BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Sleep

8 Genes That May Be Affecting Your Sleep Patterns

Have you ever wondered why you struggle to fall asleep at night, while your sibling has no issues sleeping soundly for eight hours? What causes your sleep patterns? While your sleep may occasionally be affected by a particularly stressful event, leading to irregular sleep patterns, for

While your sleep may occasionally be affected by a particularly stressful event, leading to irregular sleep patterns, for many, it is simply caused by the way their brains and bodies work. New research has identified for the first time eight specific genes that are linked to insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness. The data also revealed that some of the genes associated with disturbed sleep identified in this study seemed to be linked to certain metabolic and neuropsychiatric diseases too, like restless leg syndrome, schizophrenia, and obesity.

Richa Saxena, one of the co-authors and assistant professor of  anaesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard medical school, explained why this research was so important: while “it was previously known that sleep disturbances may co-occur with many diseases in humans, but it was not known that there are shared genetic components that contribute both to sleep problems and these conditions.” Furthermore, while studies have previously identified genes linked to some sleep disorders, this is the first study that has specifically linked genes to insomnia.

Link to Original Image

The study looked at the prevalence of insomnia, sleep problems and excessive daytime sleepiness in 112,586 European adults who had participated in a UK Biobank study. All participants had their genes mapped, as well as additional information like weight and diseases/chronic conditions. The results revealed fascinating linkages between certain genes. For example, the genes linked to insomnia were most strongly related to those associated with restless legs syndrome, insulin resistance, and depression, while the genes associated with excessive daytime sleepiness were also linked to obesity. Saxena remarked again that “it was not known until this study that there are shared genetic components- shared underlying biological pathways- that contribute to both sleep problems and these shared conditions.”

Of course, this study is not 100% conclusive- people who have trouble sleeping are not necessarily at higher risk for restless legs syndrome, schizophrenia, and obesity. In reality, it is likely that many different genes contribute to both sleep problems and these medical problems, Saxena said. But this new study does suggest that these problems share genes and underlying pathways.

So what does this research do for the average person? Well, not much. Right now, it’s just fascinating news that there may be a genetic reason people with these disorders are more likely to have troubled sleep. However, there is hope that in the future researchers will be able to design and test various drugs to target these genes. This would bring immense benefits to people who struggle to keep normal sleep patterns, as well as helping individuals proactively avoid diseases they may be more at risk for (for example, obesity).

 

Daylight Hurting Time?

New studies have found that daylight savings time might do more hurting, than saving.  Apparently, changing human’s circadian rhythm (aka theiScreen Shot 2016-02-29 at 11.29.23 PMr sleeping cycle) can lead to higher risks of stroke. It raises the risk of a specific type of stroke, an ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke is when blood clots block blood vessels that carry blood to the brain.  The risk of getting a stroke during or around daylight savings time was 8% higher for the average person. Cancer patients have a 25% increase and people over the age of 65 have a 20% increase after the time change.

Though these increases may be small…. they are still increases and that is significant. All problems root with changing the circadian rhythm; it controls the regulation of most of the daily routine. Throwing off a sleep schedule is never good because no one likes to be tired, however it’s possibly more dangerous than we originally assumed. I believe sleep is one of the most rejuvenating things and not something that should be messed with, therefore I agree that if daylight savings causes problem… it’s doing more hurting than saving.

Main Article:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/could-daylight-saving-time-increase-your-risk-of-stroke/

For further information:

http://www.techinsider.io/daylight-saving-time-bad-health-effects-2015-10

http://www.businessinsider.com/economic-and-health-effects-of-daylight-saving-time-2014-3

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/03/time-to-kill-daylight-saving/387175/

