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Seeking Better Sleep Under a Weighted Blanket

Toddlers have long used “blankies” to help them feel secure, dry tears, and fall asleep quickly.

Now, some adults with insomnia, depression, and anxiety are rediscovering that feeling of security — for a price – in the form of weighted blankets.

But can a little extra weight really help you sleep better?

Leslie Kosco, 56, an oncology nurse in Indianapolis, thinks so. For the past 3 months, she has snuggled under her light gray, 20-pound weighted blanket. She bought it after reading that it could improve sleep and lower anxiety.

“It gives me the feeling that someone is hugging me, and making me feel calmer,” she says. “I think my sleep is better.” The anxiety? “Well, you know,” she laughs. She works with cancer patients, and she and her partner have an active 9-year-old.

She has no idea how the blanket works but is happy it does.

What Is a Weighted Blanket?

Weighted blankets are usually filled with plastic pellets to add weight, ranging from about 4 to 25 pounds. You pick the heaviness of the blanket based on your own weight. Prices range from about $120 to $249 or more.

People compare a weighted blanket’s “hug” to the feeling of the X-ray ”apron” the dentist puts on you, says David Fuchs, CEO of BlanQuil, one of the makers of weighted blankets.

Other companies include Gravity Blanket, Mosaic Weighted Blankets, and SensaCalm. Fuchs launched his product in December 2017, after he searched for something to help his adult daughter improve her sleep.

“It secures you in one place,” Fuchs says. “It seems to help people sleep by the calming effect of feeling like they are being held.”

Mike Grillo, managing director of Gravity Blanket, says they shipped more than 50,000 weighted blankets in 2017. That was after the Brooklyn-based startup raised $4.7 million on Kickstarter from late April to late May, 2017.

Laura LeMond says she founded Mosaic Weighted Blankets in 2010 after designing a blanket to meet her own needs for better sleep.

She says the trend has taken off in the past 2 years. At least a half-dozen companies sell them now.

What the Research Shows

Grillo says there aren’t many independent studies of the blankets for adults that are reviewed by independent researchers and published in reputable medical journals.

In one study funded by the blanket makers, Swedish researchers found that 31 men and women with moderate insomnia who used the blankets for 2 weeks reported a calmer night’s sleep with fewer movements. They believe the blankets helped them sleep more comfortably and securely, and they had higher-quality sleep.

Researchers have looked at how the blankets affect mental health patients. A study from 2015 found that after 32 adults used a 30-pound blanket, 63% reported lower anxiety and 78% preferred the weighted blanket to calm down.

Weighted blankets offer deep pressure stimulation, a form of touch pressure that feels like a firm hug, a massage, or swaddling. While research on weighted blankets is sparse, deep pressure stimulation has been found to calm adults and children with anxiety, autism, and attention difficulties, researchers say.

A Doctor Weighs In

Raj Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California and a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says the blankets may help people with chronic pain sleep better, as well as those with anxiety or depression.

It gives me the feeling that someone is hugging me, and making me feel calmer.

Leslie Kosco of Indianapolis
“It’s like having the best hug for a long period of time,” he says. And, he says, it may be ”a good alternative to life-long sedative hypnotic medications (sleeping pills) at night.”

But he cautions that the weighted blanket is not the cure-all for improving sleep.

“You also have to pay attention to the foundation of good sleep hygiene,” he says. That means using the bedroom only for sleep and sex, turning off electronics before bedtime, and keeping the lighting, sounds, and temperature conducive to sleep.

While some research has looked at 30-pound blankets, there is no data behind the “right fit.” The companies suggest you pick one that is about 10% of your body weight so it will not be too heavy, says LeMond of Mosaic. “And for kids, it’s 10% of body weight plus 1-2 pounds,” she says.

Grillo similarly suggests a target of 7% to 12% of your body weight.

