Patients with Asthma are more likely to have Insomnia

asthma and sleep

New research out of the University of Pittsburgh shows that patients with asthma are highly likely to suffer from insomnia, which puts them at greater risk of decreased asthma control, anxiety, depression, and other health problems or quality of life issues.  The research and findings were published and discussed in the journal, CHEST.

Asthma patients frequently report trouble sleeping, but the burden on quality of life from insomnia in asthma patients is unknown.  Asthma is a chronic disease marked by narrowed, swollen, or inflamed airways leading to difficulty breathing because of muscle spasms that happen in the airways as a result of trying to keep the airways open.  There are no previous studies to look at how insomnia affects asthma control and the utilization of the healthcare system by asthma patients.

This study reports the following:

  • About 37% of asthma patients also had clinically significant insomnia.
  • Patients with insomnia had worse lung function, lower household income, and higher BMI than those who did not have insomnia.
  • Almost 25% of asthma patients met diagnostic criteria for insomnia, despite not having nighttime asthma symptoms.
  • Patients with insomnia reported more frequent use of the healthcare system within a 12-month period than those who did not have insomnia.
  • Asthma patients with insomnia reported more episodes of depression and anxiety, as well as lower quality of life due to asthma-related problems. This is suggestive of higher risk of adverse outcomes in asthma patients who have an associated insomnia disorder.

Researchers note that these findings indicate a significant impact of an insomnia disorder in patients with asthma, and their well-being and quality of life are severely affected.  Their treatment interventions and action plan should include evaluation and treatment of insomnia symptoms.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Faith Luyster, notes that these results suggest that difficulty sleeping may not be solely due to asthma-related awakenings, but instead may be due to insomnia as a comorbid condition.  Further, the insomnia can inadvertently affect asthma symptoms and treatments by decreasing quality of life and increasing their use of the healthcare system.

As with all new findings, further study is warranted to understand the link between asthma control and insomnia, even though it is clear that insomnia is prevalent in asthma patients who also have adverse outcomes.  Future studies can be done to look at interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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Pulmonary Embolisms May Recur in Patients with Sleep Apnea

lungs chest xray

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) often comes with the risk of pulmonary embolism (PE), which can be fatal.  Blood clots are common in people who live sedentary lifestyles, are obese, and/or are advanced in age; however, recent research indicates that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may also be contributing to blood clots that lead to PE.  VTE is a chronic disease marked by recurring episodes of PE, but scientists wanted to review the OSA risk of developing PE.  Findings show that after initial PE, patients with OSA are at increased risk of developing another.

This study is published in the December issue of CHEST.

Recurrent PE comes with a 9% chance of mortality, and patients who have had one PE are 30% more likely to have another.  Generally, anticoagulant medications can help prevent the recurrence of PE, but they also come with a higher risk of bleeding.  The need for blood thinners can be reduced by properly identifying risk factors and making changes as a preventative measure.  One of the biggest risk factors is sleep apnea, which shares many other risk factors with PE like obesity, decreased physical activity, and advancing age.

Lead investigator, Alberto Alonso-Fernandez, MD, PhD, from Hospital Universitario Son Espases in Spain notes that the evidence in longitudinal and cross-sectional studies shows that there is a link between PE and OSA.  The link indicates there is a major health burden, especially since both disorders are prevalent and there is a high fatality rate for PE.  To their knowledge, there are no studies to investigate how OSA contributes to recurrent thromboembolisms.

The current research trailed 120 people for five to eight years post PE initial occurrence.  Scientists monitored sleep to determine if there were any signs or symptoms of OSA.  It was noted that 19 patients had recurrent episodes of PE, and 16 of those 19 patients had OSA.

The primary finding is that patients who had an initial PE and an OSA diagnosis were at increased risk of experiencing a recurrent PE than those who did not have OSA.  Furthermore, even without an OSA diagnosis, patients whose oxygen saturations consistently stayed below 90% were also at risk for PE recurrence.  Many of these patients were started on anticoagulation due to new blood clot formation.

