The Sleeping Pill That Reduces Alzheimer’s Toxins (M)

If poor sleep is contributing to dementia, then sleeping pills may be beneficial.

If poor sleep is contributing to dementia, then sleeping pills may be beneficial.

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Medication Taken By 1 in 10 May Increase Dementia Risk 79% (M)

Almost one-in-ten regularly take this medication that is repeatedly linked to increased dementia risk.

Almost one-in-ten regularly take this medication that is repeatedly linked to increased dementia risk.

Another study has found a link between taking sleeping medication and increased dementia risk.

Taking sleep medication was linked to a 79 percent increased risk of dementia among white people.

The link was not seen in Black people, however, and Dr Yue Leng, the study’s first author, is not sure of the reason:

“Differences may be attributed to socio-economic status.

Black participants who have access to sleep medications might be a select group with high socio-economic status and, thus, greater cognitive reserve, making them less susceptible to dementia.

It’s also possible that some sleep medications were associated with a higher risk of dementia than others.”

The study included around 3,000 older people, average age 74, almost half of whom were Black.

The results showed that white people were three times as likely to take sleep medication as Black people.

White people were twice as likely to use benzodiazepines, like Halcion, Dalmane and Restoril and 7 times as likely to use “Z-drugs,” such as Ambien.

It may be that the types of drugs that white people take puts them at higher risk of dementia.

Alternatives to medication

For sleep problems, other options than medication should be considered, said Dr Leng:

“The first step is to determine what kind of sleep issues patients are dealing with.

A sleep test may be required if sleep apnea is a possibility.

If insomnia is diagnosed, cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) is the first-line treatment.

If medication is to be used, melatonin might be a safer option, but we need more evidence to understand its long-term impact on health.”

The most common signs of sleep apnea, which affects 30 percent of older people, include:

  • Loud snoring,
  • gasping for air during sleep,
  • breathing stopping for brief periods during the night,
  • morning headache,
  • and daytime sleepiness and irritability.

Sleep and dementia

Poor sleep is one of the common symptoms of dementia, so it may be that taking more sleep medications is a result rather than a cause of dementia.

However, other studies have controlled for this factor and still found a link between anti-anxiety and sleep medication and early death.

These find a dose-response effect: the more of the drugs people took, the higher their risk of death.

Many other studies have found a link between dementia and sleep.

People who sleep for too little or too long are at a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Indeed, people who sleep more than 9 hours a night have double the risk of developing dementia, one study found.

However, those who sleep for between 5.5 and 7.5 hours per night do not see declines in their cognitive health, even when suffering the early effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Those sleeping longer also have lower brain volumes.

Also, getting less REM sleep — the phase in which we dream — is linked to dementia.

→ Read on: Dementia: 9 Warning Signs Everyone Should Know

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (Leng et al., 2023).

How to Fall Asleep In 5 Minutes

Around 40% of US adults say they have trouble falling asleep.

Around 40% of US adults say they have trouble falling asleep.

Writing a to-do list for the next day before bedtime helps people fall asleep faster, research finds.

The more specific the list, the faster people fall asleep.

Use this tip in concert with those described here: How To Fall Asleep Fast.

Dr Michael K. Scullin, who led the study, said:

“We live in a 24/7 culture in which our to-do lists seem to be constantly growing and causing us to worry about unfinished tasks at bedtime.

Most people just cycle through their to-do lists in their heads, and so we wanted to explore whether the act of writing them down could counteract nighttime difficulties with falling asleep.”

The 57 people in the study wrote for just five minutes before sleeping.

The study compared writing a to-do list with writing a list of completed activities before bedtime.

Dr Scullin said:

“There are two schools of thought about this.

One is that writing about the future would lead to increased worry about unfinished tasks and delay sleep, while journaling about completed activities should not trigger worry.

The alternative hypothesis is that writing a to-do list will ‘offload’ those thoughts and reduce worry,”

The research was conducted in a sleep lab and people had their electrical brain activity monitored overnight.

Dr Scullin was cautious about the results:

“Measures of personality, anxiety and depression might moderate the effects of writing on falling asleep, and that could be explored in an investigation with a larger sample.

We recruited healthy young adults, and so we don’t know whether our findings would generalize to patients with insomnia, though some writing activities have previously been suggested to benefit such patients.”

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (Scullin et al., 2018).

Why Do People Talk In Their Sleep?

Around two-thirds of adults report talking in their sleep.

Around two-thirds of adults report talking in their sleep at some point in their lives.

Most talk during sleep involves a lot of arguments and swearing, research finds.

While dreaming, people seem to be having very tense conversations involving multiple f-words.

One theory about the purpose of dreams is that it is how the brain processes threats.

