Tag: sleep deprivation

Want to Feel Young? Protect Your Sleep

Photo by Mert Kahveci on Unsplash

Researchers at Stockholm University have discovered that sleep affects how old you feel, with important health implications. The study is published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Feeling young is not just a matter of perception: it is actually related to objective health outcomes. Previous studies have shown that feeling younger than one’s actual age is associated with longer, healthier lives. There is even support for subjective age to predict actual brain age, with those feeling younger having younger brains.

“Given that sleep is essential for brain function and overall well-being, we decided to test whether sleep holds any secrets to preserving a youthful sense of age,” says Leonie Balter, researcher at the Department of Psychology, Stockholm University.

In the first study, 429 individuals aged 18 to 70 were asked how old they felt, how many days in the past month they had not gotten enough sleep, and how sleepy they were.

It turned out that for each night with insufficient sleep in the past month, participants felt on average 0.23 years older.

In a second study, the researchers tested whether it was indeed the lack of sleep causing participants to feel older. They conducted an experimental sleep restriction study involving 186 participants aged 18 to 46. Participants restricted their sleep to four hours a night for two nights and another time slept sufficiently for two nights, with nine hours in bed each night.

After sleep restriction, participants felt on average 4.4 years older compared to when having enjoyed sufficient sleep.

The effects of sleep on subjective age appeared to be related to how sleepy they felt. Feeling extremely alert was related to feeling 4 years younger than one’s actual age, while extreme sleepiness was related to feeling 6 years older than one’s actual age.

“This means that going from feeling alert to sleepy added a striking 10 years to how old one felt,” says Leonie Balter, and states that the implications for our daily lives are clear:

“Safeguarding our sleep is crucial for maintaining a youthful feeling. This, in turn, may promote a more active lifestyle and encourage behaviours that promote health, as both feeling young and alert are important for our motivation to be active.”

Source: Stockholm University

Study Reveals Global Differences in Sleep Patterns

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Using data from a consumer sleep tracker, a new study has shown that not only do people in Asia go to sleep later and have shorter sleep, they also have lower sleep quality than those in other parts of the world. The study, published in Sleep Medicine, also showed that South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders went to bed and rose earlier than the other parts of the world included in the research, but also got the most sleep.

This finding surfaced after a team of researchers from the Centre for Sleep and Cognition at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS Medicine) in partnership with Oura Health Oy (Finland), analysed 50 million nights of anonymised sleep data, contributed by over 220 000 users of the “Oura Ring”, a consumer sleep tracker, from across 35 countries. Most of the users were working adults, aged between 30 and 55 years. To provide a comprehensive analysis of sleep measures for each user, the team gathered sleep data from multiple nights across a whole year – on average, each user contributed 242 nights of data. Weekday and weekend sleep were analysed separately to assess the impact of the working week on sleep patterns.

The results showed that people in Asia have shorter sleep, and display higher variability in both sleep timing and duration on weekdays. They also fall asleep later than those living in Europe, Oceania and North America. Previous studies have shown that shorter sleep duration is usually associated with higher sleep efficiency as people try to make the most of their sleep opportunity; however, in this study, despite sleeping less, people in Asia also had lower sleep efficiency. This may be because factors that result in short sleep (eg, work-related anxiety) also lead to lower quality sleep.

People often sleep for longer at the weekends than during the week, a phenomenon known as weekend sleep extension. While there was a clear association between shorter weekday sleep and longer weekend sleep extension, suggesting that people caught up on sleep at the weekend, even after accounting for this, people in Asia had the shortest weekend sleep extension.

While there are many socio-cultural factors that affect sleep patterns, the team hypothesises that because it plays such a fundamental role in our lives, work (and the broader work culture) is one of the most influential factors affecting how we sleep. Previous evidence from time use studies have demonstrated a strong association between long work hours and short sleep. Additionally, there is evidence that preoccupation with work demands and the inability to stop thinking about work contribute to sleep disturbances.

