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.”

Psychopaths r not us

The closest we will probably ever, knowingly, meet up with a psychopath is reading the fascinating interviews in . . .

The Wisdom of Psychopaths – What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success by Kevin Dutton

Psychopaths tend to be fearless, confident, charming, ruthless and focused – qualities found in brain surgeons, fighter pilots, lawyers, fire fighters. CEO’s and meditating monks.

In this fascinating book Keven Dutton, a British psychologist, combines neuroscience research, interviews with psychopaths, psychological studies and his own mind-altering experience to explore the mind, motives of people identified as psychopaths or psychopathic tendencies.

We found the accounts of his encounters with psychopaths, those locked away, those fully functioning within and outside the “norms” of  society both chilling and intriguing.

One of the interesting interviews was with a U.S. Special Forces instructor for Navy SEALs (The guys who took out Bin Laden).  The instructor describes how they tests recruits to to break them using “torture tactics”.  The object is to determine if they are tough enough to qualify to be a seal (who, to a person, score high in  psychopathic traits).  Here’s the interview:

We did everything we could to break this guy.  He was orphaned at eleven . . .looking after his younger brother and sister by living on his wits. Stealing. Wheeling. Dealing . . . when he was sixteen, he beat someone up so bad they went into a coma.

White noice.  Sleep deprivation.  Sensory deprivation. Water. Stress positions .. . We threw everything at him.  Finally, after forty-eight hours, I removed the blindfold, put my face within a few inches of his, and yelled:

“Is there anything you want to tell me?” . . . he said yes.  There was something he wanted to say.

“What is it?.  ‘I asked.

“You want to cut down on the garlic, dude,” he said.

. . . It was the only time, in fifteen years as an instructor, that I let my guard slip.  Just for a second, a split second, I smiled.  I couldn’t help it.  I actually admired this guy.  And you know what?  Even in the disgusting, state he was in . . ., the son of a bitch saw it.  . .. he called me back closer to him.  And there was a look of sheer, I don’t know, defiance . . in his eyes.

“Game over,” he whispered in my ear.  “You’ve failed.”

“What?  I was meant to be saying that to him?  It was then that we realized he was one of what we call the “unbreakables.” The toughest of the tough . . .” And if he DID have a conscience I never saw it.  He was cold as ice.  At either end of a weapon.  Which actually, in this line of work, isn’t always a bad thing”

Research in the lab has shown that it isn’t so much the case that psychopaths don’t feel anxiety in certain situations, but rather that they just don’t notice the threat.  Their attention is focused purely on the task at hand, and extraneous distractions are ruthlessly filtered out. 

The psychopathic traits that most of us recognize are:

  • Failure to conform to social norms
  • Deceitfulness, repeated lying, conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  • Impulsivity, or failure to plan ahead
  • Irritability and aggressiveness
  • Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
  • Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to, or rationalizing, having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

Dutton describes a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, he explains that “functional psychopaths – different from their murderous counterparts – use their detached, unflinching and charismatic personalities to succeed in society. 

Furthermore, there is an overlap of traits shared both by those who have psychopathic traits (Narcissism, impulsivity, lack of conscience, manipulativeness, pathological lying, coldheartedness) and those who have spiritual traits (love compassion, gentleness, humility, faithfulness, trustworthiness):

  • stoicism
  • mindfulness,
  • fearlessness,
  • mental toughness,
  • openness to experience,
  • utilitarianism,
  • focus/altered state of consciousness,
  • energy,
  • creativity,
  • non-attachment

FASCINATING!

Here’s a synopsis, straight from the internet promo:

“In this engrossing journey into the lives of psychopaths and their infamously crafty behaviors, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bundy who kills for pleasure than we may wish to admit, and that a mugger in a dimly lit parking lot may well, in fact, have the same nerveless poise as a titan of industry.”

“Dutton argues that there are indeed “functional psychopaths” among us—different from their murderous counterparts—who use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society, and that shockingly, in some fields, the more “psychopathic” people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Dutton deconstructs this often misunderstood diagnosis through bold on-the-ground reporting and original scientific research as he mingles with the criminally insane in a high-security ward, shares a drink with one of the world’s most successful con artists, and undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to discover firsthand exactly how it feels to see through the eyes of a psychopath.”

