Medical/Physical Health

Mindfulness Based Therapy as Effective as Antidepressants?

Mindfulness Based Therapy as Effective as Antidepressants?

Can therapy be as effective as antidepressants? A new study shows that mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MCBT) is more effective. 

6 Surprising Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

6 Surprising Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

Are you pregnant or recently had a child? Are you feeling angry/irritated, numb, have brain fog, insomnia, and/or physical discomfort? These are all signs of postpartum depression. Read more here.

How to Fall Asleep in Under a Minute

4, 7, 8: Can following asleep really be this simple? A few breaths and asleep within minutes? This technique has been used for years and has proven effective for many. Laura Wiley / Bit of News

Here is how you do the exercise:

  1. Place the tip of your tongue against the tissue ridge right above your upper front teeth. Keep it there for the remainder of the exercise.
  2. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshsound as you do so.
  3. Close your mouth and inhale slowly through your nose while mentally counting to four.
  4. Hold your breath for a mental count of seven.
  5. Exhale completely through your mouth for a mental count of eight. Make the same whoosh sound from Step Two.
  6. This concludes the first cycle. Repeat the same process three more times for a total of four renditions.

In a nutshell: breathe in for four, hold for seven, and breathe out for eight. You must inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. The four-count inhale allows chronic under-breathers to take in more oxygen. The seven-count hold gives the oxygen more time to thoroughly permeate the bloodstream, and the eight-count exhale slows the heart rate and releases a greater amount of carbon dioxide from the lungs.

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38 Health Benefits of Yoga

38 Health Benefits of Yoga

Still wondering if you should try out yoga? How is it really going to help you anyway? This article discussing 38 scientifically proven reasons why you should get up and strike a yoga pose.


If you’re a passionate yoga practitioner, you’ve probably noticed some yoga benefits—maybe you’re sleeping better or getting fewer colds or just feeling more relaxed and at ease. But if you’ve ever tried telling a newbie about the benefits of yoga, you might find that explanations like “It increases the flow of prana” or “It brings energy up your spine” fall on deaf or skeptical ears.

What Not to Say to a Sick Friend

What Not to Say to a Sick Friend

Your friend is sick? What to say can be truly stressful. You worry about whether acknowledging and bringing up their illness will remind them that they are sick or upset them. When people are sick, they don't forget. But saying something that is insensitive or invalidating can make it worse. Read on for some simple suggestions on what not to say to a sick loved one.

How to Really Help a Sick Friend

How to Really Help a Sick Friend

Having a sick friend is scary. The possibility of losing them can paralyze.  Many want to offer help and support, but struggle with how to do it in a meaningful and non-imposing manner. Gluck offers thoughtful ways to offer support to an friend or loved one with a serious illness.What to do—and what not to do—when someone you love gets a serious diagnosis

The 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

The 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

Do you practice any of these unproductive mental health habits? This article discusses the most common pitfalls that people engage in that hurt our mental health and why they are so damaging. / Carey Rossi@goodhealth  /  Nov. 3, 2014

Change these simple, everyday routines to live a happier life

Depression is usually brought on by factors beyond our control—the death of a loved one, a job loss, or financial troubles. But the small choices you make every day may also affect your mood more than you may realize. Your social media habits, exercise routine, and even the way you walk may be sucking the happiness out of your day, and you may not even know it. Luckily, these behaviors can be changed. Read on for 12 ways you’re sabotaging your good moods, and what you can do to turn it around.

How we feel can affect the way we walk, but the inverse is also true, finds a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. Researchers found that when subjects were asked to walk with shoulders slouched, hunched over, and with minimum arm movements, they experienced worse moods than those who had more pep in their steps. What’s more, participants who walked in the slouchy style remembered more negative things rather than positive things. Talk about depressing.

Get happy now: Lift your chin up and roll your shoulders back to keep your outlook on the positive side.

Why Crafting Is Great For Your Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains

What helps reduce your stress? New research is confirming what crafters have always known intuitively, that when they engage in a creative and repetitive act they go into a calming state. As a psychologist, I often recommend knitting, crocheting or other crafts as a stress reliever. This article discusses new research explaining why this is helpful. BY DR. SARAH MCKAY JUNE 24, 2014 4:39 AM EDT

Knit one. Purl one. Knit one. Purl one. Knit one. Purl one. The rhythmic and repetitive nature of knitting is calming, comforting and contemplative. It’s not a stretch for you to imagine knitting as a mindfulness practice, or perhaps a form of meditation.

