10 Brain Damaging Habits

brain damageAccording to the World Health Organization here’s 10 habits that can severely damage your brain:

No Breakfast1.  No BreakfastSkipping breakfast in order to lose weight or save time is totally wrong and directly affects our brain. Those who don’t take breakfast or take unhealthy breakfast having lower blood sugar level and sometime it may cause overweight.

2. Overreacting – causes hardening of the brain arteries, leading to a decrease in mental power.

3. High Sugar consumption – Too much sugar will interrupt the absorption of proteins and nutrients causing malnutrition and may interfere with brain development by reducing the production of Brain Derived Neutrotrophic Factor, without which the brain cannot learn.

Smoking4. Smokingcauses brain shrinkage, damages memory, judgment, learning and thinking powers and may even lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

5. Air PollutionThe brain is the largest oxygen consumer in our body. Inhaling polluted air decreases the supply of oxygen to the brain, bringing about a decrease in brain efficiency.

6. Sleep Deprivation Sleep allows our brain to rest. Long term deprivation from sleep will accelerate the death of brain cells.

7. Head covered while sleeping – Sleeping with the head covered decreases available air space and forces you to start breathing carbon dioxide instead of oxygen. This leads to a rise in intracranial pressure and results in brain hypoxia which may lead to brain damaging effects.

8. Working your brain during illness – Working hard or studying with sickness may lead to a decrease in effectiveness of the brain. When we are sick the brain is at its weakest and becomes more easily stressed. This stress can also affect memory.

9. Drinking too little water – Water is the main source of energy and is essential for brain function and activity of neurotransmitters. Dehydration can lead to anger, stress, exhaustion, depression and lack of mental clarity.

Talking Rarely10. Rarely Talking – Intellectual conversations help to train and promote efficiency of the brain. Conversely, lack of stimulating thoughts may cause brain shrinkage. Reading SRxA’s Word on Health and discussing the content with friends is an excellent way to avoid this!  So grab a glass of water and subscribe today. Consider it free brain fuel!

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Sleeping Your Way to Success

As the fall semester winds down at colleges and universities, countless students will doubtless be pulling all-night study sessions to prepare for upcoming exams. Fueled by Red Bull, Monster energy drinks, or sheer fear of failure, last minute cramming will be going on in dorm rooms, libraries around the world.

Ironically, as it turns out, the loss of sleep during these all-nighters could actually work against students performing well.

Dr. Philip Alapat, medical director of the Harris Health Sleep Disorders Center, and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, recommends that students study throughout the semester instead, and get at least 8 hours of sleep the night before exams.

Memory recall and ability to maintain concentration are much improved when an individual is rested,” he says. “By preparing early and being able to better recall what you have studied, your ability to perform well on exams is increased.”

College-aged students ideally should get 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Truth is, most students get much less.

Any prolonged sleep deprivation will affect your mood, energy level and ability to focus, concentrate and learn, which directly affects your academic performance,” Alapat adds.

All-nighters, especially when coupled with caffeinated beverages lead to a risk for developing insomnia and sleep disorders, including apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Alapat’s recommendations:

  • Get 8-9 hours of sleep nightly (especially before final exams)
  • Try to study during periods of optimal brain function (usually around 6-8 p.m.)
  • Avoid studying in early afternoons, usually the time of least alertness
  •  Don’t overuse caffeinated drinks
  • Recognize that chronic sleep deprivation may contribute to development of long-term diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease

Good advice!  Excuse me while I go to bed – I have an Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) exam in the morning!

Springing Forward Safely

SRxA’s Word on Health reminds you to turns your clocks forward an hour before going to bed tomorrow night. But as your dream of that extra hour of daylight, remember all good things come with a price.  First, the switch to summer time means we all lose an hours’ sleep. More worryingly, the time change may be bad for your health.

According to experts at the University of Alabama in the days immediately following the time change your risk of having a heart attack goes up by about 10%.

Because the Sunday morning of the time change doesn’t require an abrupt schedule change for most people, the elevated risk doesn’t kick in until Monday when people rise earlier to go to work.

Interestingly, the opposite happens in the fall, when we turn the clocks back. Then, the risk of heart attacks drops by 10%.

