Category: insomnia

Scientists Have Found the Gene That Governs an Organism’s Waking Life

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The Biology of Sleep Cycles

The day-night cycle is an inescapable part of living on planet Earth, so it wasn’t too surprising when scientists discovered that organisms (including humans) have an internal body clock that follows this same day-night rhythm; however, when we look at ostensibly drab or banal subjects like the rhythms that govern wakefulness and sleep, the “why” and the “how” transform the quotidian and banal into fascinating challenges requiring the most creative minds in the world.

This is exactly what happened to three American biologists, Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young. Last week, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for discovering the master genes that govern a creature’s waking life and, ultimately, solving the mystery of the body’s circadian rhythms.

Scientists who lived during the 18th century, like the Frenchman Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, saw the first hints of the body’s internal clock when plants that were kept at a constant temperature in a dark cupboard retained their daily rhythm, opening and closing their leaves at regular intervals. Strangely, de Mairan believed this was because plants can “sense the Sun without ever seeing it.”

Of course, this wasn’t actually the cause, and we can prove that now, thanks to the work of the latest Nobel winning scientists.

Sleep is in the Genes

For their work, the three American biologists above isolated the gene in fruit flies that determines the rhythm of a living organism’s waking life. In so doing, as the Nobel prize committee noted in their press release, the scientists peered into the machinery that “explains how plants, animals, and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.”

To break this down a bit, the active “period” gene encodes a protein inside the cell overnight. This protein later degrades during the daytime hours. This process goes on, and on, and on, governing the rhythm of when we are awake and when we are not.

In the human brain, this gene exists in a tiny part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. It’s linked to the retina in the eye and, farther back, it connects to the brain’s pineal gland, which secretes the sleep hormone melatonin.

Prof Robash, a 73-year-old faculty member of Brandeis University of Waltham in Massachusetts, noted that, when he published his study in the 1980s, he never had any “grandiose thoughts” about the significance of the discovery. But since then, it has become a major topic in scientific circles and the significance well understood.

Robash explains the gravity of the discovery, noting that, ultimately, this process is a fundamental component of our biology and has a significant impact on how organisms function on the cellular level: “It’s [now] pretty clear that it has its fingers in all kinds of basic processes by influencing an enormous fraction of the genome.”

American Insomniacs

So what does this mean for you? How does it impact your day-to-day life? Well, for starters, it allows scientists to better understand the biology of sleep. This, in turn, helps us understand how to achieve optimum conditions for rest. And one of the things that we know now is the role that deep touch has when it comes to sleep.

But to back up a bit, in 2014, 30 to 35 percent of Americans had brief symptoms of insomnia, this is caused by a myriad of factors and the symptoms usually last no more than three months. However, a full 10 percent of the American population suffers from chronic insomnia disorder, which occurs at least three times weekly for at least three months.

Obviously, insomnia can affect productivity at work or undermine job advancement. In the U.S. alone, about $63 billion in lost work is attributed to insomnia-related work performance each year. It can prevent you from performing at your best in school. It could also exacerbate background depression, cause anxiety attacks, and even cause death.

Image credit: hernanpba
Image credit: hernanpba

Earlier this year, The Center for Sleep Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reported that up to 70 million Americans suffer sleep disorders, which adds a maddening $15.9 billion to the national healthcare bill. So what’s a sleepless insomniac to do?

Perscriptions are one option, but they can have high reoccurring costs and may not be suitable for all individuals. Moreover, as a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders notes, “drugs are often addictive or have side effects, and psychological/behavioral methods require long treatment sessions and it may take time to achieve satisfactory results….Hence there is a need for additional, simpler methods to promote and maintain better sleep.”

And it turns out there are simpler solutions to sleepless nights on top of us (nearly) every night. This is where deep touch comes in. Blankets actually affect how you sleep, and weighted blankets have proven to be exceptionally effective at helping you keep your eyes shut.

Weighted blankets spread an even amount of pressure across the entire body while you’re asleep. Pellets inside the blanket give it roughly 10 percent of the user’s body weight, and gravity forces contours to form around the shape of the sleeper’s body. The pressure is a kind of deep touch therapy. This increases serotonin levels, which then creates melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep. This is similar to the way swaddling a baby helps them sleep.

Gravity Blanket, made by Gravity Products LLC, is specifically designed to do all of this. With a tried-and-tested gravity blanket, your body can heal and repair heart and blood vessels, battle illness, and regulate hormone levels.

Head here to check out the science behind the gravity blanket’s proprioceptive input and select a blanket of your very own.

The post Scientists Have Found the Gene That Governs an Organism’s Waking Life appeared first on Futurism.

This Weighted Blanket Has Been Scientifically Proven To Reduce Your Stress and Improve Sleep

Sleeping Like a Baby

Counting sheep may work for some people, but for others, falling (and staying) asleep is a problem with seemingly no solution. The Center for Sleep Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reports that more than 10 percent of the population is affected by a sleep disorder, while the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research estimates that as many as 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems—adding a whopping $15.9 billion to the national healthcare bill.

Effective treatments for sleep disorders have proven elusive. From trying prescription medications to attending therapy to undergoing alternative treatments like hypnosis, suffers have spent innumerable waking hours in pursuit of a good night’s sleep.

However, those solutions bring with them their own problems.

“Drugs are often addictive or have side effects, and psychological/behavioral methods require long treatment sessions and it may take time to achieve satisfactory results,” according to a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders. “Hence, there is a need for additional, simpler methods to promote and maintain better sleep.”

That simpler method could have been right in front of sufferers — or, more accurately, right on top of them — all along. The blanket you use at night can actually affect how you sleep, and one type, in particular, has proven to be effective at helping bring on the Sandman: weighted blankets.

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Weighted blankets work by applying an even amount of pressure over a person’s body while they sleep. Pellets evenly distributed within the blanket give it a weight that is roughly 10 percent of the user’s body weight, and gravity causes the blanket to mold to the shape of their body while they sleep.

The resulting pressure acts like a form of deep touch therapy, increasing the body’s serotonin levels, which, in turn, creates melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. It’s kind of the same concept behind swaddling a baby to help them sleep.

Unfortunately, society at large hasn’t had access to the benefits of deep pressure stimulation. To that end, the Gravity Blanket recently launched on Kickstarter in order to give access to all individuals.

The Science of Sleep

In a study of otherwise healthy adults complaining of chronic insomnia, researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, noted that “when the participants used the weighted blanket, they had a calmer night’s sleep, with a decrease in movements. Subjectively, they believed that using the blanket provided them with a more comfortable, better quality, and more secure sleep.”

In fact, this improved sleep can literally be the difference (in some instances) between life and death. According to the National Institutes of Health, studies have show that sleep deficiency impairs driving ability as much as, or even more than, being drunk. In fact, driver sleepiness is a factor in an estimated 100,000 car accidents annually, resulting in approximately 1,500 deaths.

Even if you never get behind the wheel, not getting enough good sleep can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. Sleep problems have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity, as well as mood swings, depression, and suicide.

Conversely, getting the right amount of good sleep can help your body heal and repair heart and blood vessels, regulate hormone levels, and battle illnesses. It also leads to improved problem solving, creativity, and memory.

With so much riding on your ability to get a good night’s rest, a Gravity Blanket could be worth its weight in gold. You can learn more about the science behind proprioceptive input, and select a blanket, here.

Futurism has partnered with Gravity Products LLC to bring you this exclusive product.

The post This Weighted Blanket Has Been Scientifically Proven To Reduce Your Stress and Improve Sleep appeared first on Futurism.