Author: 15893608

Research Finds New Health Benefits From Sleep

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

“To die, to sleep — perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet

 

Every human being requires sleep in order to function properly. Sleep is known to aid in healing, in memory formation, reducing stress, eliminating toxins – literally wiping the slate clean of the day’s experiences to begin anew. The subject of decades of research, sleep science continues to amass evidence of new health benefits from sleep.

SINGLE GENE INCREASES SLEEP NEED WHEN SICK

A newly discovered single gene, called nemuri, increases the human body’s need for sleep, according to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine whose work was published in Science. Studying over 12 lines of fruit flies, researchers found direct links between the immune system and sleep, which provides a possible explanation for how sleep increases during sickness. In their next phase of research, the scientists plan to investigate the mechanism by which nemuri drives sleep.

LEARN NEW VOCABULARY DURING DEEP SLEEP

While it may seem mysterious, it’s actually logical. Researchers from the University of Bern found that the introduction of new foreign words and their translation words could be associated during deep sleep in a midday nap and stored. Upon waking, those associations could be retrieved unconsciously and reactivated – essentially learning a new vocabulary during sleep. Researchers said the memory formation seems to be mediated by the same brain structures mediating wake vocabulary learning. The research was published in Current Biology.

GAPS IN LIFE MEMORIES CREATED BY SLEEP APNEA

An estimated 936 million people worldwide are affected by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and OSA sufferers have memory problems and depression. A study by researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia built upon known links between memory and depression and found that untreated OSA leads to problems recalling specific life details. Researchers said their work suggested that sleep apnea may impair the brain’s capacity to encode or consolidate certain types of life memories, which explains why it is difficult for people to recall past details. Since sleep apnea is also a significant risk factor for depression, researchers hope that a better understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms at work may help improve the mental health of millions of people. The study was published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

VIRTUAL REALITY MAY COMBAT RECURRING NIGHTMARES

Nobody likes nightmares, especially recurring ones. Indeed, researchers have found that recurring nightmares are significant predictors of mental health problems – especially for children. About half to two-thirds of kids and up to 15 percent of adults have frequent nightmares. A consequence of recurring nightmares in kids may be adolescent and adult psychosis, including anxiety, depression, stress and suicidal ideation, while in adults it may signal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yet there are few effective and easy-to-use treatments for nightmare disorders. Two researchers from Boston University, one from the School of Medicine, the other from the School of Theology, co-founded the Center for Mind and Culture and created a pilot study using a virtual reality program to help combat recurring nightmares.

The study used moderately frightening virtual reality imagery, such as underwater environment with an approaching great white shark, to stimulate a manageable fear level in participants. By exposing them to disturbing and arousing images, but not very scary ones, the goal is to treat distress, not inflict more. Participants used a joystick and gesture controls to modify the visuals they saw. At the end of a month of two sessions weekly, during which participants were monitored for anxiety, nightmare distress and nightmare effects, researchers found significantly lower levels in all three. What’s really exciting about these results, say researchers, is the potential to bring this to kids suffering nightmare disorder. Treating them early with such technology may ward off or slow down conversion to psychosis.

LOSS OF SLEEP CAUSES ANGER

You know you’re out of sorts after a fitful night’s sleep, or when you’re not able to sleep your regular amount of hours. Now researchers from Iowa State University have found evidence that sleep loss causes anger. For the study, participants were split in two groups, one getting their normal 7-hours of sleep, while the other was restricted to about 4.5 hours per night. Anger was measured before and after sleep manipulations by having participants listen to noise products creating uncomfortable conditions, which tend to provoke anger. In the sleep-restricted group, anger was “substantially higher” than in the unrestricted sleep group. Next, researchers plan to study whether loss of sleep causes actual aggressive behavior toward others.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION RESULTS IN STARK JUMP IN ERRORS

In the largest to-date experimentally controlled study on sleep deprivation, researchers at Michigan State University found that small distractions can result in serious consequences for people who are sleep deprived. The research differs from other sleep deprivation studies in that it focuses on the impact of sleep deprivation on completing tasks. The study involved requiring people to complete a task which needed a number of steps in order, and periodically interrupting them in the process, after which they had to remember the steps in order to proceed. Members of the sleep-deprived group had roughly 15 percent increase in errors the following morning when they were asked to perform the step-by-step task again. In addition to showing more errors, the sleep-deprived group showed a progressive increase in errors that was associated with memory while performing the task. The non-restricted sleep group did not show this effect.

PURPOSE IN LIFE CAN BE A DRUG-FREE WAY TO IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine conducted a study including 853 adults without dementia, from age 60 to 100, in which they were asked to complete a 10- and 32-question survey on purpose of life, and sleep, respectively. Those who felt their lives had meaning were 63 percent less likely to report sleep apnea and 52 percent less likely to say they had restless leg syndrome. In addition, the study participants who felt a purpose in life had moderately better quality of sleep, a global sleep disturbance measure. Researchers said that although the study involved older people, they believed the results would be applicable to younger ones as well. The next step in their research, said study first author, “should be to study the use of mindfulness-based therapies to target purpose in life and resulting sleep quality.”

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How Practicing Compassion May Help You Feel Better

 

Photo / Picography

Photo / Picography

 

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” — Aesop

 

Think about the most disagreeable person you know or ever met. This might even be you on one or more occasions. If you ask people who are a little rough around the edges, those individuals who seem gruff, know-it-all, smug, superior and can’t be bothered, they’d likely say they don’t need anyone else. While compassion is an admirable and fairly basic trait, some of us either lack it (we’re short on empathy) or could use a little help on how to best show it.

Even the Most Disagreeable People Benefit from Showing Compassion

Yet, research into learning how to be compassionate shows that even the most disagreeable people – who are often suffering from depression – can benefit from the simple training.

Researchers at York University engaged 640 mildly depressed individuals in online training to boost their ability to behave with compassion toward others. Average age of the study participants was in the mid-30s. For the study, they were asked to engage in one of three online “compassion intervention” exercises, complete their exercise and log back in to record their reports every other day for a three-week period.  The exercise called Acts of Kindness resulted in the most benefit to study participants: those who performed acts of kindness in their close relationships showed the greatest reductions in depression and greatest increases in self-reported life satisfaction.

The lead researcher for the project said that highly disagreeable people often lack empathy, they’re hostile and don’t cooperate well with others, with the result that they may be ostracized or rejected. Giving these individuals specific suggestions, some practical things they could do each day to express “empathic concerns” toward their close relationships, proved “tremendously helpful.”

The project was easy to implement and, from the perspective of the study participants, quick (10-15 minutes every other day), and easy to complete. Another exercise called Loving Kindness Meditation was also helpful, said researchers, but it didn’t result in the same level of improvements as the Acts of Kindness exercise.

Evidence Proves Neanderthals Showed Compassion

Further evidence that compassion is instrumental not only in affirming quality of life but also in overall survival comes from research that shows that Neanderthal man was compassionate and knowledgeable in their care of others experiencing injury or illness. The study, from the University of York, showed that Neanderthals were genuinely caring for their peers – no matter what their level of illness or injury.