By Kathleen Doheny              FROM THE WEBMD ARCHIVES

SOURCES:
Article: Seeking Better Sleep Under a Weighted Blanket
Leslie Kosco, 56, oncology nurse, Indianapolis.
Mike Grillo, managing director, Gravity Blanket.
David Fuchs, CEO, BlanQuil.
Laura LeMond, founder, Mosaic Weighted Blankets.
Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders: “Positive Effects of a Weighted Blanket on Insomnia.”
Occupational Therapy in Mental Health: “Exploring the Safety and Therapeutic Effects of Deep Pressure Stimulation Using a Weighted Blanket.”
Consumer Reports: “Sheets Buying Guide,” “Higher Thread Count Doesn’t Guarantee Better Sleep.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “What type of mattress is best for people with low back pain?”
Mayo Clinic: “Pregnancy week by week,” “Sleep Apnea.”
National Sleep Foundation: “Find Out What You Really Should Be Wearing to Bed,” “Hear,” “Touch,” “The wrong pillow can be a real pain in the neck — not to mention a barrier to a good night’s sleep. So find the right fit,”  “How to Choose Your Ideal Sheets,” “Americans’ Bedrooms Are Key To Better Sleep According To New National Sleep Foundation Poll,” “Choosing a Mattress: Everything You Need to Know.”
The Better Sleep Council: “Starfish or Freefall? What Your Sleep Position Can Tell You.”


REFERENCES: 
National Institute of Mental Health: “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
MedlinePlus: “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Role of Research in Improving the Understanding and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Treatment of Anxiety Disorders.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “How to Get Help for Anxiety Disorders.”
Sherman, K. Depression and Anxiety, May 2010.
Pilkington, K. Autonomic Neuroscience, October 2010.
Lakhan, S. Nutrition Journal, October 2010.
Saeed, S. American Family Physician, August 2007.
National Institute of Mental Health: “Panic Disorder.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Social Phobia.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Specific Phobias.”

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on April 02, 2018

 

source: www.webmd.com
weighted-blanket-for-adults-laying-down-side

Can a Weighted Blanket Help You Sleep Better?
We Tested One For a Month to Find Out

Judging by social media and other chatter, one of the impactful talks at TED 2019—held in Vancouver in April—was Matthew Walker’s “You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep—and it’s Killing You.”

Walker, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, has been encouraging people to take sleep more seriously for a few years now, arguing that, short-term, a lack of sleep messes with our memory, appetite and immune systems, and, long-term, could make us more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. That got people’s attention.

Shouldn’t we already know that sleep is an important thing, though? We all know the joy of a solid, uninterrupted eight hours, right? And, on the flip side, anyone who’s ever experienced a sleep disorder—roughly 40 per cent of Canadians, including me—is keenly aware that it’s not just the frustration in the middle of the night that’s a problem, it’s the fact that the next day’s largely a write-off, thanks to a haze of brain fog.

What is it that keeps people like me up? Anxiety? Stress? Depression? It might be a complex interplay of things, explains Dr. Christine Purdon, Director of Clinical Training of the PhD program in Clinical Psychology at the University of Waterloo and co-director of the Anxiety Studies Division, who says that insomnia is characteristic of a number of mental health problems.

“Some people have trouble sleeping because their thoughts race and they’re worried that they’re not going to be able to manage the challenges of the next day,” says Purdon. “So, they’re trying to problem-solve, but they can’t do anything about it at two in the morning in their bed, so the thoughts keep racing and then they get anxious. And you can’t sleep when you’re anxious because you’ve got cortisol running through your body.”

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that jacks up our blood sugar, suppresses our immune system and gets us ready to run away from predators—a built-in alarm, starting at the amygdala, a part of the brain that sends distress signals to other parts of the brain. Although our modern anxiety is more likely to be about deadlines or office politics than sabre-tooth tigers, we still make cortisol when the amygdala senses danger.

Purdon’s description is exactly how I feel at 5 a.m., hopelessly trying to get back to sleep with Jedi mind tricks. I should say, though, that I’ve been pretty lucky to have fewer (and shorter) bouts of insomnia over the past several years. Whereas, I once had torturous two- or three-week spells a few times a year, it’s down to a sporadic few nights a month. I attribute a lot of that to keeping more regular hours and paying attention to the quality of mattresses and light “noise” in the room.

I’d like to get it down to zero, though, so I’m always on the look-out for new strategies for better sleep. As such, when Sleep Country Canada offered to send me a Snuggable Weighted Blanket ($199 plus tax) to try out, I took them up on it.

Day One: The package tells me this 230-thread count, 15-pound blanket will “create a feeling of being hugged,” as well as “reduce chronic stress and high levels of anxiety” and “may increase serotonin and melatonin levels and decrease cortisol levels…to promote a better sleep.” The key word here is “may.” There really isn’t a lot of peer-reviewed research confirming the many anecdotal stories circulating that it’s helpful for anxiety and/or sensory processing disorders.

