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sleep research

When You Sleep Could Explain Your Eating and Workout Habits

It’s estimated that 50-70 million people in the U.S. have sleep or wakefulness disorders, resulting in poor quality sleep. We’ve already learned that a lack of sleep can lead to packing on some pounds due to an increased fast food craving, but scientists have recently found that what time you go to bed also can have the same negative effect. 

The study included 96 participants between the ages of 18 and 50 who were healthy and slept 6.5 hours or more at night. For seven days, the participants wore actigraphs to monitor their rest and activity cycles and track their food intake and physical activity. 

When researchers analyzed the information from the actigraphs with circadian rhythms and participants’ body fat, they found that those who went to bed later ate more unhealthy food, less vegetables, and worked out less. Despite this, later sleep times were also linked to a lower body mass index. 

"Our results help us further understand how sleep timing in addition to duration may affect obesity risk," lead investigator Dr. Kelly Glazer Baron, of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, said in a statement. "It is possible that poor dietary behaviors may predispose individuals with late sleep to increased risk of weight gain." 

Researchers hypothesize that circadian rhythms and our sleep-wake cycle could be associated with metabolism, and that disrupting them could lead to obesity. Poor sleep has long been linked to health issues, such as diabetes, mental health problems, and heart problems.

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Fight Sleep Apnea with Aerobic Exercise

Fight Sleep Apnea with Aerobic Exercise For over 18 million Americans, sleep apnea causes problems falling and staying asleep, leading to groggy mornings and a lack of alertness during the workday. What if you could help lessen its negative effects?

Dr. Paul Pagley of The Sleep Disorders Center at Heart Hospital of Austin suggests that exercise can help people with sleep apnea sleep better.

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that makes you stop breathing in your sleep, causing you to wake up and breathe normally. Breathing pauses can last for a few seconds all the way up to a few minutes, and more than 30 breathing pauses can occur in the course of an hour. These constant sleep interruptions lead to lower quality sleep.

Dr. Pagley says that several studies have found that people with sleep apnea who participate in regular aerobic exercise decreased the severity of their sleep apnea. They woke up fewer times during the night during breathing pauses and they also felt that their sleep quality improved as a whole. Exercising also reduces complications with sleep apnea, such as heart and lung issues.

Suggested aerobic activities to lessen the effects of sleep apnea are walking, jogging, or pilates, exercises where your heart is pumping.

Dr. Pagley added that regular exercise helps with sleep quality even if you don’t have sleep apnea, as you will fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.

Caffeine Proves Ineffective After Three Days’ Use

Most of us are reliant on our morning coffee to wake us up and get us ready for the day ahead, but is it really working? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine investigated just how effective our daily cup of Joe is at keeping us alert and awake after multiple low-sleep nights.

48 participants limited their sleep to five hours over the course of five nights. Half of the participants were given 400mg of caffeine (the equivalent of four cups of coffee) and the other half was given a placebo every morning during the five days.

After receiving their pills, the participants underwent a variety of tests to look at their mood, sleepiness, vigilance, and cognitive ability.

During the first two days, the participants with the caffeine supplement overwhelmingly performed better than the control group. However, three days of not getting enough sleep later, the caffeine supplement had no effect on boosting the performance of the participants, and the control group was performing just as well as the test group was.

"These results are important, because caffeine is a stimulant widely used to counteract performance decline following periods of restricted sleep,” said lead author Tracy Jill Doty, PhD of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. “The data from this study suggests that the same effective daily dose of caffeine is not sufficient to prevent performance decline over multiple days of restricted sleep."

In short, coffee can be a quick fix for one day of less sleep, but it is not a longterm solution.

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Should We Be Sleeping Twice a Day?

Struggling to get a full 8 hours in at night? There may be a scientific reason behind your restlessness.

Scientists have found that split sleeping, or sleeping for two shorter periods rather than a solid span of time, used to be how humans got shuteye.

Dr. Melinda Jackson of RMIT University in the UK says that our notion of a “good night’s sleep” is a rather new idea for humans. This may explain why around a third of the population has trouble sleeping. These problems could be biological results of our old sleeping habits, and our bodies are just trying to wake us up in the middle of our two sleep periods.

Why did our ancestors choose this sleep pattern? For one, the split sleeping may increase our awareness during the day. It also allows for greater flexibility for daily tasks. Since there was no set bedtime, they were able to finish what was needed, sleep when they were tired, and resume the cycle once more, finally awakening for the day around dawn.

Researchers say that there are many references made to two distinct sleep periods in ancient texts, but don’t let that confuse you: Split sleeping is not a thing of ancient history. It’s known that preindustrial societies in Europe used split sleeping, normally allowing for 13 hours between sleeping periods. Historian A. Roger Ekirch found that first and second sleep, as it was called, began to die out in Europe in the late 17 th century and took the next 200 to do so in the rest of the world. Around this same time came the idea of sleep maintenance, or the importance of sleeping throughout the entire night. This extra pressure may have added to preexisting anxiety about sleep and ended up making things worse.

To determine what sleeping pattern humans gravitate to naturally, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in the 1990s. His subjects were left in total darkness for 14 hours every day, instead of the 8 hours that we are accustomed to in everyday life. This prolonged darkness occurred for a month. Although it did take some time for sleep patterns to emerge, by the fourth week there were clearly two phases of sleep. The first sleep was for around four hours, and then subjects woke up for one to three hours. They fell asleep for another four hours shortly after. This research suggests that our internal clocks are pushing for two sleep periods and the issues we face with sleeping are a result of our fight against our bodies.

Biphasic sleeping, an evolution of split sleeping, is still common today. Spaniards still use a form of split sleeping with their “siesta.” You may also be familiar with the “postlunch dip” that is a physical side effect of our body’s internal clocks and causes a decrease in alertness.

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