Out Like a Light: Sleep Switch in Brain Identified

Researchers from Oxford University’s Center of Neural Circuits and Behavior have identified the switch in the brain, which causes sleep, from a study of fruit flies. This switch regulates sleep promoting neurons in the brain. When one is tired and in need of sleep, these neurons will activate. Once you are fully rested, neuron activity will die down. Though this new insight was gained through studying fruit flies, or Drosophila, the researchers believe this information is also relevant to humans. In the human brain, there are similar neurons that are active during sleep and are the targets of general anesthetics that cause sleep. These facts support the idea that humans have a sleep mechanism like that found in fruit flies, according to Dr. Jeffrey Donlea, one of the lead authors of the study. The findings of this study were published in the journal, Neuron.The discovery of this sleep switch is important for a number of reasons like finding new treatments for sleep disorders, but it is just a small piece of the enigma that is sleep. The internal signal, which this sleep switch responds to, is still unknown, as is the activity of these sleep-promoting cells while we are awake. We do not even know why humans and all other animals need sleep.

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In spite of these mysterious, scientists do know how the body regulates sleep. Humans and animals have a body clock, which makes us accustomed to the 24 hour cycle of day and night, and a sleep switch, which logs the hours you are awake and causes you to sleep when you need rest. When this mechanism is off or not being used, sleep deficiency increases. The combination of these two is the most likely cause of us sleeping at night.

The significance of this switch in the process of sleep and its relationship to bodily function was found when studying the fruit flies. If they did not sleep, mutant flies cannot regain these lost sleep hours. Sleep-deprived flies are also more likely to nod off and be cognitively impaired. Like sleep-deprived humans, these flies were subject to severe learning and memory deficiencies. In the mutant flies, the researchers proved the insomnia of the flies was due to a broken part of the electrical activity switch, which caused the sleep-inducing neurons to always be off.

Why do you think sleep is important? How is this discovery significant and how do you think this information will be used in the future? Will the mystery of sleep be solved soon?

Photograph by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

Other helpful links:

  • http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140219124730.htm
  • http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm
  • http://www.sleepfoundation.org

The “Sleep Switch” Has Been Discovered

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/fourtwenty/2922398332/in/photostream/

If you’re like me, and most of you are since you’re all human, you’ve probably had a night or two where you just couldn’t fall asleep and figured that you had too much going on in your brain.  Maybe, if you’ve taken a biology course at some point or another, you’ve thought that your brain just has too much activity going on and you wished it would all just come to a nice rest.  In reality, if you’re experiencing that little bit of restlessness, your brain isn’t doing enough!  Scientists at Oxford University’s Centre for Neural Circuits and Behavior recently carried out a study on fruit flies in which they determined the “sleep switch” is really just a regulation of certain neurons in the brain which become more active when the body needs sleep.  Although the study was done on an entirely different species, these scientists still believe that the mechanism is comparable in humans due to the presence of similar neurons in the human brain.  The study showed that when sleep is needed by the body, the “electrical excitability” of the neurons increases, leading to the conclusion that their activity is related to how sleep is triggered.

While this recent discovery has already been inspiring new ideas on how to combat sleep disorders, it is really a step towards the much more basic question, “Why do we (animals) need to sleep?”  The next step towards answering this questions, explains Dr. Diogo Pimentel of Oxford University, is to identify “what happens in the brain during waking that requires sleep to reset.”

This “sleep switch” mechanism is one of two that are theorized to be used in the process of sleep.  The other being the body’s internal clock, which adjusts an animal to certain cycles based on the 24 hour day.  At the point of sleepiness, “The body clock says it’s the right time, and the sleep switch has built up pressure during a long waking day,” explains Professor Miesenböck, in whose laboratory the study was conducted.

Original Article: http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2014/02/19/scientists_identify_the_switch_that_says_its_time_to_sleep.html

The damages of Sleep Loss

Roughly 30 million Americans are “just trying to catch up on their sleep.” 20% of Americans report that they get less than 6 hours of sleep on average. This nation-wide sleep loss is “taking a toll on our physical and emotional health, and on our nation’s highways.” Sleep loss leads to a variety of inconvenient issues.

image taken from WikimediaCommons

According to Discovery Health, Inability to handle stress, inability to concentrate, poor memory, poor decision making,  increased appetite, diminished motor skills, relationship trouble, medical problems, and mood swings can all be the ill effects of sleep deprivation. This has been known by scientists for a long time, but the reasons on a molecular-level were unclear.

