Lack of sleep looks the same as severe anxiety in the brain

“If you’ve ever found that a poor night’s sleep has left you feeling not only a bit groggy, but also on edge, you aren’t alone. People with insomnia have double the risk of developing an anxiety disorder, and 70 to 80 percent of people with clinical anxiety have trouble either falling or staying asleep. However, until now, how this relationship works in the brain was unknown.”

“Sleep loss triggers the same brain mechanisms that make us sensitive to anxiety to begin with—regions that support emotional processing and also regions that support emotion regulation,” says Eti Ben-Simon, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley. “If we are chronically sleep deprived, if we keep losing sleep, it could sensitize us to greater anxiety levels and help develop an anxiety disorder.”

(Nap poster available on Zazzle click here)

“In the study, the researchers had 18 healthy people come into their sleep lab for two nights: one of total sleep deprivation, followed by a normal restful night. The scientists measured the sleepers’ anxiety levels in the evening and in the morning after each session. When the participants were sleep deprived, their anxiety levels increased by 30 percent the next day, with half the participants reaching the threshold for a clinical anxiety disorder.”

“The researchers also probed what was happening in the brain after a night of sleep loss. They put the participants in an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanner the next morning and showed them distressing video clips, like of child or elderly abuse, to evoke an emotional reaction. Following the night of no sleep, there was significantly more activity in emotion-generating regions of the brain, such as the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Both of these areas process negative emotions like fear, and they are hyperactive in patients with anxiety disorders.”

“When in a sleep-deprived state, the participants also had less activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is directly connected to the amygdala and helps control negative emotions. For example, this area turns on when we try to calm ourselves down, and less activity there is associated with greater anxiety. The participants who had the most decline in activity in the region also had the biggest increase in anxiety, suggesting that emotional control is especially important in the link between sleep loss and anxiety.”

“When we are well rested, regions that help us regulate emotions are the ones that help keep us less anxious and keep us calm, and those regions are very sensitive to sleep loss,” says Ben-Simon, who led the research. “Once we are losing a certain amount of sleep or a whole night of sleep, these regions are basically going offline and we’re not able to trigger those processes of emotion regulation.”

“The good news is that after the participants got a full night of sleep, their anxiety levels went back to normal. But it wasn’t only the quantity of sleep that mattered, it was also the quality.”

“There are two main stages of sleep: REM (rapid eye movement) when we’re dreaming and nonREM, which is typically a deeper and more restful sleep. An EEG (electroencephalography) helps scientists figure out which sleep stage people are in. After the recovery night of restful sleep, participants who spent more time in deep nonREM sleep were less anxious the next morning and showed more activity in the medial prefrontal cortex.”

“We think that during deep sleep, some of these emotion regulation mechanisms that are so susceptible to sleep loss are actually being restored, and that allows us to start our day with lower anxiety in the morning,” explains Ben-Simon.”

“The overlap between anxiety and insomnia is not new. However, the discovery of how one causes the other and the connection between the two conditions in the brain is. “What [this] work does is to show that this is a two-way interaction. The sleep loss makes the anxiety worse, which in turn makes it harder to sleep,” Clifford Saper, a professor of neurology and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, “For many people this is clearly a vicious cycle.”’

“Deep sleep is particularly impaired in anxiety disorders, leading the researchers to conclude that enhancing this sleep stage could help treat anxiety. In fact, one way anti-anxiety medications may work is by improving nonREM sleep. However, some sleep medications, such as benzodiazepines, don’t actually increase the time spent in this stage. Saper says that because of this, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which attempts to break the sleep–anxiety cycle, has emerged as the best treatment option available.”

Meditating can give you the brain of a 25-year-old

My meditation practice has always been sporadic and I’m not just talking about my “monkey mind” that leaps and roams . . . or falls asleep.  Needing a bit of discipline I joined a meditation group and in two months my brain will be younger and smarter.

Want proof?

There is an ever-increasing body of research evidence that shows that meditation decreases stress, depression, and anxiety, reduces pain and insomnia, and increases quality of life.

 One  study looked at long-term meditators (seven to nine years of experience) versus a control group. “The results showed that those with a strong meditation background had increased gray matter in several areas of the brain, including the auditory and sensory cortex, as well as insula and sensory regions.”

“This makes sense, since mindfulness meditation has you slow down and become aware of the present moment, including physical sensations such as your breathing and the sounds around you.”

Neuroscientists also found that the meditators had more gray matter in the brain region, linked to decision-making and working memory: the frontal cortex. In fact, while most people see their cortexes shrink as they age, 50-year-old meditators in the study had the same amount of gray matter as those half their age.

