Monthly Archives: August 2009

Unlocking the Secrets of Short Sleepers

Many people sleep six or fewer hours a day, but they don’t come by it naturally. They rely on caffeinated drinks and alarm clocks to keep them going.

But about 5 percent of the population are considered naturally short sleepers — meaning they go to bed at a normal hour and wake up alert and energized in the wee hours of the morning, sleeping about two hours less a night than the average person. Finding out what makes short sleepers tick and why they need so much less sleep than the rest of us could unlock answers about insomnia and other sleep problems.

In a landmark study, University of California-San Francisco researchers have identified a gene mutation associated with less sleep, a finding considered to be a major breakthrough in sleep science. To learn more, read the full story, “Mutation Tied to Need for Less Sleep Is Discovered”.

Sleep and Brain Health

Cell Phone Caution

Let me begin this blog with “I do not know” whether cell phone used causes brain cancer in the form of tumors or not. However, not knowing something means you do not know and hence caution is most likely in order, particularly when cancer is the point of discussion.

Let me try to ease the confusion and suggest some lifestyle steps to avoid unnecessary risk if it is present. A primary malignant brain tumor is one in which the cancer originates in the brain itself rather than traveling to the brain from another region of the body (metastases). There are over 20,000 new cases of primary brain malignancies each year. A specific form of brain tumor known as the glioblastoma multiforme has increased 30 to 70 percent from one decade to the next in some metropolitan areas of the United States. It is believed that ten times the number of metastatic brain tumors will also occur in the same time period.

Risks for cancer include pesticides, air pollution, chemicals found in meats, power lines, and plastics. Xrays are also on the list of risk factors including the microwave type radiation emitted from cell phones. This is why cell phone companies suggest we hold the phones away from out ear when using it.  Further, there have been several studies indicating a relationship (not cause and effect) between cell phone use and risk of brain cancer, increased risk of acoustic neuroma, and glioblastomas. It is important to note that other studies that have not found any relationship between cell phone use and increased risk for brain cancer. We will most likely learn more about this relationship as we have more time to study the use and effects of cell phone use on a larger number of people over a greater period of time.

As cell phone use is a lifestyle issue, what can be done at this point? There certainly has been an increase in the number of users and the amount of time each user spends on their cell phone. Some homes do not even have land lines anymore. Children are using cell phones at unprecedented rates as well. Dr. Black, renowned neurosurgeon suggests that parents try to curtail cell phone usage in their children. Even adults are encouraged to use an earpiece (not a blue tooth) to avoid direct contact between the phone and the ear.

I have started to use an earpiece myself.

Politics and the Brain

Are there different regions of the brain that create a liberal, moderate, or conservative way of thinking? Are these particular and other types of political ideologies learned from our parents? The answer is probably both.

Like any other belief system we are most likely the product of genetics and environmental shaping. That shaping can take many years and it is okay to have a different political leaning at one age versus another. The critical thing is to understand your own belief system and values and act consistently with them. You may find that your values change over time based on experience and that is also okay.

Far too often people will get into strong verbal disputes about politics and it tends to be about one’s belief about how terrible this guy is or how great that lady is. In fact, most of us do not know our political leaders and it is also probably true that most leaders are decent people. What we really need to discuss in civil ways are our beliefs and why we think such beliefs can advance something good. It is okay to disagree. When it gets personal the conversation has moved from the beliefs.

As neural plasticity involves a type of shaping of the brain for thought, emotion, and behavior we can be fairly sure that our political philosophy has a place within the cortex that is dynamic and probably attached to emotional centers. When we connect the philosophy with reason and communication skill we have developed a real talent. When we remain at the emotional level and try to articulate our beliefs we might get a bit personal.

Stick to your own values and what you believe regardless of any leader. These are your beliefs and that is a good thing

The Promise of Brain Fitness

Baby boomers can hardly believe it themselves. In 11 short years – by 2020 – they will hold that unthinkable collective title of “the older generation.”

Just as that milestone looms large, so do statistical realities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020 almost 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over 65; over 12 million people will be over 85; more than 500,000 Americans will be over 100 – the fastest growing age group of all!

How fast can you say “geriatrics”? The field is exploding by necessity. And providers are realizing the best way to tame projected healthcare needs is by taking preventive, proactive measures – now.

One area rife with possibility is brain fitness.

Yet baby boomers live in fear of Alzheimer’s disease and its accompanying dementia, rating it second only to cancer as their most dreaded medical diagnosis.

There is good news: there’s plenty that can be done to prevent cognitive loss by keeping the brain enriched. Clearly, nurses need to be on the cutting edge of awareness to help aging patients and families stay on the healthy aging highway.

Paul Nussbaum, PhD, associate adjunct professor, department of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania has been lecturing across the country in an effort to educate healthcare providers, senior specialists and John Q. Public of the necessity for brain fitness.

The Promise of Brain Fitnes with Dr. Paul Nussbaum

Quiet the Brain

In addition to a good night sleep and plenty of rest to enable the brain to consolidate information learned during the day, the brain also benefits from quiet moments during the day.

A quiet moment does not involve any goal, task completion, or endpoint. It is about process and about being in the here and now. A quiet moment can occur anywhere at any time so long as you permit your brain to shut down and to turn inward.

Removing structure and demand from your existence enables your brain to freely roam and to explore ideas and feelings that get shut out with structure and task driven behavior. Your most creative moments will come from such experiences.

It is not easy to create quiet moments. You need to establish parts of your day when you remove all chores, all responsibilities, and all task demands. It is simply time to be, for you to exist. It might mean a walk, sitting on a bench or under a tree, or playing an instrument. There is no conscious deliberation, it is meditative and introspective.

Sounds easy, but it is not. Give it a try and perhaps you will get in touch with your creative side!

Benefits of a Brain Healthy Lifestyle