However, recent headway has been made in understanding the consequences of sleep deprivation on a molecular level. A new study at the University of Surrey in England showed changes in gene activity in 26 people who had built up a sleep deficit. Reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that after a week of considerable sleep deprivation the blood tests of the 26 subjects showed changes in 711 of their genes.

The “changes” observed in the genes including a disruption of the cell cycle; the cells stopped their circadian rhythm. On the other hand, cells that don’t typically follow a cycle fell into a daily rhythm. Many of the genes that showed changes were related to the immune system. This would account for the previously and widely observed medical issues connected with sleep loss. “The researchers conclude that skimping on sleep can drastically change the body’s daily rhythms and may lead to health problems”.

 

 

Main article:

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/348604/description/News_in_Brief_Sleep_loss_affects_gene_activity

additional articles:

http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/sleep/disorders/10-signs-you-may-be-sleep-deprived6.htm

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/toll-of-sleep-loss-in-america

picture link:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Effects_of_sleep_deprivation.png

Sleeping with your eyes open while driving?

Researchers at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute in Massachusetts estimate that about 250,000 Americans drive while sleep deprived everyday, and according to the National Highway Safety Administration, about 6,000 people are killed each year by an exhausted driver. That’s only second to drunk driving fatalities!

Experts say that you need about 7-8 hours of sleep a night. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your judgement and memory can be impaired, and you may even find yourself snoozing throughout the day uncontrollably! What’s worse than that is an insidious phenomenon called microsleep. Microsleeping is a brief transition between sleeping and wakefulness. It can last from a few seconds up to 30 seconds and you may not even realize it.

An ABC reporter did an experiment with the institute just outside of Boston. He mimicked sleep deprivation by staying awake for 32 hours straight. Then he and some of the research scientists got into a van and prepared for him to drive on a closed track for about 2 hours. The reporter explained how he thought he would feel fine as he had done many all-nighters before. However, he wasn’t even able to stay fully awake after 10 minutes of driving. His eyes stayed open, but the monitors

Photo By: Jace
Found through “free to use and share” on Google images
http://pixabay.com/en/driving-car-person-behind-the-wheel-22959/

attached to his brain detected that he was microsleeping. After 20 minutes into the driving, he found himself driving on the grasses off of the track and immediately turned the wheel back onto the track.

Once the experiment was over, the researchers told him that he had fallen asleep a total of 22 times for about 6 seconds each time. 6 seconds may not sound like a lot, but think about not looking at the road while driving for 6 seconds–the possibility of an accident increases tremendously!  Fortunately the experiment was done in a controlled environment while the driver was going only about 15 to 20 mph. Think about all the people who drive sleep deprived everyday while driving with speeds up to 70 mph! Yes, caffeine can help keep you alert, but only for a short period of time. There’s nothing that can replace a good night’s sleep, wouldn’t you agree?

 

Find more information on microsleeping:

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/blink-eye-dozing-driving/story?id=17870880&page=2#.UOi0fWDMsaA

http://www.sleepdex.org/microsleep.htm

 

Drowsy Dogs

Flickr
Photo By: recompose

When a person sees another person yawning, they are more prone to yawn as well. As it turns out, so are puppies. According to a new study, puppies are susceptible to human yawns as well!

Elaine Alenkær Madsen, PhD, and Tomas Persson, PhD, researchers at Lund University, have been studying the yawn contagion, specifically between different species. They were able to determine that puppies above the age of seven months were susceptible to yawning when a human yawned. But, they also found that the puppies under the age of seven months did not yawn when the humans in the experiment yawned.

These findings are similar to those found for human beings. Children only begin to become susceptible to yawning at around the age of four. These results help to prove that there is a general developmental pattern, concerning empathy, that is shared by humans and other animals. These results could help other researchers in discovering more about the developmental processes of human beings and other animals similar to them, like monkeys, apes and now dogs.