Dr. Alonso-Fernandez is working to determine how OSA contributes the susceptibility of a repeat PE event.  He believes OSA may affect the three components of Vichow’s risk triad: vascular endothelial impairment, blood flow stasis, and/or higher ability to coagulate.  There is an increased inflammatory response and oxidative stress when hypoxia is present, both of which impair endothelial function.  OSA may slow intravenous flow with sedentary position and hemodynamic alternations.  Finally, it is possible that OSA patients have increased coagulability, decreased fibrinolytic capacity, and better platelet activity, which are often improved with the use of CPAP.

A lot of research has been dedicated to determining the origin of PE, there are only a few known factors identified in recurrent PE, including things like continued use of estrogen, vena cava filters, high D-dimer after anticoagulation, cancer, obesity, and male gender.  OSA is now labeled as an independent risk factor for experiencing another PE, even after researchers adjusted for factors like BMI and gender.  OSA is more prevalent in obese men, so researchers believe that the higher risk of recurrent PE in obese patients is likely related to OSA as well.

It is notable that obesity is directly linked to a sedentary lifestyle, as well as venous stasis; however, there is also research connecting obesity to higher concentrations of clotting factors, putting an individual in a prothrombotic state and increasing his or her risk of clots because of the increased estrogen and inflammation that are associated with obesity.

These findings will help physicians determine better treatment interventions for those who have had PE and a history of OSA.  CPAP is the usual treatment for OSA, and these patients may also need longer-term anticoagulation to reduce PE risk.  Given the prevalence of OSA in patients with thromboembolic events, further study circling around procoagulability states caused by hypoxia and treated with CPAP would be greatly beneficial for further interventions.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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The Link Between Pain and Sleep

Sleep and dreams

New Studies Underway to Link Sleep and Chronic Pain

As part of a nationwide effort to address the widespread overuse and abuse of opioid pain relievers while simultaneously expanding knowledge on non-drug interventions, Washington State University has decided to lead a study to look at the relationship between chronic pain and sleep.

Marian Wilson, lead investigator and assistant professor in the College of Nursing at WSU, notes that physicians are being pressured to stop prescribing so many painkillers.  New guidelines for prescribing medications, issued in 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend limiting the use of opioids in chronic pain patients.

Ms. Wilson began the research, noting that it is not fair to cut off pain relievers in chronic pain patients without having effective alternatives available.

While there is medical literature about sleep and pain, the topic has not been adequately studied.  Previous research suggests there is a correlation, linking poor sleep to higher amounts of pain, but it is not clear which comes first.  Is the pain worse because of sleep loss, or is sleep disrupted because of the pain?

The new grant given by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (part of the National Institutes of Health) allows Dr. Wilson and colleagues from WSU Health Sciences in Spokane and the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine to study the topic over a two-year period.

The study will be part of a larger NIH-funded project focused on a veteran hypnosis-pain study.  Dr. Wilson and team will collaborate with pain experts Mark Jensen and Rhonda Williams from University of Washington and the U.S. Veterans Administration Puget Sound Healthcare System.  Additional sleep expertise will come from Dr. Hans Van Dongen, a professor at Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and the director of the Sleep and Performance Research Center.

The parent study will focus on how effective self-hypnosis and mindful meditation interventions are in 240 veterans with chronic pain.

Ms. Wilson’s subproject about sleep and pain will review 135 veterans from the parent study.  Each vet will do a sleep survey and wear monitoring devices for one week at three different times: before the intervention, immediately after, and then again three months after intervention.

Scientists will pair pain data with sleep data from the parent study to determine if improvements in pain are followed by or preceded by improvements in sleep, or if they happen simultaneously.  This will serve as the first step toward developing treatments for sleep that will help with chronic pain.