I’m delighted to report that neuroscience is finally catching up on brain health aspects of the trend some have called "the new yoga."

Research shows that knitting and other forms of textile crafting such as sewing, weaving and crocheting have quite a lot in common with mindfulness and meditation — all are reported to have a positive impact on mind health and well-being.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Sufferers Have More Than Just Winter Blues

What are the winter blues? Can you just power through until the Spring? Should you seek treatment or are there things you can do to improve your mood? Dr. Rohan answers these questions in this article. SAD expert Kelly Rohan, PhD, explains the difference

Reporters/editors/producers note: The following feature was produced by the American Psychological Association. You may reprint it in its entirety or in part. We only request that you credit APA as the source.

7 New Year's Resolutions To Stop Making + What To Do Instead

How often have your new year's resolutions failed? For a majority of individuals, the answer is most if not all. Often the problem has to do with the type of resolution you set and whether it is truly achievable. Unfortunately, many set unrealistic goals and once they "fall off the wagon" feel they failed.  This article discusses the most common resolutions and how to go about setting yourself up for success.


Every January 1, millions of people make New Year's resolutions. Chances are, they won't stick around for too long. Why?

Because most resolutions are unrealistic, or even unreasonable. Here are seven outdated fitness and nutrition resolutions that are destined — and deserve — to fail, along with smarter options to make sure you follow through and succeed.

One more reason to get a good night’s sleep

The brain is magnificent. Sleep and its function is one more reason to marvel at it's efficiency. Watch this informative and entertaining Ted talk on how the brain "cleans up" during sleep.

From website: The brain uses a quarter of the body's entire energy supply, yet only accounts for about two percent of the body's mass. So how does this unique organ receive and, perhaps more importantly, rid itself of vital nutrients? New research suggests it has to do with sleep.

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How chronic stress is harming our DNA

We hear about how bad stress is for our health, but just how bad is it? This article sheds some important light on this issue. It is more important than ever to address your chronic stress through exercise, self care activities, social support and even therapy.

Elissa Epel is studying how personality, stress processes and environment affect our DNA — and how we might lessen damaging effects.

Food-Mood Connection: How You Eat Can Amp Up Or Tamp Down Stress

Food is comfort. It is no surprise that when we are upset we turn to food to soothe ourselves. Turns out that there is growing research supporting the idea that different foods can help you feel less stressed. Read below for more information.

Speaking of Psychology: Music and your health

Can music help improve your physical and mental health? Listen to this 10 minute lecture of music and its healing effects. Can music make us healthier or even smarter? Can it change how we experience pain? In this episode, former rock musician and studio producer Daniel Levitin, PhD, talks about how music changes our brain’s chemistry and affects our health.

Click on link below to listen to lecture.

Link to lecture

Treating Depression Helps Some Smokers Quit

Does depression make quitting smoking more difficult? This study seems to find that treating depression does help people quit smoking. Read more to find out.

Sep. 19, 2013 — Studies have shown that people with depression are about twice as likely to smoke cigarettes as people without depression and they are less likely to successfully quit than smokers without depression. A new evidence review in The Cochrane Library finds that depressed smokers may stop smoking longer and benefit overall from mood management interventions after they quit smoking.

“Health professionals should encourage their smoking patients with depression to use a smoking cessation intervention that includes a psychosocial mood management component,” said the study’s lead author Regina van der Meer, MPH, a researcher at the Dutch Expert Centre on Tobacco Control.

The researchers studied 49 randomized controlled trials, including 33 trials that focused on smoking cessation with a mood management element for those with current or past depression. The analysis compared both smoking cessation programs using psychosocial interventions, like counseling or exercise, and those using bupropion, an antidepressant to standard non-smoking programs.

When psychosocial components were added, smokers were able to stop smoking for longer periods. While bupropion was effective for those with a history of depression, it was not found to be effective for smokers with current depression.

Gregory L. Kirk, M.D., director of Rocky Mountain Psychiatry Consultants, LLC in Denver, who agreed with the review’s findings, emphasized that smokers with depression, past or present, have more medical problems from smoking and higher death rates from smoking-related illnesses.