First night: Even if you think you have a pretty good idea as to what 15 pounds feels like, picking up this blanket produces cognitive dissonance—it’s way heavier than it looks. It’s also only five feet long, so you have to choose between covering your chest or your feet. Initially, I thought it was a non-starter, since it felt less like “hugging” and more like being trapped. Despite my concerns, I slept well.

Week Two: The weird thing is, you adjust to the weight pretty quickly—for me, I was actually looking forward to the sensation of added weight by the end of the first week. I was sleeping more on my back and moving around less, which is obviously a good thing

Week Three: Insomnia strikes. For me, it’s never about getting to sleep but, rather, staying asleep. I’ll wake up at 4 a.m. and that’s when the thoughts start racing. This generally lasts several hours, but, all four nights that it happened to me that week I was able to get back to sleep in under 15 minutes.

Month’s End: After a month with no insomnia, I’m a convert. I still have some trepidation, since I’ve had a lot of vivid dreams—sometimes too vivid. I’m also worried about whether or not it’ll be too hot in, say, mid-July.

I’m also worried it might not last. What if my good sleeps are just a placebo effect? As Dr. Purdon points out, without more studies, we can’t know. She can, however, imagine a theory for how a weighted blanket might work to alleviate some symptoms of anxiety.

“I have heard of people using weighted blankets and enjoying them,” she says. “I think that if it gives a safety signal—like that kind of warm sense of being bundled—I think it’s possible that sensation can make somebody feel safer and down-regulate the amygdala and get rid of the anxiety, which could help you get back to sleep.”

Still, Purdon warns that people shouldn’t get their hopes up that a blanket, no matter how good, will be life-transforming, even if future research does support the theory.

“I do have a fair bit of skepticism about things that come onto the market making big claims,” she says. “I don’t think there are quick fixes for anything. I think it’s great if some people try something and it helps them. But I don’t think something like that is going to cure anybody’s anxiety problems, that’s for sure.”

By Christine Sismondo        Special to the Star        Sun., May 5, 2019
Christine Sismondo is a Toronto-based writer and contributor to the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @sismondo
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More Evidence Linking Stress to Obesity

Using hair to measure long-term levels of the stress hormone cortisol, UK researchers confirm the link between chronic stress and packing on pounds, as well as difficulty shedding excess weight.

Previous research has tied high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood, urine or saliva to obesity, but these measurements can vary based on factors like the time of day and don’t capture long-term stress levels, the study team notes in the journal Obesity.

“When people are facing a stressful situation, a chain reaction is set off in the body that results in the release of cortisol, leading to higher levels of this hormone in the body,” said lead study author Sarah Jackson of University College London.
“Cortisol is involved in a broad range of biological processes, including metabolism, body composition and the accumulation of body fat,” Jackson said by email. “When we’re stressed out we may also find it more difficult to find the motivation to go for a run or resist unhealthy foods.”

Stress sets off alarms in the brain that trigger the nervous system to release hormones to sharpen the senses, tense the muscles, speed up the pulse and deepen breathing. Commonly called a flight or flight response, this biological reaction helps us defend ourselves in threatening situations.

Isolated or temporary stressful situations may not be harmful, but routine exposure to stress can lead to immune system problems, heart disease, nervous system complications and mental health disorders in addition to obesity.

For the study researchers examined data collected from men and women aged 54 and older taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Participants underwent tests every two years starting in 2002, and during the sixth wave of the study they provided a hair clipping.

The study team tested cortisol levels that accumulated in the hair over time in 2,527 men and women and found that participants with more cortisol in their hair were also more likely to be obese or have lots of excess fat around their midsection.

Researchers looked at cortisol levels in the two centimeters of hair closest to the scalp, which typically represents about two months’ growth. They also looked at weight, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height.

Participants who were classified as obese based on their BMI or waist circumference had particularly high levels of hair cortisol, the study found. Analyzing weight and body fat data from assessments in the four years prior to when the hair clipping was taken, researchers also found that obesity tended to persist over time for the people with the highest cortisol levels.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove how stress directly impacts cortisol levels or weight gain.

Other limitations include the primarily white, older adult study population, which means results may be different with younger people or other racial or ethnic groups, the authors note.

