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Stages of Sleep: Discover what happens when you sleep

Stages of Sleep. Everyone needs sleep and although the overall reason as to why is still a mystery, science is finding out more and more daily about the phenomena that teenagers love and adults don’t get enough of. Did you know that newborns spend 80% of their time sleeping in a stage that adults only spend 20-30% in? What are the stages of sleep? What is the difference between REM sleep and non-REM sleep? Why do we sleep in stages and in which stage do we dream? What happens to the brain and the body throughout the stages of sleep? What are some tips to get a better night’s rest?

Stages of sleep- we have 4 official stages of sleep- Stage 1, 2, 3 (N3), and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). 

Stages of sleep

As we sleep, we go through different stages of sleep- 1, 2, 3, 4, and REM sleep. Our bodies start at Stage 1 and then progress until they reach REM- a process that takes between 90 and 110 minutes. Then, the process starts all over again until the person wakes up. When we wake up groggy to our alarm, a phenomenon known as sleep inertia, it’s because we were awoken from a deep sleep in Stage 3, Stage 4, or our REM stages of sleep.

The stages of sleep were first discovered in the 1930s when a scientist, Loomis, and his teammates began to do overnight electroencephalography (EEG) recordings of people sleeping. In the late 1960s, it became possible to be able to identify and specify reliably each sleep stage as well as their role in the sleeping process. Back when we didn’t know much about sleep and before the time of EEGs, it was believed that our brains shut down while we are asleep in order to rest and recover. However, we now know that it’s quite the opposite and our brains are incredibly active while we sleep.

What are the stages of sleep?

Each person spends a different amount of time in each sleep cycle. Infants and adults differ, too. Adults spend about 50% of their total time asleep in Stage 2, 30% in Stages 1, 3, and 4, and 20% in REM. Infants spend about 50% of their total time asleep in REM. Newborn babies spend about 80% of their time in REM sleep.

Stages of sleep: Stage 1

Stage 1 is a form of light sleep and the stage where we drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily. Our eyes, under our closed eyelids, move slowly and our muscles begin to have lower activity. It’s during this first stage that people can feel the sensation of falling due to muscle contractions. The point of Stage 1 is to be a transition between Stage 2 and waking up. It makes up about 3% of our total sleep time. It occurs only twice during a full night’s rest (without an alarm)- when we fall asleep and when we wake up.

Stages of sleep: Stage 2

Stage 2 is a form of light sleep and the stage where our eye movement stops completely and our brain waves slow down exponentially. However, there is the occasional rush of rapid brain waves. Our body temperatures drop a bit and our hearts slow down as the body tries to prepare itself to fall into a deeper sleep. People who are awoken during Stage 2 often claim they were awake or deny they were asleep.

Stages of sleep: Stage 3

Stage 3 is a form of sleep and is the stage of sleep when incredibly slow brain waves, known as delta waves, are scattered and combined with smaller, yet quicker, brain waves. It’s within the Stage 3 that people can go through parasomnias– wetting the bed, talking in one’s sleep, sleepwalking and night terrors. These parasomnias happen because the body is in transition between non-REM sleep and REM sleep.

Stages of sleep: Stage 4 (N3)

Stage 4 is a form of deep sleep and is the stage where the brain produces almost 100% delta waves. When awoken from Stage 4, people are groggy and disoriented for a short period of time.

In 2008, some sleep medical specialists eliminated the use of Stage 4 in their research and combined Stages 3 and 4 which are now considered to be Stage 3 or N3. Mostly due to the fact that science has been unable to show any true difference between the two stages. However, some places around the world still use the term Stage 4.

Stages of sleep: REM

REM, the fifth stage of sleep, stands for Rapid Eye Movement and occurs when our brain waves mimic and repeat the activity that happens while we are awake. Although our eyes are closed, our eyes move from side-to-side due to brain activity such as dreams.

Stages of sleep: REM vs. non-REM sleep

Our sleep cycle can be split into two categories: non-REM and REM. The non-REM stages of sleep, also known as NREM, are the stages 1-4 and are considered to be the slow wave sleep stages which happen for the first half of the night. REM sleep, the rapid eye movement stage, happens for the second half of the night. The first REM cycle happens after all the other stages of sleep have happened (about 90 minutes after falling asleep) and last roughly 10 minutes. Within a healthy sleep cycle, people will have three to five cycles of REM sleep a  night- each cycle lasting longer with the final REM cycle lasting up to an hour.

REM sleep is incredibly important, as is non-REM, but was only recently discovered in 1953 when machines were developed to monitor brain activity. Before that, scientists believed that our brain activity stopped while we were sleeping- but, oh, it’s quite the opposite.

Stages of sleep- everyone goes through the same stages of sleep, but each person differs in how much time they spend in each stage.

Why do we sleep in stages?

We sleep in stages because our bodies need it. All of the stages of sleep have a specific purpose for the body. Stages 1-N3 (4) are meant to have a regenerative effect on numerous processes in the body. REM sleep is necessary to process our memories from the previous day. Our brain takes all of the information we took in during the day (memories, impressions, feelings, etc.) and puts them into our long-term memory. A good night’s sleep and subsequent good sleep cycle is essential for our mental capacity. Some studies even suggest that sleep cleans up and removes toxins that built up in the brain while we were awake.

Stages of sleep: In what stage do we dream?

REM is the stage of sleep that dreams can occur. This is because it’s the stage in which the brain is most active. A French study found that everyone dreams between four to six times a night. However, not everyone remembers their dreams. If someone is woken up during their REM stage, they can remember the dream. During REM sleep, our bodies have a non-permanent muscle paralysis which helps prevent us from injuring ourselves while trying to act out our dreams while asleep. Another study found that it’s possible to dream while in the non-REM stages of sleep, but it occurs most often in the morning hours which happens to be the time with the highest occurrence of REM sleep, too.

What happens to the brain in each stage of sleep

According to Harvard Medical School, the brain is more active asleep than awake. The stage of sleep someone is in affects how active their brain and body are.

Non-REM sleep. During Stage 1, our brain waves slow down, but our brains stay connected and alert. During Stage 2, the brain waves slow down even more. During the Stage 3/N3, the brain becomes less responsive to external stimuli which is what makes it difficult to wake someone up when they are in an N3 stage. Scientists have found that during non-REM sleep, the slow brain wave activity leads to less blood flow into the prefrontal cortex- the part of the brain that is involved with social behavior, cognitive behavior, decision making, and personal expression.

REM sleep. During REM sleep, our brain becomes more active than it is while we are awake. The brain processes information from the previous day and stores it in our long-term memory- a fact backed by numerous studies. This transfer of memories from short-term to long-term memory happens due to the sharp brain wave ripples in the hippocampus (the part of the brain that forms part of our limbic system) and within the cortex (the outer layer of the cerebrum). Episodic memory that was acquired during our awake state and is stored in the hippocampus. These brain waves take the memories from the hippocampus to the cortex to be stored as long-term memory- all this while you’re blissfully asleep. The amygdala, the part of the brain in charge of emotions, also becomes increasingly active during REM sleep.

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What happens to the body in the different stages of sleep

Not only does our brain change within the stages of sleep, but our bodies do, too.

