The Relationship Between Sweat and Sleep

Jan. 10, 2014

By Medical Discovery News

Sweat and sleep

If only getting to sleep were really as easy as counting sheep. Over half of Americans admit to struggling with insomnia a few nights a week. And the loss of sleep doesn’t just make a person tired, it can affect how long they live. People who an average of six or fewer hours of sleep each night had higher mortality rates than those who slept seven or more. New research has provided more insight into how people can overcome or prevent insomnia.

Problems falling asleep initially, waking up during the night and then having problems getting back to sleep, feeling tired upon waking in the morning, and waking up before the alarm all count as insomnia – it’s both the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. There are two different types: primary, a direct issue with sleep, and secondary, sleep issues caused by an underlying medical condition like depression, asthma, and overuse of alcohol. Insomnia can lead to other serious medical issues including memory problems, depression, heart disease, and car accidents. 

Common causes of insomnia include stress, emotional issues, physical discomfort, medications, disruptions in a person’s schedule, and environmental disturbances like light, noise, and temperature. Many suffering from insomnia rely on medications such as sleeping pills and sedatives, the most common being over-the-counter antihistamines. But these drugs can come with significant side effects, particularly for the elderly. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which changes ways of thinking to improve behavior, is recommended for insomnia.

Evidence shows the best ways to prevent insomnia are to maintain a regular schedule, avoid caffeine for the eight hours before bed, and especially get some exercise. While research has long shown the positive relationship between exercise and sleep, a recent study has led scientists at Northwestern University to conclude that sleep may influence exercise more than exercise influences sleep.    

This experiment involved a group of women diagnosed with insomnia, divided into two groups: an exercise and an inactive group. The exercise group performed 30 minutes of moderate exercise several times a week for 16 weeks while the other group was inactive. The results were encouraging, since those in the active group slept 45-60 minutes longer each night, woke less frequently, and felt more energized during the day. 

The surprise came when the scientists took a detailed look at the diaries the women kept of their exercise and sleep. The effect of exercise seemed to take longer than expected – a full four months. Also, most did not report sleeping better on the nights after they exercised, but that a good night’s sleep helped them exercise better the next day. 

People without sleep issues typically experience a more restful night’s sleep after exercising, so why is this not the case for people with insomnia? It may be that those with sleep disorders are different neurologically. They may have hyper-arousal of the stress system, which takes a prolonged regular exercise regime to overcome. Further research will be able to answer remaining questions about the timing or intensity of exercise, the effect of different types of exercise, and whether this is the case in men as well.

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Staving Off Dementia

Nov. 8, 2013

By Medical Discovery News

“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened.”

While American novelist Mark Twain can invariably add his iconic sense of humor to any situation, it is no laughing matter when patients lose their memories and cognitive function to dementia. And for their family members, there is hardly anything harder than caring for a loved one who can no longer remember them or any shared experiences. But lowering a person’s risk of dementia may be as simple as changing their lifestyle.

The incidence of dementia increases with age. As the average age of Americans increase, the number of people with dementia also increases. In 2010, more than 30 million people worldwide had dementia, and this figure is estimated to more than triple by 2050.

Despite the many medical advances over the past 20 years, there are no effective pharmacological therapies for dementia yet. Some drugs are being evaluated and still others are in development, but it could be some time before there is a truly successful treatment for this disease. 

However, studies have uncovered risk factors that can lead to dementia, such as low physical and mental activity, obesity, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. The good news is that all these risk factors can be controlled by changes in a person’s lifestyle and behavior.

A group of scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm examined the effects of lifestyle modification on dementia risks. One of the strongest correlations to reducing the risk of dementia is increasing physical activity. Changing from a sedentary lifestyle to one with at least moderate physical activity will also improve cognitive performance. Both aerobic exercise and strength training may delay of the onset of dementia. 

For those with nutritional deficiencies, taking vitamin supplements did help prevent dementia onset, but those with normal levels did not affect their dementia risk by taking supplements. 

Computer games have become a popular way to enhance mental abilities in older people. There are some positive effects of gaming on cognitive performance, but these effects decline with age.  A recent study showed that improvements in language skills and reasoning abilities lasted for a full year after computerized training. While encouraging, more clinical trials are needed to establish the benefits of these activities on cognitive functions and the delay of dementia.

For now, the best advice to delay or prevent dementia is to engage in physical exercise and maintain a healthy weight and nutrition.

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Motivate Me

By Medical Discovery News

Oct. 27, 2012

The real challenge for all of us is to get to the gym

Anyone with a TV has seen them – the skinny, smiling men and women who claim to have lost weight without breaking a sweat thanks to diet pills. But most diet pills carry health risks like increased blood pressure and heart rate, insomnia, and stomach cramps. Some carry more risks than others, such as Orlistat, which was taken off the market after people developed liver failure.

Yet even that didn’t dash the hopes of dieters searching for a magic pill, which could be pinned on a completely new approach – a hormone that boosts a person’s desire to exercise. Swiss scientists found that when a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO) was elevated in the brains of mice, they were more active.

EPO is the same performance-enhancing hormone banned by various sporting events and leagues including the Olympics and the Tour de France. During the 1998 Tour race, personnel from several teams were caught red-handed with thousands of doses of EPO and other banned substances.

Athletes are tempted to use EPO because it has the ability to increase red blood cells in the bloodstream, which translates to more oxygen circulating throughout the body and consequently better physical performance. The hormone exists naturally, produced by cells in the kidney that can sense when oxygen levels start to dip.

EPO travels in the bloodstream and into bone marrow where it binds with receptors to stimulate red blood cell (erythrocyte) production. Medically, EPO is used to treat certain forms of anemia. Since EPO accelerates erythrocyte production, it increases the blood’s capacity for carrying oxygen.

Even though the body makes EPO, using more of it comes with risks. In the past 15 years, about 18 cyclists have died suddenly in their sleep from using EPO. When injected repeatedly in small doses, EPO stimulates the release of more red blood cells. In some cases, too many red blood cells are produced, which can thicken the blood, clog capillaries, and lead to a stroke or heart attack. Athletes face a greater risk since they tend to become dehydrated, further thickening the blood.

However, researchers at the University of Zurich found that when given in acute high doses (500 – 2,000 times more than what athletes use), EPO crossed the blood-brain barrier and helped mice run better. The mice had not produced more red blood cells nor increased their cardiovascular capacity. So EPO acted as a brain hormone that motivated the mice to exercise more, without changing their physiology.

Beyond helping many Americans who are obese, EPO may quicken recovery for people who have been bedridden and need to rebuild muscle mass. This treatment approach has not yet been tried on humans, so it will take time for researchers to determine its effects and efficacy.

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