“As Dutton develops his theory that we all possess psychopathic tendencies, he puts forward the argument that society as a whole is more psychopathic than ever: after all, psychopaths tend to be fearless, confident, charming, ruthless, and focused—qualities that are tailor-made for success in the twenty-first century. Provocative at every turn, The Wisdom of Psychopaths is a riveting adventure that reveals that it’s our much-maligned dark side that often conceals the trump cards of success.”

Find it hard to FORGIVE? Your “aSTS” may need “a fill-up”

Why do some of us find it easier to forgive?

When we feel that somebody has wronged us personally, we make a  moral judgment.  From a neuropsychological viewpoint, the act of judging a moral situation is incredibly complex and has a lot to do with intentionality – did the perpetrator really mean to do those awful things?

Making a mature moral judgment about a wrongful act involves not only considering the damage done, but also the perpetrator’s intention and mental state. When there is a clear contradiction between the two, however, intention seems to take precedence over the result of the action.

A study shows that a specific area in the brain called the anterior superior temporal sulcus (aSTS) plays a key role in forgiving those who create unintentional harm.

Indrajeet Patil, the study’s primary author, details this further and puts the new research into context:

“Behavioural studies have already shown that when the intention and outcome of an action are conflicting, as in the case of sometimes serious accidental harm, people tend to focus mainly on the intentions when formulating a judgment. And this is more or less a universal feature of mature moral judgments across cultures.”

” . . . very few studies have taken on this issue from an anatomical point of view, to gain an understanding of whether differences in the volume and structure of certain areas of the brain might explain variations in moral judgment. This research attempted to explore precisely this aspect.”

Studying the neuroanatomical basis of forgiveness

To do this, the researchers asked 50 participants to complete a moral judgement task. The volunteers were presented with 36 unique stories and four potential outcomes for each of them.

Each scenario comprised four parts:

  • Some background information
  • A foreshadowing segment, in which it was suggested that the outcome would be either neutral or harmful
  • Information on the neutral or intentionally harmful mental state of the agent
  • The consequence, which revealed the agent’s action and the resulting outcome.

“Participants read each story and were asked to give their moral judgment by answering questions regarding “acceptability” and “blame.” . . . “the participants were asked: “How morally acceptable was [the agent]’s behavior?” and “How much blame does [the agent] deserve?” The volunteers gave answers based on a scale from 1 to 7.”

“While answering the questions, the participants’ brain activity was analyzed using voxel-based morphometry – a neuroimaging technique that allows for a holistic examination of brain changes while simultaneously preserving a high degree of brain region specificity.”

“The researchers also used neuroimaging to localize the neural areas responsible for the so-called theory of mind (ToM). ToM, or “mentalizing,” is a person’s ability to correctly attribute mental states – such as beliefs, intentions, and desires – to others based on their behavior. Mentalizing also refers to the person’s ability to explain and predict other people’s behavior based on these inferences.”

People with a more developed aSTS are more inclined to forgive

The results revealed a connection between the differences in moral judgement severity about unintentional harm and the volume of the left aSTS brain region.

More specifically, the more developed the aSTS was, the less blame was attributed to the wrongdoers. “The greater the gray matter volume [in this area], the less accidental harm-doers are condemned.” 

Patil further explains the findings:

“The aSTS was already known to be involved in the ability to represent the mental states (thoughts, beliefs, desires, etc.) of others. According to our conclusions, individuals with more gray matter at aSTS are better able to represent the mental state of those responsible for actions and thus comprehend the unintentional nature of the harm. In expressing judgment they are thus able to focus on this latter aspect and give it priority over the especially unpleasant consequences of the action. For this reason, ultimately, they are less inclined to condemn it severely.”

If you find it hard to forgive, your challenge NOW is to forgive your anterior superior temporal sulcus (aSTS) for not having more grey matter.  

The researchers were led by Giorgia Silani from the University of Vienna in Austria, and the study was carried out in collaboration with scientists from Trieste University in Italy and Boston College in Massachusetts. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20181009-how-sleep-helps-with-emotional-recovery-and-trauma

Click on above picture to see the latest post on Curious to the MAX

Frankly Freddie – Flipp’n GOOD 2019 Calendar

Peggy & Judy were working on their book Hack Your Way to Happiness, based on neuroscience and decided to make a 2019 calendar with 12 of the book’s 22 Happiness Hacks.  (They aren’t quite done with the book . . .  they get diverted very easily . . .  I have a hard time keeping them on track.)