This could help explain why sleep-talk is so negative.

Why do people talk in their sleep?

The French research monitored 230 people while they slept in the lab.

Most people did not speak that often while asleep, the researchers found.

However, when they did, it was usually to say something negative, like “no” or to swear.

The f-word was recorded 800 times more frequently than while people were awake.

The authors write:

“…sleep talking may correspond to the “punch line” of a conversation, i.e., the emergent, most violent part of the iceberg of covert speech, increasing the negativity of the language and verbal abuse.”

Talking in your sleep is common

Almost two-thirds of sleep-talk was not decipherable — there was a lot of mumbling.

Utterances that could be understood were generally in grammatically correct form.

This suggests the brain is working at a high level during sleep — perhaps similarly to the waking brain.

Certainly, brain scans of people sleeping show high levels of activity during dreaming.

The study’s authors conclude:

“Sleep talking parallels awake talking for syntax, semantics, and turn-taking in conversation, suggesting that the sleeping brain can function at a high level.

Language during sleep is mostly a familiar, tensed conversation with inaudible others, suggestive of conflicts.”

Sleep talking, which is known as ‘somniloquy’, is relatively common, the authors write:

“In epidemiological studies, as many as 66.8% of adults
report having ever talked during their sleep, but only 6.3% of adults speak at least once a week.

Most adults experiencing sleep talking already sleep talked as children.

Sleep talking is equally distributed among girls and boys and is mostly familial.”

The study was published in the journal Sleep (Arnulf et al., 2017).

Digital Detox: 10 Rules To Improve Your Sleep

Digital detox includes changing bedtime habits and adjusting smartphone settings, which helps improve sleep.

Digital detox includes changing bedtime habits and adjusting smartphone settings, which helps improve sleep.

Digital devices have become the scourge of sleep.

Around half of all teenagers check their phones after they have gone to bed, according to one survey.

One in ten admit to checking their phones 10 times during the night.

In response the survey’s authors have come up with 10 rules for digital detox that can help both teenagers and adults alike to get more sleep.

1. Avoid screens before bedtime

Do not use any screens in the 90 minutes before bed.

2. Change pre-bedtime habits

Instead, in the 90 minutes before bedtime, try reading a book, meditating or having a bath.

Social media tends to get you worked up and excited.

For sleep you want the opposite feeling.

3. Reduce exposure to blue light in the evening

Some devices have a “night shift mode” — use it.

Avoid any devices that shine blue light into your eyes in the lead up to bedtime.

4. Set the phone to “airplane mode”

…or similar so that it does not disturb you in the evening.

Some devices can be set to automatically go silent during certain hours.

5. Digital detox: break the habit

Try to break the habit of checking the device in the evening — especially closer to bedtime and for no reason other than boredom.

6. Phone out of easy reach

Put the phone somewhere that makes it difficult to check.

For example, next to your bed or in the bed makes the temptation all the greater.

Across the room is not so tempting.

7. Is social media more important than your health?

Have a think about why you are looking at your phone late at night.

Is it really important?

Is it really worth disturbing your sleep over?

Usually it’s not: much better to improve your health by getting more quality sleep.

8. Curb usage in general for digital detox

Try to cut down on non-essential phone usage at all times.

That will make it easier to cut down in the evening as well.

9. How much are you using the phone?

Use apps that tell you how long you have been using the phone.

One example is ‘RealizD’.

10. Reward for digital detox

Reward yourself for following these digital detox rules.

You will reinforce your own improving behaviour.

The survey was conducted for the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference by Digital Awareness UK.

Insomnia Glasses Aid Sleep By Blocking Blue Light

Insomnia glasses research finds that 90% of Americans use light-emitting devices like smartphones and laptops before going to bed.

Insomnia glasses research finds that 90% of Americans use light-emitting devices like smartphones and laptops before going to bed.

Wearing amber-tinted insomnia glasses for two hours before bedtime improves sleep, research finds.

The reason is that they block out blue light.

Too much blue light before bedtime — like that produced by smartphones — suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin and increases alertness.

Dr Ari Shechter, who led the study, said:

“Now more than ever we are exposing ourselves to high amounts of blue light before bedtime, which may contribute to or exacerbate sleep problems.

Amber lenses are affordable and they can easily be combined with other established cognitive and behavioral techniques for insomnia management.”

Insomnia glasses research

For the study, 14 people with insomnia wore either wrap-around amber-tinted glasses for two hours before bedtime or glasses with clear plastic.

A month later they swapped over, so that everyone had tried both pairs of glasses for a week.

Dr Shechter said:

“The glasses approach allows us to filter out blue-wavelength light from all these sources, which might be particularly useful for individuals with sleep difficulties.”