During Stage 1, our heart rate and breathing begin to slow down as well as our eye movements. Our body temperature decreases slightly. Our muscles begin to relax during this stage which is why people experience sleep starts or hypnic jerks– the feeling of falling even when you’re lying down in the middle of the bed. During Stage 2, our heart rate slows down, even more, our muscles relax further (although the sleep inertia/jerky movements aren’t going to happen as often) and our eye movement stops. During Stage 3/N3, the heart rate slows down to its lowest level during the stages of sleep, as does our breathing. Our blood pressure falls, not dangerously, and our body temperatures become even lower. Our muscle activity almost decreases and our eye movement stops entirely. This is when sleepwalking and sleeptalking happen. During the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage, our eyes, of course, move rapidly back and forth. The heart rate and blood pressure begin to increase slightly (especially compared to Stage 1). However, our body temperature falls to the lowest point during sleep. Our breathing turns into fast and shallow. The muscles in our arms and legs are so deeply relaxed that the body becomes almost unable to move.

Stages of sleep- try reading a book before bed and skipping out on the afternoon coffee break with friends to help get a better night’s sleep.

Stages of sleep: Tips to get a better night’s rest

  • When taking a nap because you’re tired, try to nap for only 15-20 minutes-even just 5 minutes can be beneficial- because the further along you are in the stages of sleep and their cycle, the harder it is to wake up. However, taking a 90-minute nap (the equivalent of a full sleep cycle) has been scientifically proven to help you retain things you just learned (one study says by 5 times more!). People who take 10-minute naps while on the night shift have been discovered to wake up better, be more alert, and have an easier time to stay awake than someone who takes a 30-minute nap.
  • Try not to nap after 3 PM and make sure that the naps are short.
  • Try going to bed and waking up at the same time daily. That way, your body (and its sleep cycles) become used to its schedule and can wake up easier in the mornings as well as fall asleep easier at night.
  • Avoid caffeine –some types of caffeine can take up to eight hours to wear off according to Harvard Health.
  • If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, get up to find something relaxing to do until you feel sleepy again.
  • Try reading. Not only does reading take you to a different place, but it’s proven to reduce stress levels by 68% and help you fall asleep.
  • Avoid large meals before bed because they are difficult to digest.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Co-Sleeping With Your Newborn- A Complete Guide

After 9 long months of anticipation and mixed emotions, you finally get to welcome your little bundle of joy into the world. You’ve gained valuable knowledge about the pros and cons of co-sleeping vs. crib- sleeping through the hundreds of books, articles, and magazines that you’ve read. 273.75 days were spent preparing for motherhood but, you’re torn. Which do you choose? In this complete guide you will become familiar with what co-sleeping actually means, the relationship between co-sleeping and breastfeeding as well as the relationship between co-sleeping and sudden infant death syndrome, the pros and cons of co-sleeping, guidance for safe sleep and bed sharing, the relationship between co-sleeping in early childhood and social experiences during infancy, recommendations presented by the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA), the famous Parent- Infant Co-Sleeping Debate, and tips on how to stop sleeping with your newborn.

Co-sleeping with newborn

What is Co-Sleeping?

Here in the United States, a growing trend exists among families with newborn babies. Since 1993, more moms are choosing to hold their infants close throughout the night. This child-rearing practice of bedsharing, defined as infants and young children sharing a bed with their parents for sleep, has grown from about 6 percent to 24 percent in 2015.

A recent survey of over 8,000 caregivers in the United States revealed that rates of regular parent-infant co-sleeping more than doubled between 1993 and 2000, from 5.5% to 12.8%. In contrast to the rapid practice of parent-infant co-sleeping in Western societies, clinicians continue to push for separate sleeping arrangements between parents and their infants. Truth be told, it is likely that numerous parents today feel so unsupported in their decision that they feel the need to conceal their choice from their childcare doctors.

Co-Sleeping With Siblings: Is It Safe?

In a study of urban Chicago families, researchers found that parental co-sleeping is not significantly associated with infant death, but co-sleeping with someone other than a parent, such as a sibling, was associated with increased risk.

Allowing other children to co-sleep in the bed with you and your baby is totally acceptable with caution and boundaries. Do not allow toddlers or older children to sleep directly next to the infant. If other children are sharing the bed, keep your partner between them and the baby.

Co-Sleeping With a Newborn- Instinct or Tradition?

From the moment the nurse places the newborn baby on the mother’s chest, there is an instant mother-infant interaction. This early skin- to- skin contact creates a physiological need to be together immediately after birth and during the hours and days that follow. Just like the nature vs. nurture debate, co-sleeping is both an instinct and a tradition around the world.

Co-Sleeping: Instinct

According to James Mckenna, an anthropologist who has been studying infant sleep for 40 years, mothers and infants mutually gravitate towards each other for survival. Human babies are contact seekers. What they need most is their mother’s and father’s bodies. Through the eyes of Mel Konner, an anthropologist at Emory University, the practice of bed-sharing has existed way before the discovery of the human species. Konner reveals that homo sapien moms and their newborns have been sleeping together for more than 200,000 years. Modern hunter-gatherer cultures provide insight into the traditional co-sleeping behaviors of our early progenitors. Even till this day, the practice continues to be universal and widespread around the world.

Co-Sleeping: Tradition

Yale University’s Human Relation Area Files presents evidence that bed-sharing is a tradition in at least 40 percent of all documented cultures. Some cultures even think it’s cruel to separate a mom and baby at night. In one study, Mayan moms in Guatemala responded with shock and pity when they heard that some American babies sleep away from their moms. In Japan, the most common sleeping arrangement is referred to as kawa no ji or the character for the river: 川. The child is represented by the shorter line and both the mother and father are represented by the longer lines.

Western culture, then again, has a long history of separating mothers and infants at night. Historians have noted that babies from wealthy Roman families slept alongside the bed in cradles and bassinets. By the 10th century, the Catholic Church started banning” infants from the parental bed to prevent poor women from intentionally suffocating an infant whom they didn’t have resources to care for. If a mother was caught sleeping with her one-year-old infant in her bed, she was excommunication from the church.

Co-Sleeping and Breastfeeding

In the mid-1990s, Notre Dame’s James McKenna decided to figure out just what happens at night when a mom sleeps with her baby. What seemed relatively unthinkable to others was actually a relatively easy task for Mckenna and his colleagues to carry out.

To better understand the relationship between co-sleeping and breastfeeding, he transformed his laboratory into an apartment, recruited dozens of moms and babies to use in this study, and analyzed their bodies while they slept. Both the physical movements of the moms and babies were captured using infrared cameras, as well as their heart rate, breathing patterns, chest movement, body temperatures, brain waves and the carbon dioxide levels between the moms’ and babies’ faces.

What McKenna found was amazing. When the mother is breastfeeding, she positions her body around the infant that resembles a shell. Through experimental observations, he saw that the mother naturally arches her body around her baby and pulls up her knees just enough to touch the baby’s feet. Inside the “shell,” the infant hears the mother’s heartbeat and, thus, subconsciously slows down their own heart rate. Additionally, the child hears the mother’s breathing, which mirrors the sounds that the infant heard in the womb. It contains a swoosh, swoosh sound, which in turns sounds like, ‘hush, hush little baby.