Dr. Wilson has a passion for pain management.  As a nurse scientist, while pursuing her Ph.D. in nursing, she reviewed a program that addressed the abuse of the emergency department by chronic pain patients seeking opioids.  The program, instead of providing the prescriptions, referred patients back to their primary doctor, and it was considered successful in reducing the use of the emergency department in this patient population.

Wilson felt there was more that could be done to address the need for opioids in chronic pain patients, especially with regard to finding new ways to manage symptoms without drugs.  She wrote her dissertation on the efficacy of self-management programs online for those with chronic pain, with the added benefit of reduced use of opioids.

Recently, Wilson performed a study that provided the online self-management program to chronic pain patients who receive methadone in place of an opioid drug.  She performed extensive interviews with patients to get a better understanding of why they ended up addicted to the opioids and what they felt could be done to self-manage their pain and addiction symptoms.

 Those study results have not been fully reviewed; however, Wilson still notes that something has to change with regards to the overuse of opioids in pain patients.

People are being sent home with a month’s supply of opioids after minor surgeries and tooth extractions, and it only takes two weeks of consistent opioid use to lead to dependence.  This means that almost every household in America has opioids in the cabinet, and people are becoming addicts at rapid rates, leading to the need for methadone interventions.  The idea of this new study is to start to find ways to prevent opioid overuse and dependence by concentrating on sleep.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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Crash Risk Doubles with Sleep Deprivation

Sleepy driving and drowsy behind the wheel

One to two hours can make a difference when it comes to sleep.  A new study out of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that drivers who get one to two hours less than the recommended seven to eight hours each night double their risk of accident.  About 35% of American drivers get less than the recommended amount of sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

AAA warns that getting less than the recommended number of hours for sleep may come with deadly consequences, especially since drowsiness is reported in one out of every five fatal crashes every year in the U.S. alone.

Executive Director at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Dr. David Yang, reports that losing sleep, especially getting less than five hours every night, has a comparable risk to someone who drives drunk.  You cannot lose a couple of hours of sleep and expect not to have consequences, Dr. Yang notes.  Sleep loss means you cannot safely be able to function behind the wheel.

The report from AAA, Acute Sleep Deprivation and Risk of Motor Vehicle Crash Involvement, compared drivers who got seven hours of sleep and those who got four to five hours of sleep each night.  They found that those who got fewer than five hours of sleep quadrupled their risk of crash compared to those who got the recommended amount of sleep.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the same risk for someone driving over the legal limit of alcohol.

When compared to drivers who got enough sleep, those who were sleep deprived had progressively increased risk of crash, with the following findings noted from the AAA Foundation:

  • Four hours of sleep or less were at 11.5 times the crash risk
  • Four to five hours of sleep were at 4.3 times the crash risk
  • Five to six hours of sleep were at 1.9 times the crash risk
  • Six to seven hours of sleep were at 1.3 times the crash risk

About 97% of AAA surveyed drivers viewed drowsy driving as a completely unsafe and unacceptable behavior; however, one in three admit to drowsy driving at least once a month, admitting they could hardly keep their eyes open behind the wheel.

Jake Nelson, AAA director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research, notes that many of us sacrifice sleep for our careers and lifestyles, but maintaining a healthy work-life balance is necessary for safety and health.  Not creating a healthy bedtime routine and getting adequate sleep means you are putting yourself and others at risk while driving.