The research involved pathological analysis of injuries that would have occurred long before death and would have required caretakers providing careful hygiene, facilitation of sleep and rest, staunching wounds, maintaining posture, maintaining and assisting mobility, ensuring safety, monitoring and control of fever, and massage, among other types of care and accommodation. Bioarcheology of care analyses suggest that the injured/ill “likely received extensive care in response to their experiences of pathology.” Neanderthals provided The scientists argued that “organized and caring healthcare is not unique to our species but rather has a long evolutionary history.”

The Brain Can be Trained in Compassion

Earlier research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, sought to determine if compassion could be trained and learned in adults. They wanted to know if practicing a compassionate mindset could cause adults to be more caring. The results of their study showed an affirmative yes.

The study made use of an ancient Buddhist technique called compassion meditation, in which study participants (young adults) were trained to increase caring feelings for people who were suffering. After training, they were asked to show compassion for loved ones (those for whom they’d easily feel compassionate towards), then themselves, then a stranger, and lastly for a difficult person, such as a co-worker, with whom they had conflict. Researchers said that this “weighted training,” in which study participants actively built up their “compassion muscle,” helped them respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.

What researchers determined with this and other exercises designed to measure compassion is that compassion, like academic and physical skills, is not something that seems to be fixed, but rather can be enhanced through training and practice. The suggest that compassion training could be employed in schools to help combat bullying, and it may prove beneficial to those who have social anxiety or antisocial behavior. Furthermore, researchers said they’d be excited to see what compassion training could do for the general public in terms of seeing what changes they notice in their life. Training to boost the compassion muscle is available on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds website.

Additional research from these same authors was published in 2018 in Frontiers in Psychology. According to their findings, researchers suggest that compassion meditation training may help to decrease aversive neural responses to suffering at the same time as visual attention to suffering increases. This may have prosocial benefits, as in a doctor tending to a patient, or allowing individuals to remain calm in the case of suffering and more willing to lend aid. Researchers said further research with larger sample sizes should look into whether compassion intervention strategies could prove helpful to caregivers and healthcare workers who are often exposed to others’ suffering.

How You Can be More Compassionate

While research continues on the benefits of compassion, what can you do as an individual to help boost your compassion muscle? First, be attuned to the fact that your actions and behavior have consequences. How you behave toward others, what you think about before you speak or act, makes a difference.

Simple compassion strategies you can employ include behaving toward others the way you’d want them to act toward you – with kindness, empathy and basic humanity. Practicing meditation and consciously intending to be more compassionate can also put you in the frame of mind where expressing yourself verbally with compassion and acting compassionately will become easier. Furthermore, think of compassion as being loving, caring and supportive – as in a parent nurturing and helping a child.

Of course, compassion toward others also means learning how to be self-compassionate. This example of self-care may take some practice to become comfortable being kind to yourself, yet the results in your overall well-being and life satisfaction will be well worth the effort.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Manage Your Anger

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10 Ways Stress Harms You

Best Way to Effect Change

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

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The Incredible Value of Dreams

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

 

 

How You Can Be More Confident

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.” – Peter T. McIntyre

 

I suffered from a lack of self-esteem and little confidence when I was an adolescent. The feeling of loss and not being good enough, or smart enough to get things done and fearful of trying anything new lasted through my teens and throughout the early part of my adult life. It wasn’t that I was brought up deprived of love or lacking a comfortable environment, for my parents loved me dearly and I never knew hunger or felt diminished by our standard of living. I did, however, take notice of the confidence my peers at school and wanted desperately to be so confidant myself. Thus, my journey of building my self-confidence began.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you can benefit from some of the tips that helped me become more confident.

Reward yourself for little victories.

I didn’t have much to start with, especially after my dad died when I was 13. I was utterly bereft, couldn’t even cry, tossed and turned every night and had horrible nightmares for years. At the core of my sadness was the mistaken belief that I had somehow caused my father to die. Nothing even close to that was true, as he died from a massive myocardial infarction and was dead in minutes, yet my teen brain and devastated heart didn’t process reality.

Being numb to life, I went to school and pushed myself to do my homework, knowing that my dad would want me to continue getting good grades. I did love learning, so pursuing my studies seemed like a way I could honor my father and do something valuable for me. Like he did when I came home with top grades, my mother praised my efforts. I incorporated that habit and began to give myself small rewards for these victories. For example, if I exceeded my previous grades by getting more A’s than B’s, I allowed myself more fiction books to read in the coming month. Maybe I wore a brightly-colored ribbon in my hair braids that week, or took pleasure watching a Sunday movie with my mom so we could both be together and begin to heal.

Years later, even though I am long past having to deal with no self-confidence, I still find it worthwhile to reward myself for the little wins. For one thing, it feels good to do so. For another, it’s a healthy behavior that can help reduce everyday stress and tension. Besides, every little win boosts your self-confidence – even if you have plenty – during particularly challenging or stressful times. Everybody can use a little help in such instances.

Do more of what you’re good at – and what you enjoy doing.

We all have certain responsibilities and obligations that necessitate us doing things we’d much rather not do, or that we’d like to get through quickly, so we can get on to doing something else. If it’s a job that isn’t very rewarding, involving or exciting, such everyday drudgery can exact a toll on your self-confidence. Even if you’re a top-notch bookkeeper or budget analyst – as I was at one point in my corporate career – it may not be your avocation. Furthermore, perhaps your talents lie elsewhere. For my part, I was always a writer. I yearned to be able to do that in my career. Eventually, I did. Of course, there were the inevitable setbacks (call them downsizing, budget cutting and layoffs) when I had to return to financial duties, but those didn’t last forever. I was able to return to the kind of work I loved: writing.

Now that I’ve left corporate life and have my own business freelancing, I do what I’m good at and thoroughly enjoy. This doesn’t mean my work isn’t work, for it is. It’s not always easy and certainly not quick. Yet, the time doesn’t matter when you do what you love. It’s also a tremendous self-confidence booster. I highly recommend it.

If you can’t do what you’re good at and enjoy in your job, find a way to indulge your talents and dreams in your free time. Take up a hobby where you can exercise your gifts, meet others and share companionship doing something the community enjoys. Find your passion and make it part of your life.

Learning from your mistakes makes you stronger and more self-confidant.

You’re not always going to be right, yet you cannot fear making a mistake. If you do, it will eat away at your confidence. You’ll always wonder if there’s another mistake around the corner ready to set you back. That’s no way to live. Furthermore, when you fear making an error, you’re less likely to give your full effort to whatever task or activity you’re doing. In a way, it’s like being open to vulnerability when you’re putting yourself out there in a relationship. Sure, it may feel a little uncomfortable, even risky, yet that’s the only way to truly experience life. If you stumble, making a mistake, figure out what happened and why. When you learn from what you did and determine how to avoid that mistake the next time, you’re stocking your emotional recovery toolkit with useful information that helps increase your confidence that you have what it takes to get the job done.