The results showed that when wearing the insomnia glasses people had, on average, 30 minutes more sleep than when wearing the clear plastic glasses.

Better sleep quality and a reduction in insomnia severity were also reported when wearing the insomnia glasses.

Some smartphones can be adjusted to emit amber, instead of blue light, Dr Shechter said:

 “I do recommend using the amber setting on smartphones at night, in addition to manually reducing the brightness levels.

But blue light does not only come from our phones.

It is emitted from televisions, computers, and importantly, from many light bulbs and other LED light sources that are increasingly used in our homes because they are energy-efficient and cost-effective.”

The amber insomnia glasses also reduced people’s blood pressure.

Dr Shechter said:

“Insomnia is often characterized by physiologic hyperarousal, which may account for the relationship between poor sleep and cardiovascular risk.

Going forward, it will be interesting to examine whether this blue-light blocking approach can be useful for improving cardiovascular outcomes like hypertension in individuals with poor sleep.”

The study was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research (Shechter et al., 2017).

Zoned Out: Why We Feel Spaced Out When Tired

Why we feel zoned out or spaced out when tired — it’s because of sleep deprivation’s effect on neurons.

Why we feel zoned out or spaced out when tired — it’s because of sleep deprivation’s effect on neurons.

The reason we feel zoned out or spaced out when tired is that sleep deprivation disrupts communication between brain cells, research finds.

These disruptions can lead to temporary lapses in memory and even hallucinations.

This helps to explain why sleep deprivation leaves people feeling so spaced out.

Professor Itzhak Fried, who led the study, said:

“We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly.

This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”

Research on being zoned out

The study was carried out on patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains prior to surgery for epilepsy.

The results showed that as they became more sleepy — zoned out or spaced out — the communication between their brain cells slowed down.

This caused a decrease in their reactions to cognitive tests.

Dr. Yuval Nir, the study’s first author, said:

“We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity.

Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”

Not only did cellular communication slow down, so did overall brain wave activity.

Professor Fried said:

“Slow sleep-like waves disrupted the patients’ brain activity and performance of tasks.

This phenomenon suggests that select regions of the patients’ brains were dozing, causing mental lapses, while the rest of the brain was awake and running as usual.”

Sleep deprivation has been linked to depression, obesity, heart attacks strokes and diabetes.

Professor Fried said:

“Inadequate sleep exerts a similar influence on our brain as drinking too much.

Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying over-tired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine (Nir et al., 2017).

3 Simple Ways To Improve Your Sleep

Follow these simple tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Follow these simple tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Having a regular sleep schedule, bedtime routine and prioritising sleep, all help people sleep better, scientists have found.

The advice is based on recommendations by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

1. Regular sleep schedule

Go to bed at night and rise in the morning at roughly the same times.

Keep this routine though the weekend — don’t be tempted to sleep in to ‘catch up’.

Dr Paruthi, an expert on treating sleep problems, explained:

“People who sleep in on a Sunday morning may not be sleepy by their usual bedtime on Sunday evening, which can make waking up on Monday difficult.

This can throw off the week’s schedule.

When possible, it is best to try to get to bed and get up at same time (at least within an hour) seven days a week.”

2. Bedtime routine

The body and brain need time to wind down before bed.

Going through the same procedure in the run-up to lights-out will help you sleep better.

Dr Paruthi said:

“Even a 10-minute routine where you do the same things each night to prepare yourself for going to bed is a good idea.

Our brains need a wind-down period to go from ‘on’ to ‘sleep time.”

3. Prioritise sleep

Try setting your alarm clock for 30 minutes before bedtime, not just when you get up in the morning.

Dr Paruthi said:

“If you know you have to get up at 6 a.m. the next day, set your alarm clock in the evening for 9:30 p.m.

That alerts you that you have a half hour before you need to go to bed and you can begin to wind down.”

Screen-free zone

Finally, turn the bedroom into a screen-free zone, Dr Paruthi said:

 “We are so ‘go, go, go’ that people are on all the time now.

There have been studies showing that the light emitted from electronic devices decreases the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps us feel sleepy.”

The tips are based on recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.


Yawning: Why Do We Yawn and Is It Contagious?

Currently, the best supported physiological reason for yawning is that it helps cool the brain down.

Currently, the best supported physiological reason for yawning is that it helps cool the brain down.

Although many people think that yawning results from boredom or tiredness, yawing has long remained a mystery to scientists.

It is certainly true that people do yawn more at bedtime or after they’ve woken up and they do yawn when they’re bored (people even yawn in their sleep).

However, yawning isn’t that simple.