“In a standard smoking cessation program, people with depression are more likely to have negative mood changes from nicotine withdrawal, but the non-depressed group can experience mood states as well. But when depressed smokers quit, depression symptoms may actually improve. This makes it all the more critical to understand this high-risk group of smokers and what helps them quit tobacco,” he said.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Health Behavior News Service.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

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Diabetes + Depression = Increased Risk of Death, Review Finds

Can depression lead to death in people with diabetes? According to new research depression causes people with diabetes to follow a cycle of hopelessness, poor self care and increased risk of other health conditions. This in turn leads to increased mortality. This study urges integrative care to address the depression in individuals with diabetes.

Feb. 21, 2013 — People living with diabetes who also have untreated depression are at increased risk of death, according to a new evidence review in General Hospital Psychiatry.

 More than 42,000 patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes and depression were analyzed in the review. The reviewers discovered that depression was associated with a 1.5 fold increase in the risk of dying. In four of the studies reviewed, co-morbid depression was linked to about a 20 percent higher risk of cardiovascular death for people with diabetes.

Diabetes affects 25.8 million people in the U.S., according to the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet, and about 30 percent of these people also experience symptoms of depression.

"Depression consistently increased the risk of mortality across virtually all studies," said Mijung Park, Ph.D., lead author and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. "We can now postulate that the harmful effect of depression is universal to individuals with diabetes."

Todd Brown, M.D., associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said it is very common to see a patient go into a downward spiral when obesity-related co-morbidities, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and depression converge.

"Obesity can lead to worsening metabolic status that can lead to hopelessness and decreased physical activity, which in turns worsens obesity, and the cycle continues," he explained.

The encouraging news is that depression is a highly treatable condition, said Park. Because depression can make diabetes self-care more difficult and lessen quality of life, she suggested that depression treatment should be included in overall diabetes care strategies.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

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How to make stress your friend-Ted talk

Can how we think about stress make us healthier and stronger? Can seeking social support extend our lifespan despite our stress level?  Watch this insightful Ted talk and find out.

Qi Gong Techniques Help Cancer Patients Cope

Practicing a combination of breathing, meditation and movement to achieve a state of relaxation and peace of mind improves quality of life, cancer-related symptoms and treatment side effects and promotes patient longevity. By: Lynette Summerill

Feeling anxious or stressed about a cancer diagnosis is a very normal response. After all, it’s a life changing experience. Patients and their loved ones often feel a whole range of emotions when learning to deal with the disease, treatments and its side effects. It’s not a road easily traveled. So naturally, finding positive coping mechanisms is essential to realizing the best possible outcome.

The mental stress that accompanies a cancer diagnoses not only negatively affects quality of life, it can actually contribute to suppression of the immune system, aggravating the side effects of chemotherapy and slowing the healing process, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Many cancer patients are finding stress-reducing health benefits by incorporating the ancient Chinese system into their treatment protocol. Qi Gong, sometimes called chi kung or vital energy exercises, involves breathing, meditation and movement to achieve a state of relaxation and peace of mind. Translated, qi gong means “breath work” or “energy work”.

While qi gong is typically not considered a “cure” for cancer, it is extremely helpful in coping with the disease. Practitioners say the exercises help manage pain, reduce anxiety, provide increased strength and enhance the quality of life.

The goal of qi gong is to help the flow of energy or “qi” (pronounced chee) through the body. The two forms of qi gong—external and internal— are exercises that people can do on their own or with a skilled master. It can also be used to target specific areas of the body. However, if this makes you feel a little too existential, there is also strong scientific evidence to suggest beneficial health outcomes associated with its practice.

Researchers from the Santa Barbara-based Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi, Arizona State University and the University of North Carolina analyzed data from 66 randomized controlled qi gong trials involving 6,410 participants. The review was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

The researchers found the strongest and most consistent evidence of health benefits included bone health, cardiopulmonary fitness, balance, mental focus, improved quality of life and self-efficacy (the confidence in and perceived ability to perform a behavior.) The reviewers concluded sufficient evidence exists to suggest qi gong is a viable alternative to conventional forms of exercise.

More recently, a 2008 pilot study of medical qi gong (MQ) for cancer patients, conducted by University of Sydney researchers found MQ to be “an effective therapy for improving quality of life, cancer-related symptoms and treatment side effects and promote patient longevity” compared to non-practicing MQ cancer patients. Qi gong has also been found in medical studies to produce long-term physical benefits by reducing inflammation in some cancer patients.