If I needed a calendar, which I don’t since I prefer to live in the moment, I would get their calendar. HOWEVER, the calendar has pictures of the Curious Critters but not ONE picture of me so I wouldn’t pay full price and would buy it with a 60% off Zazzle coupon, which is often available. 

ZAZZLE Shop

Here’s one of the Happiness Hacks from the book . . . don’t tell them I’m sharing it with you for free.

Flip’n Good

There are two sides to a coin, two sides to a pancake and two sides to every thought you have. When a negative thought bothers you, flip the thought to the positive side:

Imagine the opposite – something better, pleasurable, anything POSITIVE – is true and how you would feel. 

Positive thoughts signal your brain to release “happy” neurochemicals.

To see all 12 Hacks, Click HERE

Freddie Parker Westerfield

NOT a Hack

 

It’s “that” time year – Isolation, Not Loneliness, Shortens Life

We often believe that during holidays everyone, except us, is having a wonderful festive time, surrounded by loving family, caring friends, filled with fun, festivity and happiness.

At the risk of “bah humbug” what I most often heard from clients was holidays were filled with stress, trepidation, family feuds or deep pain at being alone while everyone else seemingly was partying.  

Coupled with studies which suggest that the Christmas/New Year’s holidays are a risk factor for cardiac and noncardiac mortality.* the United Kingdom study on loneliness and isolation of 6,500  had an interesting conclusion:

Loneliness hurts, but social isolation can kill you. 

“The study, by a team at University College London, comes after decades of research showing that both loneliness and infrequent contact with friends and family can, independently, shorten a person’s life. The scientists expected to find that the combination of these two risk factors would be especially dangerous.”

“We were thinking that people who were socially isolated but also felt lonely might be at particularly high risk,” says Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology at University College London.”

“To find out, the team studied 6,500 men and women ages 52 and older. All of them had answered a questionnaire back in 2004 or 2005 that assessed both their sense of loneliness and how much contact they had with friends and family. The researchers looked to see what happened to those people over the next seven or eight years.”

“And Steptoe says he was surprised by the result. “Both social isolation and loneliness appeared initially to be associated with a greater risk of dying,” he says. “But it was really the isolation which was more important.”‘

‘”At first, it looked like people who reported greater levels of loneliness were more likely to die, Steptoe says. But closer analysis showed that these people were also more likely to have other risk factors, like being poor and having existing health problems. Once those factors were taken into account, the extra risk associated with loneliness pretty much disappeared, Steptoe says.”‘

“But people who spent very little time with friends and family, or at social events, were more likely to die regardless of income or health status the team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

“It’s not clear why social isolation is linked to mortality. But one possibility is that having other people around has practical benefits as you get older, Steptoe says. For example, they may push you to go see a doctor if you are having symptoms like chest pain, he says. And if you were to lose consciousness, they would call for help.”

Do Facebook friends count? How about texting?

“Other researchers say they are surprised and not necessarily convinced by the new study, even though they say it’s large and well-done.”

‘”It doesn’t negate the loneliness work that’s been done to date,” says Bert Uchino, a University of Utah psychology professor. He says this study may have reached a different conclusion than earlier ones because people’s definition of loneliness is changing in the Internet age.”‘

‘”People … may think that they’re connected to other people because they’re on Facebook,” Uchino says. So they may not report feeling lonely. But that sort of connection, he says, may not have the health benefits of direct contact with other people.”

*https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/01.cir.0000151424.02045.f7   (There are multiple explanations for this association, including the possibility that holiday-induced delays in seeking treatment play a role in producing the twin holiday spikes.)

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/03/26/175283008/maybe-isolation-not-loneliness-shortens-life

This Happiness “Hack” works like a Charm

Your brain can not tell the difference between what you imagine and what is actually happening.  Use it to your happiness advantage!

Remember a time you felt happy:

  • Recall what you looked like, the sights, sounds, scents, colors and how you felt. If a time doesn’t come to mind pretend you are someone else and daydream. Your brain can’t tell the difference!

  • Find an object, picture or trinket that represents or symbolizes that time. If you don’t already have a souvenir keep your eyes open for something that helps you recall that time & place.

  • Carry your object in your pocket, put it on your desk, hang it on the wall.

Your “charm” will help you reconnect with and trigger happy feelings.

Check out other Happiness Hacks.  Eventually we’ll put them all together in a booklet for you.

Freddie’s Favorite: Pet a Pet

A Happiness Hack you already do – BREATHE