sleep on Your Back–First a Few Tips:

  • Use positioning pillows. Extra pillows in the bed can help to keep your body positioned in whatever specific way works best for you. A pillow under each arm is a preferred technique, but do whatever works for you.
  • Keep a pillow under your knees to help maintain proper alignment of your back. This can help if you’re experiencing any lower back discomfort.
  • Be persistent. Always roll to your back when you catch yourself positioned otherwise.
  • Use a pillow that will hold your head in place. What’s the best pillow for back sleepers? A malleable type like a buckwheat pillow works well. It will prevent your head from rolling from side to side and give you the best support.

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Blind Fish In Dark Caves Shed Light On The Evolution Of Sleep

Out of the approximately 3 billion letters of DNA that make up your genome, there are about a 100 letters that neither of your parents possess.

These are your own personal mutations. The machinery that copies DNA into new cells is very reliable, but it is not perfect. It makes errors at a rate equivalent to making a single typo for every 100 books filled with text.

The sperm and egg cells that fused to form you carried a few such mutations, and therefore so do you.

Changes to DNA are more likely to be disruptive than beneficial, simply because it is easier for changes to mess things up than to improve them.

This mutational burden is something that all life forms have to bear. In the long run, individuals that carry harmful mutations will, on average, produce fewer offspring than their peers.

Over many generations, this means that the mutation will dwindle in frequency. This is how natural selection is constantly ‘weeding out’ disruptive mutations from our genomes.

There is a flip side to this argument, and it is the story of the blind cave fish. If a mutation disrupts a gene that is not being used, natural selection will have no restoring effect.

This is why fish that adapt to a lifestyle of darkness in a cave tend to lose their eyes. There is no longer any advantage to having eyes, and so the deleterious mutations that creep in are no longer being weeded out.

Think of it as the ‘use it or lose it’ school of evolution.

A world without light is quite an alien place. There are many examples of fish that live in completely dark caves.

Remarkably, if you compare these fish to their relatives that live in rivers or in the ocean, you find that the cavefish often undergo a similar set of changes. Their eyes do not fully develop, rendering them essentially blind.

They lose pigmentation in their skin, and their jaws and teeth tend to develop in particular ways.

This is an example of what is known as convergent evolution, where different organisms faced with similar ecological challenges also stumble upon similar evolutionary solutions.

The changes mentioned above are all about appearance, but what about changes in behavior? In particular, when animals sleep, they generally line up with the day and night cycle.

In the absence of any daylight, how do their sleep patterns evolve?

A recent paper by Erik Duboué and colleagues addressed this question by comparing 4 groups of fish of the same species Astyanax mexicanus.

Three of the populations (the Pachón, Tinaja, and Molino) were blind cavefish that inhabited different dark caves, whereas the fourth was a surface-dwelling fish.

The authors defined sleep for their fish to be a period of a minute or more when the fish were not moving. They checked that this definition met the usual criteria.

Sleeping fish were harder to wake up, and fish that were deprived of sleep compensated by sleeping more over the next 12 hours (these are both situations that any college student is familiar with).

The researchers also tracked the speeds of all the fish, and found that, while they were awake, the cavefish moved faster or just as fast as the surface fish.

This means that it’s not that the cavefish are constantly sleep deprived and in a lethargic, sleepy state. They are just as wakeful as the surface fish (if not more so), and genuinely need less sleep.

These three cavefish populations all evolved independently, and yet they have converged on remarkably similar sleep patterns.

To study the genetics of this phenomenon, the researchers cross-bred the surface fish with the cavefish. The cave dwellers and surface fish all belong to the same species, which means that they can have viable offspring.

They found that the mixed offspring (Pachón x surface and Tinaja x surface) had a reduced need for sleep that was indistinguishable from that of their cave-dwelling parent.

Thus sleep reduction is clearly a genetic trait, and it is a dominant trait (Dominant traits are present in the offspring if they are inherited from just one parent. A recessive trait, on the other hand, will only be present if it is inherited from both parents.)

Unlocking the secrets of sleep is inherently cool science, and it also has the potential to help people suffering from sleep disorders.

Who knows, it may even lead to the superpower of doing away with sleep altogether.

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Simple Steps To Getting A Good Night’s Sleep

Sleeping well directly affects your mental and physical health and the quality of your waking life.