 “It’s no wonder nearly every culture uses a swooshing sound to soothe a crying baby.” -Mckenna

The mom’s warm breath creates little clouds of carbon dioxide around the baby’s face. In spite of the fact that this may sound unsafe for the infant, the mother’s breath fortifies the child’s breathing and reminds them to take a full breath. McKenna found that for the duration of the night, babies who were breastfed in this investigation did not move all over the bed. Instead, newborns stood laser-focused on one location basically staring at their mother’s breast almost all night. In this study, it is evident that infants have evolved to experience this closeness, night after night after night.

Studies have shown that babies who aren’t breastfed have an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Based on James Mckenna’s research, breastfeeding keeps babies and mothers in a lighter stage of sleep, which decreases the risk of SIDS and promotes a greater awareness of what the other is doing.

Co-Sleeping and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year of age. Even after an autopsy, a thorough examination of the death scene, and an intense review of the deceased individual’s clinical history, an exact cause of this disease can remain unknown. Sometimes known as “crib death,” scientific researchers associate SIDS with deficits in the infant’s brain that control the infant’s breathing and arousal from sleep. While medical examiners have discovered a combination of sleep and environmental factors that might put your baby at risk, they’ve also identified simple measures that you can take to help protect your child from this tragic cause of death.

In a family co-sleeping with their newborn, possible causes of death are clarified by ecological components. On the off chance that the baby was born with brain deficits, low birthweight, or respiratory infections, the items in their crib and/or their sleeping position can ignite these physical issues. A blend of both sleep, environmental, and physical variables can extraordinarily build the danger of SIDS.

Albeit sudden infant death syndrome can strike any infant, scientists have recognized a few factors that may build a child’s hazard. They include:

  • Sex: Boys are slightly more likely to die of SIDS.
  • Age: Infants are most vulnerable between the second and fourth months of life.
  • Race: For reasons that aren’t well-understood, nonwhite infants are more likely to develop SIDS.
  • Family history: Babies who’ve had siblings or cousins die of SIDS are at higher risk of SIDS.
  • Secondhand smoke: Babies who live with smokers have a higher risk of SIDS.
    Being premature: Both being born early and having a low birth weight increase your baby’s chances of SIDS.

In the early 2000s, a few investigations found that bed-sharing considerably raised a child’s danger of SIDS. In these cases, the proof is solid and clear. Parents who drink or take drugs shouldn’t be sleeping with their infants since they could move over onto their child. Mothers who’ve just given birth to infants who are premature should not smoke or sleep in the same bed as their babies because of potential respiratory issues that can occur in the infant. Suffocation can likewise happen when babies sleep on couches since babies can be caught in between their parent and the cushions.

Peter Blair, a medical statistician at the University of Bristol, and his colleagues spent 25 years studying SIDS epidemiology. They found that a baby was 18 times more likely to die of SIDS when sleeping next to a parent who had been drinking. In another study, they found a similar risk for babies sleeping on sofas.

However, what about families who don’t drink or smoke? Whose babies aren’t premature or underweight?

In an analysis from two case-control studies in the UK, Robert Platt, a biostatistician at McGill University, examined the relationship between sudden infant death syndrome and infants who co-sleep in the absence of hazardous circumstances. One examination included 400 total SIDS cases and just 24 cases in which the infant had shared the bed without parental hazards. In the other examination, there were only 12 of these cases out of 1,472 SIDS deaths. In the last investigation, some data about the parent’s drinking propensities was missing. Nevertheless, the two examinations arrived at comparative conclusions. For babies older than 3 months of age, there was no detectable increased risk of SIDS among families that practiced bed-sharing, in the absence of other hazards. So far, only two studies have looked at this question.

Platt believes that there may be an increased risk among babies who are younger than 3 months. He further explains that if there is an increased risk, it’s probably not of a comparable magnitude to some of these other risk factors, such as smoking and drinking alcohol. In other words, the risks present in this age group do not pose as much as a risk than parents who decide to co-sleep with their children after they’ve just smoked a cigarette or drank a beer, or two. Overall, the two studies suggest bed-sharing, when no other hazards are present, raises the risk of SIDS by about threefold.

Co-sleeping and SIDS Risk Factors

  • Parents who become tired easily, sleep heavily, consume alcohol or take medication that affects their level of consciousness
  • Illness of either the mother or the baby: First and foremost, you must take care of your health and your baby’s health before co-sleeping with your newborn. Skin- to- skin contact easily distributes germs between the mother and her baby.
  • Babies who are underweight or preterm
  • Sofas and/or waterbeds
  • Soft bedding and pillows
  • Excessive pillows and duvet covers
  • Room Temperature
  • Bedding that covers the infant’s head

Smoking serves as another significant risk factor in sudden infant death syndrome. Compared to their non- smoking counterparts, babies are 15 times more likely to die from SIDS if their mothers smoke during their pregnancy. In 1998, the Department of Health conducted a survey where only 9% of women knew that smoking in pregnancy increased the risk of SIDS. The CESDI Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Infancy (SUDI) Studies found that babies who died within the first year of life were twice as likely to have been exposed to tobacco smoke, with the risk increasing with the number of hours of exposure.

The most frequent risk in bed-sharing arrangements is paternal alcohol consumption among certain social groups. Helen L. Ball found that: “the heaviest drinking bed-sharing fathers were of middle- income, socioeconomic classes III and IV, with little post-16 education, whose partners were breastfeeding their first infants.” As the numbers of babies who are breastfed increases in this section of the population, attention needs to be paid to the wider implications of these changes in infant care practices.

“The heaviest drinking bed-sharing fathers were of middle- income, socioeconomic classes III and IV, with little post-16 education, whose partners were breastfeeding their first infants.”- Helen L. Ball

Guidance for Safe Co-Sleeping and Bed Sharing

  • Keep the mattress firm: Co-sleeping should never take place on a water-bed, sofa, or old sagging mattress because this can put the infant at risk for suffocation.
  • Ensure that your baby’s sleep environment is free of any gaps or small spaces
  • Maintain the room temperature at a comfortable temperature – around 18°C.
  • Do not overdress or swaddle your baby: Care should be taken to ensure that the baby cannot become entangled in loose ties from nightwear. Parents should keep a close eye on signs of overheating, such as sweating or the chest feeling hot to the touch, throughout the night.
  • Keep pillows away from the baby
  • Keep the crib bare: There is no evidence that bumper pads prevent injuries, and there is a potential risk of suffocation, strangulation or entrapment.
  • If your partner is sharing the bed with you and your baby, make sure that he/she is aware that the baby is in the bed
  • Never allow pets to share the bed
  • Become aware of the protective “C”- shaped position for co-sleeping. This is especially important for bottle-feeding mothers
  • Never co-sleep with your infant if you’re under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
  • Regardless of where the infant sleeps, always place an infant on its back to sleep.
The New Zealand Strategy

Specialists have been utilizing the New Zealand Strategy for a considerable length of time and the outcomes have been tremendous. Since 2010, mortality rates have decreased as much as 30 percent in the realm of sudden infant death syndrome.