Symptoms to look out for with drowsy driving include:

  • Difficulty keeping your eyes open
  • Lane drifting
  • Not remembering the last few miles

However, it is notable that more than half the drivers that were involved in sleepiness-related crashes did not report experiencing any symptoms before falling asleep behind the wheel.  Researchers and experts at AAA urge drivers not to wait for physical symptoms to occur, but instead to prioritize their sleep as a preventive measure.  For those who take longer road trips, they should:

  • Take scheduled breaks every two hours or 100 miles
  • Avoid heavy meals; eat several smaller meals throughout the day
  • Travel during normal wake times
  • Avoid taking any medications that may cause drowsiness or impairment
  • Travel with someone who is awake and alert during driving

A total sample of 7234 drivers involved in 4571 crashes was analyzed in this AAA Foundation report.  All the information came from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey from NHTSA, which included a sample of reported crashes involving at least one party sent for emergency medical treatment and at least one vehicle towed from the scene.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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Children’s Brains React Differently to Sleep Loss

All parents can identify the problems that arise from their child not getting enough sleep the night before; however, there is not a whole lot of information available in medical literature that looks at how sleep deprivation affects children’s brain chemistry and early development.

First author of this new study, Salome Kurth, from the University Hospital of Zurich, noted that sleep processes may be wiring a child’s brain and affect the brain’s development and maturation. This research indicates that there is a need for increased sleep for posterior brain regions in young children.  Findings were published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

This information differs from the research that has been done on adults with sleep deprivation, where the effect is more concentrated in the frontal regions.

Studies have found that both adults and children who lose sleep need a period of deep sleep to recover from that loss.  The recovery period is marked by electrical patterns on the non-invasive electroencephalogram (EEG) called slow-wave activity.  The EEG distributes several electrodes across the entire scalp to look at various channels, which help detect the brain regions with the most slow-wave activity.

Dr. Kurth and her colleagues, Sean Deoni from Brown University and Monique LeBourgeois from University of Colorado Boulder, along with a team of students studied how 50% sleep loss would affect 13 children aged between 5 and 12 years.  The children’s deep sleep patterns were measured first during a normal night of sleep.  Then, they were measured again on a different night after the children were kept awake for several hours past their bedtime using activities like playing games and reading with them.

The children received only a half night’s sleep.  On their EEG, they showed increased slow-wave activity in the parieto-occipital areas, which are located in the back regions of the brain.  This indicates the circuitry in these brain regions may be significantly affected by sleep deprivation.

One of the cornerstones of early brain development is the myelin content, so the team also analyzed how the slow-wave activity in deep sleep correlated with this myelin content.  Myelin is measured with MRI; it is the fatty material within the white matter of the brain that allows electrical information and communication to happen between the cells, allowing them to travel faster.

Dr. Kurth notes that these results indicate that sleep deprivation affects the brain in specific regions, which correlates with the myelin connections in the adjacent regions.  Essentially, the more myelin in those areas, the more the effect resembles what happens in adult brains.  Furthermore, it is possible that this is a temporary effect, occurring only in a sensitive period of development when the brain undergoes changes.

As with all new findings, further exploration is needed before making conclusive statements regarding how sleep deprivation affects child brain development in the long-term.  In the meantime, it is sufficient to say that later bedtimes have a different effect on children’s brains than on adults’


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.


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Women with Breast Cancer and Sleep Disturbance

One of the lesser-known adverse side effects of breast cancer is persistent hot flashes, which some studies suggest occur in approximately 30% to 40% of women.  More specifically, nighttime hot flashes are problematic for them because they disrupt sleep.

New research has found that electro-acupuncture may be helpful in providing some relief to these hot flashes.  The research is going to be published in the online journal, Menopause, by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

Women with breast cancer are more likely to suffer from hot flashes than those who go through menopause naturally.  This is due to the early menopause caused by chemotherapy, surgery, and the use of drugs that cause estrogen deficiencies like tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors.  Some scientists estimate that by the year 2020, there will be almost 6 million breast cancer survivors in America.

Data was analyzed from a randomized, controlled trial of 58 women who survived breast cancer and were experiencing hot flashes which significantly interfered with their quality of sleep and life.  The benefits of using electro-acupuncture – pulsating electrical currents applied to different areas of the body – were compared with gabapentin medication – an anti-seizure drug that is sometimes used to help treat insomnia and other sleep disturbances that are related to hot flashes.