In addition, when you make a mistake and own up to it, if you have good supervisors, they’ll recognize the value of an employee who has the courage to do so and the sense to learn from their mistake. In this case, everyone wins. If your bosses don’t like mistakes and ding you for making them, maybe you can work on finding work elsewhere somewhere down the line. I know that sounds hard to do, but it happened to me and I did put together a plan to find new employment – more suitable employment – and eventually was successful. Another self-confidence booster – and it works. If I can do it, you can too.

Get help from therapy.

If you’re seriously lacking in self-confidence, have low self-esteem – and particularly if you experience prolonged sadness, grief, depression or anxiety, get professional assistance in the form of counseling or psychiatric therapy. How do I know this works? While I wasn’t clinically depressed, after years of feeling I was performing at less than my full potential, and making some decidedly wrong behavioral choices to cope, I sought counseling and benefitted immensely from it. Note that this was years before getting therapy was considered socially acceptable and was something you hid from friends, family and everyone else. Today, actually for quite a few years, it’s considered healthy to seek counseling when you have emotional and/or compulsive, dependent or addictive behaviors that are wreaking havoc on your life.

Therapy can give you a significant boost of self-confidence when you stick with it and truly make the kind of lifestyle changes that add value, bring you to a fuller realization of your life’s purpose and help you pursue your hopes and dreams.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

Why It’s Good That You’re Not Perfect

How to Keep Frustration From Blocking Your Goals

How to Manage Your Anger

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10 Ways Nature Helps Your Well-Being

10 Ways Stress Harms You

Best Way to Effect Change

15 Ways to Increase Your Happiness

10 Tips on Reaching Your Life Goals

How to Tap Into Your Capabilities

The Incredible Value of Dreams

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

 

 

Surprising New Pain Relief Methods

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on Picography

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on Picography

 

If you are one of the more than 100 million Americans suffering with chronic pain, you know how desperate you can get searching for relief. For constant or chronic pain, sometimes knowing that you can only get temporary relief from medications sits at the back of your brain and sets up pain anticipation. Shouldn’t there be a better way, an approach or approaches that don’t rely on pharmaceutical drugs to combat pain? According to new research, there are some new pain relief methods that look very promising to do just that.

TREATMENT FROM STRANGERS MAY PROVIDE UNEXPECTED PAIN RELIEF

It may seem counter-intuitive, yet a study conducted by researchers from the University of Würzburg, Amsterdam and Zurich found that participants treated for pain by strangers (medical professionals from a different social group) experienced stronger pain relief than when they received pain treatment by someone from their own social group. Participants rated their pain “less intense” after being treated by strangers, and the reactions were reductions in both subjective and pain-related activation areas of the brain corresponding to the pain. Researchers call this “prediction error learning,” otherwise known as the analgesic effect of surprise. Patients didn’t expect to experience pain relief from strangers, and the less they expected to receive pain relief, the greater their surprise and the more pronounced their actual pain relief afterward.

HIGHER MINDFULNESS MAY LESSEN PAIN

Long suspected to play a role in providing pain relief, mindfulness now gets a thumbs-up in a study just published in the journal Pain. In the study, supported by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), researchers from Wake Forest University and some other collaborating institutions looked at how participants with no prior experience with meditation fared after completing the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory and then two testing sessions with a magnetic resonance imaging scanner (MRI) and thermal probe and the delivery of minor lower-leg heat stimuli (sometimes uncomfortable). Results showed that those with higher innate mindfulness reported feeling less pain. Their responses to the pain stimuli (heat) showed up in areas of the brain (the precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex) involved in attention and subjective emotional responses to sensations. In other words, this brain area is thought to have a role in how you react to experiences. Researchers point to the study’s usefulness moving forward with nonpharmacological approaches to pain management that, in addition to mindfulness, may include biofeedback and behavioral therapies targeting increasing mindfulness and reductions in this brain region.

A meta-analysis of mindfulness meditation’s effectiveness in reducing migraine pain found that it may reduce the intensity of pain from migraine and shows promise as a viable, complementary treatment option for patients with primary headache. The 2018 study was published in the Chinese Medical Journal.

PROMISING DUAL-TARGET PAIN RELIEVER WITHOUT OPIOID SIDE EFFECTS

First, the bad news: it’s not available yet. Second, the good news: scientists are working to develop a dual-targeting painkiller that is an effective analgesic without any opioid painkiller side effects. Opioids have long been known for their effective pain relief and work by activating the mu opioid peptide (MOP) receptor. Yet, MOP side effects can be severe: dependence, tolerance, respiratory depression, hyperalgesia, and even lead to addiction. Researchers have developed a bifunctional nociceptin and mu opioid receptor agonist called AT-121 that reportedly provides potent pain relief in primates without causing dependence, hyperalgesia or respiratory depression. The hope is that AT-121 may prove to be a safe and effective prescription pain reliever to treat humans suffering chronic pain.

HOME-BASED VIDEO GAME EXERCISES FOR CHRONIC LOW-BACK PAIN

It turns out there’s another target group who can benefit from playing video games: older adults with chronic low-back pain. That’s according to 2018 research from the University of Sydney published in Physical Therapy. This is a first-of-its-kind study looking at how effective home-based video game exercises benefit pain reduction in people over the age of 55 using a Nintendo Wii-Fit-U. Results showed participants had 27 percent reduction in chronic low back pain and the exercises gave them 23 percent increase in function. The 8-week self-managed program consisted of 60-minute exercise sessions of aerobic, strengthening and flexibility three days a week. The results were comparable to exercise completed in a physiotherapist-monitored exercise program. The video game exercise program offers older adults with chronic low back pain a cost-effective solution that doesn’t require them to travel outside the home – and helps them to self-manage their pain and continue daily life activities despite having pain.

OTHER PAIN RELIEF STAND-BYS THAT WORK

While research continues on novel methods to effectively treat pain, including some that may be years off in reaching the marketplace, there are some therapies that have loyal adherents and are backed by research to provide non-opioid relief from pain. They may not work for everyone in every instance of chronic pain, but the fact that they do work for a significant number of individuals seeking pain relief at least offers pain sufferers viable alternatives to taking potentially-addicting painkillers.

MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION AND COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL THERAPY

Results of a study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health found that the combination of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may prove “more effective than usual treatment in alleviate chronic low back pain.” MBSR combines elements of mindfulness meditation and yoga. CBT, on the other hand, trains individuals to modify specific beliefs and thoughts relative to pain. Researchers studied participants who used MBSR and CBT or usual treatment for one year. At 26 and 52 weeks, participants using both mind-body approaches experienced better functioning and less back pain than the usual care group. Both groups (mind-body and usual care) received relief in terms of pain intensity and some mental health measurements, those using CBT didn’t see continuing improvement after 26 weeks. The MBSR group, however, did continue to see improvement. Researchers suggested that MBSR may be an “effective” form of treatment for people suffering chronic low back pain.

