Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to Improve Your Sleep Without Giving Up Your Evening Screen Time

In our last post we looked at how spending time on smartphones, tablets, and other screens at night can prevent you from falling asleep (or getting enough sleep). In this post, we'll review some of the ways you can tweak your screen time to get to sleep sooner and be better rested the next day. And, as you'll see, you don't necessarily need to give up your electronic reading time before bed.

As noted in our previous post, computer, phone, and tablet screens can interfere with our sleep patterns because they emit light in the blue wavelength, which our brains associate with daylight, and with wakefulness (certain e-reader screens don't have this problem). What if you could adjust the wavelength to make it more conducive to sleep?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Is Your Late-Night Screen Time Keeping You From Sleeping?

Lots of people don't get enough sleep these days, and there's growing evidence that smartphones and other digital devices may be contributing to the problem.

Part of the trouble is what people are reading or viewing. Consuming content that gets us excited (whether it's a thriller novel or a troubling news story, in print or on a screen) can delay sleep by causing us to lay awake thinking about whatever it is we've read or seen.

alarm clock
Are your digital devices keeping you awake? (Photo: Evil saltine, Wikipedia.)

But now scientists have found another reason why it may not be a good idea to be on our laptops, smartphones, or tablets right before bedtime: the light the gadget gives off may be keeping us from dozing off, and from feeling well rested the next day. A recent Harvard study has found that people who read before bed using a tablet or other e-reader gadget "felt less sleepy and took longer to fall asleep than when they read a regular printed book, researchers found," according to WebMD.

What's more, these people had more trouble waking up and gaining full alertness than they did after reading an old-fashioned printed book, even though they slept the same amount.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Endometriosis: New Hope for a Common (But Not Commonly Discussed) Condition

You won't often hear about endometriosis on the nightly news, or even in the health section of newspapers and websites. But this gynecological condition—in which the type of tissue that lines a woman's uterus (the endometrium) grows in other, nearby parts of the body—is much more common than you'd think. And much more debilitating.

(Read about one woman's experience with the disease in "What I Wish Everyone Knew About Endometriosis."

As some recent news reports have pointed out, though, there may be new hope on the horizon for understanding endometriosis.

Blausen 0349 Endometriosis
Illustration of endometriosis. Source: BruceBlaus, Wikimedia Commons.

Endometriosis sufferers can face years or even decades of pelvic pain, inflammation, infertility, and a search for relief. The endometrial tissue can grow in areas like the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, outer surface of the uterus, and pelvic cavity lining. The tissue can form scarring that can cause adhesions between surfaces like the bladder and bowel.

With endometriosis, patients can experience a range of agonizing and potentially embarrassing problems, from pain during sex to extremely painful menstrual cramps, back pain, painful urination or bowel movements, and constipation or diarrhea.
 
To make the situation even more frustrating, researchers don't understand exactly what the causes of endometriosis are. And patients and even doctors may be reluctant to talk about it.

But as a recent New Yorker article notes, in recent years there's been news of an interesting collaboration that may shed important light on the origins of the disease (the article is well worth reading for its explanation of endometriosis and the issues involved in understanding its causes and treating it).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Health Notes: New Thinking on Fats & CVD; Alzheimer's Deaths Widely Underreported; Colon Cancer Rates Drop

 Above: Photomicrograph of the distal right coronary artery, showing complex atherosclerosis (thickening of the artery wall due to the accumulation of calcium and fatty deposits). Photo: Nephron, Wikimedia Commons.

We've been away for a long time, but now we're back to report on some new findings that shed a new light on some long-held medical beliefs.

* New study casts doubt on the link between saturated fats and heart disease. Saturated fats are a major contributor to heart disease, we've long been told. Not so fast, says a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. As explained in an article by the CBC, the researchers draws on more than 70 studies to conclude that "Current evidence does not clearly support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats."

In addition, two studies have found that taking daily fish oil supplements may not help your heart health, either. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements "showed consistently little or no significant effect on reducing coronary heart disease events," said the lead author of one of the studies.

* Alzheimer's deaths may be five times more than reported. Cases of Alzheimer disease are projected to grow dramatically in the coming years, but the disease may already be causing many more deaths than are reflected in the official stats. Researchers at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center say that hhis is because death certificates often neglect to mention Alzheimer as a contributing cause of death. The new numbers would make Alzheimer disease the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

What's more, a new report from the Alzheimer's Association says that women over 60 "have a 1 in 6 chance of getting Alzheimer's disease in their lifetime, and are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's compared with breast cancer.

* Colon cancer rates decline sharply. The incidence of colorectal cancer, one of the most deadly forms of the disease, is down more than 30% among Americans due to increased use of colonoscopy for screening. "Xolonoscopy rates among adults ages 50 to 75 rose steeply — from 19 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2010," says an article in Health.com drawing on a study from the American Cancer Society.