Wowza!

Just to make sure this wasn’t because the long-term meditators had more gray matter to begin with, a second study was conducted in which they put people with no experience with meditation into an eight-week mindfulness program.

The results?

“Even just eight weeks of meditation changed people’s brains for the better. There was thickening in several regions of the brain, including the left hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation); the TPJ (involved in empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives); and a part of the brainstem called the pons (where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated).”

“Plus, the brains of the new meditators saw shrinkage of the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. This reduction in size of the amygdala correlated to reduced stress levels in those participants.”

How long do you have to meditate to see such results?

“The study participants were told to meditate for 40 minutes a day, but the average ended up being 27 minutes a day. Several other studies suggest that you can see significant positive changes in just 15 to 20 minutes a day”

In 8 weeks my brain will look and act half its age . . . .if only meditating could do the same for my body . . .

(jw)

Your brain has a DELETE “button”

I always explained to the patients I worked with in the hospital there was one important thing to understand about how to maximize their brain’s potential which can lead them to be more positive, motivated, understand what it takes to learn new skills and  be in control of how they respond to life’s events:

“What fires together, wires together”*

Brain neurons that fire together wire together. What this means is that the more often you use a specific neuro-pathway in your brain, the stronger the connections along that pathway become. It is like making a path through a field:  Walk through once and there may be a suggestion of where you went; Walk the same path many times, it becomes a clear trail, and the easiest way to go.

When the same neurons fire in your brain, it means you brain will find it easy to use this path, and will get “good” at taking it. The more you practice the easier, quicker and more automatic a new skill, learning language or responding to others with compassion becomes.

Your brain also works in “reverse”, unlearning old connections.

Your Brain Has A “Delete” Button 

“Imagine your brain is a garden, except instead of growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables, you grow synaptic connections between neurons. These are the connections that neurotransmitters like dopamine, seratonin, and others travel across.”

“Glial cells” are the gardeners of your brain–they act to speed up signals between certain neurons. But other glial cells are the waste removers, pulling up weeds, killing pests, raking up dead leaves. Your brain’s pruning gardeners are called “microglial cells.” They prune your synaptic connections. The question is, how do they know which ones to prune?”

“Researchers are just starting to unravel this mystery, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein, C1q (as well as others). When the microglial cells detect that mark, they bond to the protein and destroy–or prune–the synapse.”

“This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more.”

A lot of this pruning happens when you sleep, which is one reason sleep is so important, especially when you are learning new things. This pruning leaves your brain ready to make new connections. This pruning also happens during naps. A 10- or 20-minute nap gives your microglial gardeners the time to clear away unused connections and leave space to grow new ones.

Thinking with a sleep-deprived brain is like hacking your way through an overgrown jungle with overlapping paths and no light getting through . . . slow-going, exhausting.  Thinking on a well-rested brain is like strolling through a well-groomed park . . . the paths are clear, connect at distinct junctions, you can see where you’re going.

How To Use Your Brain’s Delete Button

Be Mindful Of What You’re Mindful Of

You actually have some control over what your glial-cell brain gardeners decide to prune while you sleep – the synaptic connections you don’t use while awake get marked for recycling.  Those you focus on get “watered and oxygenated”. So be mindful of what you’re thinking about.

To take advantage of your brain’s natural gardening system, think about the things that are important to you. Your “glial-gardeners” will strengthen those connections and prune the ones that are not important.

(PA)

*Sigrid Lowell coined the phrase“What fires together, wires together”.

References:

Judah Pollack, co-author of The Chaos Imperative, and Olivia Fox Cabana, author of The Charisma Myth.

https://www.fastcompany.com/3059634/your-brain-has-a-delete-button-heres-how-to-use-it

Did You Know Your Brain is Wired to be Social?

Research indicates that the stronger your social connections the healthier and longer you may live.   Scientific studies show that your brain is not just a passive device, disconnected from other brains, alone in the world.  You are literally on the same wave-length with people in your life.

Here are excerpts from two interesting studies:

“On 11 days over the course of one semester, researchers hooked up all 12 of the students in a biology class to portable devices called electroencephalograms (EEGs) that measured their brain waves.”

The more synced up a student’s brain waves were with the brain waves of the rest of the students in the class, the more likely that person was to say that he or she enjoyed the class that day. For example, when the researchers analyzed brain waves called alpha waves, they found that students’ waves were more likely to rise and fall at the same time as other students’ waves when they were highly engaged in the class

Likewise, when a student’s brain waves were less synced with those of the rest of the class, the student was less likely to say that he or she was engaged.