A form of psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven helpful to individuals struggling with chronic pain. By utilizing several methods, CBT helps pain sufferers to cope more effectively with chronic pain, better manage it, change their pain response behaviors, and boost their self-confidence that they can be an active participant in reducing their pain – and do so successfully. CBT is considered the psychological gold standard of treatment for a wide variety of pain. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses have shown the efficacy of CBT in reducing pain distress, pain interference with daily activities, distress, and disability.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

Related Posts:

We All Get Sick Sometimes: How to Keep Going When You Feel Miserable

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

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The Incredible Value of Dreams

To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

10 Dangers of Always Making Safe Choices

Photo by Elena Prokofyeva on Unsplash

Photo by Elena Prokofyeva on Unsplash

“I don’t want an uneventful and safe life. I prefer an adventurous one.” – Isabel Allende

 

Every day you make choices. Some you make without thinking, part of a routine you’ve become accustomed to. Others you think about for a long time before deciding – if you do – to act. What most of us don’t realize, however, is that the time for making choices is not infinite. You can procrastinate too long in making a decision and the opposite of that, acting too quickly and always going for the safe choice isn’t wise either.

What are some dangers of always making safe choices? You might be surprised. Yet there are proactive steps you can take to modify your decision-making approach, so you avoid these dangers and enjoy the rewards from taking calculated risks.

1.    Life lacks excitement.

A boring life may be safe, yet who wants to live bored all the time? That’s the trouble with safe choices – you’re not likely to get into trouble, yet you’re not likely to find yourself excited about too much either. Think of excitement as a vitamin you need for health and well-being. Life is all about opportunities to sample myriad experiences. Adjust your mindset to welcome the slightly less safe choice with more potential to add excitement to your life.

2.    Growth may stall.

When you stick with what you know, what you’re familiar with and comfortable doing, you may never challenge yourself to add more skills or increase your knowledge base. That can be detrimental to future growth, not to mention current satisfaction with life. It’s tough to venture outside your familiar routine, yet you can take incremental steps to encourage positive growth with some calculated choices.

3.    Fear prevents discovery.

If you’d like to make a bold choice, yet you’re afraid of what you may encounter, you’ll stymie discovery. This is just as bad as stalling growth and usually accompanies always making safe choices. Perhaps you can take a reasonable risk to overcome fear and help broaden your world-view, enhance your experiences, see or try something new. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

4.    It’s difficult to meet new people.

Still seeing the same people, the ones you always know will be the same no matter what? There’s nothing wrong with lasting friendships, yet there comes a time when you must move beyond childhood friends or broaden your sphere of friends to add new ones who share your changing interests, attitudes, values or are in a career or vocation you aspire to. Join different types of groups, from those pertaining to hobbies and recreational activities, to travel, educational, sports and other desirable pursuits.

5.    Intimate relationships may suffer.

No doubt you know some individuals whose partners or spouses left them for someone more exciting, a companion who knew how to keep their interest and was brimming with life, active, happy and engaged in proactive pursuits. Who wouldn’t want to be with such a vibrant personality? When your daily life and interaction with the man or woman closest to you is just so-so, expect some turbulence ahead. Besides, life consists of change, some good, some heartbreaking, some in-between. Wouldn’t you want to share your deepest experiences with your loved one in a forthright and loving manner? This, however, requires that you step off the safe choice path and embark on a bit of a risk-taking journey. Most importantly, you must be willing to be vulnerable for true emotional intimacy. That’s a scary choice, yet one worth making.

6.    Potential goes unrealized.

How can you ever reach your true potential if you stay in the same course you’ve always taken? Not only do you forego the many opportunities that come your way because you won’t allow yourself to entertain them or don’t see them in the first place, you also have no idea just what you can become or how good your skills and talents are. Instead of wasting your potential, create your ideal scenario, what your life would look like if you achieved everything you ever wanted and more. This isn’t the end of striving to achieve your potential, just the beginning.

7.    Happiness remains an elusive goal.

If you remain stunted, lacking excitement, fearful of what you may discover by making bolder choices, still sticking with a safe daily routine, you may find that you’re always somewhat less happy than you’d like to be. This may be because happiness involves energy, involvement, challenging yourself and working to achieve desirable goals. Think of something you’d like to be successful at. Then, craft a plan and a strategy to achieve it. Start small, keeping in mind that success builds upon success. There’s plenty of time to get more creative after you’ve embarked on a path of smart and motivating choices in your decision-making.

8.    You’re never the go-to expert, only the go-along guy.

The employee who always takes the safe route, never going beyond what’s acceptable, customary and familiar, will never be a leader. Others will gravitate toward the individual who dares to be bold, who is engaging, or who is smart enough to recognize that what’s needed are new ideas with a likelihood to succeed. To counter a tendency to be middle-of-the-road in your work decision-making, try stepping a little outside your normal safe course of action. You won’t know how much of a difference it will make until you try.

9.    Nothing motivates you.

Like boredom, lack of motivation is a quick way to smother joy of life. Doing the same safe thing every day starts to look like a lifelong pattern. No wonder it’s difficult to get motivated to do anything, especially anything new. Remembering how jazzed you felt when you enthusiastically went after something you really wanted? Recapture that feeling and apply it to some new task or pursuit today. Positive motivation can be powerfully rewarding as a stepping-stone to success.

10. Success seems unattainable.

Speaking of success, if it always seems just out of reach, could the reason be that you’re always taking the safe route, making choices destined to create no waves – or cause any excitement? To succeed in anything, you must be willing to entertain risks – calculated ones, that is – to do the hard work despite minor or major setbacks, and to keep on even when you’d rather quit. The results will be worth the emotional journey you may experience in the process. For, as Socrates reportedly said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Surprising Research on Cannabis

Photo by Rick Proctor on Unsplash

Photo by Rick Proctor on Unsplash

Much of what we think we know about cannabis may soon change as a result of new research that uncovers some surprising facts. Indeed, the topic, which can be emotionally charged, is the focus of intense scientific study. Is cannabis good for you? Is it addictive? What long-term harms can use cause? The answers to these questions are multi-layered and not always clear-cut, which is why cannabis research continues with even more urgency.

FACTS ON CANNABIS ADDICTION AND DEPENDENCE

Current estimates are that one in 10 cannabis users will develop cannabis addiction or dependence. The potency of the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive constituent in marijuana, in today’s cannabis is much higher than in years past. Besides traditional marijuana use, designer drugs created from synthetic cannabinoids are growing in popularity – along with increased concern for their unknown addiction potential and negative health effects. According to a report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction, at least 169 different synthetic cannabinoid compounds have been discovered since detection of the market’s first synthetic cannabinoid in 2008.