 

For mor information on this subject please check out:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028472

Don’t forget your sleep

Photo Credit: Me

Let’s face it there are many nights when we don’t get the sleep we need for some reason or other.  Not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep is pretty much the norm for students, but according to a new study this lack of sleep could really be hurting us later on.  This new study found that disrupted sleep appears to be associated with the build-up of amyloid plaques, which are a known to be a hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, in the brains of people who did not yet have any memory problems.

The author of the study Yo-El Ju, who works with Washington University School of Medicine conducted the study by testing the sleep patterns of one hundred people, ages 45 to 80, who were free of dementia.  Half of this group had a family history of Alzheimer’s.  Sleep diaries and questionnaires were used to learn about the patients sleeping habits as well as a device placed on the participants for two weeks to measure sleep.

The study found that 25% of the participants had evidence of amyloid plaques, which are known to be able to show up years before symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear.  Most of these people spend an average of eight hours in bed, but only 6.5 hours asleep due to waking up at night.  The study found that people who were waking up more than five times an hour were more likely to have the amyloid plaque build-up than the people who didn’t wake up much at all.  The study also said that people who slept less efficiently were more likely to have markers of early stage Alzheimer’s disease.  Dr.Ju says it will take more time and data to fully understand the link, but I think for now it is safe to say that sometimes we should put our homework down and get to sleep.

Are Early Birds and Night Owls Just Neurologically Wired Differently?

Photo Credit: National Media Museum

Are you an early bird? Perhaps you’re a night owl? Well researchers at the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta have been doing studies that have found that their may be neurological differences between morning and night people.

After using a questionnaire to separate subjects based on habits, researchers used magnetic torque imagining-guided brain stimulation to test things like muscle torque and excitability of pathways through the nervous system. The tests found that while morning people’s brains were most excitable at 9 in the morning and increased throughout the day, evening people were most stimulated at 9 at night. However, researchers found that night people’s strength increased throughout the day and morning people’s strength maxed out by night time. This is interesting because both groups increased reflex pathway ability for stimulation as the day went on, but the night group didn’t max out as the morning group did. This is evidence supporting the notion that everyone’s nervous systems function differently.

“What does this mean though? Why’s it important?” Well increasing our understanding of the NS allows us to enhance our ability to work towards cures for neurologic diseases. The principle that everyone’s brain and nervous system functions differently could lead to multiple methods specialized for curing patients and ultimately higher success. On top of this, it could lead to a better understanding as to why certain people do certain things (ex: psychopaths vs. normal), why some people are rhythmically sick more often than others, and why some teenagers are more antisocial and prone to depression.

 

http://www.sciencecodex.com/morning_people_and_night_owls_show_different_brain_function_university_of_alberta_study

http://articles.cnn.com/2009-07-09/health/night.owl.morning_1_owls-spinal-cord-morning?_s=PM:HEALTH

http://www.archives.expressnews.ualberta.ca/article/2009/06/10281.html

http://www.sciencecodex.com/read/psychopaths_brains_show_differences_in_structure_and_function-82007

http://www.sciencecodex.com/read/differing_structures_underlie_differing_brain_rhythms_in_healthy_and_ill-79772

http://www.sciencecodex.com/differences_in_mammalian_brain_structure_and_genitalia_linked_to_specific_dna_regions_in_new_study

http://www.sciencecodex.com/brain_scans_reveal_differences_in_brain_structure_in_teenagers_with_severe_antisocial_behavior

GO TO SLEEP!

Photo Credit: mont3rros4

We all know that sleep deprivation causes the brain to become exhausted, but  a recent new study has shown that sleep deprivation causes nerve cells to become increasingly jumpy.

 

Most of us these days don’t get enough sleep. But sleep deprivation can cause people to have seizures and hallucinations. People believe that sleep deprivation lowers a person’s alertness, but Marcello Massimini from the University of Milan and his fellow colleagues have discovered that the brain actually becomes more reactive as hours awake accumulate.