Fall short and it can take a serious toll on your daytime energy, productivity, emotional balance, and even your weight.

Yet many of us regularly toss and turn at night, struggling to get the sleep we need. There is a solution.

Making simple but important changes to your daytime routine and bedtime habits can have a profound impact on how well you sleep, leaving you feeling mentally sharp, emotionally balanced, and full of energy all day long.

Getting a good night’s sleep may seem like an impossible goal when you’re wide awake at 3 a.m., but you have much more control over the quality of your sleep than you probably realize.

Just as how you feel during your waking hours often hinges on how well you sleep at night, so the cure for sleep difficulties can often be found in your daily routine.

Unhealthy daytime habits and lifestyle choices can leave you tossing and turning at night and adversely affect your mood, brain and heart health, immune system, creativity, vitality, and weight.

But by experimenting with the following tips to find the ones that work best for you, you can enjoy better sleep at night, improve your mental and physical health, and improve how you think and feel during the day.

Tip 1: Keep in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle

Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one of the most important strategies for sleeping better.

This helps set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Choose a bed time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn.

Tip 2: Control your exposure to light

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle.

Your brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark making you sleepy and less when it’s light making you more alert.

However, many aspects of modern life can alter your body’s production of melatonin and shift your circadian rhythm.

Tip 3: Exercise during the day

People who exercise regularly sleep better at night and feel less sleepy during the day.

Regular exercise also improves the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea and increases the amount of time you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep.

Tip 4: Be smart about what you eat and drink

Your daytime eating habits play a role in how well you sleep, especially in the hours before bedtime.

  • Limit caffeine and nicotine
  • Avoid big meals at night
  • Avoid alcohol before bed
  • Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening
  • Cut back on sugary foods and refined carbs

Tip 5: Wind down and clear your head

Do you find yourself unable to sleep or waking up night after night? Residual stress, worry, and anger from your day can make it very difficult to sleep well.

Tip 6: Improve your sleep environment

A peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down and let go of the day’s stresses. Sometimes even small changes to your environment can make a big difference to your quality of sleep.

  • Keep noise down
  • Keep your room cool
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable

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Pass it on: New Scientist

3 Americans Win Nobel Prize In Medicine For Uncovering The Science Behind Our Biological Clocks

A trio of American scientists was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for revealing the mechanisms of the cellular clock that regulates biological changes in complex organisms across a 24-hour span.

Working at Brandeis University in the 1980s, Jeffrey C. Hall and Michael Rosbash uncovered the genetic basis of circadian rhythms in fruit flies.

Michael W. Young collaborated with Hall and Rosbash from Rockefeller University to isolate the key gene, which had been named “period” by scientists who had surmised its existence.

Hall, Rosbash and Young would go on to discover a variety of genetic and cellular mechanisms that keep the circadian clocks of living things ticking in sync with the Earth’s daily rotation.

Rosbash remains on the faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., where Hall is a professor emeritus of biology. Young is still at Rockefeller University in New York City.

For some years, a team led by Hall and Rosbash competed against a team led by Young to be the first to clone the genes the group discovered.

But the threesome, now friends, have been widely recognized as the co-discoverers of the genetic mechanism underlying the circadian clock in complex organisms.

They were awarded the Hong Kong-based Shaw Prize in life sciences and medicine in 2013, an honor that may have paved the way for the Nobel Committee’s recognition.

The work honored Monday sheds light on how all multicellular creatures undergo regular changes in body temperature, hormones, metabolism and behavior that keep time with different phases of the day.

While the scientists conducted much of their pioneering work on fruit flies, the circadian clock is a powerful factor in human health as well.

It helps explain how jet lag and other disruptions to our evolved cycles of sleeping and waking can wear us down and contribute to disease.

Their research has laid the foundation for research into how the time of day influences everything from the way we think to how our bodies store calories or respond to medications.

In a world that’s open for business 24/7, research has shown that people who try to defy their circadian rhythms will eventually come up against the biological limits of their cells’ internal clocks.

Since the seminal discoveries by the three laureates, circadian biology has developed into a vast and highly dynamic research field, with implications for our health and well-being,” the Nobel committee said in its announcement Monday in Stockholm, Sweden.

Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said the trio’s work “is informing treatments for sleep disorders, obesity, mental health disorders, and other health problems.” The NIH has invested more than $30 million in their studies.

