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Can’t Sleep? Blame Social Media

Spending too much time on social media - or at least checking these Internet sites frequently - could spell sleeping problems for some young adults. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine collected data from 1,788 adults ages 19 through 32 about their use of social media and how well they sleep. The study participants were asked about the amount of time they spend on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and seven other social media platforms. The researchers reported that, on average, study participants spent 61 minutes a day on social media and visited various social media sites 30 times per week. The sleep assessment showed that nearly 30 percent of the participants had a lot of trouble sleeping. Those who spent the most time on social media daily had almost twice the risk of sleep disturbances as those who spent the least time on these sites. The researchers concluded that use of social media can disturb sleep, especially if a user stays up late posting photos on Instagram or gets involved in an argument on Facebook. They also suggested that the bright light emitted by devices used to access social media disturbs sleep by disrupting circadian rhythm. Another possibility: individuals having trouble falling asleep might increase their use of social media, which could worsen their sleeping problems.

New Treatment for Insomnia

Researchers at Britain’s Northumbria University have reported that nearly three-quarters of patients treated with a single hour-long session of cognitive behavioral therapy recovered from acute insomnia within three months. In fact, most participants – 60 percent of those treated –reported improvements in sleep quality within one month. Over time, acute insomnia can lead to chronic insomnia, which increases the risk of depression. The study participants included 40 adults who had been dealing with insomnia for less than three months and were not taking medication to help them sleep. The participants were divided into two groups, each made up of 9 men and 11 women. They recorded the quality and duration of their sleep for the week before treatment, and all members completed the Insomnia Severity Index, a clinical survey by which the nature, severity and impact of insomnia can be evaluated. Then, each of the participants in one group received an hour of cognitive behavior therapy and was provided a self-help pamphlet to read at home. Those in the other received no treatment. After a month, only 15 percent of those in the non-treated group reported improvement in their sleep. During the therapy session, individuals were urged to spend only the time in bed needed for sleep and, on the basis of their sleep diaries, were prescribed a specific time to go to bed and get up. This was the first time the effectiveness of using cognitive behavior therapy to treat acute insomnia has been formally studied.

What Time Do You Typically Exercise? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed when the best time is to exercise: Best Time for Exercise? Check out the article and let us know when you typically exercise during the day.

Hidden Risk of Being a Night Owl

Going to bed really late and getting not quite enough sleep can cramp your exercise style. A new study has concluded that night owls are more sedentary than the rest of us and have a harder time sticking to an exercise routine. “Waking up late and being an evening person were related to more time spent sitting, particularly on weekends and with difficulty making time to exercise,” said study leader Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. For the study, the researchers examined 123 healthy adults who reported that they slept at least 6.5 hours per night. The team measured sleep variables for seven days with wrist monitors that track motion and rest, and had each participant keep a sleep diary. The researchers also evaluated self-reports of physical activity and attitudes toward exercise from specially designed questionnaires. The night owls in this study averaged only 83 minutes of vigorous activity per week, and even those who exercised felt that being an evening person made it difficult to find time to work out, the study found.

Kelly Glazer Baron et al “Early To Bed, Early To Rise Makes Easier To Exercise: The Role Of Sleep Timing In Physical Activity And Sedentary Behavior,” SLEEP abstract supplement 2014

Surprising Solution to Sleeplessness

It’s not a new pill or any type of high-tech sleeping aid. Instead, researchers at Louisiana State University have shown that insomnia-plagued seniors can sleep nearly an hour and a half longer nightly by drinking two eight-ounce glasses of tart Montmorency cherry juice daily. The cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep/wake cycle, and the juice also contains proanthocyanidins (a type of antioxidant) that the research team credits with helping to promote sleep. In addition, the constituents in the juice help increase the availability of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. The investigators made the point that cherry juice may be a better sedative for seniors than prescription medications, which can increase the risk of falls and related hip fractures. The cherry juice findings were presented Monday, April 28, at the "Dietary Bioactive Components: Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Effects of Dietary Bioactive Components" section of the annual meeting of the American Society of Nutrition, held in conjunction with the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting in San Diego. The findings have been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