Dr Adrian Willoughby, Senior Research Fellow at NUS Medicine’s Centre for Sleep and Cognition, said, “In Europe, weekends are generally considered time for relaxation, and engaging in social activities with friends and family. In Asia, however, people may use the weekends to catch up on work, do the things they didn’t have time for during the week or attend to more family responsibilities. We think that longer working hours and the difference in work culture in Asia means that people don’t catch up on sleep as much at the weekends, but try to catch up whenever they have the opportunity over the course of the week.”

Prof Michael Chee, Director of the Centre for Sleep and Cognition at NUS Medicine said, “Sleep is a significant issue to address, especially for people living in Asia, who seem to sleep less than other global regions. Access to such a large dataset has allowed us to have unique insights into global sleep patterns. This research enables us to work towards our goal of giving customised sleep advice that considers individual sleep needs, environment factors and larger socio-cultural pressures that affect sleep. We want people to practise sleep routines that fit different contexts, but also promote health, well-being and performance.”

Source: National University of Singapore, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine

Inpatient Blood Draws are Often Performed During Sleep Hours

Blood sample being drawn
Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash

The sleep of hospitalised patients may be often interrupted due to non-urgent blood draws, according to findings from a Yale study published in JAMA. This may be exacerbating sleep deprivation, and putting them at greater risk for health events later on.

In an analysis of more than 5 million non-urgent blood draws collected at Yale New Haven Hospital from 2016 to 2019, a team of researchers found that a high proportion of them occurred during a three-hour window in the early morning.

“We found that nearly four in 10 of total daily blood draws were performed between 4am and 7am,” said César Caraballo-Cordovez, MD, a postdoctoral associate at Yale Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation (CORE) and co-lead author of the study. “Importantly, we found that this occurred across patients with different sociodemographic characteristics, including older individuals who are at highest risk of adverse health events from sleep deprivation.”

Although early morning blood draws are often considered necessary to inform decisions during morning medical rounds, the authors suggest that sleep interruptions may increase the risk of delirium and other adverse events. “Patients who were recently hospitalised experience a period of generalised risk for myriad adverse health events, a condition named posthospital syndrome,” added Dr Caraballo-Cordovez. “The stress that patients experience during the hospitalisation – including stress from sleep deprivation – is a key contributor to this period of increased risk.”

“This is not an issue at just one hospital,” said Harlan M. Krumholz, MD, SM, professor of medicine and public health at Yale and CORE director. “Our findings reflect an aspect of how inpatient hospital care is being delivered in modern medicine. A more patient-centered care would limit nonurgent tests during sleep hours. However, these early morning blood draws are often considered necessary to make decisions during rounds.”

“We need to re-design our process to protect patients’ sleep, but major changes in our practice must be informed by solid studies that demonstrate the efficacy of strategies to do so without untoward effects,” added Krumholz.

Source: Yale School of Medicine

Not all Memories Lost to Sleep Deprivation are Gone Forever

Sleeping man
Photo by Mert Kahveci on Unsplash

Sleep deprivation is bad for memorisation, something which still doesn’t deter many med students from late night cramming. Researchers however have discovered that memories learned during sleep deprivation is not necessarily lost, it is just difficult to recall. Publishing in the journal Current Biology, the researchers have found a way to make this ‘hidden knowledge’ accessible again days after studying whilst sleep-deprived using optogenetic approaches and the asthma drug roflumilast.

University of Groningen neuroscientist Robbert Havekes and his team have extensively studied how sleep deprivation affects memory processes. “We previously focused on finding ways to support memory processes during a sleep deprivation episode,” says Havekes. However, in his latest study, his team examined whether amnesia as a result of sleep deprivation was a direct result of information loss, or merely caused by difficulties retrieving information. “Sleep deprivation undermines memory processes, but every student knows that an answer that eluded them during the exam might pop up hours afterwards. In that case, the information was, in fact, stored in the brain, but just difficult to retrieve.”

Priming the hippocampus

To find out, the researchers selectively introduced optogenetic proteins into neurons that are activated during a learning experience, enabling recall of a specific experience by shining a light on the cells. “In our sleep deprivation studies, we applied this approach to neurons in the hippocampus, the area in the brain where spatial information and factual knowledge are stored,” says Havekes.