Even so, the findings add to growing evidence linking stress to obesity, said Dr. Susan Fried, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

Cortisol is released in response to many stresses, Fried, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. Chronically high cortisol is thought to promote fat accumulation around the waist and increase the ability of fat cells to store fat.

The fix for stressed out people looking to shed excess pounds isn’t clear from the study results, however.

“I don’t think there is strong evidence or consistent studies showing stress reduction itself causes weight loss,” Fried said. “There is accumulating evidence that sleep is very important; people overeat when under-rested.”

The findings do suggest that people may need to take a holistic approach to weight loss that goes beyond diet and exercise to consider factors like stress, said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Connecticut.

“You might think you need to improve your diet, or exercise more, and that’s true,” Katz, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “But for you, the first priority might be to manage stress better so you are more capable of doing those things, and reduce a hormonal barrier to weight control into the bargain.”

By Lisa Rapaport   Reuters Health
 
SOURCE: bit.ly/2kX4fQk Obesity, online February 23, 201.     www.reuters.com


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How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity

Research shows that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. Complaining is tempting because it feels good, but like many other things that are enjoyable — such as smoking or eating a pound of bacon for breakfast – complaining isn’t good for you.

Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future – so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.

You can’t blame your brain. Who’d want to build a temporary bridge every time you need to cross a river? It makes a lot more sense to construct a permanent bridge. So, your neurons grow closer together, and the connections between them become more permanent. Scientists like to describe this process as, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.

And here’s the kicker: complaining damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus – an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

Complaining is also bad for your health

While it’s not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage, it doesn’t stop there. When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol shifts you into fight-or-flight mode, directing oxygen, blood and energy away from everything but the systems that are essential to immediate survival. One effect of cortisol, for example, is to raise your blood pressure and blood sugar so that you’ll be prepared to either escape or defend yourself.

All the extra cortisol released by frequent complaining impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.

It’s not just you…

Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called neuronal mirroring, and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy. The flip side, however, is that it makes complaining a lot like smoking – you don’t have to do it yourself to suffer the ill effects. You need to be cautious about spending time with people who complain about everything. Complainers want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with complainers.

eckhart-tolle-complain-quotes

The solution to complaining

There are two things you can do when you feel the need to complain. One is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That is, when you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something that you’re grateful for. Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels. Any time you experience negative or pessimistic thoughts, use this as a cue to shift gears and to think about something positive. In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life.

The second thing you can do — and only when you have something that is truly worth complaining about – is to engage in solution-oriented complaining. Think of it as complaining with a purpose. Solution-oriented complaining should do the following:

  1. Have a clear purpose. Before complaining, know what outcome you’re looking for. If you can’t identify a purpose, there’s a good chance you just want to complain for its own sake, and that’s the kind of complaining you should nip in the bud.
  2. Start with something positive. It may seem counterintuitive to start a complaint with a compliment, but starting with a positive helps keep the other person from getting defensive. For example, before launching into a complaint about poor customer service, you could say something like, “I’ve been a customer for a very long time and have always been thrilled with your service…”
  3. Be specific. When you’re complaining it’s not a good time to dredge up every minor annoyance from the past 20 years. Just address the current situation and be as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Your employee was rude to me,” describe specifically what the employee did that seemed rude.
  4. End on a positive. If you end your complaint with, “I’m never shopping here again,” the person who’s listening has no motivation to act on your complaint. In that case, you’re just venting, or complaining with no purpose other than to complain. Instead, restate your purpose, as well as your hope that the desired result can be achieved, for example, “I’d like to work this out so that we can keep our business relationship intact.”

Bringing It All Together

Just like smoking, drinking too much, and lying on the couch watching TV all day, complaining is bad for you. Put my advice to use, and you’ll reap the physical, mental and performance benefits that come with a positive frame of mind.

TRAVIS BRADBERRY       Entrepreneur.com      Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016
A version of this article appeared on TalentSmart and Entrepreneur.com.


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Could the ‘Stress Hormone’ Affect Weight and Memory?

Cortisol Controls Stress, but What Else?

By Matt McMillen      WebMD Health News      Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

Nov. 9, 2015 – Although cortisol is known as the “stress hormone,” researchers suspect it plays a much larger role in our health.

A recent study, for example, linked cortisol to memory in older adults. People with unusually high nighttime cortisol levels had reduced brain size and did more poorly on cognitive tests. Scientists are also investigating the hormone’s ties to heart disease risk and weight, to name a few.

