Archive for November, 2008

Sleep: What’s Going On Behind That Shut-Eye?

What’s Going On During Sleep?

Have you ever watched someone sleep and wondered what he or she was dreaming? Slow breathing, eyes occasionally fluttering, but mostly the very picture of peace and stillness. When people sleep, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. Sleep is an active process, in which the brain can be remarkably active, even if the body remains (mostly) immobile.

Experts have divided it into two main categories, based on observations of sleeping persons and recordings of the brain’s electrical activity during sleep:

Non-REM Sleep – Four Stages, with Stage 1 the Lightest and Stage 4 the Deepest.

Rapid-Eye Movement (REM) Sleep – During REM sleep, dreaming is common, muscles (other than the eyes) are inactive, and electrical activity in the brain is similar to that of an awakened person. The blood pressure and heart and breathing rates may suddenly increase for short periods of time, just as they do during wakefulness.

During a typical eight-hour period of sleep, a person drifts from wakefulness to Stage 1 non-REM sleep, through Stages 2, 3 and 4 and finally REM sleep over the first several hours. During the last half of the night, REM sleep and Stage 2 sleep alternate for 90 to 120 minutes each. As we age, brief awakenings increase in frequency, while deeper stages of non-REM sleep decrease.

Why Do We Sleep?

The function of sleep is not entirely clear, but researchers believe that REM Sleep is important for solidifying memories, and perhaps for even more critical functions. Rodents completely deprived of REM sleep die after a few weeks. Non-REM sleep, meanwhile, seems to be important in providing a sense of restored energy and ability to concentrate during the day. A number of theories about sleep attempt to explain its role or roles: a restorative for the mind and body in preparation for the day ahead; or a way of reducing energy consumption, to save energy for activities occurring during the day. Some scientists believe that sleep is evolution’s way of improving survival by preventing animals from preying on each other 24 hours a day.

Consequence of Sleep Deprivation:

It is hard to define just how much sleep is normal; different people seem to need different amounts. Sleep experts define “enough” sleep as how long a person would sleep if there were no alarm clocks; that is, left to decide entirely on your own, how long would you sleep? The other way to define it is how long one needs to sleep in order to feel alert and rested the next day. However, duration of sleep is not the only thing that matters – the quality of sleep also matters.

Too little sleep or poor-quality sleep can cause a number of problems, including difficulty with short-term memory, concentration, depression, anxiety, irritability, poor energy and reduced libido. In short, quality of life at work and at home may suffer terribly due to insufficient or poor sleep. All of these problems may resolve when sleep duration increases or sleep quality improves.

One problem related to sleep deprivation deserves particular emphasis: Automobile and truck accidents attributed to sleepy drivers account for thousands of deaths each year.

Although the impact is uncertain in humans, sleep-deprived rodents have reduced immune function and higher susceptibility to infection.

Sleep Disorders:

There are more than 80 individual sleep disorders, but they are divided into 4 main categories:

§ Dyssomnias, in which there is insomnia (difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep), sleepiness during the day, and abnormal sleep-wake timing; examples include sleep apnea and the effects of medications or alcohol.

§ Parasomnias, in which there is abnormal behavior around sleep, but without excessive sleepiness or insomnia; examples include sleepwalking or night terrors.

§ Medical-psychiatric sleep disorders, in which a condition that causes other problems disrupts or impairs sleep; examples include anxiety, depression, Parkinson’s disease, dementia or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

§ Sleep problems that cannot be clearly separated from normal variation, or for which there is no consensus among experts; examples include pregnancy-associated sleep disorder and sleep hyperhidrosis (excessive and unexplained sweating during sleep).

Good Advice for Getting A Good Night’s Sleep:

There are changes you can make to improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep experts call this “sleep hygiene,” and these measures are routinely recommended for almost anyone complaining of sleep trouble. Some are just common sense, but, unfortunately, many people for whom sleep is a problem do not recognize their importance.

Here are some general guidelines to follow:

§ Establish a schedule and stick to it; sleep when you are sleepy but try to get up and go to bed each day at about the same time.

§ Use a fan or other means of creating a steady, soothing sound to drown out other noises.

§ Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake; avoid caffeine after noon and don’t use alcohol as a sedative before bed.

§ Get heavy curtains or shades to block out bright light early in the morning if you are awakening earlier than you’d like.

§ Check your medication list. Because some medicines can interfere with sleep, ask your doctor or pharmacist about the medicines you take.

§ Do not exercise vigorously after within several hours of bedtime.

§ Avoid heavy meals or excessive fluids within an hour or two of bedtime.