First, the genetically engineered mice were given a spatial learning task in which they had to learn the location of individual objects, a process heavily reliant on neurons in the hippocampus. The mice then had to perform this same task days later, but this time with one object moved to a new location. The mice that were deprived of sleep for a few hours before the first session failed to detect this spatial change, which suggests that they cannot recall the original object locations. “However, when we reintroduced them to the task after reactivating the hippocampal neurons that initially stored this information with light, they did successfully remember the original locations,” says Havekes. “This shows that the information was stored in the hippocampus during sleep deprivation, but couldn’t be retrieved without the stimulation.”

Memory problems

The molecular pathway set off during the reactivation is also targeted by the drug roflumilast, which is used by patients with asthma or COPD. Havekes says: “When we gave mice that were trained while being sleep deprived roflumilast just before the second test, they remembered, exactly as happened with the direct stimulation of the neurons.” Since roflumilast is approved for use in humans and can enter the brain, this may lead to testing to see if it can recover ‘lost’ memories for humans..

It might be possible to stimulate the memory accessibility in people with age-induced memory problems or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease with roflumilast,” says Havekes. “And maybe we could reactivate specific memories to make them permanently retrievable again, as we successfully did in mice.” If a subject’s neurons are stimulated with the drug while they try and ‘relive’ a memory, or revise information for an exam, this information might be reconsolidated more firmly in the brain. “For now, this is all speculation of course, but time will tell.”

Source: University of Groningen.

Sleep Deprivation Affects Emotional Control but not Processing

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While sleep deprivation really messes with mood, a new study in PlosOne shows it does not interfere with their ability to evaluate emotional situations.

Researchers found that, contrary to the assumption that feeling more negative affects people’s experiences of their environment, 24 hours without sleep did not affect participants’ ability to process emotional words and images.

“People do become less happy through sleep deprivation, but it’s not affecting how they are processing emotional stimuli in their environment,” said lead author Anthony Stenson, WSU psychology doctoral student.

The researchers found that sleep deprivation does not numb people to emotional situations, but it reduces their ability to control their own emotional responses, with implications for healthcare workers and other professions who must deal with sleep loss.

For the study, about 60 adult participants spent four consecutive days in a sleep centre at the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. They were allowed to sleep normally the first night and then given a set of baseline tests to judge their mood as well as their emotional regulation and processing ability. Then, they were divided into one group of 40 people staying awake the second night, and a control group of 20 allowed a normal sleep period. The tests were then re-administered at different intervals.

The emotional regulation and processing tests both involved viewing a series of images with positive and negative emotional connotations. In the emotional regulation tests, participants were given a prompt to help them recontextualise negative images before seeing them and asked to control their feelings. The sleep-deprived group had greater difficulty reducing the emotion they felt when instructed to do so.

The processing tests involved responding to words and images with emotional content, for example rating the emotions conveyed by a smiling family, a growling dog or a crying child. All participants performed similarly on these tests whether they were sleep deprived or not.

The ability to process emotional content and the ability to control one’s emotions are distinct and important, especially for some professions, said co-author Paul Whitney, a WSU professor of psychology.
“I don’t think we want our first responders being numb to the emotional nature of the situations they encounter, and it looks like they are not,” he said. “On the other hand, reacting normally to emotional situations, but not being able to control your own emotions, could be one reason sleep loss sometimes produces catastrophic errors in stressful situations.”

Previous studies have largely focused on the impacts of sleep deprivation on ‘cold’ cognitive tasks, which are supposedly emotionally neutral tasks like recalling facts. These studies have also found that regulation, considered a ‘top-down’ cognitive process, is a major problem with cold cognitive tasks. Mental flexibility, for example, is compromised by sleep deprivation, an ability emergency room doctors use in dealing with unexpected situations.

The current study shows that top-down regulation is a problem as well with ‘hot’ or emotional cognitive processes. Future research is needed to understand whether the effects of sleep loss on the two top-down processes are linked.

Source: Washington State University