Sleeping fish may help us understand why we snooze

New research reveals that sleep patterns of zebrafish are similar to the slow-wave and REM sleep of humans and other mammals, birds, and lizards. Furthermore, the study suggests that these sleep signatures emerged in the brain of our common ancestor more than 450 million years ago. According to the scientists, a better understanding of how sleep evolved could shine light on the biological processes behind it and perhaps lead to new treatments for sleep disorders. From National Geographic:

Based on our understanding of the evolutionary relationships between fish and mammals, the team suggests that REM-like sleep states evolved more than 450 million years ago, making this type of sleep a deeply held biological phenomenon.

“We share a backbone, but we share much more than that,” says study coauthor Philippe Mourrain, a neuroscientist at Stanford University. “It makes it easier to understand sleep and what it does in ourselves..."

Lead author Louis C. Leung, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, built the microscope responsible for the complex imaging done for the study. Most body activity is choreographed by an intricate network of nerve cells, or neurons. When neurons are active, they release calcium, so researchers genetically engineered the zebrafish to include a protein that would flash fluorescent green when it detected calcium, indicating an area of the body is active...

The advance could be particularly valuable for health professionals seeking to design new drugs to combat the growing epidemic of sleep deprivation in many countries. Better sleep-enhancing drugs could provide some relief for people who struggle to drift off.

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Volunteers spend 60 days in bed... for space science!

Yesterday, 12 adults in Cologne, Germany climbed into special beds where they will remain for 60 days to help scientists better understand the impact of longterm space flights on the human body. Read the rest

"Catching up" on lost sleep may actually do more harm than good

Sleeping late on weekends not only won't help much when it comes to your sleep debt from the week, it can also lead to weight gain, insulin sensitivity, and nighttime hunger. University of Colorado Boulder sleep physiologist Christopher Depner ran a study involving young adults who were assigned different sleep regimens over a two week period, including a group of "weekend recovery sleepers." They report their results in the scientific journal Current Biology. From Science News:

Lack of sleep disrupts appetite-controlling hormones such as leptin, Depner says. And shifts in the weekend sleepers’ natural biological clocks to later hours caused them to get hungry later. During the workweeks, both groups consumed roughly 400 to 650 Calories in late-night snacks, such as pretzels, yogurt and potato chips. By the end of the experiment, people in both groups had gained on average around 1.5 kilograms.

But when it came to insulin sensitivity, the two groups diverged. Sensitivity across all body tissues in the weekend recovery group dropped around 27 percent, compared with their baseline sensitivity measured at the start of the experiment. That was substantially worse than the 13 percent decline in those who consistently had little sleep. And the weekend sleepers were the only ones to have significant declines in liver and muscle cells — both important for food digestion — after a weekend of trying to catch up on sleep....

Peter Liu, a sleep endocrinologist at UCLA, questions whether these results are broadly applicable, especially in people who are chronically sleep deprived.

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Noise-cancelling pillow for bedmates of people who snore

Northern Illinois University researchers have designed a noise-cancelling pillow for people who sleep near loud snorers. It works using the same principle as noise-cancelling headphones but with an adaptive algorithm that changes with the snore. Noise-cancelling headboards have been available for some time, but according to electrical engineering professor Lichuan Liu who led this new research, they're bulky and limited in their efficacy because the "quiet zone" isn't right near the sleeper's ears. From IEEE Spectrum:

(The new approach) involves an adaptive filter that receives two input signals—snoring signals, which are detected by a reference microphone, and residual noise (errors), which are detected by two error microphones. Based on these inputs, the adaptive filter then generates the appropriate antinoise signal, which is emitted by two speakers within the partner’s pillow.

What’s more, conventional noise-canceling systems for snoring have relied on least mean square (LMS) algorithms to generate antinoise. Here, Liu and her colleagues used an adaptive LMS algorithm.

“Since each snorer’s snore signals have their unique time-frequency characteristics, it is essential to design an adaptive LMS algorithm for the best cancellation performance for different snore signals,” says Liu. Thanks to the adaptive LMS, the filter in this system can adjust to the length of an individual’s unique snore, and respond to subtle changes in its acoustic characteristics...