“The effects of cortisol are felt over virtually the entire body,” says endocrinologist Robert Courgi, MD, who practices at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y.

But researchers are just starting to understand what those effects are.

“Many of us endocrinologists are interested in this idea that our day-to-day cortisol levels, whether they are high or low, might make a difference to our overall health,” says Lynnette Nieman, MD, chief of the Endocrinology Consultation Service at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. “But there aren’t a lot of data that speak to that question.”

In the brain study, researchers tested morning and evening cortisol levels in the saliva of 4,244 older adults. Those with higher evening levels appeared to have smaller brain volume and worse brain function, like processing speed and “executive functioning” skills, which include paying attention, switching focus, planning, and organization. Those with higher morning cortisol levels, though, appeared to have better brain function.

But the researchers couldn’t say which came first: unusually high cortisol or the reduced brain size.

“Clearly there is a physiologic relationship,” says Courgi, who wasn’t involved in the research. “But is it cause and effect? Is it because there’s too much cortisol that you’re having memory problems? Or does the loss of memory lead to elevated cortisol?”

Another link researchers are looking into is the hormone’s potential role in the number you see when you step on the scale.

“There’s concern that cortisol causes weight gain, but there’s also the question of cause and effect,” Courgi says. “Is it the weight gain that elevates the cortisol, or the elevated cortisol that leads to weight gain?”

Cortisol helps regulate blood sugar levels, metabolism, immune response, and blood pressure. It balances electrolytes, and it aids in pregnancy.

It’s made in the adrenal glands, which are located just above the kidneys. That production is controlled by hormones released by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, both of which are found in the brain.

Stress, Cortisol, and Adrenal Fatigue

Stress, Cortisol

In times of great stress, cortisol floods the bloodstream, allowing energy sources to be available and preparing the body for the stress. When working properly, brain signals tamp down the production of cortisol after the danger has passed.

“It’s an important regulating feature that keeps us from getting really high cortisol levels,” Nieman says.

That feature doesn’t get your cortisol levels completely back to normal though, she says. While that may be cause for concern, especially for people who remain under constant stress, it’s a question that needs more research, Nieman says.

Stress can be psychological, such as that caused by problems at home or at work. It can also be physical. Fevers and low blood sugar, for example, are both stressors, Courgi says.

Stress isn’t the only cause of higher cortisol levels. Other culprits include:

  • Lifestyle habits, such as heavy drinking, smoking, lack of sleep, and a bad diet
  • Depression
  • Benign tumors on the pituitary gland or, more rarely, on the adrenal glands, can cause cortisol production to skyrocket, a condition called Cushing’s syndrome.

“There’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that people under chronic stress all have chronically elevated cortisol,” Nieman says. “But if they do, do they have high risk of medical diseases? And, if so, is it the high cortisol that’s causing it? You’d need to do a study that shows that reducing cortisol also reduced the risk of disease.”

Benefits of Lowering Cortisol?

Courgi and Nieman say more research is needed before they can say for sure that lowering levels of the hormone leads to better health. Still, Courgi says the evidence on cortisol’s effect on memory is compelling.

“The knowledge we have now certainly suggests that if you can reduce stress, reduce cortisol, you can prevent memory loss,” he says, “but we need more research to prove it.”

Practice healthy habits if you want to lower cortisol, he says. Quit smoking, and ease up on alcohol. Also, “mindful meditation, which calms and relaxes you and stops the wheels from spinning, has been proved to lower cortisol levels.”

SOURCES:
Robert Courgi, MD, endocrinologist, Southside Hospital, Bay Shore, N.Y.
Lynnette Nieman, MD, senior investigator and chief, Endocrinology Consultation Service, National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, Bethesda, MD.

source: WebMD


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A Simple Test Could Help Identify Thinking Problems

Test identifies smaller brain volume and problems with thinking.

A simple saliva test could help identify thinking problems in older people, a new study finds.

The study found a connection between the stress hormone cortisol and thinking skills.

Higher cortisol levels in the evening were linked to worse thinking skills and smaller brain volumes.

Dr Lenore J. Launer, one of the study’s authors, said:

“Studies have shown that depression increases the risk for dementia, but we don’t know much about how this relationship occurs.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been found in people with depression, and the theory is that cortisol has a toxic effect on the hippocampus area of the brain, which plays an important role in memory.”