The Bottom Line:

The importance of sleep is self-evident, yet much remains unknown or uncertain about how we sleep, why we sleep and how to improve sleep. One thing is certain, however: Sleep is not a passive process or a complete “shut down” of the body – many stages of sleep are as active for the mind as being awake. So, the next time you see someone sleeping, keep in mind that though the body may look quiet and peaceful, there is much more to the story.

(Source: HarvardHealth Publication – Harvard Medical School)

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‘Life isn’t about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain!

It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80s arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb.

He said he was in a hurry, as he had an appointment at 9:00 am.

I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would be able to see him.

I saw him looking at his watch, and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound.

On examination, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.

While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had another doctor’s appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry.

The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife.

I inquired as to her health; he told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease.

As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late.

He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.

I was surprised, and asked him, ‘And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are’?

He smiled as he patted my hand and said, ”She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.’

I had to hold back tears as he left. I had goose bumps on my arms and thought, ‘That is the kind of love I want in my life”.

True love is neither physical nor romantic.

True love is acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be.

“The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have.”

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IF the saying “old habits die hard” is true, we must ensure that habits picked up by our kids are good which will accompany our kids into adulthood.  On nutrition, there are lots of good habits to inculcate in kids.

The 7 Habits To Good Health From Nestle Nutrition:

(1)  Regular Meals
Toddlers and young children have small stomachs. A one-year-old’s stomach capacity is only 250ml. Hence, young children need small but regular meals to supply them with continuous energy for their activities.  They need three main meals and two to three snacks daily.

(2)  Eating Breakfast Is A Good Habit
Breakfast replenishes a child’s energy and nutrients after a long overnight fast. Besides improving strength and stamina, breakfast lifts a child’s mood by improving his blood glucose level. He becomes more alert, attentive and learns better.

(3)  Enjoy Variety
Between the age of six months and two years, kids develop taste preferences that persist for many years to come. Hence, it is important to encourage them to eat a wide variety of foods, except those that they are allergic to.

By eating a broad spectrum of foods, it is unlikely a child will miss out any essential nutrients. Variety helps to balance his diet and makes him less fussy with food.

(4)  Choose Nutrient-Rich Foods
As kids have small appetites, every mouthful counts. Junior’s food ought to be packed with energy and nutrients to make up for the smaller volume. Besides healthy main meals, snacks should also be nutritious mini-meals instead of empty-calorie treats.

Nutrient-dense food include infant cereals, fruits, dairy products, meat and eggs.

(5)  Go For Fibre
Fibre is found in plant-derived food like fruits, cereals and vegetables. Fibre helps to prevent constipation, which is common in young children between the age of six and 24 months.

Constipation makes the child feel irritable and uncomfortable, reduces his appetite and affects his digestive functions. From the time you introduce solids to your child, make fruits and vegetables regular items in his daily menu.

Prebiotic is another good source of fibre.  Prebiotic fibre comes from plants like banana, garlic, onion, wheat and oats. Prebiotic fibre helps to make bowel movement regular.

(6)  Go Easy On Salt And Sugar
Young children have more taste buds and are more sensitive to tastes than adults. So there is no necessity to add sugar or salt to kids’ foods. Moreover, a sweet tooth grown in childhood may lead to obesity and its related diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. A child used to highly-salted foods may carry this taste preference into adulthood. High salt intake is one dietary factor linked to hypertension.

Enlist probiotic bacteria: Probiotic bacteria help to build a healthy digestive system and enhance the body’s immune defence. This is important for young children as their digestive and immune systems are still immature and more susceptible to attacks from harmful micro-organisms. A healthy digestive system is vital for proper digestion and optimum absorption of foods.

(7)  Avoid Mealtime Battles
Mealtimes should be happy times. Many parents are unaware that the negative effects of mealtime battles go beyond the dining table. A child who is forced to eat up although he is already full, does not get to heed his internal satiety signals. Over time, this may lead to obesity and defiance.

A child who is bribed or rewarded with food for good behaviour or denied food as punishment for bad conduct, will grow up having the wrong perception of food and discipline.

Mealtime battles are not entirely about food but more of a war of wills between an inflexible adult and an indignant child.

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Eating too much than what your stomach can absorb – the subsequent result is indigestion which usually gives burning pain in the abdomen and accompanied by bloating, gurgling, belching and gas.

Indigestion is caused and made worse by overeating, especially rich, fatty, spicy foods, alcohol, coffee and acidic foods.  Late nights, when you are under stress and heartburn also causes indigestion.  Heartburn is caused by excessive food and liquid in the stomach churns up stomach acid, which spills up into the esophagus and irritates its lining.