“How well our brain waves sync up with those of another person appears to be a good predictor of how well we get along and how engaged we are,” lead study author Suzanne Dikker, a psychology research scientist at New York University”. 

Monkey See, Monkey Sync

“New tools which involve electrodes implanted into the brains of animals can probe the brains of living animals while they are engaged in social interactions, providing insights into how the brain controls certain behaviors.”

These tools have also revealed that brains likely don’t operate in isolation. There is biological evidence that two minds really can be on the same wavelength.

“What could be more social than brains acting in sync? Similar brain activity may be fundamental for how animals, including humans, interact to form social bonds, according to Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neuroscience at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina.”

“Nicolelis’ group built an experiment in which one monkey drives a vehicle to get a fruit reward while another monkey watches. Each time the driver monkey gets a fruit reward, the spectator monkey gets one, too. So they are linked, Nicolelis said during the news conference.”

“To our shock, what we found is that as these animals are interacting … both brains are highly synchronized,” Nicolelis said. “We have, in fact, in some instances, 60 percent of [the firing of neurons] in the motor cortexes of both monkeys [happening] precisely the same time.”

The synchronicity became more precise as the monkey got closer to the fruit reward or, as shown during a second experiment in the study, as the spectator monkey helped control the vehicle remotely, Nicolelis said. The finding suggests that the optimal performance of social tasks, such as gathering food, requires synchronization of brain activity across the brains of all subjects involved — in other words, with everyone being on the same wavelength.

Conversely, Nicolelis said that some antisocial neurological disorders, such as autism, may result in an inability to establish such interbrain synchronization. He said he hopes to test this in his lab with human subjects.

“We’re beginning to see a striking aspect of the brain … that brains are wired for social interactions,” said Dr. Robert Green, a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. 

https://www.livescience.com/60937-social-brain-wiring.html

Do you wonder if your brain syncs up with animals too?

 

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How to teach an old dog new tricks – Cognitive Science of Habits

Research shows our brains are plastic, moldable and easy to please and despite sayings to the contrary, you can, in fact, teach an old dog (or cat) new tricks. But you have to give your brain a reason to get started.  

Here are excerpts from the article:

On the Mind: How Habits Work and How to Make Them

“Our brains like treats, MRI scans are clear about that. The reward pathway involves several parts of the brain, including areas such as the prefrontal cortex. Food, water, sex and pleasurable activity light up these areas and travel around the brain. If you want to build a habit, make it fun.

“Overall, recent brain scans show that certain areas of the brain light up when a new behavior is started, and the most effective way to keep the areas lit and happy is through rewards. Otherwise, we’re programmed to be lazy and efficient.”

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“In the past year, neuroscientists and psychologists have teamed up to study habit learning and how the brain reacts to new behaviors. They’ve found that some neurons, the cells that fire information across our brain and tell us what to do, are linked to motivation, reward association and habit learning.

Rewarding Right Behavior by Peggy

“When we like a new action, our brain pumps out feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, and we’re more likely to repeat the action to get the same pleasurable response.”

“Just like Pavlov’s dog, if we can motivate ourselves to repeat an action with a reward several times, we can potentially make it stick. And if we lump two or three of those habits together, they can cascade in the brain and lead to the likelihood of sticking with several good habits at once. Hey, even monkeys can learn how to build habits through repetition without much instruction, Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers reported.”

Key Takeaways

1.  Make a Plan for 2 months . . . or longer!

Figure out what works for you, and don’t get discouraged by what seems to be common knowledge. Pop culture has promulgated the idea that it only takes 21 days, or 3 weeks, to form a new habit, but research shows that, depending on the person and habit, changes can take two months or longer.

“To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards,” which may take days or weeks, Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit. “During that period, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a real change … think of yourself as a scientist in the data collection stage.”

2.  Be Realistic

Don’t set yourself up for failure or place your expectations too high.

“ . . .   it’s common for people to set their sights cripplingly high in a moment of ambition, only to feel crushed when they fail to live up to those unrealistic goals.”

“That crushed feeling sends negative pulses rushing through your neurons, which destroys good associations with the habits you’re building. Try the smallest steps possible . . .  to feel happy about the smallest success you can accomplish.”

3.  Reward Yourself

“If you want to be motivated, you have to do something you enjoy and feel comfortable doing.”

Read entire article: Habits and How to Make Them

 

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