Sleep on “IT”

Not that long ago sleep was thought to be for the body.  Research now indicates that sleep is more for the brain – the consolidation of memory,  pruning, reorganizing, regenerating all that goes on between the ears.
How can sleep not be important since we humans spend almost half of our lives sleeping?  
Now some studies indicate that sleep is different depending on where one falls on the depression-anxiety spectrum.  By influencing how memories are processed, sleep can also change the power of a memory itself.*
This has huge implications for treatment of Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

One study suggests that sleeping within 24 hours of a traumatic experience will make those memories less distressing

“Sleep researchers are also looking at the potential of certain facets of sleep to treat post traumatic stress disorder. One study suggests that sleeping within 24 hours of a traumatic experience will make those memories less distressing in the subsequent days. For people with anxiety, sleep therapy might help with reminding people that they’ve eliminated their fear.”

Nap w:EEG

Sleep Lab by Peggy

But while people with typical cognitive patterns need sleep to recover from intense experiences, it may be different for those with depression.

“Wake therapy, where people are deliberately deprived of sleep, is spreading as a method of treating depression. It doesn’t work in all cases. But it may be that it jolts the circadian system, which is prone to sluggishness in people with depression.”

“Sleeplessness in some cases may have a protective effect.  Often following intense trauma, “the natural biological response in those conditions is that we have insomnia”. This may be an appropriate response to an unusual situation.”

So sometimes it can actually be a good thing that REM sleep deprivation harms the brain’s ability to consolidate emotional memories. “There’s good evidence that people who have longer REM sleep tend to be more depressed,” 

“Why does sleeplessness help the emotional state of some people with depression and trauma, but not others? New work by suggests that the difference may come down to genetics. A particular gene, called the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene, appears key to memory consolidation during sleep.”

“People with a specific gene mutation are vulnerable to the frequent, unhelpful circling of negative memories during sleep – for them, it could be helpful to go to sleep early and get up very early.”

And the new research suggests that people who have a specific mutation of the BDNF gene are vulnerable to the frequent, unhelpful circling of negative memories during sleep. For them, it could be helpful to go to sleep early and get up very early to minimise the amount of REM sleep.

*Elaina Bollinger, specialises in emotion and sleep at the University of Tuebingen.

Rebecca Spencer a neuroscientist, University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Dopamine and Me (you too)

My dopamine is awack (my non-scientific term).  I know its so because every medication I’ve tried for fibromyalgia that impacts the dopamine system has affected my feelings and actions.  

Many years ago I tried a medication that enhanced dopamine receptors and thought I’d found the holy grail.  For the first time in decades I remembered what I had felt like BF (before fibro) . . .  It was wonderful for a few years until I developed insatiable cravings for sweets, especially cinnamon rolls.  I MEAN CRAVING which I was hard pressed to control for more than a few days at a time.  I periodically told colleagues and doctors that something was wrong – my obsessional craving for all things sweet checked off all the boxes on the classic addition list (including hiding my sweet loot).

Everyone either dismissed my “confessions” or told me to eat more protein.  It’s a long, long story but I started Googling, and finally discovered research showing the medication I was on created addictive behavior in 25% of people taking it.  I stopped the meds, my cravings vanished and my fibromyalgia symptoms reappeared.

I’m now on another dopamine enhancer and am on alert for when I start hiding ice cream under the mattress or moving to Mexico where churros are considered patriotic.


This research got my attention . . . obviously . . . .

UC Berkeley researchers have discovered that the brain neurotransmitter dopamine has a yin-yang personality, mediating both pleasure and pain. Credit: Christine Liu.

“For decades, psychologists have viewed the neurotransmitter dopamine as a double-edged sword: released in the brain as a reward to train us to seek out pleasurable experiences, but also a “drug” the constant pursuit of which leads to addiction.”

“According to a new study from UC Berkeley, that’s only one face of dopamine. The flip side is that dopamine is also released in response to unpleasurable experiences, such as touching a hot tea kettle, presumably training the brain to avoid them in the future.”

“The yin-yang nature of dopamine could have implications for treatment of addiction and other mental disorders. In illnesses such as schizophrenia, for example, dopamine levels in different areas of the brain become abnormal, possibly because of an imbalance between the reward and avoidance circuits in the brain. Addiction, too, may result from an imbalance in reactions to pleasure and pain.”

“Spaced-out” Learning

“What we know about how memories are made at a neuroscience level is that it’s not just important to repeat a stimulus, but it is important to leave spaces in between,” . . . “There are changes that happen to the genes and proteins on a neuron that help fix the memory if there are spaces between learning something.”

The latest neuroscience shows students who took part in spaced learning, where lessons are broken up by activities such as juggling, improved their attainment.

Training teachers to break up lessons with 10 minute “distractions”, such as juggling or model making, has been found to significantly boost pupils’ learning, early research has shown.

“A study involving 2,000 pupils revealed that information is more easily learnt if it is delivered in intense 12-minute bursts and broken up by 10 minute periods of an unrelated activity. The project, called SMART Spaces, is based on the latest neuroscience, which shows that information is better absorbed and more easily recalled when it is repeated a number of times, but spaced out with distractions.”