The work also underscores the sustained influence of our common environment on creatures up and down the evolutionary ladder.

The genetic mechanisms that keep fruit flies on a 24-hour cycle governed by day and night are the same as those for humans.

The research is “a great example of how studying fundamental biological processes in model organisms such as fruit flies reveals important principles that translate into a deeper understanding of human biology and disease,” said Jon R. Lorsch, director of the NIH’s National Institute on General Medical Sciences.

In its citation for the $1.1-million prize, the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said the researchers “were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings.

That process unfolded in many steps.

Hall, Rosbash and Young isolated the period gene in 1984.

It would take several more years for Hall and Rosbash to see that the protein encoded by that gene — called PER — went through a daily cycle of accumulating during the night and depleting over the course of the day.

How was that rhythm sustained? Hall and Rosbash surmised that some feedback loop was at work, whereby the buildup of PER protein inside the cell might dial down the period gene’s activity.

But they puzzled over how that shutoff signal was sent from the cytoplasm, where PER protein was produced, to the cell nucleus, where the genetic machinery was located.

That mystery was solved in 1994, with Young’s discovery of a second clock gene, which he called “timeless.” That gene also appeared to be required for organisms to maintain normal circadian rhythm, by encoding the production of a protein called TIM.

Young’s “elegant work,” the Nobel Committee wrote, showed that when the TIM and PER proteins were bound together, they were able to enter the cell nucleus.

There, they blocked the activity of the period gene and closed the feedback loop.

Over time, Young would go on to find a third timekeeper gene, which he dubbed “doubletime,” that would allow a more precise alignment of protein levels with a 24-hour cycle.

Hall, Rosbash and Young have identified additional proteins required for the activation of the period gene, as well as for the mechanism by which light can synchronize the clock.

Rosbash explained that the day-night cycle was the original environmental influence on humans and other living beings.

Before the atmosphere has its current constitution and before nutrition was anything like it is today, the Earth rotated on its axis and the light-dark cycle impinged on the beginnings of life,” he said Monday in an interview with Nobel officials.

Rosbash added that when he received the predawn call from Stockholm, he was so shocked that his wife had to remind him to breathe.

Young, too, said he struggled to digest the news.

I’d go and I’d pick up the shoes, and then I’d realize I need the socks,” he said during a news conference. “And then I realized I needed to put my pants on first.

The award brings the number of U.S.-born Nobel laureates to 259.

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This Upside-Down Jellyfish Seems Sleeping All The Time

Scientific Name:

Cassiopeia xamachana

Animal Type:



Food produced by tiny plants called zooxanthellae; zooplankton


Up to 1 foot (30 cm) wide and 2 inches (51 mm) high


Sea nettle, moon jelly; Family: Cassiopeidae


Coastal Waters

Natural History

Down is up for this jelly—it rests its bell on the seafloor and waves its lacy underparts up toward the sun. Why? This jelly is a farmer.

Its brownish color is caused by symbiotic algae living inside the jelly’s tissues. By lying upside-down, the jelly exposes its algae to the sun, allowing it to photosynthesize.

The jelly lives off food the algae produce, as well as zooplankton.

An upside-down jelly doesn’t have a central mouth—instead, the edges of its eight oral arms are fused and folded into elaborate frills containing hundreds of tiny mouth openings.

The mouth openings are connected by channels to its stomach. By pulsing its bell, it forces zooplankton into the nematocysts on its mouth openings.


Upside-down jellies are more vulnerable than jelly species that live in the open ocean or the deep sea. They live in mangrove forests and shallow lagoons along tropical coasts.

Mangrove forests are among the most threatened ecosystems on Earth; they’re constantly under siege from coastal development or questionable farming practices.

People clear mangroves to build hotels, housing and fish farms. Pollution flows into mangrove forests from these coastal developments, endangering all life in this rich forest habitat.

Cool Facts

This jelly is rarely found alone—it flips upside-down alongside others of its kind. Turned upside-down, with stubby oral arms pointed toward the sun, the jelly looks like a flower. It can grow to the size of a pie plate.

This jelly is a favorite meal for ocean sunfish and the endangered leatherback sea turtle.

The upside-down jelly uses its bell much like a suction cup to stick to the seafloor.

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