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Yoga Helps Ease Stress Related Medical and Psychological Conditions, Study Suggests

Yoga might increase GABA activity, low GABA (neurotransmitter) is linked to anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, epilepsy, and chronic pain. So practicing yoga might reduce distress from these disorders. Mar. 6, 2012 — An article by researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), New York Medical College (NYMC), and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (CCPS) reviews evidence that yoga may be effective in treating patients with stress-related psychological and medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and cardiac disease. Their theory, which currently appears online in Medical Hypotheses, could be used to develop specific mind-body practices for the prevention and treatment of these conditions in conjunction with standard treatments.

It is hypothesized that stress causes an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system (parasympathetic under-activity and sympathetic over-activity) as well as under-activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA). Low GABA activity occurs in anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, epilepsy, and chronic pain. According to the researchers, the hypothesis advanced in this paper could explain why vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) works to decrease both seizure frequency and the symptoms of depression.

"Western and Eastern medicine complement one another. Yoga is known to improve stress-related nervous system imbalances," said Chris Streeter, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM and Boston Medical Center, who is the study's lead author. Streeter believes that "This paper provides a theory, based on neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, to understand how yoga helps patients feel better by relieving symptoms in many common disorders."

An earlier study by BUSM researchers comparing a walking group and a yoga group over a 12-week period found no increase in GABA levels in the walking group, whereas the yoga group showed increased GABA levels and decreased anxiety. In another 12-week BUSM study, patients with chronic low back pain responded to a yoga intervention with increased GABA levels and significant reduction in pain compared to a group receiving standard care alone.

In crafting this neurophysiological theory of how yoga affects the nervous system, Streeter collaborated with Patricia Gerbarg, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at NYMC, Domenic A. Ciraulo, MD, chairman of psychiatry at BUSM, Robert Saper, MD MPH, associate professor of family medicine at BUSM, and Richard P. Brown, MD, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at CCPS. They are beginning test these theories by incorporating mind-body therapies such as yoga in their clinical studies of a wide range of stress-related medical and psychological conditions.

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Awakening to sleep

New research describes the immense impact sleep deprivation has on our minds and bodies. Tempted to read just one more email before you sleep? Don't. New research finds that not getting enough sleep — whether because of our insatiable desire for digital media or more traditional sleep disturbances — has far-reaching effects on physical and psychological health.

By Dr. Siri Carpenter

January 2013, Vol 44, No. 1

Print version: page 40

Awakening to sleep

Orfeu Buxton, PhD, has just pulled his first all-nighter in six years, and he is tired. Earlier in the week, he stayed up all night for the final push on a grant application to the National Institute on Aging, coordinating a small crew who worked past dawn. Two days later, he's still exhausted and says he feels "ghostlike." He may also be a little embarrassed. As a sleep researcher, he should know better. "Maybe next time the irony will be too powerful," says Buxton, a neuroscientist in the Harvard University School of Medicine and the Division of Sleep Medicine of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Buxton has plenty of company in his sleeplessness. Technology keeps serving up ever more enticing ways to put off bedtime — whether for entertainment or work — and in this era of economic uncertainty, job and financial stress keeps millions of Americans from getting a good night's sleep. Data on just how much the nation sleeps are imprecise, but among scientists, the consensus is that it's not enough. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a quarter of U.S. adults say they don't get enough sleep at least half of the time. Research indicates that a quarter of teens get no more than 6.5 hours, far short of the nine or so hours most need. And a 2012 study from the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that 41 million workers get fewer than six hours of sleep a night — significantly less than the seven to nine hours that experts recommend.

Researchers are unlocking the unsettling and far-reaching health consequences of losing all of this sleep. Some are obvious: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, driver fatigue results in 100,000 crashes annually, leading to 1,550 deaths and more than 70,000 injuries.

More subtly, a large body of research now shows that chronically getting too little sleep disrupts many aspects of physical health, including hormone regulation, glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, inflammation processes, pain perception and immune function, to name a few.

In a guest editorial for Sleep Medicine Reviews, clinical psychologist Michael Grandner, PhD, of the Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania, argued that along with diet and exercise, "sleep should be considered a key domain of healthy behavior." The same sort of public health resources devoted to education and interventions promoting activity and healthy eating, he and others argue, should also be directed at promoting healthy sleep.