Proper digestion is viewed as the most essential component in living a long and healthy life.

With indigestion, malnutrition may occur and toxins can build up in the body, causing rapid aging and degenerative diseases.

Healthy Digestion For A Long Life from Dr Maoshing Ni:

1. Spice Up Your Digestion
Balance out a festive meal by featuring fennel as a side ingredient. A common remedy to digestive distress in China is fennel, a crisp licorice-flavored bulb. Fennel helps digestion by stimulating the production of gastric juices and also soothing the nervous system, which regulates the action of the muscles that line the intestine.

Add raw fennel to salads, or use fennel seed as a spice in recipes with meat, beans, or legumes. The fronds attached to the bulb can be boiled to make an excellent tea. Other common cooking herbs and spices that support your digestive health include dill, oregano, basil, coriander, rosemary, bay, ginger, anise, and cardamom. Use them in your cooking or steep them as tea to drink after meals.

2. Ease Your Emotions
When emotions and stress ride hight, Chinese medicine recognizes that an emotional element can come into play because the liver is highly sensitive to mood and feelings, and a weak flow of liver energy may manifest as bloating or flatulence.

Dandelion has been shown to aid digestion by supporting the liver; drink dandelion tea to ease your emotions and digestion.

3. Don’t Overdo
Savor every bite and do not eat while under stressed, angry, or preoccupied by distractions; all of these take the energy away from the digestive system and makes its job that much harder.

Chew each bite thoroughly – your stomach doesn’t have teeth!  Be mindful of your eyes being bigger than your stomach. Your best bet is to leave the table only three-quarters full. That will leave you contented and energized.

It is also an effective rule in maintaining a healthy weight.

4. Take A Walk
Walking is a great way to help food move along the digestive tract, and for improving digestion and absorption. The energetic meridians of the digestive organs run along the large muscles of the legs.

Walking stimulates energy flow within the channels and promotes digestion. Take an easy 10-minute walk after each meal while massaging your abdomen with your palms, in a circle around your belly button.

5. Don’t Take Bloating Lying Down
While curling up for a nap may seem like the natural response to a filling meal, resist the urge. Lying down makes it easy for the acid to reflux from the stomach into the esophagus. During a flare up, don’t lie flat on your back when you sleep; instead, prop up your head and upper body with pillows at a 45-degree angle.

6. Herbal Action for Indigestion
Herbs can prevent or relieve digestive problems. Peppermint helps increase healthy gastric secretions, relaxes the intestines, soothes spasms, settles the stomach, and alleviates gas. Ginger, has been shown to soothe the digestive lining and balance gastric juices. Chamomile is another excellent herb for settling the stomach. You can combine the three herbs, steep them as tea, and drink before or after mealtimes. Also look for Tao of Wellness teas for digestive support.

7. Remedies for Digestive Distress
For heart-burns, dissolve 1 tsp baking soda in 8 oz cup of warm water and sip for immediate relief of acid reflux.
Apple cider vinegar is a traditional remedy to cure various digestive disorders. Taken internally, it supports liver detoxification, normalizes digestive juices, and reduces intestinal bloating. Mix 1 tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar with 12 ounces of warm water, and drink in the morning on empty stomach. Add a little honey if the taste is too strong.

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The older we get, the less able we are to filter out distractions while performing mental tasks, a recent study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience showed.

“Older adults are vulnerable to distraction due to an inability to suppress processing of irrelevant environmental stimuli,” the authors of the study conducted at the Toronto-based Rotman Research Institute at the Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care wrote.

12 adults whose average age was 26, and 12 older adults, average age 70, were asked to “encode” several faces while having their brains scanned with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner — an instrument which makes a noise like a jack hammer.

Both younger and older adults who experienced difficulty “encoding” a memory, or laying down a new face in the brain, showed lower activity in cerebral regions used for such tasks. But the brains of older people showed greater activity in other regions, which was not seen in the younger brains, the study showed.

“The older brains showed increased activation in certain regions that normally should be quieter or tuned down,” said Dale Stevens, leader of the study.

“The auditory cortex and prefrontal cortex, which are associated with external environmental monitoring, were idling too high,” Stevens said.

“The older brains were processing too much irrelevant information from their external environment – basically the scanner noise,” said Stevens.

The finding that the noise of the fMRI scanner, which is widely used for studies of the aging brain, distracts older adults should be taken into consideration by cognitive researchers because it could “contaminate” results.

“Not only are we reporting new brain evidence of the well known problem of distraction in aging, but we show that the fMRI might inherently make older adults’ cognitive performance worse than it would be in the real world, outside the scanner,” said Cheryl Grady, a scientist who worked on the study.