My take? We know that cherry juice can help reduce the pain of arthritis, gout and exercise related muscle pain. The Louisiana State study was pretty small – only seven seniors (average age 68) participated, but its findings are encouraging and it might be worth considering cherry juice to help address sleeplessness, especially for older individuals. I’ve recommended melatonin as an occasional sleep aid for some time. I suggest trying sublingual tablets (to be placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve); take 2.5 mg at bedtime, making sure that your bedroom is completely dark. A much lower dose, 0.25 to 0.3 mg, is more effective for regular use. I also recommend valerian as an alternative to benzodiazepines and other prescription sleep aids. You can find standardized extracts in health food stores and pharmacies. Take one to two capsules a half hour before bedtime.

How Often Do You Suffer From Insomnia? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the relationship between insomnia and depression: Does Insomnia Cause Depression? Check out the article and tell us how often you suffer from insomnia.

Better Sleep and Alzheimer’s Risk

Amyloid plaques in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, are associated with the number of hours an older adult sleepsHalf of older adults have symptoms of insomnia, which may put them at added risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found that amyloid plaques in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, are associated with the number of hours an older adult sleeps and the quality of that sleep. The investigators used PET (positron emission tomography) scans of seniors’ brains to measure amyloid plaques. They also reviewed the sleeping problems described by participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The study participants, whose average age was 76, reported sleep times ranging from more than seven hours to five hours or less. The researchers found that shorter sleep duration and poorer sleep quality were associated with a greater amount of amyloid plaque. Study leader Adam Spira, Ph.D. suggested that treating seniors for sleeping problems or helping them maintain healthy sleeping patterns may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. He noted that the results of this study don’t prove that poor sleep causes Alzheimer’s and said that more research is needed to examine whether sleeping problems alone contributes to or accelerates the disease.

Adam P. Spira et al, “Self-reported Sleep and β-Amyloid Deposition in Community-Dwelling Older Adults,” JAMA Neurology  doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013

Can’t Sleep? Blame the Moon

It may sound far-fetched, but Swiss researchers have published a study demonstrating that the quality of sleep can change with lunar cycles. Investigators at the University of Basel analyzed the sleep of more than 30 volunteers in two age groups in the sleep lab. While study participants were asleep, the research team monitored brain patterns, eye movements and measured hormone secretions. After reviewing all the data, the study team concluded that both the subjective and objective perception of sleep quality changed with the phase of the moon. Of note, they found that around the time of a full moon, brain activity in areas related to deep sleep decreased by 30 percent and that participants took five minutes longer to fall asleep, and slept for 20 minutes less than usual. Tests also showed lower blood levels of the sleep regulating hormone melatonin when the moon was full. Modern life and electric lights may routinely mask the moon’s influence on us, but in the controlled environment of the laboratory, the effects of the moon become visible and measurable, the investigators concluded. The study was published online on July 23, 2013 in Current Biology.

Christian Cajochen et al, “Evidence that the Lunar Cycle Influences Human Sleep,” Current Biology, July 23, 2013, doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.06.029. [Epub ahead of print]

The Simple Reason Why Night Owls Gain Weight

Late night nibbling translates into too many excess caloriesThe less you sleep, the more likely you are to gain weight, and a new study suggests why: late night nibbling translates into too many excess calories. The study, from the University of Pennsylvania, showed that participants in a laboratory sleep study whose shut-eye was limited to four hours per night for five nights, bumped up their daily intake of calories during the wee hours until their four a.m. bedtime. The researchers also reported that the proportion of calories from fat consumed by the night owls was higher late at night than earlier in the day. The other study participants were allowed a lot more sleep – from 10 p.m. until 8 a.m. A total of 225, healthy, non-obese adults age 22 to 50 participated in the study. Among those randomly selected to sleep only four hours per night, men gained more weight than women, and African-Americans gained more than Caucasians. During the study, meals were served at scheduled times, but participants had around-the-clock access to food in the lab kitchen. No exercise was permitted. The findings were published in the July 2013, issue of the journal Sleep.

Andrea M. Spaeth et al, “Effects of Experimental Sleep Restriction on Weight Gain, Caloric Intake, and Meal Timing in Healthy Adults,”