Using gene-based testing, four genes have been identified that are significantly associated with lifetime cannabis use:

  • Neural cell adhesion molecule 1 (NCAM1) – which is also associated with substance abuse
  • Cell adhesion molecule 2 (CADM2)
  • Potassium sodium-activated channel subfamily T member 2 (KCNT2)
  • Short coiled-coil protein (SCOC)

While vulnerability to starting cannabis use and developing cannabis use disorder (CUD) is heritable, other risk factors are believed to speed the transition. These risk factors include:

  • Age of first use of cannabis
  • Drug use by peers
  • Availability of drugs
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Early adolescent smoking and/or drinking
  • Presence of pre- or comorbid psychiatric conditions — including mood disorders, psychosis, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Other studies found certain biological and personality traits – such as impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and schizotypy – are positively correlated with youths and young adults initiating cannabis use.

CANNABIS AFFECTS WOMEN DIFFERENTLY

Comprehensive research published in Frontiers in Behavioral Science outlines some fascinating details of the differences between men and women when it comes to the effect of cannabis. The bottom line is that women are more likely to become addicted to cannabis than men. In addition to genetic background and fluctuations in hormones, here are some of the study’s findings, using animal models:

  • Men are four times more likely than women to try cannabis.
  • Men are also more likely to use cannabis more frequently than their female counterparts.

The male sex steroids (including natural sex steroid testosterone and synthetic steroids such as nandrolone) increase risk-taking and suppress the reward system in the brain. This could explain why men are more willing to experiment with drugs, including cannabis.

Women, on the other hand, seem to be more vulnerable to developing an addiction to cannabis, at least on a neurochemical level. To put it plainly, females can transition from first use to habit more rapidly than men. The rodent studies showed researchers that the female hormone estradiol affects three targets of drug-taking: control of movement, filtering of sensory input to the brain, and social behavior. This occurs through modulation of the endocannabinoid system which, in turn, influences the production of estradiol.

In addition to different levels of endocannabinoids, female rats have more sensitive receptors than males in the specific brain areas related to the three drug-taking targets – plus, significant changes along the female rats’ menstrual cycle.

Researchers noted that the result is that “the interactions between the endocannabinoid system and brain level of dopamine – the neurotransmitter of ‘pleasure’ and ‘reward’ – are sex-dependent.”

They suggest that gaining a deeper understanding of how cannabinoids and sex steroids interact is both crucial to assess the effect of increasing cannabis use and to effectively deal with the results. For example, cannabis addiction detoxification treatments and relapse prevention may be gender-tailored for better effectiveness. Still, much further research needs to be done to make evidence-based progress in this area.

MARIJUANA EXTRACT CBD OFFERS PAIN RELIEF WITHOUT THE HIGH

For the millions of Americans suffering with chronic pain, there’s promising research that shows that pinpointing an effective dose of cannabidiol (CBD), an extract from the marijuana plant can provide safe relief from chronic pain minus the adverse effects of THC from marijuana. Researchers from Canada’s McGill University Health Centre, using animal models and administering low doses of CBD over a period of seven days reduced both pain and anxiety – two symptoms commonly associated with chronic or neuropathic pain. The researchers say this is encouraging evidence for the use of CBD over THC or opioids for pain management in conditions that include sciatica, diabetic cancer, back pain, chronic pain and pain that occurs post-trauma. CBD became legal in Canada in mid-October 2018, following passage of the country’s Cannabis Act. More robust clinical trials are needed, say researchers, for the kind of evidence-based proof of CBD’s effectiveness and safety to provide pain relief for humans.

In another study published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers from Syracuse University found that cannabinoid drugs do not reduce the intensity of chronic pain, but they do perhaps make the pain feel more tolerable and less unpleasant. Even though 30 states allow medical marijuana use, cannabis is still a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance as classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This presents significant challenges for research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis. As a result, there is a lack of high-quality evidence supporting the effectiveness of cannabis in treating chronic pain.

CANNABIS USE ACCELERATES BRAIN AGING

In the largest known imaging study of the brain, researchers affiliated with several California institutions, including Amen Clinics, Inc., Google, Inc., UCLA Medical Center, UCSF Medical Center, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, found that cannabis use is one of the drivers of accelerated brain aging. Using brain SPECT (single photon emission computer tomography) to evaluate 30,000 scans from individuals ranging in age from 9 months to 105 years, researchers say they can now track common disorders and behaviors that prematurely age the brain. Schizophrenia, for example, contributed to an average 4 year early brain aging, while cannabis abuse accelerated brain aging by 2.8 years. Other disorders found to amp up brain aging were bipolar disorder (1.6 years), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (1.4 years), and alcohol abuse (0.6 years). Researchers pointed out that the results of this study should give everyone pause, especially considering the current cultural perception that cannabis use is innocuous. They added that better treatment of these disorders could slow or even halt the brain aging process.

STONED DRIVING ON THE RISE

The most prevalent detected intoxicant in drivers in the United States isn’t alcohol, it’s THC. Approximately 13 percent of drivers tested positive for marijuana, compared with about 8 percent for measurable amounts of alcohol. Despite findings that cannabis intoxication (stoned driving) while driving impairs reaction time and visual-spatial judgement, a plurality of cannabis users believe that cannabis has no effect or decreases crash risk, while only 38 percent think that driving under the influence of cannabis increases crash risk. This underestimation of risks of cannabis intoxication plus current cannabis consumption trends suggest cannabis-impaired driving may significantly contribute to highway injury and death. Alcohol and other drugs combined with cannabis use may “more than additively” increase highway risk.

TEEN CANNABIS USE PRESENTS RISKS TO COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT

Research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that adolescent cannabis use is associated with concurrent and lagged effect on cognitive functioning, such as working memory, memory recall, perceptual reasoning, and inhibitory control. The lasting effects of cannabis use on inhibitory control is particularly concerning, since inhibitory control is a risk factor for other addictive behaviors. Early onset of cannabis use during adolescence results in even more pronounced cognitive and behavioral effects. Researchers highlighted the importance of protecting youth from the adverse consequences of cannabis consumption through more investment in drug-prevention programs.

CANNABIS USE MAY INCREASE HYPERTENSION RISK OF DEATH THREE-FOLD

Research published in the European Journal of Cardiology has found a three-fold increased risk of death from hypertension due to cannabis use. Compared to non-users, marijuana users had a risk of hypertension death that was 3.42 times higher – and an additional 1.04 greater risk for each year of cannabis use. Researchers pointed out that this finding is not surprising, considering that marijuana use is known to have multiple effects on the cardiovascular system, including increases in heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen demand. Cases of heart attack and angina have been reported in hospital emergency departments after cannabis use. They cautioned that the cardiovascular risk associated with marijuana use may be even greater than the risk already established for cigarette smoking.

 *  *  *

This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

 

 

Limiting Time on Social Media Increases Well-Being

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

“Today, spend a little time cultivating relationships offline. Never forget that everybody isn’t on social media.” – Germany Kent

 

If you are among those who anxiously check the posts of your social media contacts because you obsessively have to know what’s going on in their world and can’t seem to curb your urge to remain riveted to your feed, new research on the negative effect of too much social media on well-being is worth reviewing.

I recently spoke with Melissa G. Hunt, one of the authors of “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression,” published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Hunt and her research colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, in a 2018 study, alleged there is a causal link between usage of social media and loneliness and depression. They say that spending inordinate amounts of time on popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat does more than connect users to their contacts. It’s also making them decidedly more miserable, promoting greater feelings of loneliness and depression.