The study follows on from one published in 2006 by Grady, in which she identified subtle changes in brain activity that begin in middle age and become more pronounced from age 65.

Those changes include having difficulty activating regions in the brain that are necessary for activities requiring concentration, such as reading, and in de-activating regions that are associated with so-called internal thoughts, such as thinking about oneself or events of the previous day.

The message to older adults from both studies was to “try to reduce distractions in your external environment and make an effort to concentrate on one key attentional task at a time,” the researchers said.

(Source:  AFP, 25 November 2008)

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Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder

Hopefully you are not like that … at least not at the moment


Thank goodness there’s a name for this disorder.

Somehow I feel better even though I have it!!

Recently, I was diagnosed with A.A.A.D.D. –

Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder.

This is how it manifests:

I decide to water my garden.

As I turn on the hose in the driveway,

I look over at my car and decide it needs washing.

As I start toward the garage,

I notice mail on the porch table that

I brought up from the mail box earlier.

I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car.

I lay my car keys on the table,

put the junk mail in the garbage can under the table,

and notice that the can is full.

So, I decide to put the bills back on the table

and take out the garbage first.

But then I think,

since I’m going to be near the mailbox

when I take out the garbage anyway,

I may as well pay the bills first.

I take my cheque book off the table,

and see that there is only one cheque left.

My extra cheques are in my desk in the study,

so I go inside the house to my desk where

I find the can of Pepsi I’d been drinking.

I’m going to look for my cheques,

but first I need to push the Pepsi aside

so that I don’t accidentally knock it over.

The Pepsi is getting warm,

and I decide to put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold.

As I head toward the kitchen with the Pepsi,

a vase of flowers on the counter catches my eye–they need water.

I put the Pepsi on the counter and discover my reading glasses that

I’ve been searching for all morning.

I decide I better put them back on my desk,

but first I’m going to water the flowers.

I set the glasses back down on the counter,

fill a container with water and suddenly spot the TV remote.

Someone left it on the kitchen table.

I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV,

I’ll be looking for the remote,

but I won’t remember that it’s on the kitchen table,

so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs,

but first I’ll water the flowers.

I pour some water in the flowers,

but quite a bit of it spills on the floor.

So, I set the remote back on the table,

get some towels and wipe up the spill.

Then, I head down the hall trying to

remember what I was planning to do.

At the end of the day:

the car isn’t washed

the bills aren’t paid

there is a warm can of Pepsi sitting on the counter

the flowers don’t have enough water,

there is still only 1 check in my check book,

I can’t find the remote,

I can’t find my glasses,

and I don’t remember what I did with the car keys.

Then, when I try to figure out why nothing got done today,

I’m really baffled because I know I was busy all day,

and I’m really tired.

I realize this is a serious problem,

and I’ll try to get some help for it,

but first I’ll check my e-mail….

Don’t laugh if this isn’t you yet, your day is coming!!

(Source: Courtesy of my friend, Ruby)

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Cancer drug research is entering a new era which will mean more successful drugs for patients, says Cancer Research UK.

“We strongly believe that both industry and academia must improve the availability of data related to failed as well as successful drug development programs and called for pharmaceutical firms and academics to be more open about those which do not make the grade.”

Improved knowledge of cancer’s biology means 18% of new drugs, compared with 5% previously – will become standard treatments, said the research body.

Their research was published in the Journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery.

The hunt for cancer drugs is carried out on a massive scale, but there is also a massive failure rate, as promising candidates fall by the wayside in clinical trials.

This costs drug firms and charities many millions, although scientists can learn lessons even from expensive failures. Studies estimated that, in the past, just 5% of cancer drugs in the pipeline actually end up in the clinic being used day to day.

Data on 974 drugs under development, gathered by Cancer Research UK experts, suggests that 18% of them will prove successful in clinical trials.

It is hoped that many of them will be alternatives to conventional chemotherapy, which can have unpleasant and dangerous side-effects, targeting the mechanisms of cancer cells more directly, with less damage to healthy cells.

Genetic Make-Up

Dr Ian Walker, Licensing Manager at the charity’s commercial development arm, said: “This clearly demonstrates the benefits of developing molecularly targeted treatments for cancer – understanding more about the basic biology of cancer is making a real difference to the success rate for new anti-cancer drug development.”

The ability to tailor drug choices to the genetic make-up of patients in some cases is also having a benefit.

Minimising the number of “failures” and their cost to the industry would be vital, and this could be helped if researchers and drug companies were more open about what worked, and what did not.

The sharing of such information can only be beneficial for clinical, scientific and commercial reasons and will help measure research progress as well as pinpoint areas for improvement.

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