Moving forward, Liu and her colleagues plan to use machine learning techniques to recognize the snore signals that are indicative of sleep disorders, for better screening and monitoring purposes.

"Ear field adaptive noise control for snoring: a real-time experimental approach" (IEEE/CAA Journal of Automatica Sinica) Read the rest

Review: Bose's Noise-Masking Sleepbuds would be great if my brain would let me enjoy them

Even with the drugs I take for my PTSD, I'm still hyper alert than the average person--the car is always kept running, just in case I need it. This makes it hard for me to get to sleep, most nights. Small noises, like our home contracting as the night draws colder, animals outside and passing cars, all conspire to keep me awake. To get around this, I've been using a noise app called Rain Rain on my Android handset and iPhone, for years. But there's nights where even that doesn't work to drown out the aural stimulation keeping me awake. Things like my wife's snoring or my dog getting up for a drink of water are present enough that they cut through the noise. Next thing you know, I'm up until dawn, reading a book or playing video games.

Enter Bose's noise-masking Sleepbuds.

A few months back, Bose brought me to New York to check them out. During their PR team's presentation, it was explained to me that they had a hell of a time trying to figure out how to make an appliance that'd help people to get a good night's sleep. The Sleepbuds use a combination of passive noise cancellation (the block up your ear canals) and a selection of noise loops to block out sounds that might keep someone like me, awake. It was explained to me that the Sleepbuds can't be used for listening to music--they're not designed for that. Sending music to a set of cans, via Bluetooth, uses up a lot of battery power. Read the rest

Nap lounge opens in New York City

Mattress company Casper opened The Dreamery in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood. For $25, you get a 45 minute session in one of the nap pods. You can even borrow a pair of pajamas for your snooze. And of course after you pay for this demo of Casper mattresses, you can buy your very own at their shop just around the corner! From The Dreamery:

Uniquely designed for rest, each Nook is a perfectly private, quiet pod with the most comfortable bed imaginable (a Casper mattress, of course). All bedding is freshly laundered for each new dreamer.

The Nook also features:

• Auto-fading lights • A pendant light for reading • Sound absorbing back wall • Ventilation for airflow • A bedside shelf with outlets

(via Uncrate) Read the rest

Study finds that sleeping in on the weekends is good for you

I sleep in late whenever I can, and have felt vaguely guilty about it because everything I've read about sleep says people are supposed to stick to a strict sleep schedule every day. That's not possible for me, because I often get up very early to catch a morning flight. Sleeping in on the weekends always feels great. Well, it turns out I should keeping following my instincts. You actually *can* catch up on sleep by sawing logs on the weekend.

From Shondaland:

Researchers at Stockholm University discovered that adults who logged up to five hours of sleep every night increased their risk of mortality. However, when people who only slept five hours a night during the week compensated by snoozing nine hours a night on the weekends, their risk of death did not increase.

To conduct the study — which was published in the Journal of Sleep Research —scientists looked at data on sleep habits collected from more than 43,000 people under 65 years old. Then, they studied death records taken 13 years after the initial data was obtained to determine if and how sleep habits impacted mortality. Of course, other factors like education, body mass index, and smoking can take years off your life, so they accounted for those, too. Their conclusion? "Long weekend sleep may compensate for short weekday sleep."

Image: By Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock Read the rest

The best online white noise machine

There are various apps that purport to generate white noise, but the free ones I've tried have all been strange or skeevy, and YouTube's a minefield of allcaps woo and bad ads. Turns out that the best place to get it is a website: NoiseMachines.

The white noise generator is perfect, with an equalizer, presets and options to save and share your own. (Here's one I made for you that I'm calling "24 hours of bridge noise but something's very wrong with the spaceship")

But there's also lots of sample-based blends of noise, too, such as thunder, vinyl scratches, generative piano music (my setting), data centers, binaural beats, etc.

The creator is Stephane Pigeon, a sound engineer with various other similar projects to enjoy. Read the rest

Science behind sleeping while you're awake

You may think you're awake but there's a good chance that part of your brain is asleep. And that can cause real problems, especially since you may not even be aware of it. In fact, indivisual neurons and groups of neurons in the cerebral cortex can be independently offline while others are awake. In Scientific American, Christof Koch, president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, explores the counter-intuitive reality of "Sleeping While Awake:"

A case in point for sleep intruding into wakefulness involves brief episodes of sleep known as microsleep. These intervals can occur during any monotonous task, whether driving long distances across the country, listening to a speaker droning on or attending yet another never-ending departmental meeting. You're drowsy, your eyes get droopy, the eyelids close, your head repeatedly nods up and down and then snaps up: your consciousness lapses....