The New Zealand Strategy specifically figures out which babies are at high risk for SIDS. Through this strategy, families will not be shamed by their decision to co-sleep, rather, they’re being taught how to bed-share more safely. Doctors will talk about what increases the risk, such as drug use and alcohol use, and families are given a so-called Moses basket so that the family can bring the baby into the bed. If parents feel less judged by their doctors, then they are able to receive better advice about the dangerous circumstances surrounding SIDS.

Co-Sleeping Pros

An implied medical advantage of bedsharing is that it encourages increased frequency and duration of breastfeeding, which is broadly held to be the best strategy for nourishing youthful babies. Bedsharing promotes breastfeeding and greater bonding opportunities. While there is no current research contending that co-sleeping has a defensive impact against SIDS, James McKenna’s exploration has demonstrated that babies who sleep by their mothers exhibit positive physiological changes. These progressions can hypothetically decrease the dangers of SIDS.

Co-Sleeping Cons

Co-sleeping puts the infant at risk for sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome, accidental suffocation, and accidental strangulation. About 3,700 babies die each year in the U.S. from sleep-related causes. From a psychiatric viewpoint, prolonged bed sharing may be considered symptomatic of maternal separation anxiety, an inability to set limits, difficulty maintaining a consistent child bedtime routine, or a disturbed mother-infant relationship.

Due to the fragmented and poor quality sleep of family members, elementary school children tend to act out and cause disruptions in family life. Concerns have been raised about the unfavorable results of bedsharing for family relations, particularly the marriage, with some warning that marital intimacy will suffer from prolonged bed sharing arrangements. Whereas bed- sharing can potentially hinder the romantic relationship between parents, there is a lack of empirical evidence to support this possible co-sleeping con. Solitary sleeping and co-sleeping families both report marital intimacy and partner satisfaction despite existing controversies.

In a study comparing both U.S. and Chinese elementary school children, the Chinese children were reported to have more sleep problems such as difficulty falling asleep, fear of sleeping in the dark, talk during sleep, and restless sleep. Although researchers clearly see that these children are suffering from the consequences of sleep disturbances, do nighttime care providers see these characteristics as problematic? Cultural considerations must be included as researchers evaluate the disruption posed by night wakings and other sleep behaviors. Parental recognitions are socially bound and essential to an evaluation of what constitutes a sleep issue. The definitions of sleep onset and night waking problems in young children are, to a certain extent, culturally determined.

Co-Sleeping and Safety Concerns

Those who are against co-sleeping argue that the practice is, in many ways, a dangerous one that, because of health, developmental, and safety concerns, has been and should continue to be abandoned by health professionals and parents. On the other side of the spectrum, some researchers contend that the practice of bedsharing is only a risk factor for SIDS if parents smoke or engage in other hazardous practices. They’ve also argued that entrapment/suffocation is only associated with bedsharing due to other contextual factors such as bed safety (soft mattresses, sleeping together on a couch) and parental variables (e.g. intoxication, smoking).

Co-Sleeping and Childhood Development

One one side of this controversial debate, some researchers argue that co-sleeping deters childhood development. They see the first year as an opportunity for infants to master sleep consolidation and sleep regulation. Other research views the process of sleep consolidation and sleep regulation as a natural process that matures over the course of the first several years of life. Controversy on whether falling asleep and staying asleep should be done naturally and independently or with the aid of parental involvement continues to reign as an issue for this field.

Co-Sleeping: Psychosocial Outcomes

Another formative issue concerns the psychosocial outcomes for children and parents of early sleep arrangements. Of prime interest is whether the requisite path towards independence and separation–individuation will be derailed for bed- sharing infants. In particular, Western societies believe that children should acquire the skills that are needed to thrive as independent individuals. This promotes the belief that ‘self-soothing’ in infants is an important developmental milestone. Co-sleeping or sleeping with a parent or sibling prevents the infant from becoming independent. Despite these convictions, evidence suggests that children who co- slept with their parents during the first year of life, are fundamentally more autonomous in everyday living abilities and in their social relations with peers as preschoolers compared to solitary sleeping children.

In their 18-year longitudinal study of conventional and nontraditional families, Okami and colleagues found that bedsharing during infancy and early childhood was unrelated to long-term problems in sleep, sexual pathology or problems in other areas of behaviour. Some sleep specialists see constant night wakings and excessive dependence on parental help for going to sleep and staying asleep in newborns and young children who co-sleep. However, in numerous nations around the globe where bedsharing is the norm, reports of rest issues are uncommon.

Co-Sleeping in Early Childhood and Social Experiences During Infancy

Marie J. Hayes, Michio Fukumizu, Marcia Troese , Bethany A. Sallinen and Allyson A. Gilles studied the relationship between co- sleeping arrangements in early childhood and social experiences during infancy. They monitored this relationship by using sleep- wake behaviors that took place during the infancy and early childhood periods from current and retrospective parental reports.

A convenience sample of 3-to 5-year-old children was obtained from the University of Maine’s Child Study Center in Orono, Maine. The Child Study Center is part of the Psychology Department at the University and provides a preschool educational experience to families who are encouraged to take interest in the preschool’s research mission. The average age of the children was 3.8 years, 51% were female, and 73% were breastfed during infancy.

Results showed that early childhood co-sleeping was reactive. Co-sleeping in early childhood was associated with sleep location in infancy (i.e. proximity to the mother’s bed) during wake–sleep transitions and night feedings. In infancy, researchers recalled an inverse relationship between the use of security objects in early childhood and current parent- seeking behaviors, night waking, poor bedtime routines, fear of the dark, and social contact during wake–sleep transitions. These findings suggest that co-sleeping in early childhood is related to social experiences during infancy, particularly the amount of parent social contact and security object use.

At 12 months old, a newborn’s proximity to the mother’s bed was related to co-sleeping at 2 and 4 years of age. Infant sleep location in a different room was related to self- soothing techniques that were practiced independently by the infant. Self-calming was additionally identified with a more prominent delay in parental intervention for night crying. Self-soothing opportunities are presented to the infant with increased proximal distance from the maternal bed, less parental awareness of infant awakenings, and longer delays in responding.

Interestingly enough, the use of a sleep aid may do more harm than good at sleep onset. In infancy, security object attachment and difficulty without the object were associated with more solitary sleeping and independent sleep onset skills in early childhood. Infants who did not use a sleep aid were associated with more co-sleeping in early childhood. In sum, you will find that infants who have more independent sleep onset skills, solid sleep routines, and low rates of nightwalking in early childhood have a history of using a sleep aid during infancy. In Western society, it’s possible that parental encouragement of object use may be simply a corollary of parental practices that are cultural conventions. These parents believe that early independent sleep onset skills are best developed by the parental delay in response to infant night crying and ritualized bedtime routines.

Tips on How to Stop Co-Sleeping With Your Baby

It is evident that co-sleeping has both its pros and cons. If you are a parent who is 100% comfortable with continuing on the co-sleeping route, that’s totally fine! But if you are a parent who wants to slowly wean you and your child off of a co-sleeping agenda, then stay tuned for these tips on how to stop co-sleeping with your baby.

Why did you begin to co-sleep with your infant in the first place? How you address this issue relies upon how and why you are co-sleeping with your infant. However, regardless of your condition, there are additional components for an effective change.