Exactly why this happens is not known but there are several theories,” says Associate Professor Martin Young, Ph.D. from the University of Alabama’s Division of Cardiovascular Disease.  “Sleep deprivation, the body’s circadian clock and immune responses all can come into play when considering reasons that changing the time by an hour can be detrimental to someone’s health.”

Young offers several possible explanations:

Individuals who are sleep-deprived weigh more and are at an increased risk of developing diabetes or heart disease. Sleep deprivation also can alter other body processes, including inflammatory response, which can contribute to a heart attack. Apparently, your reaction to sleep deprivation and the time change also depends on whether you are a morning person or night owl. Night owls have a much more difficult time with springing forward.

Circadian clock – every cell in the body has its own clock that allows it to anticipate when something is going to happen and prepare for it. When there is a shift, such as springing forward, it takes a while for the cells to readjust. It’s comparable to knowing that you have a meeting at 2 p.m. and having time to prepare your presentation instead of being told at the last minute and not being able to prepare.

Immune function – immune cells have a clock, and the immune response depends greatly on the time of day. In animal studies, when a mouse is given a sub-lethal dose of an endotoxin that elicits a strong immune response, survival depends upon the time of day they were given this endotoxin. Mice that were put through a phased advance much like Daylight Savings Time, and then had a challenge to their immune system, died, whereas the control animals that were not subjected to a phased advance survive when given the same dose of the toxin.

Fortunately, the body’s clock eventually synchs to the new time on its own.  In the meantime we offer you some tips to help you ease your body into the adjustment.

  • Wake up 30 minutes earlier on Saturday and Sunday than you need to in preparation for the early start on Monday
  • Eat a decent-sized breakfast
  • Go outside in the sunlight in the early morning
  • Exercise in the mornings over the weekend

These tricks will help reset both the master, clock in the brain that reacts to changes in light/dark cycles, and the peripheral clocks — the ones everywhere else including the one in the heart — that react to food intake and physical activity, thereby reducing the chance of a heart attack on Monday.

Assuming we all survive the annual time change shock to our system, we look forward to seeing you back here after the weekend.

Dozing Off or Going Off Line?

If, like us, you’ve ever “misplaced” your keys or stuck the milk in the cupboard and the cereal in the refrigerator, we have good news for you. According to new research, chances are you’re not going mad, or showing signs of early Alzheimer’s – your brain may simply have been taking a nap!

The study published this week in Nature suggests that certain napping neurons in an otherwise awake brain may be responsible for the attention lapses, poor judgment, mistake-proneness and irritability that we’ve all experienced when we haven’t had enough sleep.

Doctors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison say they have found that some nerve cells in a sleep-deprived, yet awake, brain can briefly go “off line,” into a sleep-like state, while the rest of the brain appears awake.

Even before you feel fatigued, there are signs in the brain that you should stop certain activities that may require alertness,” says Dr. Chiara Cirelli, Professor of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine and Public Health. “Specific groups of neurons may be falling asleep, with negative consequences on performance.”

Until now, scientists thought that sleep deprivation generally affected the entire brain. EEGs typically show network brain-wave patterns typical of either being asleep or awake.  Micro sleep, a term used to describe momentary periods of sleep that can occur at any time, typically without significant warning was thought to be the most likely cause of accidents due to falling asleep at the wheel while driving.

But the new research found that even before that stage, brains are already showing sleep-like activity that impairs them.  In the current study, researchers inserted probes into the brains of freely-behaving rats. After the rats were kept awake for prolonged periods, the probes showed areas of “local sleep” despite the animals’ appearance of being awake and active.
And there were behavioral consequences to the local sleep episodes. When they kept the rats up beyond their bedtime, the rats started to make mistakes. When challenged to do a tricky task, such as reaching with one paw to get a sugar pellet, they began to drop the pellets or miss in reaching for them, indicating that a few neurons might have gone off line.

This activity happened in few cells,” Cirelli adds. “Out of 20 neurons we monitored in one experiment, 18 stayed awake. From the other two, there were signs of sleep—brief periods of activity alternating with periods of silence.”

So, the next time you do something dumb, don’t blame yourself, just tell people your brain was off-line!

What’s Your Sleep Number?