During the period of the study, participants in the research significantly reduced their time on social media for about three weeks. The result was they reported reduced feelings of loneliness and depression.

Researchers said that the fear of missing out (FOMO) is what drives people to obsess over social media, spending extraordinary amounts of time in this sedentary activity. They strongly recommend limiting screen time to about 30 minutes a day, saying that this simple self-limiting measure may lead to “significant improvement in well-being.”

Why do people use social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, if it makes them feel lonelier and more depressed?

MGH: Social media companies hire experts whose job is to make the sites as appealing and addictive as possible.  For example, they use algorithms to ensure that you are getting “new” information, and “likes” on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule.  That is, things appear at intervals to reward you for logging on and spending time.

Social media also gives the appearance of engagement and intimacy and sites like Instagram promise to keep you up to speed on the latest trends.  Women have been reading “women’s” magazines for decades, and we know that reading them decreases self-esteem and increases body image concerns and self-loathing.  Certain types of social media are no different.

What do you say to those who complain that social media is essential in today’s world, that they can’t live without it? Isn’t this an impossible recommendation, suggesting people limit their time? Or, can they get the benefit of social media with less screen time?

MGH: It might be unrealistic to suggest foregoing social media completely (although I do).  That’s why we didn’t require that.  We just asked people to limit themselves to 30 minutes per day.  That’s more than enough time to catch up with friends, find out when your study group is meeting, and like your cousin’s cute kid picture.  It prevents going down the “rabbit hole” of clicking randomly, following celebrities, or cyber stalking your ex’s new flame.

How do you wean yourself off social media? Any quick tips?

MGH: Self-monitoring seems to help.  Although we didn’t study them, apps that increase your awareness of how much you’re using (like In Moment and Space) may well help people become more mindful and self-aware.

Do you know of other studies that document how social media fuels loneliness and depression?

MGH: There are many correlational studies out there that establish the association, and a number that suggest that social media fosters social comparison that makes you feel bad about your own life, and FOMO that makes you aware of all the things you weren’t invited to and weren’t included in.

I think that social media tends to foster inauthentic connection.  True intimacy involves sharing both life’s highlights and the terrible times.  Things you’re proud of, and things you’re sad or anxious or embarrassed about.  Social media tends to reward only the highlights, and that doesn’t lead to true intimacy or social support.

 *  *  *

SUGGESTED WAYS TO LIMIT SCREEN TIME.

It’s not all dire. You don’t have to completely withdraw from social media. Indeed, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Hunt, you can reap the benefits of moderate limitations on your social media consumption. The next and most obvious question is, how do you limit social media time? Here are some suggestions.

Get an app for that.

Apple, the maker of perhaps the most popular smartphone in the world, recently made an update available that helps its users set limits on certain apps they use and track those that take up so much of their time. The update section this pertains to is called Screen Time.

Meanwhile, there are several apps that allow users to limit how much time they’re using their phones. These, of course, vary in terms of how intensely you limit phone time.

Yet another potential help for limiting social media time is the use of browser extensions such as StayFocusd, available through the Chrome web store. The idea is that users are allowed a certain amount of time on the website and then the screen is locked – and there’s no way back in. Check out the so-called “nuclear option” that prevents users from going into a specific website altogether. Now, that is a bit extreme, but it is out there.

Exert self-discipline.

Not everyone is blessed with the ability to not only set limits on how much social media time they’ll engage in, but actually follow through with the discipline it takes to do so effectively. Think of all the other things you could be doing instead of frittering away hours poring over likes, comments, postings and the like. Maybe enlist a trusted friend, a loved one or family member to get you out of the house and doing something in real time, with live people (not digital connections). What a concept!

Disable (temporarily) all social media notifications.

Another helpful way to curb your constant social media obsession (if not quite social media addiction) is to turn off or disable the notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media time-wasting sites. No more suffering through the anxiety-provoking habit of having to instantly reply to every notification. This doesn’t have to be a permanent deletion, just a temporary pause to allow you to get back in the realm of living in the present and interacting with real people.

Go colorless.

In the world of social media, just as in any websites, advertising, TV programs and other forms of media that grab attention, color is king. The brighter the color, the more enticing, right? As an experiment to see if this can help you ratchet down your social media consumption, use grayscale to make the sites less attractive. When everything is in shades of gray, it’s easier to forego the temptation to linger there. On iPhones, hit settings, general, accessibility, display accommodations, color filters (turn this on), and then grayscale. That’s it, you’ve made your screen colorless.

Get rid of your phone – or leave it home.

A bit more extreme is the suggestion you ditch your phone completely. Like that would ever happen in today’s always-on society. You could try leaving it at home while you go out for a walk. That would give you a social-media breather at least. It might even persuade you that you don’t need to be tethered to your phone. After all, you’re not really missing out on anything. All that social media interaction will still be there after you return from a well-deserved (and much-needed) break.

Make it a point to be with people who appreciate you for who you are.

Nobody’s perfect. Each of us has flaws and traits we’d like to minimize, as well as talents we wish we had or accomplishments we’d love to broadcast. The problem with too much time wasted on social media is that everybody else looks better than we do. That’s not reality and it certainly does nothing for our self-esteem. A proven remedy to increase well-being is also one of the easiest to implement: Spend time with those who appreciate you for who you are. Laugh together. Share a meal. Go to a movie. Garden, spend time in nature, take in a concert, do various types of activities together. In fact, once you resurrect the in-person kind of communication, you’ll find that digital connections are a pale and distant substitute.

 *  *  *

A version of this article was originally published on Psych Central. However, the interview with Melissa G. Hunt is new.

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To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

 

 

New Research on Gambling Use Disorder

Photo by Benjamin Lambert on Unsplash

Photo by Benjamin Lambert on Unsplash

“Gambling: The sure way of getting nothing from something.” – Wilson Mizner

 

Who doesn’t enjoy a game of chance now and then? Trying your luck on an inexpensive lottery ticket can seem innocent enough, and might even net you considerable return. Spurred on by the lure of winning the big jackpot through television, radio, Internet, newspaper and other media ads may even prompt you to spend more than you intended. And it’s not just lottery tickets that people become hooked on but other forms of gambling as well: horse racing, slot machines, card games, sports betting. It should come as no surprise, then, that gambling use disorder (GUD) has steadily gained prominence as another form of addiction.

New research on gambling addiction and GUD is both illuminating, troubling, and promising with respect to prevention, treatment and recovery.

Gambling Officially Recognized in DSM-5 as Behavioral Addiction

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) took gambling out of the “Impulse Control Disorder” section and reclassified gambling disorder as part of the expanded section covering “Substance-related and Addictive Disorders.” With this action, gambling disorder is the first non-substance behavioral addiction. A 2016 review in Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation examined the similarities and differences between gambling disorder and substance use disorders (SUDs) and found many shared characteristics, some of which include diagnostic criteria, comorbidity, genetic and physiological factors, even approaches to treatment.