Six people were gathered and did not sleep for a whole day. Massimini gave each person a jolt of magnetic current to the participants skull. The nerve cell received an electrical response and Massimini was able to measure the strength of the electrical response. He did this to the patients twice. Once right after they woke up from sleep and once after they hadn’t sleep for a whole day. The results were that the patients had a stronger electrical response after they hadn’t slept for a whole day than when they just woke up.

The theory is that the brain accumulates connection as the person learns new things. Sleep clears the brain of extra information and leaves only the most important information and connections. These enhanced excitability could be the explanation of why people have seizures after they haven’t slept in a whole day. Also doctors have induced seizures on patients by keeping them up all night. New studies are being tested if wether sleep deprivation can lead to reversing depression since the brain has a heightened excitement without sleep.

Other effects of sleep deprivation are stress, memory impairment, and poor quality of life. It is advisable for teenagers and adults to get about 8-9 hours of sleep. Now lets get some sleep!

Lets Cure Insomnia!

I sometimes take melatonin in order to sleep, however it does not always work. A group of researchers at the  Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) “has made a major breakthrough by unraveling the inner workings of melatonin.” This research has led to the development of UCM765, which activates activates only non-rem (deep) sleep.

There are 2 main melatonin receptors. MT1, which stimulates REM sleep and MT2 which stimulates non-REM sleep. Non- rapid eye movement sleep is a much deeper sleep.  An associate professor of psychiatry at McGill said that “specifying the role of MT2 receptors in melatonin represent a major scientific breakthrough that may designate them as a promising novel target for future treatments of insomnia. This discovery also explains the modest hypnotic effect of the over-the-counter melatonin pills, which act on both conflicting receptors.” So, the reason that UCM765 would be so effective is because it promotes deeper sleeps by stimulating more MT2, but not stimulating more MT1.

So far, the results of this study has proved effective by increasing sleep in mice and rats. This study may (hopefully) get us one step closer towards curing insomnia!

 

Bad day? Just sleep it off

Credit: Cami Marlowe

Have you ever had a bad day and woken up the next morning in a good mood?  This is because a recent study has shown that while dreaming at night during periods of REM sleep, the brain is in an environment where the is a low amount of stress chemicals.  The brain being in this state helps to take the strong emotion out of sad or hurtful memories. Matthew Walker, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley has said that “we feel better about the [memories] because we feel that we can cope.”

Walker wanted to figure out if he could use this logic to help people suffering from PTSD.  These peole are unable to recover from their painful experiences even after years of being away from the trigger.  Researchers have found that the overnight therapy does not work well for people with PTSD because there may be many triggers that occur during the day such as a car backfiring that bring back the emotion that was unable to be fully wiped away with sleep. It has also been found that people with PTSD and other mood disorders are not able to get a full night of uninterrupted sleep.

In order to try and help those with PTSD, Walker wanted to learn more about the curing power of dreams so he conducted a study in which 35 healthy adults were divided into two groups.  Both of the groups were shown a series of 150 pictures that were meant to evoke emotion.  While they were looking at the pictures there brain was being looked at with an MRI.  One of the groups were shown the series of pictures in the morning and then again at night without sleeping for anytime between the two viewings. The other group was shown the series of pictures at night and then again in the morning after a

full nights sleep. The results of the MRI were very interesting. The MRI showed that the people who were allowed to sleep between viewing the pictures had a much less significant emotional reaction to them the second time. The part of the brain that processes emotions was much less active which allowed the rational part of the brain to control the emotions.  While the participants slept researchers noticed that there were less stress chemicals in the brain then while they were awake.  This could mean that the emotion from seeing the images was being diminished.

So what does this mean for those suffering from PTSD? Walker found out that a type of blood pressure medicine was able to suppress the stress chemicals found in the brain. When less stress chemicals were present, the PTSD patients were able to have more REM sleep and therefore, reduce the night mares and have a better quality sleep which allowed them to begin to recover.

What does it take to get a good nights sleep?

Recent studies show most people believe it is the mattress quality which determines how well they can sleep, but is this true?