Perniciously, subjects typically believe themselves to be alert all the time during microsleep without recalling any period of unconsciousness. This misapprehension can be perilous to someone in the driver's seat. Microsleep can be fatal when driving or operating machinery such as trains or airplanes, hour after tedious hour. During a microsleep episode, the entire brain briefly falls asleep, raising the question of whether bits and pieces of the brain can go to sleep by themselves, without the entire organ succumbing to slumber.

Indeed, Italian-born neuroscientists Chiara Cirelli and Giulio Tononi, who study sleep and consciousness at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, discovered “sleepy neurons” in experimental animals that showed no behavioral manifestation of sleep...

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Instead of a waterbed, how about a sand bed?

My friend, Mrs. Homegrown of Root Simple, looks at sleep mattresses filled with sand.

Recently a friend and frequent Root Simple commenter who goes by the handle “P” here, sent us an intriguing note. Like us, she lives in the Los Angeles area, and like us, she’s been obsessed with the idea of a mattress alternative for a while. Then she got a lead on an exciting bed option, and she shared it with us, saying basically, “I know this couple that you have to meet. They’ve made a bed out of sand!”

So we went to meet Michael Garcia and Stephanie Wing-Garcia and their sand mattress. They live just a few minutes from our house, in a big, sunny apartment full of beautiful things–and they sleep on a king sized bed which consists of a low wooden platform, a pair of twin-sized canvas mattress casings filled with ground white marble sand, which in turn are topped by an inch thick natural latex mat and a layer of sheepskin.

They love their bed. The idea for it came them in a flash of inspiration, and it has changed their lives. Stephanie credits the bed with healing the excruciating chronic back pain which she’d been suffering from for seven years.

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What's going on in the brains of people who don't need much sleep?

Many people claim that they don't need much sleep, insisting that even five hours a night is enough shuteye for them to feel rested. According to new scientific research, "habitual short sleepers" may actually be handling the brain tasks that most of us deal with during the night, like memory consolidation. From Medical Xpress:

Both groups of short sleepers exhibited connectivity patterns more typical of sleep than wakefulness while in the MRI scanner. (University of Utah radiologist Jeff) Anderson says that although people are instructed to stay awake while in the scanner, some short sleepers may have briefly drifted off, even those who denied dysfunction. "People are notoriously poor at knowing whether they've fallen asleep for a minute or two," he says. For the short sleepers who deny dysfunction, one hypothesis is that their wake-up brain systems are perpetually in over-drive. "This leaves open the possibility that, in a boring fMRI scanner they have nothing to do to keep them awake and thus fall asleep," says (Utah neurologist Chirstopher) Jones. This hypothesis has public safety implications, according to Curtis. "Other boring situations, like driving an automobile at night without adequate visual or auditory stimulation, may also put short sleepers at risk of drowsiness or even falling asleep behind the wheel," he says.

Looking specifically at differences in connectivity between brain regions, the researchers found that short sleepers who denied dysfunction showed enhanced connectivity between sensory cortices, which process external sensory information, and the hippocampus, a region associated with memory. "That's tantalizing because it suggests that maybe one of the things the short sleepers are doing in the scanner is performing memory consolidation more efficiently than non-short sleepers," Anderson says.

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Brain's "reward system" also tied to sleep-wake states

According to Stanford University researchers, a primary circuit in the brain's reward involving the chemical "feel-good" chemical dopamine, is also essential for controlling our sleep-wake cycles.

“Insomnia, a multibillion-dollar market for pharmaceutical companies, has traditionally been treated with drugs such as benzodiazepines that nonspecifically shut down the entire brain," says psychiatry and behavior science professor Luis de Lecea "Now we see the possibility of developing therapies that, by narrowly targeting this newly identified circuit, could induce much higher-quality sleep.”