Suicide Rates Increasing Among Those with Gambling Disorder

While previous research found that gambling disorder appeared to be an independent risk factor for suicide, and few studies looked at all-cause mortality as it relates to gambling disorder, 2018 research published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions explored both mortality and suicide rates in those with gambling disorder and the general population, as well as risk factors associated with mortality due to suicide and all causes. Their findings showed significantly elevated rates of mortality and suicide among those with gambling disorder. Furthermore, even though common comorbid mental health issues did not predict overall mortality, depression was found to predict suicide death. Researchers suggested that medical and mental health professionals pay attention to long-term risk of death in their patients with gambling disorder and promote effective interventions for mental health and other comorbid conditions.

Personality Disorders Consistently Associated with Pathological Gambling

In 2017 review published in Current Opinion in Psychiatry, researchers found a strong association between pathological gambling and personality disorders. They noted that studies consistently showed that the presence of a personality disorder is associated with severity of gambling and early age of onset of pathological gambling. Researchers called for further research on pathological gambling that goes beyond merely estimating rates of personality disorders and instead concentrate on longitudinal research to understand both the pathways between personality disorders and the early onset and severity of pathological gambling.

Disordered Gamblers Seeking Treatment Frequently Have Psychological Distress

What used to be called problem gambling or pathological gambling is now generally referred to as disordered gambling, according to several sources, including the New York Council on Problem Gambling. A 2017 study published in the Journal on Gambling Studies examined psychological distress as an indicator of co-occurring psychopathology among disordered gamblers seeking treatment. They found evidence of severe gambling pathology among those with greater levels of psychological distress. Furthermore, greater scores of psychological distress was found to significantly predict anxiety, depression, and deviancy. Researchers suggested that clinicians treating disordered gamblers may want to conduct a brief screening to check for the presence of co-occurring psychopathology, especially with reference to measures of psychological distress. The results could greatly aid clinicians in determining effective treatment approaches for disordered gamblers with psychological distress.

Co-morbid PTSD and Gambling-Related Cognitions: How They Affect Treatment

A 2018 study published in Addictive Behaviors looked at the association of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and gambling disorder in individuals with both conditions. Researchers sought to determine how PTSD might be related to specific gambling-related cognitions in terms of expression and experience. Hypothesizing that those with symptoms of PTSD (or symptoms of PTSD, even if undiagnosed) would show greater erroneous beliefs and cognitive distortions about gambling, researchers found the study participants consistently reported greater gambling-related cognitions. This led researchers to suggest that PTSD is uniquely associated with increased levels of cognitive distortions and erroneous beliefs about gambling and, further, that the findings both add to current understanding about the relation of PTSD and gambling to each other and to treatment of those diagnosed with the co-morbid conditions.

Other 2018 research published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors postulated that PTSD symptoms were likely to be associated with unique beliefs about types of gambling behavior and unique motivations to gamble. Researchers studying two groups, an inpatient group of U.S. Armed Forces veterans in treatment for gambling disorder and an online sample of gambling adults found that symptoms of PTSD were related to positive expectancies for gambling and consistently associated with greater coping mechanisms for gambling for both sample groups. Researchers said that the high co-morbidity of symptoms of PTSD and gambling disorder are likely of interest for clinicians treating individuals for either PTSD or gambling disorder (or both).

Flashing Casino Lights/Sounds: Influence Risky Decision-making and Promote Problem Gambling?

Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience indicates a possible connection between the sensory cues of flashing lights and sounds in casinos and increased risky decision-making, potentially even promoting problem gambling behavior. Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that individual choices were less influenced by the odds of winning when the gambling environment featured the audio and visual sensory cues. In other words, they took more risks in gambling despite the odds. Researchers suggested that the findings might help explain why individuals continue to gamble even though the odds of winning are against them. In addition, they said that gambling sights and sounds are far from innocuous and may form an important piece of the puzzle surrounding gambling addiction in that such environmental cues encourage risky decision-making and bias attention.

 *  *  *

This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

Can You Sleep Too Much (or Too Little)?

Photo by Ryan Hutton on Unsplash

“Sleep is that golden chain that ties our health and our bodies together.” – Thomas Dekker

 

I used to think you could never get too much sleep. Of course, that was years ago when I was chronically sleep deprived due to working full-time, going to college at night, raising my kids as a single mom, and trying to have some sort of social life when they were with their other parent. Turns out, there’s a growing body of research that points to the negative effects of either too much or too little sleep.

Too little or too much sleep can affect metabolic health.

Concerned about an expanding waistline? Prone to getting less sleep or more than you need? There’s scientific basis for the link between too little and too much sleep and metabolic syndrome and increasing waistlines in Korean men and women aged 40-69 years in one recent study. Researchers said the study’s observational nature did not allow for cause and effect conclusions, noting that participants provided sleep duration data and estimates may reflect time in bed and not necessarily time slept. Other studies have reported that short-duration sleepers (less than 5 hours per night) are up to 45 percent more likely to be obese.

Excessive and inadequate sleep can affect memory and cognition.

Chronically sleep-deprived people, says Harvard Health Publishing,  are more likely to have high blood pressure, narrowed blood vessels, and diabetes – each of which cause less blood flow inside the brain. Since the brain requires a good flow of oxygen and sugar to work optimally, too little sleep can contribute to memory problems. Those who get too much sleep, on the other hand, aren’t off the hook memory-wise as their quality of sleep may suffer, which could add to thinking and memory problems during the day.

Excessive daytime sleepiness can be particularly troubling for older adults. Researchers found that cognitive deficits and cognitive impairment may be predicted by excessive daytime sleepiness among the elderly. Excessive sleepiness, or hypersomnolence, has two main symptoms: excessive amount of sleep, and poor quality of awakening. Hypersomnolence is the leading cause of road accidents, and is responsible for increased risk of mortality related to neurodegenerative diseases.

If you’re an early riser, you may be less prone to depression.

Researchers are delving into pertinent data showing that middle-aged to older women who get up early may be significantly less likely to develop depression. The largest observational study to-date looks at the link between chronotype (also known as sleep-wake preference) and mood disorders. Researchers found that, even after accounting for such factors as work schedules and light exposure, chronotype, partly influenced by genetics, seems to have a mild influence on depression. The four-year study involved nearly 33,000 female nurses who were free of depression at the start of the study. Thirty-three percent self-described their sleep pattern as early-riser, 53 percent intermediate, and 10 percent evening types. After four years of follow-up, researchers found that early risers had 12-27 percent lower risk of depression than intermediate types, while late-riser types had a 6 percent higher risk of being depressed, although this was not considered statistically significant.

One study found that excessive sleep is “highly associated” with dysthymic disorder and major depressive disorder. Those researchers also found that many anxiety disorders are “associated with prolonged sleep episodes accompanied by consequences/distress.”

Better cardiovascular health is associated with early-rise behavior.