You must have a consistent nighttime routine

Is your child going to sleep in your bed every night or not? On the off chance that your child resists or you miss that feeling when your child slept close to you throughout the night, you are disturbing the establishment of a new sleeping pattern. Keep in mind that intermittent reinforcement is a powerful mechanism for encouraging undesirable behavior. According to Craig Canapari, director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center, the number one reason families fail at extricating their child from their bed is that they are inconsistent.

Devise a sleep time plan

Consistency requires all hands on deck. All caregivers must be aware of what this new plan consists of. If you decide that the child will not be sharing the bed with you tonight, make sure your partner is aware of this decision. Discuss with your partner where your child will sleep during the day so you are prepared to act upon this decision at night.

Agree on a “quit date”

Choose a specific date to start a change in co-sleeping behaviors.

Make solitary sleeping fun

Feelings of apprehension are completely normal for anyone who’s facing any kind of change in a normal routine. But in terms of co-sleeping, some children might feel uncertain about spending the night alone in their own bedroom without their parents. To ease this scary situation, take your child to choose a new set of pajamas or a fun bedding set. Pick out a new stuffed animal to use as a transitional object.

Face this new experience alongside your child

The beginning of a solitary sleep routine is experienced by both the child and their family. You can’t expect your child to start sleeping by themselves in an unfamiliar place right off the bat so it’s important to ease into this new situation. Craig Canapari suggests that you move with your child in their room for a week or so before starting to withdraw your presence.

Help your baby fall asleep on their own

Your child is bound to wake up at some point during the night but in order to go back to sleep without parental aid, they have to work on falling back asleep on their own. Some parents find success in checking on their baby in the middle of the night and reassuring her, without picking her up or bringing her to bed with them.

Be patient

Rest assured, co-sleeping does not last forever! Just like any other behavior, solitary sleeping becomes automatic when the correct measures are taken. Eventually, your baby will learn how to sleep on their own and your bed will become yours again.

Please do not think of yourself as a so-called “bad parent” if you choose to co-sleep with your child at any stage of their lives. This article is not meant to make you feel that you failed your children in any way because you allow them to share the bed with you at night. I hope you found the information in this article useful and helpful. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

For further reading…

In an analysis from two case-control studies in the UK, Robert Platt, a biostatistician at McGill University, examined the relationship between sudden infant death syndrome and infants who co-sleep in the absence of hazardous circumstances. One examination included 400 total SIDS cases and just 24 cases in which the infant had shared the bed without parental hazards. In the other examination, there were only 12 of these cases out of 1,472 SIDS deaths. In the last investigation, some data about the parent’s drinking propensities was missing. Nevertheless, the two examinations arrived at comparative conclusions. For babies older than 3 months of age, there was no detectable increased risk of SIDS among families that practiced bed-sharing, in the absence of other hazards. So far, only two studies have looked at this question.

Platt believes that there may be an increased risk among babies who are younger than 3 months. He further explains that if there is an increased risk, it’s probably not of a comparable magnitude to some of these other risk factors, such as smoking and drinking alcohol. In other words, the risks present in this age group do not pose as much as a risk than parents who decide to co-sleep with their children after they’ve just smoked a cigarette or drank a beer, or two. Overall, the two studies suggest bed-sharing, when no other hazards are present, raises the risk of SIDS by about threefold.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Risk Factors:

The risk factors for SIDS include:

  • Parents who become tired easily, sleep heavily, consume alcohol or take medication that affects their level of consciousness
  • Illness of either the mother or the baby: First and foremost, you must take care of your health and your baby’s health before co-sleeping with your newborn. Skin- to- skin contact easily distributes germs between the mother and her baby.
  • Babies who are underweight or preterm
  • Sofas and/or waterbeds
  • Soft bedding and pillows
  • Excessive pillows and duvet covers
  • Room Temperature
  • Bedding that covers the infant’s head

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Smoking:

Smoking serves as another significant risk factor in sudden infant death syndrome. Compared to their non- smoking counterparts, babies are 15 times more likely to die from SIDS if their mothers smoke during their pregnancy. In 1998, the Department of Health conducted a survey where only 9% of women knew that smoking in pregnancy increased the risk of SIDS. The CESDI Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Infancy (SUDI) Studies found that babies who died within the first year of life were twice as likely to have been exposed to tobacco smoke, with the risk increasing with the number of hours of exposure.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Alcohol:

The most frequent risk in bed-sharing arrangements is paternal alcohol consumption among certain social groups. Helen L. Ball found that: “the heaviest drinking bed-sharing fathers were of middle- income, socioeconomic classes III and IV, with little post-16 education, whose partners were breastfeeding their first infants.” As the numbers of babies who are breastfed increases in this section of the population, attention needs to be paid to the wider implications of these changes in infant care practices.

“The heaviest drinking bed-sharing fathers were of middle- income, socioeconomic classes III and IV, with little post-16 education, whose partners were breastfeeding their first infants.”- Helen L. Ball

American Academy of Pediatrics: Recommendations on SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an association of 66,000 essential care pediatricians, pediatric therapeutic subspecialists, and pediatric surgeons. They are committed to the wellbeing, security, and prosperity of newborn children, youngsters, teenagers and youthful grown-ups.

“SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment,” draws on new research and serves as the first update to Academy policy since 2011. In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) expressed an opposition to bed-sharing with this statement: “It should be avoided at all times with a full-term normal-weight infant younger than 4 months.”

“It should be avoided at all times with a full-term normal-weight infant younger than 4 months.”- The American Academy of Pediatrics (APA)

Newly revised recommendations call for newborn babies to share their parents’ bedroom for the first six months and, optimally, for the first year of life. Parents should rest their baby on a firm sleep surface, such as a crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet. Lori Feldman-Winter, a member on the Task Force on SIDS, says: “There should be no pillows, sheets, blankets or other items that could obstruct the infant’s breathing or cause overheating.” While infants are at an increased risk for SIDS between the ages of 1 and 4 months, new evidence demonstrates that soft bedding continues to pose hazards to babies who are 4 months and older. To guarantee a safe resting place for your baby, stay away from soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys. The crib should be bare and the infant should be placed on their back. Research has shown that room-sharing decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.

“There should be no pillows, sheets, blankets or other items that could obstruct the infant’s breathing or cause overheating.”- Lori Feldman- Winter

Doctors strongly emphasize the importance of skin-to-skin care immediately following birth. Skin-to-skin contact ought to be limited if one, or both, parents smoke tobacco, abuse alcohol, or other illicit drugs. For this can jeopardize the infant’s health and ultimately, their life.

Breastfeeding is likewise prescribed as protection against SIDS. After feeding, the AAP urges guardians to move the infant to his or her separate sleeping space, preferably a crib or bassinet in the parents’ bedroom. Winter explains: “If you are feeding your baby and think that there’s even the slightest possibility that you may fall asleep, feed your baby on your bed, rather than a sofa or cushioned chair. If you do fall asleep, as soon as you wake up be sure to move the baby to his or her own bed.”