With the mounting evidence that normal variations in sleep can lead to poorer health, both the public health community and the media now seem to be waking up to the importance of sleep in our overall health. Fixing some sleep problems may seem as simple as following a few key "sleep hygiene" guidelines, but there is still a disconnect. The temptation to check one more message, read one more article or watch one more episode is powerful and insidious.

Every hour counts

In 1938, University of Chicago physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman, PhD, and a colleague sequestered themselves for 32 days in the bowels of Kentucky's Mammoth Cave to reset their bodies to a 28-hour clock and track the physical and psychological consequences of doing so. Kleitman, whose first paper on sleep deprivation was published in 1923, is considered the founder of sleep research in the United States. His research on circadian processes and his co-discovery of the rapid-eye movement, or REM, stage of sleep in the early 1950s were foundational developments. (Kleitman's willingness to tamper with his own sleep seems, paradoxically, not to have harmed his health — he lived to the age of 104.)

Throughout Kleitman's life and since, the University of Chicago (UC) remained a center of sleep research. In 1963, Kleitman's colleague Allan Rechtschaffen, PhD, described the first sleep disorder, narcolepsy. In another influential series of studies conducted during the 1980s, Rechtschaffen showed that sleep-deprived rats eventually died from the collapse of their thermoregulatory systems.

But despite such striking demonstrations of sleep's importance to basic physiological functioning, sleep science struggled for recognition. Sure, most people understood that you might not be your sharpest after a poor night's sleep. And for sleep researchers, it seemed obvious that anything we did for a third of our lives was probably important. But for the most part, popular culture and academia alike just yawned and declared: "It's only a quarter [of your life] if you're tough." And researchers didn't have much of a comeback.

But they were on the trail. In 1991, UC sleep medicine specialist Eve Van Cauter, PhD, reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that subjecting healthy people to total sleep deprivation threw off their glucose tolerance and insulin resistance and that these issues resolved after recovery sleep. Since then, dozens of studies have elaborated on that finding.

For years, laboratory sleep research focused on extreme kinds of sleep loss — the kind of total deprivation that Buxton experienced when he pulled his all-nighter. But outside the nation's sleep labs, far more common than total sleep deprivation is what researchers variously call partial sleep loss, sleep restriction or short sleep. Whatever they call it, they're referring to chronically cutting one's sleep short by just an hour or two a night. The first study to look closely at the health effects of partial sleep was published in The Lancet in 1999. In that study, Van Cauter's team found that levels of leptin, a hormone that regulates hunger and appetite, dropped 19 percent during a period of partial sleep deprivation.

The cardiometabolic trap

Subsequent studies have confirmed the effects of partial sleep loss on hormone regulation and have led to a burgeoning of research on the role of sleep in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease — a tangled triumvirate of sickness and mortality that are key elements of what researchers sometimes refer to as cardiometabolic disease. In a 2012 article published in the American Journal of Human Biology, UC biomedical anthropologist Kristen Knutson, PhD, reviewed research on sleep and cardiometabolic health and concluded that sleep restriction leads to "substantial and clinically significant changes in appetite regulation, hunger, food intake, glucose metabolism and blood pressure control." Knutson also found a significant association between short sleep duration (less than six hours per night, in most studies) and either more obesity or a higher body mass index. Adolescents and children showed a stronger association, suggesting they may be especially vulnerable to the effects of lost sleep.

One way in which lack of sleep may thwart cardiometabolic health is by skewing people's dietary choices. In a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by a large multicenter team, healthy men and women who were restricted to just four hours of sleep per night over six nights took in significantly more calories, particularly from fat, than their well-rested counterparts — and they didn't make up for it by burning more energy.

Another study, conducted by Arlet Nedeltcheva, MD, and colleagues at UC and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009, found that adults who were allowed to sleep only 5.5 hours per night for two weeks indulged in more snacks than their counterparts who enjoyed 8.5 hours of sleep each night. Likewise, in a 2012 yet-to-be-published study that drew on data from the CDC's 2007–08 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Knutson, Grandner and colleagues mapped dietary patterns to sleep complaints including difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, non-restorative sleep and daytime sleepiness. Every complaint, they found, was significantly associated with greater total caloric intake.

In a 2012 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a team of UC researchers uncovered a molecular clue to how lack of sleep might promote diabetes: Fat cells in people who don't get enough sleep have a 30 percent reduced ability to respond to insulin. Fortunately, the biochemical processes that sleep loss sets in motion may reversible, at least if skipping sleep doesn't become a lifelong habit. In September, psychologist Karen Matthews, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh, reported in SLEEP that if teens who normally got six hours of sleep per night were allowed just one extra hour of sleep, their insulin resistance improved by 9 percent.