If it was, how could you explain that some paratroopers yawn before their first jump, as do some violinists before they go on stage and Olympic athletes before their event (Provine, 2005)?

These are hardly situations in which people are likely to be bored.

Many people believe that yawning gets more oxygen into the body or expels more carbon dioxide.

But that is also not true.

The theory is now thought to be seriously flawed, if not plain wrong.

The truth is no one really knows the real root cause of a yawn.

Some good guesses have been made, though, and it’s likely that some combination of them is true.

First let’s look at the physiological, before we get onto the psychological.

Yawning cools the brain

Currently, the best supported physiological reason for yawning is that it might help cool the brain down (Gallup & Gallup, 2007).

Our brains work best within a narrow temperature range and yawning increases blood flow to the brain which acts like a radiator to move heat away from it.

The evidence comes from a study by American researchers along with colleagues from the University of Vienna (Massen et al., 2014).

To try and solve the mystery, they began observing people’s spontaneous yawns in both hot and cold climates.

They decided on Vienna in Austria and Tucson, Arizona in the US.

Using these two cities means you can see when people yawn in a wide range of temperatures, from around the freezing point in the winter in Vienna, up to 37°C (98°F) in Tucson in the summer.

The theory goes that people should yawn more when the ambient temperature is around 20°C (68°F).

This is because when it’s cold, we don’t need to cool our brains down.

When it’s very hot, yawning is likely to be ineffective in cooling our brains because it’s so hot outside.

And, sure enough, that’s what they observed:

  • People yawned more when the temperature was around 20°C (68°F) — this included contagious yawning, where one person sets off other people’s yawns.
  • People yawned less when the temperature dropped towards freezing and less when it soared up to 37°C (98°F) in the Arizona summer.

This pattern could also be seen across the seasons in the two cities:

  • People in Tucson yawned more in the winter than the summer (because winters there are closer to 20°C (68°F)).
  • People in Vienna yawned more in the summer than the winter (because summers there are closer to 20°C (68°F)).

Yawning, then, is highly beneficial in that it can help bring the brain back into the correct temperature range.

When the brain is at the right temperature, it operates more efficiently, helping us to think faster.

This may also help explain why yawning is contagious: way back in our evolutionary history, a more alert group would have been better able to think its way out of dangerous situations.

Oddly, this may help explain the paratroopers jumping out of a plane.

When you’re about to do something stressful you need your wits about you so yawning may help put your brain into tip-top working order.

Yawning may also partly be about stretching muscles since yawning sets off the urge to stretch.

After stretching we’re ready to act, say by running away from a predator.

Yawning is contagious

It’s well-known that yawns are contagious.

Just by reading about them here, you’re more likely to start yawning.

In fact, I can feel a yawn coming on now.

Yawns are most contagious between members of the same family, followed by friends, acquaintances and lastly strangers (Norsica et al., 2011).

But not everyone is susceptible to the yawning contagion.

People who are particular empathic seem sensitive to other people yawning.

So, test a friend’s empathic ability by yawning to see if they follow suit (Platek et al., 2003).

At the other end of the spectrum, people with psychopathic tendencies are less prone to ‘contagious yawning’ (Rundle et al., 2015).

Psychopaths are selfish, manipulative, fearless, domineering and, critically, lack empathy.

The contagious yawning test, though, is far from a fool proof test of psychopathic tendencies, explains Dr Brian Rundle, the study’s first author:

“The take-home lesson is not that if you yawn and someone else doesn’t, the other person is a psychopath.

A lot of people didn’t yawn, and we know that we’re not very likely to yawn in response to a stranger we don’t have empathetic connections with.

But what we found tells us there is a neurological connection — some overlap — between psychopathy and contagious yawning.”

Why yawning is contagious

But why is yawning contagious in the first place?

It could just be that we copy each other’s yawning for the same reason we copy other aspects of their body language: to fit in and be liked (see: the Chameleon Effect).

But it could also be that the yawn is a social signal to stay alert even though things are boring at the moment.

The yawn might help to increase alertness and so keep our hunter-gatherer forebears alive for a little longer.

Or finally it could just be a way of signalling to others that we’re relaxed in stressful situations.

Despite being about to jump out of an aeroplane at 5,000 feet, give a virtuoso performance to a packed concert hall or win Olympic gold, frankly we’re just not that bothered.

How to stop yawning

Finally, how might you combat a monster attack of the yawns?

A couple of clues come from a case study of two patients suffering from chronic attacks of yawning (Gallup & Gallup, 2010).

Neither patients were regularly tired or were having problems with their sleep.

They both found that applying a cold cloth to their foreheads or nasal breathing stopped their symptoms.

They both had problems regulating their body temperature so the hot brain theory of yawning might have something to it.