The study included data from 4,244 people who did not have dementia.

cortisol test saliva

Dr Launer said:

“Since this study just looked at a snapshot in time, we don’t know which came first: the high levels of cortisol or the loss of brain volume.
It’s possible that the loss of brain volume that can occur with aging leads to a lesser ability of the brain to stop the effects of cortisol, which in turn leads to further loss of brain cells.
Understanding these relationships may help us develop strategies to reduce the effects of cortisol on the brain and thinking skills.”

The research was published in the journal Neurology (Mirjam et al., 2015).

source: PsyBlog


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Chronic stress can hurt your memory

By Serusha Govender and Sara Cheshire, Special to CNN     Tue June 17, 2014

A third of the brain’s volume is composed of blood vessels. Maintaining a healthy blood flow to those blood vessels is critical to keeping the brain young. Here are six ways you can keep your mind sharp: A third of the brain’s volume is composed of blood vessels. Maintaining a healthy blood flow to those blood vessels is critical to keeping the brain young. Here are six ways you can keep your mind sharp:

(CNN) – Do you tend to forget things when you’re stressed? Like when you’re late for a meeting and can’t remember where you left your car keys? Or when you have to give a big presentation and suddenly forget all your talking points seconds before you start?

There’s nothing like stress to make your memory go a little spotty. A 2010 study found that chronic stress reduces spatial memory: the memory that helps you recall locations and relate objects.

Hence, your missing car keys.

But there’s a difference between how your brain processes long-term job stress, for example, and the stress of getting into a car accident. Research suggests low levels of anxiety can affect your ability to recall memories; acute or high-anxiety situations, on the other hand, can actually reinforce the learning process.

stress

Cortisol, the hormone associated with stress, increases your brain’s ability to encode and recall of traumatic events, according to studies. These memories get stored in the part of the brain responsible for survival, and serve as a warning and defense mechanism against future trauma.

But if the stress you’re experiencing is ongoing, there can be devastating effects.

Neuroscientists from the University of California, Berkeley, found that chronic stress can create long-term changes in the brain. Stress increases the development of white matter, which helps send messages across the brain, but decreases the number of neurons that assist with information processing.

The neuroscientists say the resulting imbalance can affect your brain’s ability to communicate with itself, and make you more vulnerable to developing a mental illness.

Defects in white matter have been associated with schizophrenia, chronic depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Research on post-traumatic stress disorder further shows that it can reduce the amount of gray matter in the brain.

The Berkeley researchers believe their findings could explain why young people who are exposed to chronic stress early in life are prone to learning difficulties, anxiety and other mood disorders.

To reduce the effects of stress, the Mayo Clinic recommends identifying and reducing stress triggers. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep and participating in a stress-reduction activity such as deep breathing, massage or yoga, can also help.

source: www.cnn.com


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A Memory Aid for Seniors: Laughter

SUNDAY, April 27, 2014  (HealthDay News)

Humor and laughter may help combat memory loss in the elderly, a new study suggests.

Previous research has found that the stress hormone cortisol can harm memory and learning ability in older adults. This new study examined whether mirth might reduce the damage caused by cortisol.

Researchers showed a 20-minute humorous video to a group of healthy seniors and a group of seniors with diabetes. These groups were compared with a group of seniors who didn’t see the video.

The two groups that watched the funny video showed significant decreases in cortisol levels and greater improvements on memory tests, compared to the group that didn’t see the video. The diabetes group showed the largest decrease in cortisol levels, while the healthy group had the greatest improvement on memory tests.

The study was to be presented Sunday at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego. Research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

“It’s simple, the less stress you have, the better your memory,” one of the study’s authors, Lee Berk, said in a Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology news release. “Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decreases memory [brain cells], lowers your blood pressure and increases blood flow and your mood state. The act of laughter — or simply enjoying some humor — increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward.

“These positive and beneficial neurochemical changes, in turn, make the immune system function better,” Berk added. “There are even changes in brain wave activity towards what’s called the ‘gamma wave band frequency’, which also amp up memory and recall. So, indeed, laughter is turning out to be not only a good medicine, but also a memory enhancer adding to our quality of life.”

The findings could be used in designing wellness programs for the elderly, according to study author Dr. Gurinder Singh Bains. Berk and Bains are both from Loma Linda University in Calif.

The study did not prove that humor offsets memory loss, it only found an association between the two.