Whoops . . . wrong “space”

Spaced learning

“In Sheffield England technique as part of their revision lessons ahead of students’ GCSEs. Pupils had an intense 12 minute Power Point lesson in chemistry, then juggled for 10 minutes. After that they had 12 minutes of physics before another 10 minutes of juggling. The lesson was then finished with 12 minutes of biology. This was then repeated over two more days. Other schools broke up their lessons with plasticine model making and games of Simon Says. Mr Gittner said the study led to some significant gains in learning, and there are plans to implement a full-scale randomised controlled trial involving up to 50 schools.”

“The idea for the project came after Monkseaton High School in Newcastle made headlines in 2009 for teaching its pupils to pass a GCSE after just three days of learning. They were able to pass a sixth of a GCSE in just 60 minutes. Distractions boost results Mr Gittner said such approaches were not to counteract shrinking attention spans, adding that the techniques were backed up by the latest developments in neuroscience.

“It fits with the generally accepted views that people can only really focus for 20 minutes, even adults. Students that took part in our trial were able to concentrate fully because they new in 15 minutes they were going to get to to juggle,”

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Frankly Freddie, Keeping Secrets Is Hazardous To My Health (yours too)

Dear EVERYONE, particularly those who love me enough to follow me on both my blogs Curious to the MAX and here,

Peggy and Judy have put my health at risk.  I’ve had to keep the BIGGEST secret ever about this blog. My consultant -Dr. Allen Towfigh, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Cornell Medical Center explained that keeping secrets is not healthy:

“Sleep may be disturbed, which could lead to emotional mood swings and a propensity to be ill-tempered or lose your cool. (Luckily, I can sleep all night and most of the day, consequently, nothing, including my mood, swings.)  You may also have difficulty with memory and learning.”

“And the excess release of cortisol will cause a host of other ailments, including possible increase or loss of appetite and disruption of metabolism.”  (Thank goodness I haven’t lost my appetite but who knows about my metabolism.)

Spiking cortisol levels have also been linked to: 

  • weakened immune system
  • osteoporosis
  • Increased blood pressure and . . .
  • a loss of collagen in the skin, which can lead to deeper wrinkles and a loss of elasticity. (I have noticed that Peggy and Judy have more wrinkles which is divine justice for making me keep this secret)

“Neuroscientists now believe it’s biologically better for us to confess our secrets, or better, just to refuse to be party to someone else’s. The reason: holding on to them puts the brain in an awkward, compromised position. The cingulate cortex, essential to our emotional responses, is wired to tell the truth. This “logical lobe” signals other regions of the brain to share information so it can move on to more important functions, like learning. But when you keep a secret locked inside, you don’t allow the cingulate to perform its natural functions. Instead, the cortex becomes stressed.”

Catnip is now . . .

Ta Da!

Finally!  No more secret.  My cingulate cortex can tell the truth!

Maui is still the “muse” but thankfully they renamed the blog to better reflect its mission, though I still think it should be named FREDDIE and the MIND:

The focus on both blogs is still the same:

MAX your MIND (formerly known as CATNip) – Tips, tools and techniques for health & wellness based on neuroscience and current scientific research.

CURIOUS to the MAX – Stuff that makes us smile, learn and gives expression to our more  personal & “creative” sides.

For those of you who subscribe to both blogs (YEA YOU!) there will still be fresh content on each.

Here’s to a HEALTHY New Year!

Freddie Parker, No Secrets, Westerfield


Frankly Freddie – It’s a bird, it’s a plane, It’s Our SECRET

It’s coming . . . it’s in the works . . . it’s a new . . .

. . . can’t tell you more as I’m sworn to secrecy.  So I’m learning the art of the “tease” which is hard for us canines since we are rather a shoot straight from the tail breed.

I’m swearing YOU to secrecy even though it’s causing me “EMOTIONAL BURDEN”:  Don’t tell anyone . . . Peggy & Judy are creating a new blog banner, a new blog URL, a new blog concept . . . a new name for this blog.

During the past two years Peggy, Judy and I have been blogging partners.  Peggy draws, schedules, writes and keeps Judy on track.  Judy writes, draws and gets off track.  As the fan favorite I maintain relationships, editorial rights and INSPIRE you.

We are now Bi-Bloggers – revamping, revitalizing and combining forces on both this blog and Curious to the Max*.

Peggy and Judy originally named this blog CatNip in tribute to Maui, Peggy’s real life cat, who regained the use of his paralized back legs by repatterning his brain.  I’ve always thought it a bit unfair that Curious to the Max is dedicated to another dog (Max), this blog to a cat and there are no blogs dedicated to me.

Maui is still the muse but FINALLY Peggy and Judy are renaming it.  I’m voting for FREDDIE and the MIND.

Remember!  It’s our secret . . .

*P.S. Curious to the Max will continue to focus on the “creative”, the “curious” and lotsa stuff that make Peggy & Judy learn and laugh. (I don’t think they care if you laugh, as long as they are having fun . . .don’t tell them I told you . . . it’s our secret).