Now, Till Roenneberg, PhD, of the University of Munich's Institute of Medical Psychology, has introduced a new wrinkle to the sleep literature: The physiological chaos that ensues when the body's internal clock, which is set by our exposure to sunlight and night-time darkness, is out of sync with our "social clocks," which are set by the demands and temptations of modern life, from early-morning alarms to the late lure of "The Daily Show." Roenneberg calls this familiar brand of circadian disruption "social jet lag," noting that staying up later and sleeping later on weekends, then wrenching one's schedule back in time at the beginning of each workweek, is akin to traveling from New York to Denver every Friday night, then returning every Monday morning.

In a study in Current Biology in 2012, Roenneberg and colleagues in Germany and the Netherlands surveyed 65,000 European adults to understand their sleep habits, health behavior and physical health. They found that 69 percent of respondents suffered from at least an hour of social jet lag each week, and a third of participants regularly suffered at least two hours of social jet lag. Like short sleep, social jet lag appears to be a significant health hazard. Even after the researchers accounted for sleep duration and other characteristics that affect health, people who suffered social jet lag were more likely to be overweight than those whose social and biological clocks were more in sync. And among people who were overweight, more extreme social jet lag was associated with much greater risk of obesity.

The importance of considering both the duration and the timing of sleep is further bolstered by a study by Buxton and colleagues, which showed that disrupting people's internal clocks as well as partially restricting their sleep could increase risk of both diabetes and obesity. In the research, reported in Science Translational Medicine in 2012, Buxton's group controlled the sleep and diet of 21 participants for six weeks, cutting their sleep by about two hours per night and subjecting them to an artificial 28-hour circadian day for three weeks. The participants' pancreatic function went "haywire," Buxton says, causing hyperglycemia after a breakfast meal, which over time leads to increased risk of diabetes. The circadian and sleep disruption also caused a metabolic slowdown that, if not counteracted, would cause a weight gain of about 10 pounds a year.

Far-reaching effects

The ill effects of too little sleep go well beyond metabolism and cardiovascular risk. For example, research indicates that sleep loss also messes with people's moods and leads to exaggerated pain perception. In a 2005 study published in Pain, Harvard University neurologists Monika Haack, PhD, and Janet Mullington, PhD, brought research participants into the laboratory and randomly assigned them to sleep for either four or eight hours per night for 12 consecutive nights. Even when participants did not report fatigue, the shorter sleepers reported lower levels of optimism and sociability, an effect that grew stronger the longer the experiment continued.

Haack and Mullington also found that sleep-deprived research participants reported increasing "bodily discomfort" — known to most of us as pain — starting after the second sleep-deprived night and lasting until after their recovery sleep. In a follow-up study published in SLEEP in 2007, they found that sleep deprivation caused increases in blood plasma levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a signaling molecule that contributes to pain sensitivity. The more bodily discomfort that participants reported in Haack and Mullington's study, the more their IL-6 levels were elevated. Even though the increases in IL-6 were typically small, the researchers argued that they may play an important role in exacerbating pain.

Sleep's importance is now felt across more areas of medicine. In a 2012 study in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, psychologist Kathi Heffner, PhD, of the University of Rochester Medical Center, and colleagues reported that when healthy men and women age 50 and older were given stressful cognitive tasks, those who were poor sleepers showed a larger IL-6 response — a marker of inflammation — than did good sleepers.

Other research shows that sleep apnea and other sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) conditions are associated with higher cancer incidence as well as more deaths from cancer. In a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in 2012, the University of Wisconsin's F. Javier Nieto, MPH, MD, PhD, and colleagues found that the incidence of cancer deaths in patients with severe SDB was five times higher than in those without the disorder.

Even the body's immune response to vaccines is weaker if the recipient is short on sleep, according to a recent study in SLEEP led by University of California, San Francisco, health psychologist Aric Prather, PhD. The researchers gave 125 healthy adults a three-dose series of hepatitis B shots, monitoring their sleep duration and quality for a week before and after each shot. Results showed that people who slept less during the study had lower antibody response to the vaccine, potentially increasing their susceptibility to hepatitis infection.

Who lacks sleep?