“If you are feeding your baby and think that there’s even the slightest possibility that you may fall asleep, feed your baby on your bed, rather than a sofa or cushioned chair. If you do fall asleep, as soon as you wake up be sure to move the baby to his or her own bed.”- Lori Feldman- Winter

Other recommendations include:

  • Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime.
  • Do not use home monitors or commercial devices, including wedges or positioners, marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Infants should receive all recommended vaccinations.
  • Supervised, awake tummy time is recommended daily to facilitate development.

References

American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Announces-New-Safe-Sleep-Recommendations-to-Protect-Against-SIDS. (n.d.).

Canapari, C. (2015, November 10). How To Stop Co-sleeping. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from https://drcraigcanapari.com/want-to-stop-cosleeping-heres-how/

Goldberg, W. A., & Keller, M. A. (2007). Parent-infant co-sleeping: why the interest and concern?.Infant & Child Development, 16(4), 331-339.

Hayes, M. J., Fukumizu, M., Troese, M., Sallinen, B. A., & Gilles, A. A. (2007). Social experiences in infancy and early childhood co-sleeping. Infant & Child Development, 16(4), 403-416. ( Study)

Is Sleeping With Your Baby As Dangerous As Doctors Say?. (2018). Morning Edition

Lucid Dreaming: Controlling Your Unconscious Brain

Lucid dreaming is a dream state where the person is completely aware that they are dreaming. In this state, a dreamer can control what happens in their dreams. How is this possible? Is there a way to increase your chances of lucid dreaming? What does neuroscience say is going on in the brain of a lucid dream? Keep reading below!

Lucid dreaming

Conscious Sleeping: 4 Essential Lucid Dreaming Tips

There are plenty of tips circulating the internet that provide various avenues to improve the likelihood of lucid dreaming. These sources provide the dreamer with an arsenal of tactics to differentiate whether or not they are dreaming. Some of these tips include: keeping a dream journal, attempting to read while dreaming, looking down at your feet while in a dream, and looking up at the sky when dreaming.

Lucid dreaming

1. Keeping a Dream Journal

The one trick that you can do while being awake is keeping a dream journal. After you wake up in the morning, write down everything you dreamt the night before. This will allow you to remember your dreams, as well as look back on previous dreams and see if any repeat. Once you are able to see a pattern of repeating dreams, you are able to recognize whether or not you are asleep.

For example, if you have a reoccurring dream that you are riding through the purple mountains on a unicorn, you can remember that you have experienced this specific dream before. Once this realization is made, you can recognize that you are in a dream. As this realization occurs, you have begun to lucid dream.

Lucid dreaming

2. Attempt to Read While Dreaming

People who experience lucid dreams claim that words and letters appear nonsensical when dreaming. This is a form of reality check that can help your unconscious mind shift into a dissociative state that holds characteristics of both wake-fullness and dreaming. By recognizing that the letters and words do not make sense, you can then acknowledge to yourself that you are dreaming. The moment you are aware that you are dreaming, you have begun lucid dreaming.

Lucid dreaming

3. Look Down at Your Feet

Another reality check that you can use to differentiate between wake-fullness and lucid dreaming, is staring down at your feet. This is a rather interesting tip and can be explained by the brain’s somatosensory cortex function. When dreaming, lucid dreamers claim that their feet are not actually on the ground, but instead are floating above the surface. This is most likely explained because when sleeping, proprioception and other somatosensations are unable to be processed.

Proprioception is the sense of knowing where in space one’s body parts are in relation to one another, as well as the surrounding environment. For instance, if you are blindfolded and move your arm above your head, you are still able to recognize that your arm has moved from your side to above your head. Even though you can not see that your arm placement has changed, you know that you moved your arm because of proprioception.

Other somatosensations like proprioception include thermosensation and mechanoreception. Thermosensation is the ability to recognize temperature, and mechanoreception is the ability to recognize touch and pressure.

When dreaming, the brain and body are not processing stimuli. Due to the lack of stimulus input, the brain can not process what it feels like to stand on a surface. This is why you appear to be floating.

Lucid dreaming

4. Look Up at the Sky

Looking up at the sky is yet another reality check that you can use to make yourself aware that you are dreaming. This tip is harder to explain than examining various parts of your body. It is commonly discussed that if you look up at the sky you will not see what you expect. Dream skies are not blue and filled with clouds, but instead appear as a painting.

Some sources claim that the sky is far too complex for your mind to recreate. This idea could be plausible but has more to do with the lack of stimulus reception, as mentioned before.

The sky is blue because blue is the shortest wavelength of light and is scattered more by atmospheric particles than other wavelengths of light. Our brain can make up the color blue because it has been exposed to the stimuli that allow us to perceive blue. However, the main reason for the distorted sky in dreams is due to how our brains perceive where the light comes from.

We assume that light comes from above. This assumption is due to our environment, the sun is above us and casts its light down. We perceive the directions of shadows, relative distance, and time of day based on light being cast from above us. This assumption is carried through to our dreams. So, when instructed to look up at the sky in a dream, where the brain is directing it’s falsified light source from, the sky appears to be a wash of color and movement.

As is the case for the other reality checks, acknowledging that this is not how the sky normally appears allows the individual to realize that they are in fact dreaming.

Lucid dreaming

Consciousness and Lucid Dreaming

The tips mentioned above can be explained to have an impact on whether or not you are dreaming based on how the brain interacts with sensation and perception. What other aspects of lucid dreaming can be explained by looking at the differences between the conscious and unconscious brain?

Consciousness is the state of being awake, and through neuroscience research, is thought to be a result of metacognition. This term just encapsulates many everyday tasks such as planning, reasoning, and the ability to interact with one’s environment. These higher-level processes are governed by the brain’s prefrontal cortex, but it is unclear as to whether consciousness is housed here. This is because the prefrontal cortex also interacts with many other brain regions, so it is hard to pinpoint whether or not consciousness is dedicated to one brain region.

Consciousness: Out Like a Light

We do, however, know that there is an on/off switch in the brain that controls consciousness. This switch is called the claustrum and is a thin sheet of neurons that is attached to the underside of the insular cortex. The insular cortex is a small part of the brain that is nestled deep down, separating the temporal, parietal, and frontal lobe. The functions of the insular cortex are tied to perception, intricate motor control, self-awareness, and other cognitive functions. These functions all sound like everything we experience while in a conscious state. Although some literature suggests that this where consciousness is held in the brain, it is a much more popular opinion that consciousness is an overarching state which is governed by multiple areas of the brain.

Due to the enhanced awareness, as well as the full control that a lucid dreamer has in the dream state, it is hypothesized that like in consciousness, there is some evidence of metacognition. This is also is correlated to the amount of gray matter found in the prefrontal cortex. Gray matter is neural tissue rich in unmyelinated neurons. The more neurons, as well as connections between neurons, that exist in the prefrontal cortex, the more likely that an individual will have enhanced capabilities to lucid dream.

The similarities between the conscious brain and the lucid dreaming brain seem to conclude that lucid dreaming is more closely related to consciousness. Hopefully, through using the tips you can try to lucid dream! The personal experience can prove to you whether or not you felt as alert as you are when conscious.

Migraine Triggers: What are Migraines and How to Avoid Them

Knowing migraine triggers may help you avoid them

What are migraines?