Yesterday morning I was up at 3.15am to catch a flight, this morning it was 4.00am.  Tomorrow I have a 6.00am flight and on Friday I can look forward to another at 5.40am. Each of these early morning departures has, or will be, preceded by a late evening meeting.  All of which led me to thinking about sleep, or lack thereof.

A sleepless night can make us cranky and moody. So much so that sleep deprivation is sometimes used as a form of torture. So I was pleasantly surprised by new research that shows it can also bring on temporary euphoria.

Scientists at UC Berkeley and Harvard Medical School studied the brains of healthy young adults and found that their pleasure circuitry got a big boost after a missed night’s sleep. However that same neural pathway that stimulates feelings of euphoria, reward and motivation after a sleepless night may also lead to risky behavior.

When functioning correctly, the brain finds the sweet spot on the mood spectrum. But the sleep-deprived brain will swing to both extremes, neither of which is optimal for making wise decisions,” said Matthew Walker, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study.

The findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, underscore the need for people in high-stakes professions and circumstances not to shortchange themselves on sleep.

Medical professionals, airline pilots and new parents take note.  “Based on this evidence, I’d be concerned by an emergency room doctor who’s been up for 20 hours straight making rational decisions about my health” added Walker.

So how much sleep do we need?

Most adults function best with 7 to 9 hours of sleep, although only about two-thirds of Americans regularly get it. Children fare better with 8 to 12 hours, while elderly people may need only 6 to 7.

One-third of Americans are sleep-deprived, regularly getting less than 7 hours a night, which puts them at higher risk of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other health problems.

And then there are “short sleepers”.  It’s estimated that about 1% to 3% of the population, function well on less than 6 hours of sleep. Such people are both night owls and early birds, and tend to be unusually energetic and outgoing.  Not only are their circadian rhythms different from most people, so are their moods and their metabolism. They also seem to have a high tolerance for physical pain and psychological setbacks.

Who are these people?  Some short sleepers say their sleep patterns go back to childhood and some see the same patterns starting in their own kids, such as giving up naps by age 2. “As adults, they gravitate to different fields, but whatever they do, they do full bore,” says Christopher Jones, a University of Utah neurologist and sleep scientist

Typically, at the end of a long, structured phone interview, they will admit that they’ve been texting and surfing the Internet and doing the crossword puzzle at the same time, all on less than six hours of sleep,” says Dr. Jones. “There is some sort of psychological and physiological energy to them that we don’t understand.”

Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Leonardo da Vinci and Margaret Thatcher were too busy to sleep much, according to historical accounts. Winston Churchill and Thomas Edison came close but they were also fond of taking naps, which may disqualify them as true short sleepers.

Nowadays, some short sleepers gravitate to fields like blogging, and social media, where their sleep habits come in handy.

We can’t argue with that.  As many Word on Health readers have noted, ours is the first mail to hit their in-box every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Have any sleep stories to share?  We’d love to hear from you.

No excuse for sleeping on the job!

SRxA Word on Health bloggers know just how hard pharmaceutical and business execs work. The deadlines, the late nights, the weekends and of course, the crazy travel schedules. With all this sleep deprivation you’d think we’d all be forgiven the occasional lapse of judgment.

Not so, says a new study!

Research conducted at Washington State University into the effects of sleep deprivation on executive functioning and published in the January 2010 issue of the journal Sleep has yielded surprising results.

The study looked at 23 subjects, who spent 6.5 consecutive days in a controlled laboratory environment. One group was kept awake for two consecutive nights, while the other was on a normal sleep schedule.

Three times during the experiment, subjects were asked to complete a series of executive tasks that measured working memory, scanning efficiency, resistance to proactive interference and verbal fluency.

The research psychologists found that working memory -a key element of executive functioning- was essentially unaffected by as much as 51 hours of total sleep deprivation. Instead, they saw a degradation of non-executive components such as information intake.

Follow-up studies will examine how distinct components of decision making are affected by sleep deprivation and how this influences the overall decision-making. Ultimately, this may lead to development of interventions that will improve decision-making in emergency responders, police officers, and military personnel for whom getting enough sleep is often not an option.

Meanwhile, with tiredness no longer an acceptable excuse for bad business decisions, we wonder if this mean the end of the executive power-nap?!?