From Stanford:

It makes intuitive sense that the reward system, which motivates goal-directed behaviors such as fleeing from predators or looking for food, and our sleep-wake cycle would coordinate with one another at some point. You can’t seek food in your sleep, unless you’re an adept sleepwalker. Conversely, getting out of bed is a lot easier when you’re excited about the day ahead of you...

The reward system’s circuitry is similar in all vertebrates, from fish, frogs and falcons to fishermen and fashion models. A chemical called dopamine plays a crucial role in firing up this circuitry.

Neuroscientists know that a particular brain structure, the ventral tegmental area, or VTA, is the origin of numerous dopamine-secreting nerve fibers that run in discrete tracts to many different parts of the brain. A plurality of these fibers go to the nucleus accumbens, a forebrain structure particularly implicated in generating feelings of pleasure in anticipation of, or response to, obtaining a desired objective.

“Since many reward-circuit-activating drugs such as amphetamines that work by stimulating dopamine secretion also keep users awake, it’s natural to ask if dopamine plays a key role in the sleep-wake cycle as well as in reward,” Eban-Rothschild said.

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Slotted mattress facilitates cuddling

The Cuddle Mattress us made from slices of memory foam, so you can cuddle with your partner without having your limbs fall asleep.

[via] Read the rest

See the first footage of a Great White Shark taking a nap

"She appears to be in an almost catatonic state," says the narrator. I wonder what she's dreaming about.

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Smart mattress alerts you when your partner cheats on you

The Smartress is a mattress with embedded sensors that will send an alert to your phone "whenever someone is using your bed in a questionable way," according the manufacturer, Durmet. Read the rest

Hear the world's most prolific sleep-talker on record

Dion McGregor (1922-1994) was a songwriter who penned a hit for Barbra Streisand but he has cult (and now scientific) fame as a prolific sleep-talker, or rather sleep-storyteller. While asleep, McGregor would narrate his strange, creepy, and sometimes risque dreams in great detail. Have a listen below! In 1964, Decca Records released an album of recordings of McGregor's sleep-talking, The Dream World of Dion Mcgregor - He Talks in His Sleep, with cover art by Edward Gorey. A book of transcripts, also illustrated by Gorey, was also published that year with the same title, The Dream World of Dion McGregor. Numerous CDs have followed and the entire body of work has become a great source of data for sleep researchers at Harvard Medical School. They're published a new paper about McGregor in the journal Imagination Cognition and Personality. From the British Psychological Society:

The researchers think there are two explanations for the differences between McGregor's somniloquies and typical dream content. One is that much sleep talking does not occur during dreams, and in fact people's brain waves during sleep talking are distinct from those usually seen during dreaming, featuring fewer waves in the alpha frequency range, which they explained could be a sign of more frontal brain activity. The researchers further describe this as "an unusual state midway between waking and sleeping" (backing this up, there is a McGregor interview in which he says a sleep researcher recorded his brain activity during sleep talking and found a mix of sleep and waking brain wave patterns).

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The people who reportedly never sleep. Ever.

Vietnamese gentleman Thái Ngọc claims that ever since he suffered a terrible fever in 1973, he hasn't slept a wink. There's also Ines Fernandez who says she's been awake for decades. Of course, these curious individuals and others with similar stories may actually be suffering from a very strange sleep disorder called sleep state misperception (SSM) in which the individuals think they were up all night but actually slept just fine. At Mysterious Universe, Martin J. Clemens looks at SSM and the very scary rare disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI), presented as total insomnia that can last the rest of the person's life, which is usually only 18 months or so after the onset of symptoms. From Mysterious Universe:

FFI is a neurological condition caused by a misfolded protein in the DNA of the afflicted, of which there have been only about 100 cases. That protein, called a prion protein, is known as PrPSc (PrPC in non-FFI subjects). Essentially, the prion form of the protein causes a change in certain amino acids – due to the protein strand folding incorrectly – which, when combined with other genetic markers, then affects the brain’s sleep centers. FFI is genetic, and therefore hereditary, but there is an even rarer form known as Sporadic Fatal Insomnia (sFI) that occurs spontaneously, the cause of which is not understood. You may wish to know that PrPSc is the same protein that’s responsible for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as Mad Cow Disease.

"The Woman Who Stayed Awake for 30 Years…Or Did She? Read the rest

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