Though migraines are common (migraines and tension type headaches are the second and third most common disease in the world) the exact cause of migraines is still not fully understood. However, specialists have been able to determine common migraine triggers. Knowing what these triggers are might help you prevent a future migraine by avoiding the migraine triggers that we’ll talk about below.

Migraines are ranked as the seventh most disabling disease among all diseases globally, and the leading cause of disability among all neurological disorders. Migraines and headaches are leading causes of outpatient and emergency department visits and are particular issues for women during their reproductive years. However, many people who suffer from migraines and headaches do not receive adequate treatment and care, instead choosing to rely on over the counter medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Healthcare and lost working days due to migraines cost as much as $36 billion in the US alone.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are four types of headache disorders:

  • Migraines
  • Tension type headaches
  • Cluster headaches
  • Medication overuse headaches

Migraines will often begin in childhood, mostly during puberty, and mostly affects those between 35 and 45 years old, but recurs over the lifetime. It is also twice as common in women than men, mostly due to hormonal differences. Migraine frequency can vary from between once a week to once a year.

Different types of neurotransmitters

Though the causes are not completely understood, it appears to result from a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Brain chemistry, such as the lowering of serotonin levels, may be a factor, but researchers are still studying the role of serotonin in the brainstem. Migraines are thought to be the result of the activation of a mechanism in the brain, which releases the inflammatory substances around the nerves and blood vessels of the head that causes a migraine. You can tell you have a migraine as opposed to a regular headache because your headache will be:

  • Moderate or severe
  • Pulsating
  • On one side of your head
  • Aggravated by movement
  • Lasting from hours to 2-3 days

If your headache has all of these features, accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound, you’re probably experiencing a migraine. Hopefully, this list is helpful in avoiding potential triggers and future migraine attacks.

15 Common Migraine Triggers

Stress

It’s well known how bad stress is for the body. Stress is the most commonly reported migraine trigger, most likely because it is so personal and difficult to control. Stress can cause more frequent migraine attacks, make migraine attacks worse, and make migraine attacks last longer. Even after the stressful situation ends, the sudden release of tension can cause a migraine to occur – this is called a weekend migraine. Though it is virtually impossible to avoid stress, you can learn ways to manage it better, such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, and learning relaxation techniques, like yoga or meditation.

Hormone changes

Since migraines affect twice as many women as men, it’s no surprise that hormones play a large part. Fluctuations in estrogen seem to be the trigger for many women. Those with a previous history of migraines often report that they have headaches before or during their periods when estrogen levels are at their lowest. Hormone medications, such as contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy have been reported to either worsen or help migraines, depending on the woman.

Sleeping in

Changes in sleeping patterns can trigger a migraine, which is why it’s important to try to wake up around the same time every day. Sleeping in may cause what’s known as a “weekend migraine” especially if there is a large difference between your weekday and weekend timetables.

Too much or not enough sleep may be migraine triggers

Lack of sleep

On the other hand, fatigue and a lack of sleep is also a very common migraine trigger. Fatigue can also be a warning sign for an impending migraine attack. Either way, it seems that any kind of sleep disturbance is a trigger for many people, and you should try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day regardless of it’s a weekday or weekend.

Perfume

Many migraine sufferers report that attacks are triggered by strong perfume and other strong odors. Additionally, osmophobia is an aversion to that is a unique characteristic of migraine sufferers, during their attacks.

Weather and barometric pressure changes

Weather can cause changes in brain chemistry causing a migraine, especially on days with bright sunlight, extreme heat or cold, pressure changes, or high humidity. Even though you can’t change the weather, you can track what weather conditions are your personal triggers, if any, and stay indoors or take migraine medications at the first signs of a migraine.

Alcohol

Alcohol increases blood flow to the brain, which can cause a migraine. Any kind of alcohol can act as a migraine trigger, but it seems to be particularly red wine, especially in women.

Medications

Self treating with medication can be a double-edged sword; taking too much can lead to a medication overuse headache, which are caused by chronic and excessive use of medications used to treat headaches.

Caffeine

Unfortunately, caffeine can act as both a trigger and treatment for migraines. You just have to be aware if you are sensitive to caffeine, and carefully monitor how caffeine affects you.

Cheese

Tyramine is a substance that is produced as the protein in a food or drink ages. It’s not sure why tyramine causes migraines, but it can be found in in foods like aged cheeses, processed meats, dried fruits, and even red wine.

Sex

Any kind of fervent physical activity can cause headaches and migraines, including sex.

Dehydration

Dehydration and hunger are bad for the body overall, and one of the results can be a headache or migraine. People who suffer from migraines should try not to skip meals and drink plenty of water.  

Food additives

Artificial sweeteners, and preservatives such as sulfites and nitrates can trigger a migraine.

Tannins

Tannins are found in red wine, but they are also found in teas, red apples, and pears. Tannins are flavonoids mostly found in the skins of the fruits which give those foods and drinks their bitter taste.

Bright lights or loud sounds

Bright, flickering, or pulsating lights can be a trigger for a migraine attack. Unfortunately for some, bright sunlight on its own can be a trigger for some migraine sufferers.

Bright lights and flashing lights may be migraine triggers

Migraines are so prevalent, but so treatable, why is this? There seems to be a stigma around seeking treatment for headaches; as a chronic migraine sufferer myself, I also prolonged seeking treatment because I believed I could just self medicate with pain relievers. Keep in mind that many of these triggers act in combination with each other, so keeping a sort of headache journal can help narrow down your own personal migraine triggers, avoid future migraine attacks, and be helpful in describing your migraine disorder to your physician.

Questions? Leave me a comment below!

References:

Burch RC, Loder S, Loder E, Smitherman TA. The prevalence and burden of migraine and severe headache in the United States: updated statistics from government health surveillance studies. Headache. 2015 Jan;55(1):21-34. doi: 10.1111/head.12482.

Cutrer FM, et al. Pathophysiology, clinical manifestations and diagnosis of migraine in adults. 2015.

Dalkara, T. & Kılıç, K. Current Pain and Headache Report (2013) 17: 368. doi:10.1007/s11916-013-0368-1.

Fukui, PT, Gonçalves, TRT, Strabelli, CG, Lucchino, NF, Matos, FC, Santos, JPM, Zukerman, E, Zukerman-Guendler, V, Mercante, JP, Masruha, MR, Vieira, DS, & Peres, MFP. (2008). Trigger factors in migraine patients. Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria, 66(3a), 494-499. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0004-282X2008000400011

Houle TT, Butschek RA, Turner DP, Smitherman TA, Rains JC, Penzien DB. Stress and Sleep Duration Predict Headache Severity in Chronic Headache Sufferers. Pain. 2012;153(12):2432-2440. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2012.08.014.

Steiner TJ, Stovner LJ, Birbeck GL. Migraine: the seventh disabler. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2013;14(1):1. doi:10.1186/1129-2377-14-1.

Tekatas A, Mungen B. Migraine headache triggered specifically by sunlight: Report of 16 cases. European Neurolology. 2013;70:263-266

Triggers: Environmental and physical factors. National Headache Foundation.

Weather-related migraines. Neurology Now. 2013;9:12.