Just as important as understanding the effects of insufficient sleep is understanding who is most at risk, so that efforts to fix the problem can be concentrated most effectively. In recent years, sleep researchers have found that insufficient sleep is related to a constellation of social factors, including socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, and workplace and neighborhood conditions.

In a 2010 survey of 9,714 randomly selected Pennsylvania adults, published in BMC Public Health, Grandner and colleagues found a significant "sleep disparity" within the sample. Overall, minority respondents had poorer sleep quality than white respondents. However, among those who were impoverished, whites unexpectedly fared worse.

In the most refined look at sleep and race to date, Northwestern University's Mercedes Carnethon, PhD, used wrist monitors to study sleep patterns in a random sample of 500 healthy U.S. adults. Results showed that after accounting for potentially confounding cardiovascular disease risk factors and education levels, black adults slept an average of only 6.8 hours per night, compared with 7.4 hours, on average, for whites. Asians and Hispanics didn't fare much better — they slept an average of 6.9 hours per night.

Workplace conditions also appear to exert power over one's sleep — or lack thereof. In a 2010 study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology that looked at sleep duration and cardiovascular disease risk in 393 health-care workers, Buxton and colleagues found that workers with less-supportive managers — as defined by their "openness and creativity in dealing with employee work-family needs" — got 29 minutes less sleep daily and were twice as likely as those with more supportive bosses to have two or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease. "That's a powerful effect of a supervisor on their low-wage employees," Buxton says.

Where one lays one's head is another important risk factor, says Lauren Hale, PhD, of Stony Brook University School of Medicine. She suspects that people in low-income neighborhoods can't sleep as well due to a constellation of physical and psychological hazards — from high-traffic streets and inadequate heating and cooling to food insecurity and landlord hassles. In a study published in Social Science & Medicine in 2012, Hale and colleagues examined the associations among neighborhood conditions, sleep quality and health in using data from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin. People who reported they lived in neighborhoods with more physical and social disorder tended also to report poorer sleep quality, perceive their health as poorer and experience more symptoms of depression.

By statistically controlling for numerous demographic and health factors, Hale's team found that people's sleep quality accounted for about 20 percent of the association between neighborhood quality and both self-rated health and depression. "The determinants of poor sleep fall along lines of social disadvantage," Hale concludes. "My hunch is that it's bigger than just A/C and noise. It's more about autonomy. If people have choices and control over their lives, they have more ability to shut down at night and sleep when they need to sleep and wake up when they need to wake up."

Findings that link sleep deficiencies to social factors signal a need for a more sophisticated public health approach to promoting healthy sleep, sleep researchers believe. "We have to understand the social and environmental context of health behaviors before we can intervene on them," Grandner says. For some people, simple changes to "sleep hygiene" can go a long way toward ensuring a good night's sleep. But it would be naïve to believe that across the board, simply educating people about the importance of healthy sleep habits — avoiding caffeine late at night, having a consistent bedtime routine, eschewing the seductive blue light of the laptop late at night — will be sufficient to correct endemic problems that lead to insufficient sleep.

Strength in sleep

"I'll sleep when I'm dead."

You've no doubt heard it said, and possibly even said it yourself. You were joking, and projecting a certain brio, the notion that sleep is a luxury.

Buxton doesn't see the humor, and he has a quick retort. "If you want [death] to come sooner," he responds. Sleep, he argues, can be an incredibly strong indication "of things going well or things going wrong."

Even as the causes and consequences of insufficient sleep become better understood, developing and implementing behavioral interventions to improve sleep are likely to be major challenges. Grandner speculates that doing so will require a community-based behavioral strategy, similar to campaigns used to improve diets and promote regular exercise.

Can we change health at a societal level by changing sleep patterns?

"I think it's possible," Hale says. "Do I think it's easy? No." But she does think it's important to try to tackle the deteriorating length and quality of sleep wrought by new devices, new media and new societal pressures. Recently, she came across a disturbing video in which a motivational speaker tells teens, "If you're going to be successful, you've got to be willing to give up sleep. … You've got to be willing to work off of three hours of sleep, two hours … because if you go to sleep, you might miss the opportunity to be successful."

"I hate the ethos that sleep is for the weak," she says. "That's very shortsighted, and the wrong message to be sending adolescents. In the long run, everybody is better off if they go to bed at a reasonable hour."

Siri Carpenter, PhD, is a writer in Madison, Wis.

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