The findings indicated that electro-acupuncture was comparable to, or even better than, the medication with regard to reducing the severity and frequency of hot flashes.  Further, it improved overall sleep quality, especially with respect to how long it took to fall asleep and how many times they were awoken with hot flashes.  Scientists do not fully understand how or why acupuncture helps with sleep, but multiple studies have shown that it affects neurotransmitters that are associated with sleep, like melatonin and serotonin.

Breast cancer survivors are bothered by hot-flash-induced sleep deprivation because it frequently comes with increased levels of depression, anxiety, fatigue, and pain.  While electro-acupuncture did offer significant improvements in sleep, scientists note that the quality of sleep for the patients was not as good as perhaps it could be, which implies that additional research will be needed to determine if combination pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatments would help.

Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of NAMS, notes that the study tells us that electro-acupuncture may be an alternative option for women who choose or need to avoid medications, since electro-acupuncture has fewer risks; however, Dr. Pinkerton notes that blind control studies are necessary to find out more.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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Parents’ Sleep Health Behaviors May Affect Children’s Sleep

Family sleeping

New research has found that family-based interventions for treating sleep deprivation in children may be the most beneficial way to address this concern. Sleep duration in children is likely influenced by their parents’ sleep duration and confidence, the researchers note.

Findings of a parental survey showed that higher confidence in their ability to help their kids get plenty of sleep was directly linked to increased sleep duration in the children by 0.67 hours each night.  This was after controlling for things like parent education, child gender, race/ethnicity, and age.  The survey indicated that about 57% of parents feel ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ confident in their ability to help their child get adequate sleep.  This survey noted that the children’s sleep duration was increased by 0.09 hours/night for every additional hour in the parent’s sleep duration.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Corinna Rae, who is also the pediatrics instructor at Harvard Medical School and a Boston Children’s Hospital attending physician, notes that these results suggest two possible additions to intervention.  Parent education about their own sleep, while boosting their confidence in handling their children’s sleep habits through pediatric programs, will go a long way to improving children’s sleep duration.

These results were published and discussed in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has recommended 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night on a regular basis for children between 6 and 12 years of age, which is ideal for optimal health.  Getting less than the recommended number of hours on a regular basis has been linked to problems with behavior, attention, and learning.  Additionally, sleep deprivation increases health and safety risks.

Furthermore, this study reviewed the relationship between parent behaviors and practices, like screen time and physical activity, and the child’s sleep duration.  After findings were adjusted for demographics, the behaviors did not prove notable differences in the child’s sleep duration.

Dr. Rea explained that these results indicate that while regular behaviors do not really show a family lifestyle, parental sleep duration is directly connected to their child’s sleep behaviors, regardless of the other behaviors.

This research included 790 parents with an average age of 41 years.  The children were aged between 6 and 12 years, and they were part of a controlled randomized obesity trial.  Several research assistants administered a phone survey to the parents, with 92% of respondents being mothers.  The average sleep duration for parents was 6.9 hours, and 9.2 hours for children.

The authors of the study note that the format and platform of the study did not allow for analysis of causality; however, they do note that there were several mediators that could be playing a role in both parent and sleep duration.  For instance, a child’s sleep duration may be influenced by parents behaving as role models and providing encouragement and support for healthy choices, while also creating a regular bedtime family routine.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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Immediate Impact Sleep Apnea Has on Blood Pressure

health monitor and sleep

New research has found that even a single episode of sleep apnea interferes with the body’s ability to regulate the blood pressure.

Researchers at UBC’s Okanagan campus performed this new study, which found that even just six hours of fluctuating oxygen saturation levels commonly seen in sleep apnea cases seriously impacts and deteriorates a person’s circulatory system as well.

Sleep apnea is a condition that is characterized by frequent starts and stops in breathing during sleep.  It can directly result in several long periods of low oxygen saturation levels in the body, which is referred to as intermittent hypoxia.