Have you ever been to a hotel or slept over someone’s house and felt that the mattress wasn’t comfortable enough and thus it was the “worst sleep ever?” Well what about the nights you struggle in your own bed to fall asleep, all the tossing and turning trying to find the perfect spot on your mattress.

Well if its not the Mattress what is it? 

It is not the mattress that is affecting everyday sleep but rather various things such as sleep disorders that can disrupt a night, or nights, sleep.  These disorders include sleep apnea, insomnia, sleep terrors,  nightmares, and sleep walking. Many of these disorders they can be monitored in a sleep clinic and then dealt with accordingly. Dr. Emsellem suggests that one way to fight distractions that may disrupts your sleep is to buy a white noise machine.A white noise machine helps cancel all distractions your mind may have while asleep. Many people also turn towards sleeping pills to cure their sleep problems. Mr.Wyatt says, “For short-term insomnia, such as one to two weeks, it’s perfectly appropriate to consider sleeping pills.”The problem with pills is they cannot be used as a long-term cure. Beyond all that is said, it is neither the mattress nor the distraction one has when trying to sleep but rather, in the bigger scope of things: the want to sleep is needed in order to sleep well.

 

How do you know if it’s the mattress?

Is buying a $5,000 or $20,000 mattress better than getting a $500 mattress? The only way that certain mattresses are better than others is when someone has  lower back pains or other muscle pains. Many doctors recommend mattresses with softer pillow tops or instead of buying a new mattress. It is easier and cheaper to buy a pillow top for a mattress. Besides muscle pains the type of mattress you sleep on is not the problem. Buying expensive mattresses and thinking that will help for a better nights rest is considered a “placebo effect” according to Mr. Wyatt.

If its not my mattress and I don’t have a sleeping disorder, why cant i sleep?

The problem with today’s generation is not that we are incapable of sleeping but rather we find sleep at the bottom of our priorities. Whether it is staying up late to study for an AP Bio exam or watching an episode of Friends on Nick@Nite, we find so little time to sleep in between. On average an teen/adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep in order to be well rested the next morning. What do we do if our schedules don’t allow for so many hours of being unproductive? What if we can’t possibly get into bed at 10 o’clock at night to wake up at 7 AM the next morning? Where do we find our energy that we are lacking? Is it really healthy to constantly be using alternate energy sources rather than sleeping? The solution is easy; if we were to take 1 or 2 hours out of our everyday lives and sleep, then the hours we lost sleeping would be returned in the rate at which we could do things with the correct amount of energy in our system. Right?

 

 

For more information please visit:  

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/22/your-money/mattress-not-usually-to-blame-in-sleep-problems-experts-say.html?_r=1&ref=health

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/default.htm

http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep

Waking up without the alarm clock? There’s a reason!

 

Have you ever wondered why you wake up before your alarm clock?

This article explains how new studies show that humans do have a special biological clock that allows us to wake up in the morning. This “clock” gets our metabolism going early in the day, the signal to wake up our bodies.  The important part of this biological clock is a protein called PERIOD (PER).  This protein rises and falls in our bodies throughout a 24 hour cycle. When PER lowers at night, our heart rate slows, our blood pressure lowers, and our mental processes slow down.  Now, through studies funded by Salk’s Innovation Fund, it is found an enzyme helps raise the PER protein once again in the morning.  This enzyme, JARID1a, is required for normal cycling, including the circadian rhythm.

Have your grandparents ever wondered why they can not sleep at night as well anymore?  Findings show that as you grow older, your biological clock declines, and with it, a difficulty in sleeping.

Even diabetes has been linked to this research.  Diabetes goes in turn with the biological clock, which controls its metabolic cycles.  The conversion of fats and sugars only take place at certain times of the day.  With someone who has diabetes, this suggests that the biological clock has lost control.

Numerous times I have woken up before my alarm clock, frustrated about not getting those extra few minutes of sleep.  Now, through this study, I understand that its my bodies’ protein levels telling my metabolism to start the day.

For more information on your biological clock, click here.

 

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