The decrease was highest among older people: those 50 and older saw a decrease in colon cancer of 3.9% per year. There was bad news for younger people, however, as there's been a 1.1% per increase in colon cancer in persons under 50.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Health Notes: Genetic Links Seen Between Depression, Autism, & other Disorders; Mind-Reading Rats; Public's Help Sought in Curing Cancer; More

Some interesting news from the world of health and medicine:

* Scientists see link in depression and four other disorders: Five disparate mental-health disorders may have a common genetic link, according to a new study that's getting lots of attention. The research has found that a number of genes are shared by people who have major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The study was published in the edition of The Lancet publishing on Wednesday (abstract).

The researchers found that "four spots in the genome that were more common among those with psychiatric disease, two of which occurred in genes involved in communication between brain cells," according to an article in the Boston Globe. Also, "They also found that genetic risk factors for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia had the most overlap."
They also found that genetic risk factors for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia had the most overlap. - See more at: http://www.boston.com/news/science/blogs/science-in-mind/2013/02/27/autism-schizophrenia-and-other-psychiatric-disorders-share-genetic-underpinnings/I5Rdy7NikMlFvTe8d9BXoL/blog.html#sthash.iwHOygA5.dpuf
They also found that genetic risk factors for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia had the most overlap. - See more at: http://www.boston.com/news/science/blogs/science-in-mind/2013/02/27/autism-schizophrenia-and-other-psychiatric-disorders-share-genetic-underpinnings/I5Rdy7NikMlFvTe8d9BXoL/blog.html#sthash.iwHOygA5.dpuf
four spots in the genome that were more common among those with psychiatric disease, two of which occurred in genes involved in communication between brain cells. - See more at: http://www.boston.com/news/science/blogs/science-in-mind/2013/02/27/autism-schizophrenia-and-other-psychiatric-disorders-share-genetic-underpinnings/I5Rdy7NikMlFvTe8d9BXoL/blog.html#sthash.iwHOygA5.dpuf
found four spots in the genome that were more common among those with psychiatric disease, two of which occurred in genes involved in communication between brain cells.
They also found that genetic risk factors for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia had the most overlap.
- See more at: http://www.boston.com/news/science/blogs/science-in-mind/2013/02/27/autism-schizophrenia-and-other-psychiatric-disorders-share-genetic-underpinnings/I5Rdy7NikMlFvTe8d9BXoL/blog.html#sthash.iwHOygA5.dpuf
found four spots in the genome that were more common among those with psychiatric disease, two of which occurred in genes involved in communication between brain cells.
They also found that genetic risk factors for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia had the most overlap.
- See more at: http://www.boston.com/news/science/blogs/science-in-mind/2013/02/27/autism-schizophrenia-and-other-psychiatric-disorders-share-genetic-underpinnings/I5Rdy7NikMlFvTe8d9BXoL/blog.html#sthash.iwHOygA5.dpuf
found four spots in the genome that were more common among those with psychiatric disease, two of which occurred in genes involved in communication between brain cells.
They also found that genetic risk factors for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia had the most overlap.
- See more at: http://www.boston.com/news/science/blogs/science-in-mind/2013/02/27/autism-schizophrenia-and-other-psychiatric-disorders-share-genetic-underpinnings/I5Rdy7NikMlFvTe8d9BXoL/blog.html#sthash.iwHOygA5.dpuf


Telepathic rats? See for yourself.

* "First mind-reading implant gives rats telepathic power": Now there's a headline that'll get your attention. The New Scientist articles reports that "The world's first brain-to-brain connection has given rats the power to communicate by thought alone."

Although this is an exciting development in brain research (rats on different continents were even able to communicate via the Internet), the article notes that  "the exact information being communicated between the rats' brains is not clear."

* Tech giants seek public's help for cancer cure: British cancer researchers are joining forces with Google, Amazon.com, and Facebook to enlist the public's assistance in finding cures for cancer. Cancer Research U.K. is teaming up with the tech firms to get the public to perform tasks that can help in efforts such as "working out the exact sequence of a tumor's DNA,"according to a BBC News article.

Programmers, game designers, and others are set to meet this week to figure out how to create a game-life way to put the collective eyeballs and computer power of everyday citizens to solve problems in cancer research. The concept is similar to volunteer-computer efforts from the BOINC project, such as SETI@Home and medical-related endeavors such as RNA World and Malariacontrol.net. It's hoped the project will be up and running by summer.

* Coronary calcium indicates stroke risk: A coronary artery calcification score can predict the risk of stroke, independent of other factors, at least in cases of people with lower risk of cardiovascular disease. An article in MedPage Today says that this may or may not change how clinicians work, since it's already been established that stroke and coronary artery disease have some of the same disease processes.

What's more, the measure of calcification is done by an electron-beam CT scan, so any potential benefit of the rest must be weighed against the additional radiation exposure.