Glen Foster, assistant professor of exercise and health science at UBC, noted that it is a well-known fact that sleep apnea is directly linked to hypertension (high blood pressure); however, this study shows that sleep apnea has an immediate impact on the heart and circulatory system, which can happen in a single day or a single episode of sleep apnea.  Even as little as six hours of constant fluctuations in oxygen levels, Mr. Foster notes, can seriously limit the body’s ability to regulate the blood pressure.

The changes were noted to occur immediately in healthy adults who were not at risk or experiencing any long-term effects or symptoms of sleep apnea.

This study included an examination of how intermittent hypoxia affected the cardiovascular systems in 10 healthy young adults over the age of 18.  All of the participants wore a ventilation mask for six hours during sleep, during which time oxygen levels were manipulated to mimic symptoms of sleep apnea.

It was a notable finding in this study that sleep apnea seriously compromised the person’s baroreceptor function.  Baroreceptors are the biological sensors responsible for regulating blood pressure.  Furthermore, the study found damage to the blood flow patterns in legs, indicating there was a disturbance in circulation and suggesting risk of impaired vascular health.

Mr. Foster notes that the findings are indicative of the need for interventions in those who have sleep apnea because of the risk of blood pressure and vascular problems.

The Public Health Agency of Canada reported that 5.4 million Canadians either have or are at risk of developing sleep apnea.  The numbers in the U.S. are even greater.  This research was published in the American Journal of Physiology, and will likely be followed by additional research on the overall effects of sleep apnea.


 Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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Princess Leia Sleeping Brainwaves that Help You Store Memories

When you sleep, your brain’s electrical waves circle around to either side of your head, making a pattern resembling the twin buns of Princess Leia in ‘Star Wars.’  Salk Institute scientists discovered these oscillations in electrical activity and described them in the journal, eLife.  They believe the waves are responsible for the memory associations that are formed during the day.

Head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at Salk Institute, Terrence Sejnowski, noted that the speed and scale of these electrical waves in the brain is unheard of, which will help to advance the Brain Research through the Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative.

The hippocampus stores all short-term memories and events; however, the long-term memories reside within the neocortex and are encoded like secret messages.  Memory transfers from hippocampus to neocortex are what is known as memory consolidation, which happens during sleep.

Sleep spindles are involved in memory consolidation, and these spindles happen in the earlier stages of non-REM sleep.  Studies in the past have found that people who had more sleep spindles overnight were able to remember more numbers the next day; however, the exact nature of how these sleep spindles relate to memory was unclear.  This limited the research because the electrodes used to identify sleep spindles could only find them in one area of the brain at a time.

One of the authors of this study, Lyle Muller, notes that previous neuroscience research had to record activity in one area of the brain at a time, and then put all the data points together later, without looking at the whole picture.  Many scientists believed the oscillating spindles were peaking at the same time all within the neocortex.

The lead authors of the study wanted the broader picture, though, so they turned their attention to large-scale recordings.  This is known as intracranial electrocorticograms, or ECoGs.  This study measures brain activity in multiple areas at the same time.  ECoG arrays are often implanted into the brains of epileptic patients to try and identify the exact origin of their seizures.  In this way, scientists were able to look at all the data at once from five different patients on those seizure-free nights.

It was a surprise to find the results after putting in all the ECoG data for each night.  The theory that spindles peaked simultaneously throughout the cortex was proven wrong.  The oscillations swept in circular patterns on either side of the brain around the neocortex, peaking in specific areas and then again in an adjacent area just milliseconds later.

Mr. Muller stated that they believe the activity is the result of neurons talking to other neurons in various areas of the brain.  The time it takes the waves to travel is the same speed it would take for communication between different neurons.

These same swirling patterns were noted all throughout the night, and each one lasted for approximately 70 milliseconds.  They repeated hundreds of times in a matter of hours.