More good news for early risers is the apparent association such behavior has on better cardiovascular health. Researchers in the UK Biobank study found that those who are early to bed and early to rise are “more conscientious and are goal-getters.” They also spent less time in front of electronic devices, ate more fruit and vegetables daily than late chronotypes. Survey participants categorized as evening persons also tended to watch more television and were twice as likely to smoke tobacco than intermediate types and 45 percent more likely to smoke than adequate sleepers. Researchers noted that more study is needed to determine if sleep metrics can predict better cardiovascular health behaviors and if sleep behavior modification can enhance heart health.

If you sleep too much, you may have a sleep disorder.

For those who constantly sleep too much, sleeping longer than 8 hours a night, often napping during the day, finding it difficult to stay awake, the underlying cause may be a sleep disorder known as hypersomnia. Besides excessive sleepiness throughout the day not relieved by napping, hypersomnia sufferers may also experience anxiety, memory problems and low energy. The American Sleep Association states that more men than women have hypersomnia, with prevalence at 5 percent of the population. The ASA also reports that 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder of some kind.

The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, affecting about 30 percent of the adult population with short-term insomnia, and about 10 percent suffering chronic insomnia. Other forms of sleep disorder and sleep-related breathing disorders include, narcolepsy, snoring, and central sleep. Circadian-rhythm sleep disorders include jet lag, shift work, and delayed, advanced, irregular and non-24-hour sleep-wake rhythm. Parasomnias and sleep-movement disorders round out the category of sleep disorders.

Insufficient sleep over a prolonged period can affect your mental and emotional states.

If you’re perpetually sleep-deprived, your brain is exhausted, unable to adequately perform its duties. Besides difficulty concentrating, your brain’s ability to send signals to other parts of your body may be delayed, which could prove fatal when driving, using dangerous equipment, trying to avoid life-threatening situations. Lengthy periods of sleep deprivation can result in other problems with your mental and emotional states, including hallucinations, trigger mania in those with manic depression, or amp up risks of paranoia, depression, impulsive behavior, and suicidal thoughts.

If you suffer from the effects of too much or too little sleep, help is available. Besides tips for getting better sleep, make an appointment to see a sleep professional or your general practitioner to have tests to determine the cause of excessive or insufficient sleep, as well as how to get back to getting the right amount of sleep you need nightly.

*  *  *

This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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In Search of Better Sleep

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To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

“The real meditation practice is how we live our lives from moment to moment to moment.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

As someone who strives daily to be the best I can be, to be present in the moment, minimize stress and appreciate the beauty and preciousness of life, I’m always keen to learn about scientifically-proven new health benefits of mindfulness meditation.

Get better sleep.

Anyone who’s suffered the lingering mental and physical effects of a poor night’s sleep on a regular basis, as I have on numerous occasions in the past, can appreciate this all-important benefit from mindfulness meditation: better sleep. In fact, research with older adults diagnosed with sleep disturbances found that the practice resulted in significant short-term improvement in sleep quality by remediating sleep problems. Researchers noted this improvement apparently carried over to “reducing sleep-related daytime impairment that has implications for quality of life.”

Make progress toward your weight-loss goals.

If you’ve struggled with yo-yo fluctuations in weight and tried many fad diets and weight-loss crazes, it might be motivating to learn that mindfulness meditation has been shown to be a good strategy to support weight-loss goals. A clinical study involving overweight and obese women found that mindfulness intervention for stress eating, while not designed to induce total weight loss, did stabilize weight among those who were obese. Researchers also found that greater frequency of eating meals mindfully was slightly related to weight loss, noting that, “Minimally, these techniques may support weight maintenance efforts, and actual weight loss might occur for those participants who eat a high proportion of meals mindfully.”

A survey of American Psychological Association licensed psychologists by Consumer Reports found that mindfulness, along with cognitive therapy and problem-solving, are “excellent” or “good” weight loss strategies. That’s because the focus of dieters should be more on the role their emotions play in weight management, rather than solely on exercise and calorie control or eating less.

Lower your stress levels.

It’s a fast-paced society we live in, which contributes to and exacerbates everyday stress. Learning how to control or minimize the effects of stress on body and mind is important in overall health and well-being. So, it’s refreshing to know that a review of 47 clinical trials found that mindfulness meditation programs show “small improvements in stress/distress and the mental health component of health-related quality of life.” Another study found that focusing on the present through the practice of mindfulness can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Decrease loneliness in seniors.

Getting older has its challenges, yet relationships can be deeply satisfying and personally enriching. For many older adults, however, loneliness due to the loss of a spouse or partner can be made worse when there are concurrent medical or psychological conditions or issues to deal with. One study found that an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program reduces loneliness and related pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults.

Banish temporary negative feelings.

Sitting all day at a desk or computer is not good for your overall health and well-being. The often-recommended advice to get up and move is well-founded in research.  A study assessing college students’ daily waking movement-based behaviors found less momentary negative affect from movement with mindfulness in mind and suggested that incorporating mindfulness into daily movement may lead to better overall health benefits.

Improve attention.

Researchers found that brief meditation training (four days) can lead to enhanced ability to sustain attention. Other improvements from brief meditation training included working memory, executive functioning, visuo-spatial processing, reductions in anxiety and fatigue, and increased mindfulness.

Manage chronic pain.

Millions of people suffer with chronic pain, some following an accident that leaves them with a long-term debilitating medical condition, some as a result of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) after serious injury during combat deployment, others due to diagnoses with cancer. Managing chronic pain in a healthier way is the focus of much current research. Indeed, the search for and clinical trials of alternatives to medication to help patient cope with chronic pain continues to gain momentum. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a therapy that combines mindfulness meditation and yoga, has been found to result in significant improvements in pain, anxiety, well-being and ability to participate in daily activities.

Help prevent depression relapse.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), according to a growing body of research, may prove beneficial in preventing depression relapse. A particular strength of the mind-body technique is how it shows participants how to disengage from the kind of highly dysfunctional and deeply felt thoughts that accompany depression. A 2011 study found that MBCT is an effective intervention for depression relapse in patient with at least three prior episodes of major depressive disorder (MDD). Another study found that MBCT provided significant relapse protection for participants with a history of childhood trauma that left them with increased vulnerability for depression.

Reduce anxiety.

Feeling anxious? Researchers have found that even a single session of mindfulness meditation can result in reduced anxiety. For the study, researchers focused on the effect of a single session of mindfulness meditation on participants with high levels of anxiety but normal blood pressure. They found measurable improvements in anxiety following the single mindfulness meditation session and further anxiety reduction one week later. Researchers suggested that a single mindfulness session may help to reduce cardiovascular risk in those with moderate anxiety.

Increase brain gray matter.

Along with the well-documented benefits of mindfulness meditation, another surprising finding of the mind-body practice is that it appears to increase gray matter in the brain. A controlled longitudinal study investigated pre- and post-changes to gray matter that could be attributed to participation in MBSR. Researchers found that increases in gray matter concentration occurred in the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, temporo-parietal junction, and cerebellum. These are the regions involved in memory and learning processes, regulation of emotion, self-referential processing and taking perspective.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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