Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Importance of Sleep for the Brain

Sleep is a highly active time for brain development and brain function. There are four primary stages of sleep including Rapid Eye Movement (REM) when we dream and deep sleep or stage four sleep. It is thought that deep sleep and REM tend to decline with advanced age and these are perhaps the parts of sleep when consolidation of information takes place. As such sleep quantity and quality have a major role in what and how well we process and remember information.

REM sleep occupies about 25% of our total sleep and it is during REM that we dream. We tend to be paralyzed during this part of our sleep so we cannot act out our dreams. Without REM and deep sleep we can become lethargic, depressed, and make mistakes. Significant sleep disorders affect more than 35 million Americans and many more around the world. Sudden sleep is known as narcolepsy and can occur while driving which leads to a high number of fatal car accidents. Sleep Apnea, the first phase of narcolepsy, occurs because of a blockage of the airway and results in sudden gasps for air while sleeping. Apnea is most common in middle age, obese and hypertense males.

When considering lifestyle changes for brain health (e.g. brain fitness, brain games), one of the most important aspects of life is sleep. We tend to not get enough sleep and our brains run on fatigue much of the time. Napping is a lost art and we do not rest enough. As a result, our brains are over-stimulated, stressed, and tired. Consider this blog a permission slip to get a good night sleep and to take a nap sometime this week.

Wine Consumption and Health

A recent study has supported a relationship between an important ingredient in red wine and retardation of the aging process. Resveratrol, an ingredient of some red wines may have some life extending effects in mice and maybe in humans. The mechanism in play is switching the body’s resources from fertility to tissue maintenance. The improved tissue maintenance appears to extend life by reducing the degenerative diseases of aging.

Scientists believe this switching mechanism can be induced by a faminelike diet, known as caloric restriction that extends the life of  rodents by up to 30 percent, but similar effects in humans are not conclusive. Resveratrol has been shown to increase strength, endurance, and speed of lab mice. Findings from studies suggest resveratrol may be effective in mice and humans in smaller doses than previously known. Studies suggest a significant positive effect on aging in mice with dosages that mimic 4-5ounces of wine daily. Researchers believe resveratrol can mimic many of the effects of caloric restriction at doses that can be easily achieved by humans.

So….if you are not predisposed to alcoholism and your doctor has not restricted you from alcohol, one 4-5 ounce glass of red wine a day may indeed promote a healthier aging process.

Do Computerized Brain Regimens Really Help?

This is a typical question raised by the market as the business of computerized brain fitness software grows. It is clear that the human brain is capable of being shaped with greatest growth seen perhaps in the latter rather than younger years. There are a variety of products to choose from and the consumer is correct to have questions about the what and why regarding these software training games.

Research has been published supporting both the short term and long term benefits (five years) of using computerized brain fitness software to improve cognitive skills. A recent study from the University of Michigan showed study participants improved their fluid intelligence after consistent training. Researchers explained the utility of such training due to its complexity and transfer of skill acquisition to multiple cognitive domains, not just to the skill being trained. This is one way computerized training is explained to be better than crossword puzzles that may simply train a procedure.

To the extent that brain fitness software provides novel and complex stimuli (e.g. brain games), is fun, and is practical with application to everyday mental challenges I believe it will survive and thrive. If the software training programs are mundane, non personal and not fun the consumer will likely not remain engaged. The latter is a necessary factor for success of the computerized training.

Consumers would be wise to review the science behind the computerized training, select products that they will use, products that provide training in real world cognitive challenges, and that are fun.