Research

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.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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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.

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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.

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

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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+.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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In Search of Better Sleep

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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+.

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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10 Ways Stress Harms You

Photo by Breno Machaco/Unsplash

Photo by Breno Machaco/Unsplash

It’s a stressful world out there. Time-crunched, sleep-deprived, overwhelmed at work, home and school does not produce good health, just the opposite. Key among the culprits is stress, sometimes inevitable, but always requiring attention.

In order to begin to find effective approaches to deal with stress, it’s first important to know the many ways stress harms you. Here are 10 findings from research that show just how bad stress is for the human body.

High levels of financial stress can make you look older.

As if you don’t have enough to worry about, a new study published in July 2016 in the journal Research on Aging finds that people with high levels of financial stress looked older and appeared to have aged more over a nine-year period than people with a higher level of confidence in their financial control.

Women’s fertility may be negatively affected by stress.

Research finds that stress appears to lower a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant, particularly stress experienced around the time of ovulation. Stress disrupted the signaling between the brain and ovaries, reducing the chance of ovulation.

Stress can make you fat.

It’s not just that gooey chocolate donut that will add pounds to your frame, but a build-up of stress can wreak havoc by packing on weight. That’s the finding of researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine who say that stress triggers a hormone called Adams1 which generates fat in the human body. In addition to increasing your waistline, this stress-induced fat also accumulates around organs like the pancreas and liver, which increases risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Stress may wipe out benefits of a healthy diet in women.

Researchers at Ohio State University found that the prior day’s stressful events seemed to eradicate any health benefits women might have gained from eating a healthier breakfast that’s rich in “good” monounsaturated fats. The study’s lead researcher, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, said stress complicates the way the body processes food.

Early-life exposure to stress can lead to adult illnesses.

Researchers at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine studied zebrafish embryos chronically exposed to the stress hormone cortisol for just a few days and found that they developed into adults with signs of chronic inflammation and abnormal immune systems. Early-life exposure to chronically elevated levels of cortisol results in lasting developmental changes affecting processes in adult life that are critical to immune system function and regulation.

Stress may exact the greatest toll on younger women with heart disease.

A study of nearly 700 men and women with heart disease found that stress was harder on women aged 50 or younger. They were nearly four times than either men of the same age or older women to have reduced blood flow to the heart. Reduced blood flow can often lead to a heart attack. The study suggested that younger women, who juggle work, family and financial responsibilities and routinely feel stressed need better assessment of life’s stressors and more support coping with them.

Prolonged stress affects short-term memory.

A study from the University of Iowa found a potential link between stress hormones and short-term memory loss in older adults. High levels of cortisol – a natural hormone present in the body that surges when a person is stressed—are the culprit. Short-term spikes in cortisol help a person to cope and respond to life’s challenges, but abnormal spikes like those experienced during long-term stress can wreak havoc on memory by “weathering the brain.”

Stress is linked to breast cancer.

Researchers at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey are studying a link between stress and breast cancer, specifically in the p53 protein. The protein, say researchers, reacts to large numbers of stress signals. If p53 becomes malformed, it could spark an uncontrollable reaction, causing cells to continuously reproduce, and those cells would be considered cancerous. About one in eight women will develop aggressive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. According to the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, more than 40,000 women are expected to die in 2016 due to breast cancer.

Depression, emotional stress may cause type 2 diabetes.

Longitudinal studies suggest that not only depression, but also general emotional stress are associated with an increased risk for the development of type 2 diabetes.

Emotional stress is a trigger for eczema.

The National Eczema Foundation cautions that emotional stress is one of the common triggers for eczema, although it is not known why. In some people, their eczema gets worse when they realize they’re stressed, while others get stressed because they have eczema and their flare-up worsens.

Note that this is not an all-inclusive list of the ways stress harms you. Research continues to uncover how untreated stress punishes the body and mind. If you’re plagued by chronic stress, find effective ways to cope with it. This may include getting professional help, although there are many approaches you can take on your own, including meditation, mindful walking, prioritizing tasks, deep breathing, guided imagery and more.

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