World Health Organization (WHO)

 

More on CogniFit’s brain games

Sleep after learning boosts memory

Sleep after learning boosts memory

Numerous studies published over the past decade have shown that a good night’s sleep is essential for brain health as it enhances the consolidation of newly formed memories in people. But exactly how these observations were related was unclear. A new study discovered the mechanism by which a good night’s sleep improves learning and memory.

In the study published in the journal Science on June 6th, researchers at New York University School of Medicine and Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School show for the first time that sleep after learning encourages the growth of dendritic spines, the tiny protrusions from brain cells that connect to other brain cells and facilitate the passage of information across synapses, the junctions at which brain cells meet. In addition, the activity of brain cells during deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep, after learning is critical for such growth.

The findings, in mice, provide important physical evidence in support of the hypothesis that sleep helps consolidate and strengthen new memories, and show for the first time how learning and sleep cause physical changes in the motor cortex, a brain region responsible for voluntary movements.

“We’ve known for a long time that sleep plays an important role in learning and memory. If you don’t sleep well you won’t learn well,” said senior investigator Wen-Biao Gan, PhD, professor of neuroscience and physiology and a member of the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. “But what’s the underlying physical mechanism responsible for this phenomenon? Here we’ve shown how sleep helps neurons form very specific connections on dendritic branches that may facilitate long-term memory. We also show how different types of learning form synapses on different branches of the same neurons, suggesting that learning causes very specific structural changes in the brain.”

To find out the mechanism by which a good night’s sleep improves learning and memory, researchers trained 15 mice to run backwards or forwards on a rotating rod. They allowed some of them to fall asleep afterwards for 7 hours, while the rest were kept awake.

The team monitored the activity and microscopic structure of the mice’s motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls movement, through a small transparent “window” in their skulls. This allowed them to watch in real time how the brain responded to learning the different tasks.

They found that learning a new task led to the formation of new dendritic spines – tiny structures that project from the end of nerve cells and help pass electric signals from one neuron to another – but only in the mice left to sleep.

This happened during the non-rapid eye movement stage of sleep. Each task caused a different pattern of spines to sprout along the branches of the same motor cortex neurons.

At the same time, the neurons that were active during the initial task were re-activated, seemingly to stabilize the newly formed spines.

This growth spurt continued after the mice woke up. About 5 per cent of spines in the motor cortex were formed anew in the 8 to 24 hour period after the mice woke up, said co-author Guang Yang, also at the Skirball Institute. “Our previous studies suggest that about 10 per cent of these new spines should be maintained over subsequent weeks to months,” he said.

“Now we know that when we learn something new, a neuron will grow new connections on a specific branch,” said Dr. Gan. “Imagine a tree that grows leaves (spines) on one branch but not another branch. When we learn something new, it’s like we’re sprouting leaves on a specific branch.”

Dr. Gan’s team is now trying to answer these questions. “We would like to see how brain activity during sleep affects signaling within specific sets of branches and ultimately causes the formation of new spines,” he said.

There are other ways to improve your memory, in addition to sleep. Start CogniFit specific brain training program for memory now!

A good night’s sleep is essential for brain health

A good night’s sleep is essential for brain health

It is common knowledge, that sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you’re sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It’s forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information.

What does happen if you do not sleep? According to researchers from Uppsala University’s Department of Neuroscience, Sweden, lack of sleep may promote neurodegenerative processes.

The study, published in the specialist journal Sleep, follows an investigation published in the US journal Science in October that found sleep accelerated the cleansing of cellular waste from the brain. The Swedish study was primarily funded by the Swedish Brain Foundation (Hjärnfonden) and Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Researchers looked at levels of two types of brain molecules: the neuronal enzyme NSE and the calcium-binding protein S-100B. These molecules typically rise in the blood under conditions resulting in brain damage or distress. An increase in levels of the molecules can be measured after everything from sports injuries to the head and carbon monoxide poisoning, to sleep apnea and fetal distress after childbirth.

15 normal-weight young men participated in the study. In one condition they were sleep-deprived for one night, while in the other condition they slept for approximately 8 hours. Researchers measured the levels of NSE and S-100B and found morning serum levels of the molecules increased by about 20 per cent compared with values obtained after a night of sleep.

Researchers think that the rise of these molecules in blood after sleep loss may indicate that a lack of sleep might mean loss of brain tissue.

“These brain molecules typically rise in blood under conditions of brain damage,” said sleep researcher Christian Benedict at the Department of Neuroscience, Uppsala University, who led the study. “Thus, our results indicate that a lack of sleep may promote neurodegenerative processes….In conclusion, the findings of our trial indicate that a good night’s sleep may be critical for maintaining brain health.”

Christian Benedict said it’s important to note, however, that levels of NSE and S-100B previously found after acute brain damage (including as a result of a concussion), have been distinctly higher than those found in the Swedish study, and there is no suggestion that a single night of sleep loss is equally harmful to your brain as a head injury.

Still, the researchers said their findings suggest “a good night’s sleep may possess neuroprotective function in humans, as has also been suggested by others.”

Good night and sleep tight!

How sleep can help you clean your brain

How sleep can help you clean your brain.

A new study from the University of Rochester and published in Science found that brain cells of mice actually shrink while they are sleeping. This reduction in the size of the brain cells creates up to 60% percent more space between them, allowing the cerebral spinal fluid to flow up to 10 times faster in the brain than when compared to active daytime.

The cerebral spinal fluid is a clear and colorless fluid found in the spine and the brain. The fluid serves as a vital function in cerebral blood flow and cerebral autoregulation.

The researchers found out that due to this increase in cerebral spinal fluid flow, the brain actually flushes out toxins and other molecular detritus. They define and compare this process of the brain as a “biological dishwasher”.

If you want to keep your brain healthy in the long run, make sure to sleep sufficiently and to continue your brain training exercises on a weekly basis. Remember also that sleep helps you consolidate your precious memory!

Too much sleep might lead to faster decline in brain function

Too much sleep might lead to faster decline in brain function.

A new study conducted by researchers from Columbia and the University Hospital of Madrid has found that people in their 60s and 70s who slept in average more than 9 hours a day showed a faster cognitive decline than people who slept less (6 to 8 hours a day).

Faster cognitive decline can lead to weaker cognitive abilities such as memory, concentration or attention and over time be an important risk factor to dementia.

Obviously, it is possible that people who were sleeping more during the study had already some cognitive issues which would explain those pre-existing sleeping patterns. In any case, sleeping too much or sleeping too little is not good for your brain health and cognitive development as an adult.

To keep your brain sharp, make sure to have a normal amount of sleep of 6 to 8 hours per night and start brain training regularly!

Aging in brain found to hurt sleep needed for memory

Aging in brain found to hurt sleep needed for memory.

Scientists have known for decades that the ability to remember newly learned information declines with age, but it was not clear why. A new study may provide another interesting insight.

The study suggests that structural brain changes occurring naturally over time interfere with sleep quality, which in turn blunts the ability to store memories for the long term.

Previous research had found that the prefrontal cortex, the brain region behind the forehead, tends to lose volume with age, and that part of this region helps sustain quality sleep, which is critical to consolidating new memories.