A single memory has various components that are obtained through each of our senses, and each component is stored in a different area of the cortex.  This is why parts of the neocortex need to be able to communicate with each other in order to store and transfer memories.  The oscillating spindle waves are thought to help form links between the different components of each memory.

These findings may help determine new methods for disrupting memories after a trauma.  The results open the door to new treatments for other brain diseases that affect sleep spindles as well, such as schizophrenia, so researchers in this study believe further study is warranted.


Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.

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Four Harmful Effects of Sleep Apnea

sleep better

Sleep apnea is a disorder which is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. The brief pauses disrupt the quality of sleep, but that’s not all. Sleep apnea can also have serious health consequences including the following complications.

Daytime Sleepiness

Feeling tired in the a.m. may not seem like a serious problem. After all, many of us hit the snooze button each morning. But sleep apnea is a chronic problem, which means your overall quality of sleep is diminished on a regular basis.

The brief pauses in breathing also cause a partial arousal from sleep. Imagine being woken up several times each hour. Even if you don’t realize you’re waking up, it can take its toll. Fragmented sleep often leaves you feeling tired the next day. If not treated, sleep apnea can lead to chronic sleep deprivation.

But excessive daytime sleepiness is not just about feeling tired. It also affects your ability to concentrate, alertness and mood. According to American Academy of Sleep Medicine, people with sleep apnea are two and a half times more likely to be involved in a car accident than those without the condition.

Heart Disease

According to the American Heart Association, there is a connection between sleep apnea and an increased risk of heart disease. In people who have obstructive sleep apnea, the flow of air into their lungs is blocked. The blockage or obstruction occurs due to a loss of tone in the muscles that keep the airway open.

When your breathing momentarily stops, your oxygen level can also dip. It’s not uncommon for someone with sleep apnea to have up to 20 or 30 pauses an hour.

Because of the decreasing oxygen level, various physiological responses occur. First, your brain senses your inability to breath and rouses you from sleep. As you startle awake, you open your airway and take a breath.  Your heart rate, as well as your blood pressure, briefly increase.

Your body also responds to the decreased oxygen level by increased production of adrenaline, which is a stress hormone. Over time, these responses can strain the heart and contribute to heart disease, irregular heartbeats and an even a heart attack.

Type 2 Diabetes

Obstructive sleep apnea may also play a role in developing type 2 diabetes. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with sleep apnea have a higher chance of developing insulin resistance than those without the condition. The release of stress hormones into the bloodstream that occurs with sleep apnea may be partly to blame for the increased risk of developing diabetes.

Being overweight is a risk factor for both type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea. But the connection between both conditions appears to be independent of being overweight, according to the International Diabetes Federation.


Hypertension also called high blood pressure, is a leading risk factor for strokes and heart attacks. Several factors contribute to your chances of developing high blood pressure including sleep apnea.

Normally when you sleep, your blood pressure decreases. But if you have sleep apnea, chances are your BP increases to keep blood flowing adequately to your brain and heart.

When your blood oxygen levels decrease, your brain sends a signal that causes your blood vessels to constrict and allows increased blood flow to your heart. As a result, your blood pressure rises. In time, the increased blood pressure during sleep may start to overlap and occur during the wakefulness.

Fortunately, you can decrease your risk of all the above complications by treating sleep apnea. After having a sleep study, your sleep specialist will discuss treatment options, such as a CPAP machine, dental appliance or surgery. In most cases, sleep apnea can be successfully treated.


American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Risk of Motor Vehicle Accidents is Higher in People with Sleep Apnea.  Retrieved November 2016.

American Heart Association. Sleep Apnea, Heart Disease and Stroke. Retrieved November 2016.

International Diabetes Federation. Sleep Apnea and Type 2 Diabetes.  Retrieved November 2016.

Mayo Clinic. Sleep Apnea. Complications.   Retrieved November 2016.


Author: MaryAnn DePietro, CRT is a medical writer and licensed respiratory therapist with over a decade of clinical experience.

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